In the last few years, a new idea called laid-back breastfeeding, or biological nurturing, has called in to question many things we’ve been teaching mothers about breastfeeding for decades! It’s not a new idea really, but despite being accredited La Leche League Leaders since 2008, we didn’t hear about this concept until the latest edition of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding was published in 2010.
Suzanne Colson, a midwife and researcher from the U.K., has published research on biological nurturing, and has a great book and website on the subject. Not only does this position make so much sense to both initiate breastfeeding and solve breastfeeding problems, but it is research-based as well. Surprisingly, positions we’ve been teaching for years (the football hold, the cradle hold, etc.) are not based on research.
So what is biological nurturing or laid-back breastfeeding? It’s not just a position, but a philosophy of approaching breastfeeding in a more laid-back way. It is less instructional than the more typical holds and can help a mom feel more confident and successful because there aren’t any “rules” to follow. Instead of sitting upright and using lots of pillows to support the baby, mom lies back at any angle that is comfortable for her. She should avoid lying flat on her back, but any other angle works. Then, the baby lies on top of mother, tummy to tummy. It often works well if baby lies vertically, with his head by the breast and his feet pointing down toward his mother’s feet. But, with this position, baby can actually lie any way across mom that works for both of them. For example, a mother who had a cesarean birth might choose to lay her baby across her body instead of up and down, to avoid her incision.
Babies have dozens of inborn reflexes that can either assist with breastfeeding, or get in the way. In an upright position like the football hold or the cradle hold, babies might bob their heads, which looks like they are pulling away from the breast. They also kick with their legs and push off with their hands, sometimes making moms think their babies don’t want to breastfeed!
However, in the biological nurturing position, head bobbing allows the baby to find the breast and even latch on their own. Leg movements actually help the baby crawl to the breast, and arm movements help the baby find his way and also helps release mom’s milk.
Biological nurturing also uses gravity to help babies achieve and maintain a deep latch, which is critical for mom’s comfort and for milk transfer. In upright positions, gravity is pulling the baby down and off the nipple which can cause serious pain and damage!
Lastly, biological nurturing places an emphasis on mom’s comfort. Holding the baby in an upright position causes a lot of tension in the shoulders, neck and back, and moms tend to slouch over time. With laid-back breastfeeding, the first step should be for the mother to get very comfortable, either on a couch, in a recliner or in her bed, leaning back into pillows at the angle that feels good. Once mother is comfortable, the baby is placed on top, and finds his way to a good latch.
Laid-back breastfeeding can also be used in public. Mom will simply adjust her body slope to lean backwards so that her body is supporting more of the weight of her baby, and her arms are doing less of the work.
Want to learn more? Visit Suzanne’s website at www.biologicalnurturing.com. Under the “For Mothers” section she has a lovely video that will give you a great visual of what this idea is all about!
Anne Ferguson is a birth doula, Hypnobabies instructor, and La Leche League Leader. Vickie Albright is an Internationally Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and La Leche League Leader. Together they teach a breastfeeding class called “Nourish and Nurture: Breastfeeding Simplified” which is comprehensive class based on the concept of laid-back breastfeeding. Visit Vickie’s website, www.mamawiselactation.com, to learn more about these classes.