An evolutionary perspective on the patterning of maternal investment in pregnancy

Human Nature 2 (4):351-385 (1991)
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Pregnancy is thought to be a metabolically very expensive endeavor, yet investigations have produced inconsistent results concerning the responsiveness of human birth weight to maternal nutritional stress or nutritional intervention. These findings have led some researchers to conclude that fetal growth is strongly buffered against fluctuations in maternal energy balance, making the fetus in effect a “nearly perfect parasite.” This buffering would appear to be a reasonable adaptive response given the high risk of morbidity and mortality associated with low birth weight. However, a life-history approach leads to the prediction that maternal investment strategies in pregnancy should be geared toward maximizing lifetime reproductive success rather than simply the success of the current pregnancy, and by extension that maternal investment strategies should vary with reproductive value. The physiology of human pregnancy in fact appears to include a number of mechanisms that protect maternal energy resources from diversion to the fetus and preserve them for future reproductive events. These mechanisms include adjustment of blood flow to the uterus and perhaps minor adjustments in gestation length, although evidence for the latter is scant. Suggestions are made for ways of investigating these maternal options



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