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The continuum concept is an idea, coined by Jean Liedloff in her 1975 book The Continuum Concept, that human beings have an innate set of expectations that our evolutionary process has designed us to meet (which Liedloff calls the continuum) in order to achieve optimal physical, mental, and emotional development and adaptability. According to Liedloff, in order to achieve this level of development, humans—especially babies—require the kind of experience to which our species adapted during the long process of our evolution by natural selection. For infants, these experiences, for example, include:
- The infant being placed immediately in the mother's arms at birth, and from then on carried constantly in arms or otherwise in contact with someone, usually the mother, and allowed to observe (or nurse, or sleep) while the carrier goes about his or her business—until the infant begins creeping, then crawling on his/her own impulse, usually at six to eight months;
- Co-sleeping in the parents' bed, in constant physical contact, until leaving of their own volition (often about two years);
- Breastfeeding "on cue"—nursing in response to the child's body's signals;
- Having caregivers immediately respond to body signals (squirming, crying, etc.), without judgment, displeasure, or invalidation of the child's needs, yet showing no undue concern nor making the child the constant center of attention;
- Sensing (and fulfilling) elders' expectations that he or she is innately social and cooperative and has strong self-preservation instincts, and that he or she is welcome and worthy.
Liedloff suggests that when certain evolutionary expectations are not met as infants and toddlers, compensation for these needs will be sought, by alternate means, throughout life—resulting in many forms of mental and social disorders. She also argues that these expectations are largely distorted, neglected, and/or not properly met in civilized cultures which have removed themselves from the natural evolutionary process, resulting in the aforementioned abnormal psychological and social conditions. Liedloff's recommendations fit in more generally with evolutionary psychology, attachment theory, and the philosophy known as the Paleolithic lifestyle: optimizing well-being by living more like our hunter-gatherer ancestors.
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