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Your Baby's Behaviors When It Comes To Breastfeeding

From the moment your baby is born, he begins communicating... vocalizing, moving his mouth, making sucking noises. Many babies are born into this world silently, no need for crying. Picture a birth in which a newborn is immediately cradled by his mother - no drafts – kept continuously warm. A birth where he’s offered the opportunity to feed at his mother’s breast as soon as he’s ready – no unrequited hunger pangs. So far, no crying triggers. So far, everything’s been okay.

Crying is also communicating. It’s your just-born’s signal that he is not comfortable or is distressed. Some babies seem to cry more than others or to need more soothing than others. All babies respond differently to stimuli... internal and external. Abdominal gas moving around, passing a soft, watery stool, and normal infant reflux can send some newborns to utter a complaining cry. Hunger comes on slowly and your baby will give you non-verbal feeding cues for a few minutes but as soon as those have been played out... here comes the crying.

The first three months of life is the period of ‘peak’ crying, infants cry more during this time than at any other time. It affects most babies regardless of gender, ethnic background, cultural origin or parenting practices. It is more apparent in those in ‘westernized’ cultures where there is less infant carrying and breastfeeding on demand, says: http://www1.health.nsw.gov.au/pds/ActivePDSDocuments/GL2016_010.pdf

When your baby’s cries are associated with breastfeeding, it’s important to identify the source quickly. Your baby must fit well into your breast and body, because fit and hold directly affects tongue function and oral tissues. A comfortable and efficient hold can take quite a while to finesse... the best way takes loving and patient experimentation through the days and nights with your baby. Challenges of fit, hold and positioning are common causes of problems in breastfed babies. Your baby may be unsettled at the breast causing you nipple pain, have difficulty latching on to the breast, fussing and pulling off or back-arching, even refusing to feed at all. Poor feedings are a set up for too much lactose consumption leading to a gassy baby, failure to gain adequate weight, and a crying breastfeeding dyad - That’s you and your baby. The proper support of the baby’s body, positioning him with his chin up off his chest and pushing him up into the breast, allowing him to “lead with his chin and lower lip” – as I say - to make full contact with your breast puts him in position to be able to get enough milk per suck to trigger a swallow... So easy to say/type, eh? Please, consider a board-certified lactation consultant for support.

“Mothers most usually attribute infant cries to hunger and the widespread contemporary clinical and lay advice to women to “feed on demand” may promote the notion that infants only cry when hungry....”

Craig K, Gilbert-Macleod C, Lilley C. Crying as an indicator of pain in infants. In: Barr R, Hopkins B, Green J, editors. Crying as a sign, a symptom and a signal. London: MacKeith Press; 2000.

And please know that... Fewer than 5% of infants with excessive crying have an underlying organic problem found. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/261518567_The_Excessively_Crying_Infant_Etiology_and_Treatment

Just as your baby’s sympathetic nervous system contributes to his awareness of food hunger it stimulates him when he is hungry for sensation.

Intuitive parents offer cued care. They have learned to trust their instincts and respond to all unsettled behaviors with active comforting including rocking, ‘wearing’ the baby in a sling or pouch, holding, and offering the breast - including to sleep.

You cannot spoil your baby by too much cuddling or feeding, by not letting your baby fall asleep at the breast, or by putting him down in a separate room to learn to self-settle. By denying your baby this closeness you may also be decreasing his sensory input. Use soothing strategies, singing the same song over and over again or taking a walk outside to sense the sounds and smells of your community... and use these regularly so that your baby learns to anticipate what happens when he’s upset... that you will be there to comfort and support him.

Parents are still very commonly advised to avoid over stimulating their babies, a decades old belief that your baby will sleep better and be more settled. Yet current research demonstrates that “... baby’s sleep and the way we approach it in the first year of life, including attempts to avoid ‘overstimulation’, actually does not affect sleep habits, brain development, or independence in later childhood.”

Price AM, Wake M, Ukoumunne OC, Hiscock H. Outcomes at six years of age for children with infant sleep problems: longitudinal community-based study. Sleep Medicine. 2012;13 991-998.

Mindell J, Lee C. Sleep, mood, and development in infants. Infant Behaviour and Development. 2015;41:102-107.

One important study shows that babies who have about 10 hours a day of contact (whether awake or asleep) with a caregiver’s body, applying a cued care approach, cry half as much as those who have about 6 hours of physical contact in a 24 hour period with (out-dated routine) care... Some babies have higher sensory needs than others, but all babies will crave diverse sensory input: touch, sight, pressure on the body and joints, sound, movement, warmth, smell, taste.

James-Roberts I, Alvarez M, Csipke E, Abramsky T, Goodwin J, Sorgenfrei E. Infant crying and sleeping in London, Copenhagen and when parents adopt a "proximal" form of care. Pediatrics. 2006;117:e1146-e1155.

Let your baby regulate the amount of stimulation he needs, which varies from hour to hour and day to day. Experiment and see what he enjoys.

Baby playtime varies, dependent on age – on average 30 minutes at 6 weeks of age to 1.5 - 2 hours at 6 months of age.

New developments in infant neuroscience details the importance of offering cued care; being responsive to your baby’s communications for frequent breastfeeding, experimenting to see what works, and remembering the two basic triggers that make babies unsettled, one of which is a hunger for milk, the other is hunger for rich sensory experience.

Paula Zindler

RN IBCLC

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