Cheap medicine: laughter

Photo by Uchral Sanjaadorj on Unsplash

Vermont Public Radio’s But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids recently explored how humor develops, featuring Gina Mireault of the Infant Laughter Project at Northern Vermont University.

As I listened, I thought back to an interview with Bryan Powell, PA, CLC who told the story of a parent who, with all good intentions, swooped his frantic newborn off the exam table and played airplane exclaiming “Get ready for take off!” There was a disconnect between what the parent thought would be funny to the child and what was developmentally appropriate.

Then, my mind trailed to Kimberly Seals Allers’ and other maternal child health advocates’ redirected focus on the relationship between child and parent, not just the act of feeding.


Photo by Blake Barlow on Unsplash

Nikki Lee, for example, has pointed out that care providers are so often interested in metrics; When and how much does the baby poop? How often does the baby nurse? How much milk does the baby receive? When does the baby sleep? Et cetera, et cetera.

Certainly some of these quantifiable outcomes are important for baby’s health, but when visiting with her clients, Lee makes sure to also include, “When did you have fun with your baby?”

Not long ago, the UK’s Baby- Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) revised its standards to emphasize “the centrality of wellbeing” and the maternal infant relationship in general.

One might argue we’re on the cusp of a paradigm shift; feeding our babies is acknowledged and “marketed” as much more an elaborate experience than “a process of bodily nourishment”; something quite social, something that can and should include laughter!  

Now that you’ve made it through my stream of consciousness, here’s my point: laughter is an invaluable tool for care providers and parents.

Photo by David Calderón on Unsplash

“…Laughter has a steadfast ability to bring people together” and it’s universal.  []

Health care and lactation care providers might try to incorporate humor (when appropriate) into their interactions to better connect with their clients.

Mireault’s work suggests that four‐month‐olds laugh in response to social cues and five‐month‐olds laugh in response to cognitive features; that is, they figure out what is funny on their own.

No matter what their feeding method, this is great information for parents to know!  Imagine the way laughter may diffuse a stressful parenting situation.

One small study showed that laughter increased levels of melatonin in breast milk in both mothers with atopic eczema and healthy mothers, and feeding infants with increased levels of melatonin-containing milk reduced allergic responses in infants.

Research suggests that babies who are not breastfed are less sensitive to social cues, and infant feeding has a similar effect on mothers.

Kathleen M. Krol, et al found that faster recognition of happiness was associated with longer exclusive breastfeeding duration in mothers.

Photo by Rodrigo Pereira on Unsplash

The authors write: “…Our data show that breastfeeding behaviour is related to an increased sensitivity to positive emotional cues and a decreased sensitivity to negative, threat-related cues. This pattern of results is in line with existing accounts of oxytocin function, according to which oxytocin is considered to enhance approach tendencies and inhibit withdrawal tendencies in an effort to facilitate prosocial behaviour.”

Laughter elicits pain relief, and so even in labor, laughter can be used as a tool.

Last month, as part of our 25th Anniversary year-long celebration, we asked you to share the the sillier side of breastfeeding with memes or stories.

“Breastfeeding is many things: beautiful, inspiring, powerful. But sometimes, it can also be silly, awkward, and hilarious! … Whether it’s awkward positions or too many late night feedings, teething babies or flailing toddler arms, sometimes you can’t help but laugh about this remarkable, very human thing we’re doing.”

One participant shared: “My 15 month old loves to ‘cheers’ her sippy cup with our drinks and recently decided to start ‘cheers-ing’ my breasts together before she nurses. It cracks me up!”

Cheers, indeed!

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