Episode 54: The Obstetrical Dilemma


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By Meredith Johnson and The Leakey Foundation. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

The widely-held idea known as the “obstetrical dilemma” is a hypothesis that explains why babies are so helpless, and why childbirth is so difficult for humans compared to other animals.

The obstetrical dilemma suggests that babies are born early so their big brains can fit through the mother’s pelvis, which can’t get any wider due to our method of bipedal locomotion. This problem, the idea says, is solved by an evolutionary tradeoff that increases risks to pregnant mothers who must struggle to birth bigger and bigger-brained babies through narrow birth canals.

On this episode, Leakey Foundation grantees Dr. Holly Dunsworth and Dr. Anna Warrener describe their search for the evidence behind the obstetrical dilemma and they discuss the importance of the stories we tell about our bodies.

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Origin Stories is a project of The Leakey Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to funding human origins research and outreach.

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Thanks to Lynn and Larry Schafran for sponsoring this episode. We are grateful for their support of The Leakey Foundation and our educational programs.

Lunch Break Science

Lunch Break Science is The Leakey Foundation's web series featuring short talks and interviews with Leakey Foundation grantees. Episodes stream live on the first and third Thursdays of every month. Sign up for event reminders and watch past episodes at leakeyfoundation.org/live

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