Helping the baby home

IN THE ANIMAL kingdom, newborns reach for their mother’s milk on their own. Only if a calf is too weak or a litter too large, will a mother help her baby find the teat or lie down and offer her underbelly so that her babies can feed from her teats. In the mammal world, reaching out to milk is seen as natural in babies.

Priyanka Idicula, a certified professional midwife in the United States and Lamaze educator with more than a decade's experience, says it is this instinctive mammalian behaviour—of letting the baby find its mother’s teat/nipple—that has disappeared in today’s births. Idicula is one among many in the world of breastfeeding experts who advocate reclaiming this instinctive ability in babies. They believe that if a mother and baby are left to themselves, a baby will crawl its way to the mother’s nipple and start suckling under an hour after birth.

At the midwife-assisted, natural birthing centre Birth Village in Kochi that Idicula cofounded, she has observed that breastfeeding issues are minimum in those mothers who have allowed their babies to crawl to their breasts.

This observation is logical. A human baby has been given the opportunity to find its food within the first few moments of arriving into this world. This is bound to strengthen its ability to suckle and survive. Allowing a baby to crawl or kick its way to the nipple also provides other benefits. It allows a baby to register its mother’s skin, smell and help in overall bonding.

Not every mother or family is ready to try the breast crawl though. Lack of patience (it could take some time in some babies) and panic can often push them to take baby to the breast. Besides, the crawl could be difficult to execute in newborns showing respiratory issues or mothers requiring recovery time from a c-section.

Many lactation experts, however, say that, on an average, breast crawl can be achieved within 45 to 120 minutes post birth. Delay beyond this could be because

◆ baby has been separated from mother immediately after birth for tests or procedures

◆ a mother’s nipples have been cleaned and wiped for nursing, thus stripping them off their natural scent that experts believe is similar to the amniotic fluid. Many experts also recommend that birth fluids or amniotic fluid be smeared on the breast. This scent is thought to help the baby home towards the breast.

◆ there is too much stimuli in the room (constant stream of visitors)

A human baby is not as helpless as it appears; if only we let them help themselves.

◆ For breast crawl: Place the baby on mother’s chest between the breasts. The mother can be lying down or in a semi-reclined position looking down at the baby. Baby’s back should be supported at all times to prevent a fall and stroked to establish mother’s touch.

Next issue: Is your milk enough for the baby?