Updated: Mar 15
When I had my firstborn 15 years ago, I believed that breastfeeding was a natural instinct. I lifted him and put him on my breast and he latched on like a champ. I never had latch problems and used to feel good about listening to my instincts till I read an article that opened my eyes.
A lot of times the older generation tells us that breastfeeding is instinctual and we should get it naturally. But let me tell you, it is the same set of people that till then don't allow us to listen to our instincts and tell us to eat more, lose/gain weight, stop moaning, etc So, by the time we turn into adults and mothers, we learn not to listen to our instincts.
So, whose instinct is breastfeeding based on? Interestingly it is the baby's instinct. A newborn baby has the survival instinct and nobody has taught that baby not to believe in its instinct so in most cases when you let the baby do a breast crawl and latch on its own, the natural survival instinct of the baby kicks in and the latch is perfect and the baby feeds well unless there are other health issues including a tongue tie, etc.
Not so surprisingly, we have learned from experience that every time the mother has immediate skin-to-skin and breastfeeds in the first hour without a medical professional pushing her to feed in a certain position, there is almost never a breastfeeding problem later on. If there is any kind of intervention, like a medical professional holding the baby in position without asking if the mother is comfortable or giving a baby bath within the first hour, taking the baby away from the mother for whatever reason then comes the difficulty for the baby to latch by himself or herself.
Think about it, in the mother-baby relationship, if one of us is not instinctive, breastfeeding relationships would not have survived the millions of years it did. So should we put all the pressure on the mother and say that breastfeeding is instinctual and that the mother should do it naturally without any help? Yes, millions of years ago there were no Lactation professionals to help, but remember that is what women grew up watching - watching other women breastfeed, and there were always other women that were there to help if there was any problem. And no, there were no formula companies or bottles to mess up the breastfeeding instinct and tell a mother that her supply was not enough.
I have had in my practice of more than five years tell me, that they thought breastfeeding was instinctual and that they failed because their instincts did not kick in. But honestly, many times it is because they weren't allowed to listen to their instinct. A mother could be blissfully feeding her baby and smiling and as if on cue, a visitor would enter and ask the question 'Is there enough milk for your baby?'.
They sow a small seed of doubt there. the mother then slowly lets go of her instinct at that stage. The instinct tells her that she has a happy and well-fed baby. She starts doubting her supply and that is when and where all the problems start. Thankfully the baby doesn't understand what has been said so the baby blissfully continues to latch on and feed till an intervention happens.
Many mothers tell me that the hospital tried to get the baby to breast within the first hour and there was a problem. The difference here is between others bringing the baby to the breast and letting the baby find the breast. I have seen midwives and nurses try to push the baby to the breast and squeeze the breast to check for supply. That surely is not a happy moment for both the baby and the mother. It is not the most comfortable position for either the baby or the mother to feel at ease.
In many cases, mothers cease breastfeeding because of pain, which is caused by latch issues, which reduce supply because of the improper latch and improper milk transfer. It is all connected. And just one thing that midwives do at the time of birth can let the baby's natural kick in which will also connect to the mother's natural instinct and things fall in place automatically.
It is also important for the mother herself to be patient and let the baby do the breast crawl at his or her own pace rather than get impatient and put the baby to the breast. A lot of times it is the rush that the medical professionals and the family or even the mother are in at the moment, losing patience and rushing through that breaks the baby's instinct.
So yes, let us continue to provide support to families, and stop saying that breastfeeding is instinctual for mothers. It is instinctual, but for babies and not mothers. Let us give some credit to the babies and appreciate that they do know a thing or two when they arrive.