–This post is part of our 10-year anniversary series “Breastfeeding is…”—
Breastfeeding is part of a continuum.
It has been hypothesized that starting around nine weeks of fetal development, the pattern and sequence of intrauterine movements of the fetus seem to be a survival mechanism, which is implemented by the newborn’s patterns of movement during the first hour after birth (described as the 9 stages) when skin-to-skin with the mother to facilitate breastfeeding.
This very behavior refutes the idea that breastfeeding is “an adjunct to birth” as it is generally viewed in maternity care settings in America.
Not only are human babies hardwired to progress through 9 stages and self attach to the breast, mammalian bodies are hardwired to produce milk too.
Around 16 weeks of pregnancy, the body starts to prepare for breastfeeding. This phase, called Lactogenesis I is when colostrum begins to be created. During Lactogenesis II, the secretion of copious milk follows the hormonal shift triggered by birth and the placenta delivery. After this phase, milk production must be maintained through a supply-and-demand-like system. [Neville 2001]
Even before a pregnancy is achieved, individuals are being influenced by the infant feeding culture that surrounds them, consciously or subconsciously laying a foundation for how they feel about feeding their own babies.
Pat Hoddinott’s, et al study found that women who had seen successful breastfeeding regularly and perceived this as a positive experience were more likely to initiate breastfeeding.
Exposure to prenatal breastfeeding education also affects breastfeeding outcomes. Irene M. Rosen and colleagues found that women who attended prenatal breastfeeding classes had significantly increased breastfeeding at 6 months when compared to controls.
Mode of birth and birth experiences influence infant feeding too, for both members of the dyad.
A growing body of evidence shows that birth by cesarean section is associated with early breastfeeding cessation.
Intrapartum exposure to the drugs fentanyl and synOT is associated with altered newborn infant behavior, including suckling, while in skin-to-skin contact with mother during the first hour after birth. [Brimdyr, et al 2019]
What’s more, the authors of Intrapartum Administration of Synthetic Oxytocin and Downstream Effects on Breastfeeding: Elucidating Physiologic Pathways found “No positive relationships between the administration of synthetic oxytocin and breastfeeding.” They comment, “Practices that could diminish the nearly ubiquitous practice of inducing and accelerating labor with the use of synthetic oxytocin should be considered when evaluating interventions that affect breastfeeding outcomes.”
In Transdisciplinary breastfeeding support: Creating program and policy synergy across the reproductive continuum, author Miriam Labbok takes a detailed look at “the power and potential of synergy between and among organizations and individuals supporting breastfeeding, the mother-child dyad, and reproductive health to increase sustainable breastfeeding support.”
Labbok points out that a paradigm shift on the issues in the reproductive continuum – family planning, pregnancy and birthing and breastfeeding– is needed.
“These are issues that are intimately, biologically, gender linked in women’s lives, and yet ones that are generally divided up to be addressed by a variety of different professional disciplines,” Labbok begins. “Despite the impact of child spacing on birthing success, of birthing practices on breastfeeding success, and of breastfeeding on child spacing, we are offered family planning services by a gynecologist, birth attendance by an obstetrician or midwife, and baby care by a pediatrician. Having these ‘silos’ of care, each with its own paradigm and priorities, may lead to conflicting messages, and hence, may undermine the search for mutuality in goals, and collaboration.”
One such initiative looking to deconstruct siloed care is the Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative which includes standards and goals for birthing practices, for breastfeeding-friendly communities, and guidance for birth spacing, in addition to reconfirming the original Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding, in recognition that breastfeeding occurs along a continuum.
In the U.S. context, the 1,000 Days initiative recognizes comprehensive health coverage, comprehensive guidelines on nutrition during pregnancy, lactation, and early childhood for women in the first 1,000 days, paid family and medical leave policy for all workers, and investments to ensure parents and caregivers can access good nutrition as solutions to a well nation and a well world.
As part of our celebration, we are giving away an online learning module with contact hours each week. Here’s how to enter into the drawings:
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and “OMW is 10” in the subject line.
This week, in the body of the email, please share with us some or all of your birth stor(ies).
Subsequent weeks will have a different prompt in the blog post.
We will conduct a new drawing each week over the 10-week period. Please email separately each week to be entered in the drawing. You may only win once. If your name is drawn, we will email a link with access to the learning module. The winner of the final week will score a grand finale swag bag.