Every newborn, when placed on the mother’s abdomen, soon after birth, has the ability to find its mother’s breast all on its own and to decide when to take the first breastfeed. This is called the Breast Crawl.
Long before I breastfed my baby girl for the first time, or before I even witnessed another breastfeeding her baby for the first-time, I was given the gift of seeing a short video about the Breast Crawl during my DONA doula training. The video blew me away … it seemed a miracle that a baby could find its own way to the breast with little intervention. I searched for the video many times since, and was never able to find it.
Fast forward a year and a half later, and my nursing preceptor was teaching me how to get a baby latched for the first time. “Mom,” she instructed our patient, “Make a C-Shape with your breast, hold baby with your other hand, wait till baby opens wide, then bring him straight to the breast.” As a new nurse recovering my very recently-given birth patients (both vaginal and C-Section births), there was a mad panic to get through every box on a seemingly impossible checklist, all within two hours. The thing I remember hearing over, and over, and over again was: “Kate, you need to get faster. You really need to find a way to do it faster.” Teaching a new mom how to breast-feed was only ONE BOX ON THE LIST OF TOO MANY BOXES. My technique of getting a baby to latch had to be the fastest and most efficient way possible. Which meant I usually did it myself for the poor new mom, barely teaching her what I was doing, and as soon as baby was latched I quickly left to do some other task. It breaks my heart to imagine that sea of bewildered new mamas and babies in my wake … exhausted, overwhelmed and completely in the dark about what had just happened.
Even for my own baby, my nurse preceptor’s advice must have resounded in my head louder than the sweet, subtle message of that first video … within minutes after my daughter’s birth *I* had smooshed her little face into the breast and had “forced” her first latch.
What did we miss?
Please watch this beautiful video to appreciate the subtlety and beauty of the baby-led first latch.
Benefits of the Breast Crawl (Baby-Led First Latch)
Benefits for Baby (1 hour interrupted skin-to-skin contact in the breast crawl position):
Warmth: baby’s ability to maintain a healthy, normal temperature consistent with the mother’s.
Comfort: babies in breast crawl position exhibited significantly less crying then those with interrupted periods of skin-to-skin.
Metabolic Adaptation: babies kept in breast crawl position had higher blood sugar levels at 90 minutes after birth than babies with interrupted periods of skin-to-skin.
Quality of Attachment: The majority of babies kept skin-to-skin in the breast crawl position self-latched correctly, compared to less than half of babies with interrupted periods of skin-to-skin.
Benefits for Mama (1 hour interrupted skin-to-skin contact with baby in the breast crawl position):
Healthy birth of the placenta and a reduction in postpartum bleeding: The baby’s natural massage of the breast during the Breast Crawl and subsequent sucking induce a surge of natural oxytocin into the mother’s bloodstream, which causes the uterus to cramp and clamp down, reducing blood loss. Pressure from the baby’s feet may also help the release of the placenta.
BENEFITS FOR MAMA AND BABY
A mother’s feeling of love for the baby may not necessarily begin with birth or instantaneously with the first contact. During the Breast Crawl, while resting skin to skin and gazing eye to eye, they begin to learn about each other on many different planes. For the mother, the first few minutes and hours after birth are a time when she is uniquely open, emotionally, to respond to her baby and to begin the new relationship. Suckling enhances the closeness and new bond between mother and baby. Mother and baby appear to be carefully adapted for these first moments together (Klaus and Kennel, 2001).
For Healthcare Providers, How to Assist with the Breast Crawl
- Place baby skin to skin, as immediately after birth as possible. Cover both mama and baby together with warm blanket
- Do remove baby from mama’s skin until at least one hour has passed. Perform all assessments while skin-to-skin
- Remember that the majority of newborns will self-latch within 90 minutes after birth, without any intervention from the health care provider, and the mother positioning herself.
- Do not intervene with the latching process for at least one hour, and do not remove baby from mama’s skin for at least one hour.
The First Latch (Baby-Friendly Training for Healthcare Providers)