Fun fact: In a completely normal, non-interventive birth, the newborn baby has the ability to crawl up its mother's abdomen, locate the nipple, and latch on all by itself. Babies are born with amazing abilities and reflexes to ensure bonding -- and their very survival -- that many people never see. Newborn self-attachment (or the "breast crawl") is a cool phenomenon, but it's not the only way to get breastfeeding off to a good start. What's another method? See a midwife for your pregnancy, birth, and postpartum needs!
What Do Midwives Do to Support Breastfeeding?
The number one thing midwives do to support breastfeeding is that they don't interfere unnecessarily in labor and birth. Midwives understand normal, physiological birth, and they respect breastfeeding as an intrinsic part of the birth process.
Immediately after a midwife-assisted birth, the baby is placed on its mother’s abdomen or in her arms. Assuming all is well (and it usually is), basic assessments, toweling off, and other immediate needs can be addressed while the baby stays right there. The first breastfeeding can take place as soon as mother and baby are both ready, often within moments of birth. Weighing, measuring, the newborn exam, vitamin K, etc. can all wait for an hour or two while the new family bonds and enjoys each other.
What's happening in these first minutes of life? A complex, amazing hormonal fiesta, for one. The star of the show is oxytocin, the "love" or "mothering" hormone. Oxytocin is secreted during sex, orgasm, labor, birth, and breastfeeding. Mother and baby also experience surges of adrenaline and endorphins (which may play a part in bonding because endorphins function similarly to opiates). Finally, prolactin, the main hormone responsible for making and secreting breastmilk, peaks at birth. In these first minutes of life, the baby adjusts to the world outside the womb. The parents get to marvel at the new person they have made. Depending on who you ask, the first minutes and hours of a baby's life may even play a large role in who that baby becomes as a person.
When mother and baby are ready to nurse, the midwife offers guidance and advice, if needed. She will also note whether there are any factors that may have an impact on breastfeeding (such as tongue-tie) and make the mother aware of them. She will also add to her prenatal education of the couple by reiterating what is normal, what isn't, and making sure the mother is comfortable in this new role.
The midwife stays with the family for several hours following birth. She returns three times in the first week of life, and is available to her clients for additional counseling, support, and home visits if needed. If a new mother experiences difficulties breastfeeding, her midwife likely has all the skills needed to help her. She can also make referrals to La Leche League leaders, lactation consultants, and pediatricians, all of whom can play a role in supporting the breastfeeding relationship.
A baby who is assisted in its entry into the world is a lucky -- and almost certainly breastfed! -- baby indeed!