Five Senses of Breastfeeding

As a doula I often remind moms that labor works best when uninterrupted.  Given the opportunity to blossom, oxytocin surges and labor will power along in a beautiful and primal way.  If adrenaline kicks in, perhaps because of fear, negativity, worry, or loud hospital corridor noises … a good labor pattern could be thrown off course.

Similarly, as a lactation consultant, I remind mothers that the same holds true for getting breastfeeding off to the best start possible.  Breastfeeding is a symbiotic dance of intuitive and primal bonding, where disruption and interference can lead the pair astray.  Left alone to explore, most babies do just fine given space to trust and use its five senses.  No sales gimmicks, no merchandising, no fancy pillows or swaddling cloth.  Just mama and baby, skin to skin.

A baby needs to smell you.   Let baby be on your body, skin to skin, smelling your oils and scent.  When fresh from the womb, decline a “bath” in the nursery (babies aren’t dirty after all) and request to wash your baby yourself in your own time.  Let the womb scent imprint on your baby those first hours.  Rub any vernix into babies skin rather than wash away.  These smells will trigger awareness in your baby that she is right where she needs to be – near you!

A baby needs to taste you.  If you allow a baby to “crawl” up your abdomen to your breast in those first moments of life, a baby will pick up your flavor and respond favorably.  There are wonderful videos of “the newborn crawl” – ask your childbirth educator about them.  Sensing through crawling will stimulate neck, mouth and suckling reflexes as baby roots around looking for a nipple.  Allow his lips to take in the world around him as he finds his way to your breast to nurse.

A baby needs to touch you.  Throw out those darn baby mittens!  In the picture see how baby is hugging the breast?  No swaddling or mittens.  See mother’s gentle hands cradling her baby?  Allow baby to take hold and feel around to get its bearings.  A good starting position is to recline a bit and put baby in the midline of your chest, eyes at the level of the nipples.  Just let baby root, wiggle and feel around.  Baby’s hands are vital to orienting itself towards an optimal nursing position, to navigate and balance itself to ensure a good latch.  Be patient and with good support, give baby time to explore.

A baby needs to see you.  It is no coincidence that a newborns range of vision is 8 – 15 inches.  Their focus is poor beyond that range at birth, but Mother Nature knew baby wanted to see its mother.  And sure enough, 8 – 15 inches is the distance between mother and baby’s face while breastfeeding.  This ideal distance most likely evolved because of breastfeeding.  So gaze into your babies eyes and know that she sees you.

A baby needs to hear you.  A newborn will turn its head toward the direction of its mother’s or father’s voice.  In the womb, your baby was rocked and sung to by the soft, buffered tones of your voice and heartbeat.  Baby knows your voice and heartsong, so sing, hum and talk to baby often.  Even at birth, the tender voice and inflection of love, support, trust and confidence resonates intuitively with baby.  As your little one orients, roots and suckles, cheer him on in a gentle and loving way.  Some parents find “ooohing” and “aaahing” over a newborn counter-intuitive at first, having never ooogled over a baby before.  Let the primal seeds of vocally praising your baby take root.  Growing up hearing supportive, loving and peaceful words on a regular basis can only be a good thing!

Peaceful Breastfeeding To All ~

Deirdre

17 thoughts on “Five Senses of Breastfeeding

  1. This is beautiful. You just gave me an idea: I can imagine incorporating the 5 senses into the prenatal breastfeeding classes I teach. We teach skin-to-skin, but these descriptions of each sense really bring it to life.

  2. Greta says:

    Great post! I was told over and over by friends that you *need* to have those baby mittens, otherwise the baby will claw your (and his) face right off. Even before I gave birth I knew it didn’t seem natural or kind to deny babies the pleasure of touch. Some babies you never even see unswaddled or mitten-less these days.

    Again, excellent post! I’m bookmarking this one!

    • You know, the best “medicine” if baby does scratch itself is of course … breastmilk! Breastmilk and keeping the nails filed short. There, mitten problem solved! :-) Glad your intuition told you to allow for baby to touch its world. Well done, mama! And thanks for the support.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing and linking up to the BFing Blog Hop. This is a great reminder about how involved breastfeeding is – it really encompasses so many senses.

    Hope you’ll link up again next week when we discuss products and breastfeeding (things that help, things you should avoid, etc..)

  4. I *love* this post. I know for us smell is so huge. Judah won’t sleep unless I’m there (nose to nipple- ready to nurse) and if I get up he knows I’m leaving as soon as I start to move. the only time he ever takes a nap in a crib without touching me is if I happen to be out of the house and my husband puts him down. Little stinker!

  5. Brighid Murphy says:

    How I wish I’d read this before nursing my first! We did persevere and successfully bf until he self-weaned at 18 months during my second pregnancy. I’m still nursing my now 21 month old. Breastfeeding both boys has been so important and perfect for all of us. Thank you for wonderful, sound advice that EVERYONE should read. I’ve bookmarked this as well.

  6. Stopping by on the BF Hop.

    I love how my daughter places her hands on my chest…except now she’s grabbing a fistful of skin..but it’s still so sweet.

    And the scent – she still likes to bury her face close to my armpit or breast when she’s sleepy.

  7. Love this post! My 5 month old loves to burrow her face in my breast. I never did the newborn crawl with my home/water births. I was always in the water and usually stayed there until an hour after birth relaxing and nursing in the warm water. I would have loved to have tried it :)

  8. This is a fantastic article and beautifully written. I’m going to add your blog to my useful websites. It is essential that prospective and current breastfeeeding mothers have useful sources of education instead of misinformation and myth. My breastfeeding experience like most got off to a rocky start because of midwifery staff’s lack of knowledge; if it hadn’t of been for my own stubborn nature I’d have given up before I’d really begun. I’m glad I founf this blog a real gem :)

  9. Reba says:

    Great article, but I really wish the rather ‘unfactual’ judgements of ‘Mother Nature’ and ‘evolving’ were left out. Without those messages I would be happy to share this with my clients. Just a thought for pondering…

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