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Can a Baby Survive Without Milk?

Discussion in 'Research' started by evolution_rex, Nov 21, 2015.

  1. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    So for my story, the setting being North America/Canada during the Ice Age, I finally came up with an angle that I could genuinely enjoy writing. It's fantasy but with a heavy survival element, and I really wanted to tackle the angle of a male hunter and a baby being the sole survivors after their tribe is attacked by a rival tribe or some sort of group of evil creatures. The man not not only has to keep himself alive, but a baby's life is in head hands.

    I really like the idea, but one thing is stopping me; can a baby even survive without milk? There is no formula in the Ice Age, and I really don't want to have some magical cop out. Is there any chance a baby could hypothetically survive through other means, by feeding it mashed foods (other words, giving it baby food early) or do they have to have milk? I'm not talking about whether or not it's healthy in the long run, just in order to survive.

    I could solve my way around it by him finding an animal that's ready for breastfeeding, and the main character will of course eventually find another tribe and thus a woman capable of taking care of the baby, but I'd like to see the possibilities of not having milk.
     
  2. How old is the baby. They can start eating mashed foods at 4 months. Also, are there other women around to wet nurse.
     
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  3. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    I was thinking about newborn, but I can stretch it out to 4 months. I just don't want a toddler. And no, for a majority of the story, I'd like to not have an women around, just the man and the baby. How long they're alone, I'm not sure yet.
     
  4. Scribe Lord

    Scribe Lord Minstrel

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    Yeah, it really depends on how old the baby is.

    If it is a newborn, they can generally survive for a couple days just on the stores which they are born with. At it's early stages, milk is really the only viable thing for a baby. It might be possible to get away with some kind of sugar water, but only for a very short time. So really your best chance is finding an animal (goat, cow, sheep, donkey, pig, horse, camel, etc.) ready to be milked, or a woman to wet nurse.

    Also, feeding it at this stage could pose a problem. Dipping a cloth or something into the milk and letting the baby suck on that might work. Feeding bottles made from wood, horn, or clay have been in existence really far back as well.

    As Brian said, you can start feeding them mashed foods at around 4 months. In a pinch, maybe even after 2 months.

    On a side note, males technically have the ability to breastfeed. It has been done.
     
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  5. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    Once 4 months old, would they be able to live without milk?

    The story takes place in northern America, and there are no cows or sheep there. Camels (or at least a camel-like animal, the ancestor of the llamma), wild horses (which, ironically, died out long before Europe reached America and reintroduced the horse), and deer are possible options.
     
  6. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    no.

    Babies need a lot of fat and protein, and that comes easiest from human milk, but otherwise, animal milk. There are northern people who live closely with dogs, and I've heard of women nursing pups born on dog sled teams while traveling (because the sled owners were otherwise going to kill the pups, since they aren't like horse babies, which can run with mom hours after birth), but I've also heard of dogs' milk being better for babies than cow milk, because carnivore animals produce milk with more of the components humans need for brain development. I guess cows' milk is meant for weight gain, especially muscle growth, more than for brain growth, which makes it low in things like DHA and ARA, which are higher in human milk and dog milk. I know that sounds weird, but if you have an Ice Age village, there'll be dogs. Maybe the man even has a dog. It was a popular domesticated animal because the dog domesticated itself and survived so well because it naturally forms a symbiotic relationship with humans. Also, if there are dogs, the man could commandeer a dog with pups that are weaned, or if you want some rawness to your story, he could commandeer the dog and drown the pups (sorry, I'm not advocating it, just saying people often did that sort of thing because they didn't want to care for small animals).

    Just one more thing, in that time period, infanticide was not totally uncommon. Babies that could not be cared for were killed, and the mothers didn't necessarily have a say in the matter that affected the whole tribe (caloric needs are higher for nursing women, and sometimes food was too scarce or conditions too harsh to justify keeping an infant). So maybe he's sort of on his own with this child? Because maybe other people aren't going to help him save it?

