Mother baby design

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Lori and Mira

Tears flow from our eyes when we cry. Our lungs inhale oxygen to nourish our cells. We excrete urine ridding our bodies of toxins. In healthy people, these functions occur without questioning; we expect and trust that they will happen on a day to day basis. And yet, when a healthy woman gives birth to a baby, all of the trust we put in normal bodily functions vanishes.

Our culture has grown to fear the female body to such an extent that we distrust her ability to produce milk for her offspring, a normal mammalian function.

“You know, not all women can breastfeed,” my obstetrician, caught up in this fear told me, expecting my body to fail my firstborn.

In fact, the amount of women who physically cannot breastfeed is estimated at less than one percent.

We know that too many women “can’t” breastfeed due to cultural and institutional Booby Traps, but it generally isn’t a question of bodily dysfunction. The truth is, women’s bodies are incredible.

Below is a summary of The Birth of a Breastfeeding Baby and Mother by Judith A. Lothian, PhD, RN, LCCE, FACCE published in The Journal of Perinatal Education and a conversation had with Healthy Children’s Cindy Turner-Maffei, MA, ALC, IBCLC highlighting the ways in which mothers and babies are born and naturally equipped to breastfeed.

  • Sometime around the twentieth week of pregnancy, mothers begin to produce colostrum, a nutrient- and antibody-dense first food. In the case of a prematurely born infant, “the milk the mother produces is higher in fat in order to meet the baby’s special nutritional needs.” (Lothian 2005)

  • When labor and birth are allowed to progress normally without unnecessary medical intervention, healthy babies are born alert and ready to breastfeed.

  • Placed skin to skin on mother immediately after birth, baby will instinctively move through nine stages to self-attach to the breast. Dr. Lennart Righard, MD writes in Making Childbirth a Normal Process, “Breastfeeding will be facilitated if the newborn baby is allowed to search and touch, smell and lick, and finally latch on to the breast by his or her own efforts.”

  • Mother’s areola darkens during pregnancy and her nipples stand more erect. The breast resembles a target in a concentric circle pattern triggering baby’s visual ability.

  • Montgomery glands secrete a substance similar to amniotic fluid enticing the baby to crawl toward and latch to the breast. The odor of the secretion also stimulates appetite. (Thomas)

  • Born naked and wet from 98.6 degrees often into  70 degree room temperature, babies sense breast warmth and track toward the heat. (Turner-Maffei 2014)

  • Mothers instinctively respond to soliciting sounds, a term coined by Ann-Marie Widstrom, to help baby to the breast.

  • Babies often seem to prefer the left breast, “perhaps because of the familiar pace of the heart, the dance music of the womb,” Cindy says.

  • As baby crawls to the breast to self attach, she kneads mother’s uterus helping it to contract, through both fundal massage and the stimulation of oxytocin release.

  • Oxytocin also facilitates the separation of the placenta…preventing excessive bleeding. (Lothian 2005)

  • Hormones triggered when placed skin to skin, baby “instinctively throws back his head and opens his mouth wide—the perfect positioning for an effective latch.” (Lothian 2005)

  • An effective latch means baby’s nose and chin are snug against the breast. Newborn noses tend to be flat which makes breathing easier when attached.

  • During labor and after birth, mother exhibits high levels of endorphins which pass on to the baby in her breast milk. Endorphins help make the transition Earthside easier for baby. (Lothian 2005)

  • Through skin to skin contact and breastfeeding, mother shares her skin flora with baby. This colonization of good bacteria protects baby in its new environment and improves the infant’s health.

    Although the nursing dyad is often up against a slew of Booby Traps, birth and lactation professionals should remind mothers of their innate ability to feed their babies in order to instill in her a sense of confidence. Mothers and babies are naturally set up for breastfeeding success; let us remind her of her power.

Many thanks to the beautiful mamas who shared their lovely breastfeeding images for this post!

References:

Lothian, Judith A. . “The Birth of a Breastfeeding Baby and Mother.” Journal of Perinatal Education. 14.Winter (2005): 42-45. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1595228/>.

Thomas, Jenny. “A Composite of “Why Breastmilk is Not Just Food” posts on Lakeshore Medical Clinic’s Facebook Page.” n. page. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <http://www.drjen4kids.com/soap box/notjustfood.htm

Turner-Maffei, Cindy. “Mother and Baby Design.” Message to Jess Fedenia. Feb 2014. E-mail.

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