By Tracy G. Cassels
One of the things you hear regularly when women talk of the difficulties of breastfeeding is that it’s “not instinctual”, that we aren’t born knowing how to breastfeed a baby and it doesn’t come naturally with birth. The problem with this argument is that if breastfeeding were not instinctual at all, none of us would be here. The very first humans and billions after have had to breastfeed without the help of various organizations there to tell them how to breastfeed (though of course they have had cultural learning by watching women breastfeed around them for their lives and other women to help when necessary). And they do it, most of the time successfully. How? Well, it turns out the question isn’t whether or not breastfeeding is instinctual, but rather for whom breastfeeding is instinctual. That’s right – all this focus on whether or not moms instinctively know how to breastfeed and get her baby to latch properly is silly because it’s actually our infants’ who have the instinct. Their desire to stay alive means they are born with the knowledge of how to suckle and how to get to that breast if we leave them alone to do it.
Now it’s important to note that the infant’s instinct is intertwined with the natural instinct for a mother to immediately hold her infant on her chest, skin to skin. In fact, the umbilical cord serves to keep mom and baby together, suggesting a period of time in which the two are to remain close right after birth. While mammals and humans have “cut” through the cord at some point, it has never been immediately after birth until adopted as a standard practice by obstetricians. This time of connectedness after birth is key to developing the breastfeeding relationship as it allows the infant to do what he or she instinctually wants to do – get to that breast.
But isn’t getting to the breast exactly what many hospitals have you do nowadays? Yes, but there’s a difference between trying to get your infant on the breast and allowing your infant to find the breast. The first time the midwives and nurses tried to show me how to breastfeed, it was the most awkward position I’d ever encountered. It felt unnatural and I wasn’t sure how I could hold it for any extended period of time. If what I experienced is at all the norm for women today, it’s no wonder so many have problems getting a good latch and thus breastfeeding. But what the nurses and midwives didn’t count on was that in my prenatal class (taken with my doula), I learned about the Breast Crawl.
For those of you who haven’t heard of the Breast Crawl, it’s the movements a baby will make while lying on his or her mother to get to the breast and latch properly. It is the epitome of allowing a baby to follow his or her instincts when it comes to breastfeeding. Here’s a link to a video to help exemplify the process (it should open in a new window, so don’t worry about losing your spot):
In scientific studies examining the success of the Breast Crawl, it was found that nearly all infants can accomplish latching and sucking on their own while a small percentage require a bit of help latching. In fact, over four separate studies, only 1 infant failed to make it to the nipple