Your baby is born ready to wow you with a miracle: She can crawl to your breast and begin nursing all by herself.
Did you know that if your baby is placed on your tummy immediately after birth, and left in undisturbed skin-to-skin contact with you, she will naturally have the ability to move on her own toward your breast, latch on and begin her first feeding?
This no-less-than-miraculous continuation of the mysteries of birth is called the breast crawl, and it’s far more common when moms and newborns are kept together, undisturbed, after birth.
Sadly, expert healthcare assessments often get in the way of nature’s preferred method of starting breastfeeding, despite recommendations otherwise from UNICEF and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
How newborns come to feed
A remarkable sequence begins when your newborn rests on your tummy post-birth. Leading expert Marshall Klaus observed that your baby will begin to salivate and chew on her fingers. Then, she’ll use her legs and arms to move to your breast.
At your sternum, she’ll bounce her head to reach the nipple. And then, with her mouth open, and it may take several attempts, she will finally latch on and begin to nurse.
To help this process happen in today’s busy birth environment, it’s important to let your care providers know in advance that you plan to let baby initiate breastfeeding post-birth. This means newborn assessments, vitamin K injections, suctioning and swaddling can all wait, unless immediately medically necessary.
In fact, the AAP currently recommends that “all healthy infants should be placed and remain in skin-to-skin contact with their mothers immediately after delivery until the first feeding occurs.”
Bonding with your baby
Your baby is born with an amazing sense of smell. Research has shown babies can find and prefer maternal odors, particularly an unwashed breast with milk versus other smells.
When babies self-attach to their mothers and start breastfeeding on their own, breastfeeding is more effective than if the mother tries to show the baby how to nurse. As baby snuggles skin-to-skin, her body releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin, calming her. Babies who initiate nursing post-birth also tend to be more relaxed, sleep longer and have less fear or anxiety than an over-stimulated baby.
As your baby nurses, her temperature, heart rate, breathing and blood sugars will quickly and naturally stabilize.
Initiating Breastfeeding Post-Birth
You can help your baby’s first feeding begin post-birth by:
Requesting immediate skin-to-skin contact.
Avoiding interventions or assessments unless immediately necessary.
Observing baby go through the breastfeeding crawl sequence, assisting, but not leading, as necessary.
Remaining reclined and relaxed, allowing baby to take the lead in starting breastfeeding.
No visitors immediately post-birth and until breastfeeding is going well.
Amanda Henderson, RN, MSN, IBCLC, CCE, is an instructor of nursing at the University of Maine in Orono, ME.