Skip to main content

Teach a mom to breastfeed ... or allow a baby to learn???

Teach a mom to breastfeed ... or allow a baby to learn???

Many mothers and fathers take a class at MilkWorks to learn about breastfeeding. During class, we provide a lot of left brained information about feeding cues and frequency of feeds and newborn weight gain. The reality is, mothers don’t really learn to breastfeed by taking a class.

Traditionally, mothers learned to breastfeed by growing up around breastfeeding. They listened to and observed the experienced mothers around them (including their favorite cat and her new litter of kittens in the barn!). Young girls practiced holding babies and all of this knowledge was incorporated into their hearts and minds. When it came time to feed their own babies, their emotions and instincts took over and, Voila! a baby got fed.

Nowadays, we attempt to teach a mother how to breastfeed her baby, never stopping to think that her baby might already know how to feed. Human babies are mammals. As such, they are hard wired for survival. In a mammal baby, this means figuring out how to get fed.

Babies have an amazing ability to move through an instinctual process that has virtually disappeared in our modern day birthing practices. If we place a baby on his or her mother’s chest after birth, there are a series of nine instinctive stages that a baby will move through, culminating in suckling at the breast and falling into a contented sleep. We seldom let this instinctive learning take place. Instead, we often wonder why babies have a hard time breastfeeding.

This skin to skin time after birth was first promoted in modern times by Dr. John Kennell, a pioneer in his own field, who passed away recently at the age of 91. Dr. Kennell felt that modern birth practices ignore what a baby wants and needs after birth: to be held and comforted in order to feel safe and develop healthy relationships with other humans. Instead babies were often whisked away and placed in a bassinet.

Sometimes in our quest to embrace progress, we have a tendency to throw out the baby with the bath water. What better time than now to embrace age-old practices designed to promote peace? Self- soothing is a life-long skill valuable when our boss is crabby, traffic is crazy or we lose a loved one. We mistakenly think that babies will learn this skill on their own. Dr. Kennell understood that the best place for a baby to learn to self sooth was nestled on their mother’s chest, taking their sweet time learning to eat, and feeling loved and cherished in the process.

Maybe we need to do a bit less teaching and allow a bit more time for babies to learn…….