by Dawn Kersula, RN

This week (August 1-7) is World Breastfeeding Week in over 170 countries, including the United States. It commemorates the 1990 declaration by the UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre in Florence, Italy that breastfeeding is part of an infant’s right to nutritious food. That declaration was quickly endorsed by the World Health Organization and adopted by 70 countries, and the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action was formed to protect, promote and support breastfeeding worldwide.

We know that mothers have been breastfeeding their newborns since the beginning of time. But the art of breastfeeding was lost for many years of the past century, and we are learning more and more about how much we lost when we put our own cultural overlays on this most basic of human behaviors. Other baby mammals take to feeding so easily. Why do we humans seem to struggle so much?

The latest in breastfeeding research is proving to be downright elegant and delightful. Dr. Suzanne Colson of Canterbury Christ Church University in England looked at infant reflexes – their ability to hold their head up, bob, splay their toes, walk and more – and wondered if all the “prescriptions for better breastfeeding” were actually making it hard on mothers and babies. Here are a few of the things she found:

  • Babies are biologically primed to eat at the breast.  There is no “right way” to hold a baby for breastfeeding. Lots of babies would like to get into a position much like when they were inside the womb.
  • We’ve been fighting gravity.  When we sit bolt upright to feed, gravity is pushing the baby down and away from mom. Instead of sitting we need to lean back into what Colson calls “sacral sitting.” That way the baby is atop the mom – gravity brings the baby close.
  • Moms know how to stimulate their babies to feed. Watch any new mom and baby together. The way they dance together will take your breath away. Moms lightly stroke their babies in a way that stimulates the baby to become more alert.
  • The best recipe for breastfeeding is to get mom nice and comfortable first. Place the baby between mom’s breasts. We’ve been pretty hung up on skin to skin, but a mom should decide what that means for her. It could mean baby’s cheek on mom’s chest. The baby should be able to move, using its primitive neonatal reflexes to find the breast and attach him or herself. If the latch isn’t good, the baby will pick up his or her head and re-attach, or mom may help.
  • Mom doesn’t have to do it alone. She’s got a very competent partner. As she and the baby learn to read each other, the milk and the relationship will flow more easily.

Other proponents of laid-back breastfeeding are Kathy Kendall Tackett and Nancy Mohrbacher, authors of Breastfeeding Made Simple, now in its second edition. Tacket and Mohrbacher suggest mothers learn to enjoy the time feeding their newborns in the same way we love to spend time with our beloved in fancy restaurants lingering over dessert. Your baby thinks he’s in the finest restaurant in town. Don’t be afraid to play, to experiment, and to find a way to say, “The breastfeeding is going fine – we’re just laid back.”

Dawn Kersula, RN, is a perinatal Specialist at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital Birthing Center.