The Association Between Common Labor Drugs and Suckling When Skin-to-Skin During the First Hour After Birth

kajsa2There’s no doubt about it; Dr. Kajsa Brimdyr, PhD, CLC loves babies.

“Babies are just so incredible!” Brimdyr exclaims. “Immediately after they’re born they can do such complicated things. We have this idea that you have to be careful when you hold a baby because their heads might fall off, but when you watch what a newborn baby can do when they are skin- to- skin, it’s breathtaking and complicated.”

Babies touch the breast and bring the flavors of the montgomery glands to their mouths. They can watch one breast and scoot back and latch to a breast they haven’t yet seen. They lift their heads. They crawl. Brimdyr notes just a few of the miraculous, often unnoticed talents of the just-born human baby.

Ann-Marie Widström, RN, MTD, Doctor of Medical Science began studying babies’ instinctual dance in the first hour after birth when placed skin-to-skin with their mothers in 1985.

Twenty years later, Brimdyr began working internationally with Widström and Kristin Svensson, PhD, RN helping hospitals implement skin-to-skin contact.

One of Brimdyr’s favorite stories to tell is from when she and her colleagues first visited Egypt. She and her team showed Egyptian medical providers videos of Swedish babies going through the nine instinctive stages in the first hour after birth.

After completion of the video a pediatrician replied, “Well, we have Egyptian babies, and Egyptian babies don’t do this.”  So, Dr. Brimdyr and her team helped the team implement skin to skin in their own hospital, and filmed an Egyptian baby going through the nine stages. The pediatricians were flabbergasted but not convinced.

“Well, we have a very high Nubian population,” they replied.

“So then we had to show them a Nubian baby doing this!” Dr. Brimdyr exclaims.

On their next stop, Texan medical teams were equally skeptical, because “Texan babies are different.” As you may have guessed, the Texan babies proved to be just as amazing as the Egyptian and Nubian babies, dancing through the nine stages.

Brimdyr reflects: “What is it about this behavior that we are so skeptical about?”

While Brimdyr and colleagues are confident in babies’ abilities, Brimdyr does note that they started to see babies who weren’t going through the nine stages even when placed skin-to-skin immediately after birth. Some cried continuously. Some just laid there. Others only exhibited a few of the nine stages.

“How could it be that a perfectly lovely baby from a perfectly lovely mother would not behave in an instinctual  manner?” she wonders.

Brimdyr and an international team recently published The Association Between Common Labor Drugs and Suckling When Skin-to-Skin During the First Hour After Birth.


This groundbreaking research makes the invisible visible. It offers insight into what is affecting babies’ instincts right after birth, and it may offer insight into why our breastfeeding goals don’t match our outcomes, Brimdyr says.

Eighty percent of mothers intend to breastfeed, but only about 20 percent are exclusively breastfeeding at six months as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the World Health Organization and others.

The Association Between Common Labor Drugs and Suckling When Skin-to-Skin During the First Hour After Birth found that the more pitocin infants were exposed to, the fewer infants suckled. Similarly, it found that the more fentanyl infants were exposed to, the fewer infants suckled.

“I was heartbroken by the results,” Brimdyr confesses. “But…it’s something we have to recognize and acknowledge and do something about.”

When presented with this new information, practitioners wonder, “So what should we be using, because we know our mothers want to have epidurals.”

What would be a concoction that would be safe and effective for mothers’ pain level and for the baby? We don’t have that answer yet.

However, this research grants mothers more power to make informed decisions.

“And it’s about moving the idea away from blame,” Brimdyr explains.

Mothers (like myself) are being told that these drugs do not have an influence on their babies or ourselves. All of the sudden when baby is not breastfeeding, the easy person to blame is the mother, Brimdyr continues.

Of course, there are things we can do to salvage a breastfeeding relationship when it doesn’t get off to a good start.

“But now we are in the realm of heroics helping moms succeed at something that doesn’t seem to be working,” Brimdyr explains. “That’s a much more difficult place to be– much different than when breastfeeding seems easy to her.”

Throughout the study, Brimdyr watched breastfeeding come easily to some of the mother-infant dyads, and she watched other dyads struggle. To watch the struggling dyad was disheartening, she says, so overwhelmingly that she started a whole new study at the same time.   

It’s called Happy Birth Day. Happy Birth Day— based off “House Hunters’” (who doesn’t love House Hunters?) format– chronicles natural childbirth at a Baby Friendly Hospital.  The series aims to combat “Screaming Birth” portrayals in the media.  

“If mothers don’t know what birth could actually be like, and are believing the dramatic media, of course they think it is too scary to try,” Brimdyr comments.

Happy Birth Day is scheduled to premiere at the 22nd Annual International Breastfeeding Conference in Orlando, Fla. You are not going to want to miss this. Register here.

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