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WBAW post - Are newborns helpless and struggling to communicate?

or are we just failing to understand?

I've written this piece for for World Breastfeeding Awareness Week - the topic of which is communication.

I often hear it said that newborns are helpless. I also hear it said they need to “learn to feed”, or that feeding is a learning process for both parties – and at times the latter at least is true.

But it makes little sense that whilst every other mammal can feed without instruction – humans supposedly amongst the most advanced, are not born equipped with the skills for survival. That we need hours of “training” about how to hold our infants and attach them to the breast, in order to facilitate good milk transfer without pain.

We often hear that this is because breastfeeding is no longer held as the norm in modern western society, and that previously sisters, mothers, aunts and cousins would all have had handy tips and tricks to help along the way. Without doubt this of course impacts, but what if we’re missing something big along the way – what if it isn’t that an infant is utterly helpless, but that we have lost the skill of understanding?

When pregnancy and birth are “typical”, infants are born with every reflex and instinct they need to find the breast and feed – all without a whisper of positioning and attachment. We know that if we pop a healthy term infant on his mother’s chest and wait – and he will crawl to the breast, self attach and feed.

“Immediately after birth the child was dried and laid on the mother's chest. In the control group a regular behavioural sequence, previously not described in the literature, was observed. After 15 minutes of comparative inactivity, spontaneous sucking and rooting movements occurred, reaching maximal intensity at 45 minutes. The first hand-to-mouth movement was observed at a mean of 34± 2 minutes after birth and at 55+ minutes the infant spontaneously found the nipple and started to suckle.”
Widström et al, 1987 – first written observation of the breast crawl.

And that often is the key – to wait, but in modern society that often seems oh so hard to do! Babies are wiped, examined away from mum, weighed and dressed – each act killing a little more of those natural instincts. Even mothers who have their infants delivered onto their chest often only have a brief spell before they are whisked away for the above.

“Of 17 babies kept in the Breast Crawl position and kept in uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact for 1 hour, 16 attached to the breast correctly. Fifteen babies in the other group were separated after about 20 minutes for routine measuring and weighing procedures. After an interval of approximately 20 minutes, they were returned to the mother. Only seven babies in this group attached correctly (Table 4). These findings are crucial because the early suckling pattern is of prognostic value for the duration and success of breastfeeding)”
Righard and Alade, 1990

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that's something I never thought about before because it's so true that we're told constantly that it's a learning process and doesn't come naturally. I was reading books on how to do it because I was so afraid of "failing". It's pretty eye-opening that 16 out of 17 babies latched correctly within the hour...everything is just so rushed with birth these days like you mentioned. Very interesting post.