    If you have a man alone, who wants to care for an abandoned child, I'd say a dog might be your best bet, because there is a disease, you can look it up, it's called Kwashiorkor, (spelling?) and it's a disease caused by protein deficiency. In third world countries, where children are weaned when a new baby is born, they often get sick because they stop eating milk and begin eating a smashed veggie and grain diet. Since they (children between the ages of 2-3) don't get the proper amount of protein (because you can't mash meat), their bellies bloat and their limbs get gangly, and it's a form of starvation. So no, any child under about the age of about three (when their digestive tracts change) would not be able to survive for any length of time without easily-digested protein, because their intestines could not receive protein from grain, beans, or veggies, and they wouldn't have meat (unless your main character wants to do what birds and wolves do when their babies need meat, and digest it for them and vomit it up). You need a source of protein and fat, and that's why mammals have milk, because it not only has an easily digestible protein in sufficient amounts, but because it has all that healthy fat that babies need to grow healthy brains.

    If you are going to use a non-milk diet for the baby, I'd recommend the man fishing and smashing fish and their guts into a paste and having the baby fed with his fingers (because small babies don't have a chew instinct, they have a suck instinct. So fish will contain fats for brain growth and protein, which is better than a veggie diet, which won't supply either.

    Hope that helps.

    Also, just as a side note, a woman does not need to give birth to lactate. Many of history's nurses were not mothers, or certainly not new mothers. If you stimulate your nipples (sorry if this grosses anyone out) for repetitive intervals (as one would do with a newborn), it takes about two weeks to begin really lactating. Adoptive mothers can do that with a breast pump now, if they know they are expecting a newborn at a specific time, so they can receive their new baby and actually breastfeed naturally. You do not need the hormones present after giving birth, because the stimulation actually produces the hormones, regardless of whether you've ever given birth. Don't know whether that's true for dogs, however. Okay, so now I think I've thoroughly exhausted my knowledge on the matter. I nursed four kids, but I'm certainly not an expert on what people really did in the Ice Age. I am more familiar with the Renaissance, which also had few alternatives for babies who were orphaned. They either ate cow or goat milk, or they got a nurse.
     
  7. Butterfly

    Butterfly Auror

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    There is such a thing as premastication, or mouth to mouth feeding, which has been common throughout history, but was always done during the weaning period. I have no idea if it's even possible with a newborn.
     
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  8. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    I was going to say the same thing as CM about the dogs. Goats were very popular for nursing infants, which is actually why certain breeds are called "nanny goats". If you google it you will see etches from the Middle Ages of goats nursing babies. It has been known for infants to actually be adopted by wolf packs ( where the idea for Jungle Book came from). Research ferel children and you will find that infants have been known to be nursed by wolves, apes, etc.

    Dogs in Animal shelters who have lost their own pups have been used to nurse kittens, bunnies, and puppies from other mothers... So I see know reason why that maternal instinct wouldn't work for a human baby.

    So yes, I think dogs would be your best bet.
     
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  9. evolution_rex

    evolution_rex Inkling

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    The only North American goat I know is the mountain goat, and they're not exactly 'true' goats. The problem with dogs is, my story takes place about 50,000 to 40,000 years ago (I wanted to make it as early in history as possible) and I'm not sure on when the origins of dogs happened. I know there is a lot of evidence that paleo Americans had dogs but the Bering land bridge lasted a long time, so there was a long time to introduce dogs. I'd have to do more research on that (if anyone knows, that'd be helpful).

    Thank you for all your helpful posts, though! If the dog thing works out, I may try that. Otherwise I may have him find a deer (do you guys think a deer would work)?
     
  10. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    Yeah, dogs were domesticated about 10,000 years ago, but the child could be nursed by wolves.

    Hercules was said to have been nursed by a deer.
     
  11. Caged Maiden

    Caged Maiden Staff Article Team

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    I'd imagine you could stretch the timeline to include dogs. Basically, what happened with dogs, is that wolves have a natural fear of humans, and some were less afraid of people in general, and they'd hang out on the outskirts of villages and live fat and happy off human scraps. When generations of these more tame wolves bred, they were all similarly unafraid of humans, and they began to change. They were less aggressive, they got floppy ears, and their colors changed. Even if the true domestication of dogs is in the future, there is no reason why there aren't some of those tamer wolves hanging around after the village is wrecked. You might even have your MC find one of them that has given birth and has a littler of pups that were killed or stillborn or for whatever reason didn't survive the invasion. Maybe it was a wolf he knew and even fed before.When he's leaving the village, he finds her, alone and defending her den against other animals who smell the dead pups, or kill them. The man can scare off the other animals and notice the wolf's pups are dead, but he sort of has the idea to take her to nurse the baby, and it not only helps the baby survive, but the wolf is happy to have a baby again?
     
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