My breastfeeding epiphany – laid back positioning

When I was introduced to this process for the first time, watching Baby-Led Breastfeeding: The Mother Baby Dance,  I was overwhelmed with emotion.  After nursing two children and being a biologist myself, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t know human babies could find their way to the breast and latch on perfectly on their own, with only a supportive hand from mother. How different would my breastfeeding experience have been if I had known this?

As the emotions continued, I remembered back to day 2 postpartum with my oldest daughter.  The nursery had just taken her for a weight check, promising not to wake her.  Instead, I heard her screaming down the hallway, and I lost it.  Breastfeeding was so difficult, and everyone was telling me something different!  It took her forever to latch, and everyone seemed to be in love with this position called the football hold, even though it felt extremely awkward to me.  But she did latch on that way, so I continued to use it.  Several weeks later I wound up with a ductal yeast infection and experienced the most horrific pain while feeding my baby that I never knew was possible.  When she latched and my milk flowed, it felt like someone was inserting a hot ice pick straight in my back.

I also had to learn how to nurse her while she was in a Pavlik harness.  It was not easy to nurse in a cross cradle or cradle hold because her legs were in the way. I ended up balancing her on my thigh and feeding her in a sitting position so I could get a comfortable latch, and I did not get to enjoy the snuggles and relaxation that come with feeding and rocking because we had to be so upright.

What if someone had shown me the laid-back position?  Perhaps I could have avoided all of that misery of the first few months of breastfeeding.  Perhaps I would have had more confidence in what she could do on her own.  Perhaps her latch wouldn’t have been shallow enough to abrade and crack my nipples, causing candida to invade into my milk ducts (after a cesarean, I was dosed highly on prophylactic antibiotics). Perhaps I wouldn’t live in fear of the next feeding and the struggle to get her latched. Perhaps I wouldn’t have felt angry that a process that was supposed to be so “natural” didn’t feel natural at all.

Most of the time you can begin breastfeeding without worrying about positions and holds. And if you are having trouble several weeks into breastfeeding, baby-led breastfeeding is also a good way to step back, relax, and re-group when breastfeeding has become challenging or frustrating.

Babies are built to use their reflexes to get to the breast.  If we let them use those reflexes and do not intervene unless necessary, the way in which they were designed to efficiently and comfortably get their milk will then be imprinted on them for the rest of the breastfeeding relationship! What could be more comfortable for mother and baby?  Rather than applying bottle feeding positions when introducing our newborns to breastfeeding, let’s just lay back and relax and let our babies do the work with their reflexes. When we intervene by sitting upright and forcing our baby to latch and re-latch, we can create feeding aversions, and we make baby and mom uncomfortable.  Our babies’ hands get in the way, and they learn that breastfeeding is not something they can do with their natural reflexes.

No one can explain this better than Nancy Morbacher. Take the time to read her breastfeeding books and take her online class. You will be glad you did.

As far as the newborn magic hour, which is a whole other post, watch what happens when you recline and rest and get to know your baby immediately after birth.  It’s thrilling to see. Remember, this occurs when the room is quiet, and babies whose mothers have been un-medicated generally have an easier time (but babies whose moms have gotten epidurals will still do just takes them a bit longer).  No bright lights shining in baby’s eyes.  Your baby should not be removed for one second to be weighed or for any other procedure, unless it is a medical necessity.  It is very important that your baby’s hands are not wiped dry after birth.  Dad or partner should sit near your head.  Both of you can see how amazing your newborn is! (Baby self attaches at 7:47, but watch whole thing!)

For more resources on laid-back breastfeeding and general breastfeeding information, follow the links:

Breastfeeding Cues

  •  Newborn behavior and associated cues can be separated into three levels on a continuum: 1. active sleep (following deep sleep), 2. awake and rooting, 3. crying.  You want to feed your baby in stage 1 or 2 before they get to stage 3!  This is the part of the continuum when comfortable latching is easier and milk letdown is smooth (no stress of crying).  Start with kangaroo care (bare baby on your bare chest) when baby is in stage 1 or 2.  Here is a video showing stage 1 and a video showing stage 2. Note during stage 1, baby is moving head from side to side, moving mouth and opening lips, moving tongue,  moving arms, and bringing arms to center.  Keep in mind that stage 1 cues are easy to miss if your baby is swaddled.  If you have a sleepy newborn and miss these cues, your baby might go back into a deep sleep and miss a feeding, which can affect your milk supply.

photo credit: DSC_7339 Photo by Al van Akker via photopin (license)

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