Mammal Lactation Trivia
  • The female duck-billed platypus breastfeeds without benefit of a breast or a nipple. The mammary glands rest underneath the mother's chest. The youngster pushes against the chest wall with his soft, pliable bill, then licks the oozing milk off his mother's skin and hair.

  • Whales need to preserve their sleek, hydrodynamically efficient shape. The mother's milk glands are below her thick blubber layer. This inside location also protects the milk from cold. The baby nudges the area and milk-thick as cream-spurts out. A baby Pacific gray whale can drink 80 pounds of breastmilk day.

  • Hippos are born underwater-and nurse underwater, too. The mother puts her head under water and boosts the newborn to the surface to breathe. Then the baby goes under again, finds a nipple and suckles, instinctively folding down his ears and closing his nostrils. Every twenty to forty seconds, he bobs to the surface to breathe and swallow.

  • Female and young lions live together in a pride. In one pride, all the lionesses take care of all the cubs. Unlike almost all other mammals, any lioness will wet-nurse any cub. A napping lioness who has been hunting all night doesn't pay much attention to who is suckling on her. And because they are all so closely related, a lioness helps the family no matter whose baby she nurses.

  • The hooded seal lives about thirty years, but spends only four days nursing and being a child, the shortest nursing period of any mammal. They live at sea, but they must give birth and nurse out of the water. The only surface available is floating ice. Pups are born when the ice is beginning to melt and break up. A sudden storm might send pieces crashing together, crushing moms and pups. Or an ice floe might split, and moms and pups could be separated. A short childhood helps avoid these perils.

  • Orangutans breastfeed, ride on their mother's body and sleep in her nest for seven years-among the longest nursing period of any mammal. The young stay with their mothers at least until a new baby arrives; males begin to wander off then, but females may stay around for a while observing how babies are cared for. They are accomplished acrobats, often nursing upside down-hanging by a hand and a foot from a branch.

  • Baby animals are weaned when the mother is newly pregnant or preparing for another pregnancy. In western culture, today, the most common reason cited for human weaning is in preparation to return to a job outside the home.