How I Breastfed Correctly By Accident: New Research on Natural Breastfeeding Positions

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When I became pregnant for the first time, I was highly motivated to learn as much as I could to support the type of birth experience that I was hoping to have, and to care for my newborn in a way that would best serve his or her emotional and physical health and well-being. I read and researched, participated in online expectant mother communities, watched videos, attended Bradley birthing classes, and otherwise filled my head with information. I wanted to do everything “right.” With respect to breastfeeding, I registered for the breastfeeding pillow voted number one by lactation consultants, devoured The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding and The Ultimate Breastfeeding Book of Answers among other books, attended a breastfeeding class at the hospital, and even sat in on a couple La Leche League meetings. I studied the intricacies of the football, cross-cradle, and cradle holds, practiced holding and maneuvering my breast as I was instructed (“like a cheeseburger”), and evaluated baby wraps and slings based upon the ease of breastfeeding while babywearing. I felt pretty well prepared to nourish my child.

Eva finally made her grand entry into the world after a shockingly fast labor and an almost-can’t-fill-the-tub-fast-enough water birth that had the midwife scrambling. Despite all of my careful planning and preparing, I was met with some intense postpartum complications, which included multiple hemorrhages, several blood transfusions, and surgery. In the days following her birth, my blood levels were so low that even subtle movements of my head would at times cause my blood pressure to plummet and me to teeter on the brink of losing consciousness. I continued to be determined to care for my newborn and her needs. I was her mama, and I was going to nurse her, just like I had planned. It simply meant that we were going to have to do it with me lying flat on my back for a while.

Just like that, all of the carefully studied holds and techniques flew out the window. There was me with my breasts, and a baby with a mouth. We just had to make the pieces fit together. Fortunately for me, Eva had not spent any of the 40 weeks prior attending classes, watching videos, or reading books like I had. She just sort of knew what to do. I scooped her up onto my torso and marveled at this tiny person, face down on my breast nursing away. It looked nothing like any of the videos that I had watched or pictures that I had seen, but I figured that it was the best that I could do under the circumstances, and it appeared to be getting the job done. For the better past of her first week I lay in my hospital bed and she lay on my belly, nursing face-first when she needed.

Imagine my surprise when I saw an article this week on reporting Nancy Mohrbacher’s conclusions about breastfeeding positions. Ms. Mohrbacher reflected upon recent research as well as her thirty-plus years of experience as a lactation consultant and breastfeeding authority. She suggested that perhaps Eva was right (instincts and all) and it was I who had been misguided in my breastfeeding eduction.

I highly recommend giving the article a thorough read, but in summary it suggests that allowing the newborn baby to connect his or her full front with the mother in a reclined position is an ideal way to nurse, and mirrors what we often see in nature. This position allows for gravity to assist the baby with a deep latch and for the baby to receive stimulus on key pressure points that aide baby in coordination of movements that facilitate effective nursing. These positions also take strain off on the mother’s back, neck, and shoulders, allowing her to relax. Ms. Mohrbacher has developed a wonderful library of videos demonstrating the “Narutal Breastfeeding” positions and approach that can be viewed here. These, and additional breastfeeding videos are also available are for viewing on Ms. Mohrbacher’s You Tube channel.

It has been over twelve years since I reflected with gratitude on this sweet newborn’s ability to figure out how to nurse despite her mama’s physical challenges in what was at the time a very difficult and unexpected postpartum situation. The guilt that I felt about not being able to do things the “right” way to take care of her is still palpable when I think back to her birth. Reading this week’s article served as a reminder that doing things “not right” for my baby or my child may in hindsight not be the same as doing it wrong. Sometimes it may even have been a blessing in disguise. So I chipped away a little bit of mama guilt that had been hanging around for over a decade and high-fived my five-foot-five tween. What a smart little baby she was!

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