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Baby Development – Why Does a Human Baby Need a Full Year Before Starting to Walk?

Posted Dec 18 2009 3:01pm

By Colleen Hurley, RD, Certified Kid’s Nutrition Specialist

 When a new baby arrives, many parents are simply astounded by just how much a newborn can do within such a short period of time.  Normal infant development comes in stages, with significant milestones arriving typically over the course of a year or 2.   Yet when compared with other species, some can walk on the first day of life while humans take up to a year.  Previously, scientists assumed the reason for this is that the human brain is rather complex; and well- walking on 2 legs is no easy task.  A new study challenges this notion, however, by finding we are more similar to other mammals than we thought.

Sweden’s Lund University researchers discovered that humans start walking at the same stage in brain development as most other walking mammals.  For a starting point of motor development researchers used conception, not birth, which is in contrast to convention.  Yet this starting point revealed shocking similarities among species whose origins can be traced to as many as 100 million years ago.

Not to be outdone, humans still do have bigger brains, but when it comes to other walking mammals –  when looking at walking in particular -brain development is quite similar between us humans and other mammals.  You might be thinking researchers must have a lot of time on their hands, but the study originated from an attempt by thewalking Lund University group to translate motor development milestones between 2 distantly related species.  This has a great deal of poignancy in research actually, as many studies are conducted on animals due to their similar to genetic make up to humans.

Regardless of varying species’ brain and body sizes, brain maturity at birth, or gestation time; all species begin walking at same time continuum in brain development.  Humans certainly are unique in other ways but once the nervous system has reached a certain level of maturity you learn to walk whether you are foal, rodent, monkey, baby; or any other mammal for that matter.  

The most unexpected finding of this study is that it is actually possible to predict, with a high level of acuity, when human babies will start to walk based on developmental knowledge of other mammals.  Co-author of the study Martin Garwicz explains:  “Perhaps these similarities are after all not that surprising — although the end products ‘human’ and ‘rat’ may be very different, our study suggests that the building blocks and principles for how these building blocks interact with one another during development could be the same.” Considering how much research relies on the use of animals for human application of study findings, it is definitely thinking about.

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