That of midwife is not just a human specialty. Even among bonobos, when a female gives birth, her companions help her in different ways, with behaviors that closely resemble those of the midwife in our species.
Relatives. Elisa Demuru and a group of primatologists from the University of Pisa observed for the first time a sort of help at birth among captive bonobo females . The bonobo (Pan paniscus), together with the chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes), is our closest relative. Both species live in large social groups, communities that can reach 150 individuals, with their hierarchies and compositions that can change over time. Among bonobos in particular, much more than chimpanzees, females develop strong bonds, sometimes joining forces against males.Here are the bonobos, champions of empathy
The pitfalls of childbirth. Among the scholars, the dominant idea is that the cooperation between Homo sapiens females in birth assistance has evolved mainly due to the physical difficulties that our species encounters in giving birth to puppies. At the base of the long, painful and even insidious process of childbirth there is according to this theory the relation between the measure of the birth canal, determined by the anatomy of the pelvic bones, and that of the head of the newborn. In the course of evolution, in short, the basin would have "shrunk" to allow a smoother and more upright bipedal gait, while at the same time making the birth more complicated and risky . Help from other females would be born as a "mandatory" measure to overcome the difficulties of birth. And so the role of the midwife would be just typically human.
Female help. Instead, the new study seems to suggest the opposite. There are other observations of behavior that would suggest a sort of cooperation between the mother and other females, but these are rare cases, given that in situations of captivity the female is often isolated from her companions at the time of birth, while the birth of primates in nature often occurs at night and is not easy to document. The scenes described by the researchers in two parks for primates, in the Netherlands and in France, would instead seem to suggest that childbirth assistance also exists among female bonobos. In particular, in all three cases videorecorded and analyzed, the woman in labor was surrounded by some companions who seemed to perform typical midwife gestures: in one case they helped the female by hunting flies, kept the males of the group and human observers at bay, they inspected her partner's genitals and put their hands under her pelvis, as if to hold the puppy about to be born.
A craft born before man. In short, these observations confirm that birth is a "social" event, not experienced in isolation, even among the bonobos, who, however, as species have no particular difficulty, but rather give birth easily. And they would think that the figure of the midwife was not born due to the mandatory need for assistance among human females. Rather, according to the researchers, it would have been the ability of unrelated females to form solid social bonds and to cooperate in representing the pre-requisite that brought out the "figure of the midwife " in our species.