Normal Newborn Behavior and Why Breastmilk Isn’t Just Food-By Dr. Jenny Thomas

What is a normal, term human infant supposed to do?

First of all, a human baby is supposed to be born vaginally. Yes, I know that doesn’t always happen, but we’re just going to talk ideal, normal for now. We are supposed to be born vaginally because we need good bacteria. Human babies are sterile, without bacteria, at birth. It’s no accident that we are born near the anus, an area that has lots of bacteria, most of which are good and necessary for normal gut health and development of the immune system. And the bacteria that are there are mom’s bacteria, bacteria that she can provide antibodies against if the bacteria there aren’t nice.

Then the baby is born and is supposed to go to mom. Right to her chest. The chest, right in between the breasts is the natural habitat of the newborn baby. (Fun fact: our cardiac output, how much blood we circulate in a given minute, is distributed to places that are important. Lots goes to the kidney every minute, like 10% or so, and 20% goes to your brain. In a new mom, 23% goes to her chest- more than her brain. The body thinks that place is important!)

That chest area gives heat. The baby has been using mom’s body for temperature regulation for ages. Why would they stop? With all that blood flow, it’s going to be warm. The baby can use mom to get warm. When I was in my residency, we would put a cold baby “under the warmer” which meant a heater thingy next to mom. Now, as I have matured, if a baby is “under the warmer,” the kid is under mom. I wouldn’t like that. I like the kids on top of mom, snuggled.

Now we have a brand new baby on the warmer. That child is not hungry. Bringing a hungry baby into the world is a bad plan. And really, if they were hungry, can you please explain to me why my kids sucked the life force out of me in those last few weeks of pregnancy? They better have been getting food, or well, that would have been annoying and painful for nothing.

Every species has instinctual behaviors that allow the little ones to grow up to be big ones and keep the species going. Our kids are born into the world needing protection. Protection from disease and from predators. Yes, predators. Our kids don’t know they’ve been born into a loving family in the 21st century- for all they know it’s the 2nd century and they are in a cave surrounded by tigers. Our instinctive behaviors as baby humans need to help us stay protected. Babies get both disease protection and tiger protection from being on mom’s chest. Presumably, we gave the baby some good bacteria when they arrived through the birth canal. That’s the first step in disease protection. The next step is getting colostrum.

A newborn baby on mom’s chest will pick their head up, lick their hands, maybe nuzzle mom, lick their hands and start to slide towards the breast. The kids have a preference for contrasts between light and dark, and for circles over other shapes. Think about that…there’s a dark circle not too far away.

Mom’s sweat smells like amniotic fluid, and that smell is on the child’s hands (because there’s been no bath yet!) and the baby uses that taste on their hand to follow mom’s smell. The secretions coming from the glands on the areola (that dark circle) smell familiar too and help the baby get to the breast to get the colostrum which is going to feed the good bacteria and keep them protected from infection. The kids can attach by themselves. Watch for yourself! And if you just need colostrum to feed bacteria and not yourself, well, there doesn’t have to be much. And there isn’t because the kids aren’t hungry and because Breastmilk is not food!

We’re talking normal babies. Breastfeeding is normal. It’s what babies are hardwired to do. 2009 or 209, the kids would all do the same thing: try to find the breast. Breastfeeding isn’t special sauce, a leg up or a magic potion. It’s not “best.” It’s normal. Just normal. Designed for the needs of a vulnerable human infant. And nothing else designed to replace it is normal.

Colostrum also activates things in the baby’s gut that then goes on to make the thymus grow. The thymus is part of the immune system. Growing your thymus is important. Breastmilk= big thymus, good immune system. Colostrum also has a bunch of something called Secretory Immunoglobulin A (SIgA). SIgA is made in the first few days of life and is infection protection specifically from mom. Cells in mom’s gut watch what’s coming through and if there’s an infectious cell, a special cell in mom’s gut called a plasma cell heads to the breast and helps the breast make SIgA in the milk to protect the baby. If mom and baby are together, like on mom’s chest, then the baby is protected from what the two of them may be exposed to. Babies should be with mom.

And the tigers. What about them? Define “tiger” however you want. But if you are baby with no skills in self-protection, staying with mom, having a grasp reflex, and a startle reflex that helps you grab onto your mom, especially if she’s hairy, makes sense. Babies know the difference between a bassinette and a human chest. When infants are separated from their mothers, they have a “despair- withdrawal” response. The despair part comes when they alone, separated. The kids are vocally expressing their desire not to be tiger food. When they are picked up, they stop crying. They are protected, warm and safe. If that despair cry is not answered, they withdraw. They get cold, have massive amounts of stress hormones released, drop their heart rate and get quiet. That’s not a good baby. That’s one who, well, is beyond despair. Normal babies want to be held, all the time.

And when do tigers hunt? At night. It makes no sense at all for our kids to sleep at night. They may be eaten. There’s nothing really all that great about kids sleeping through the night. They should wake up and find their body guard. Daytime, well, not so many threats. They sleep better during the day. (Think about our response to our tigers– sleep problems are a huge part of stress, depression, anxiety.)

And sleep… My guess is everybody sleeps with their kids- whether they choose to or not and whether they admit to it or not. It’s silly of us as healthcare providers to say “don’t sleep with your baby” because we all do it. Sometimes accidentally. Sometimes intentionally. The kids are snuggly, it feels right and you are tired. So, normal babies breastfeed, stay at the breast, want to be held and sleep better when they are with their parents. Seems normal to me. But there is a difference between a normal baby and one that isn’t. Safe sleep means that we are sober, in bed and not a couch or a recliner, breastfeeding, not smoking…being normal. If the circumstances are not normal, then sleeping with the baby is not safe.

That chest -to -chest contact is also brain development. Our kids had as many brain cells as they were ever going to have at 28 weeks of gestation. It’s a jungle of waiting -to-be- connected cells. What we do as humans is create too much and then get rid of what we aren’t using. We have like 8 nipples, a tail and webbed hands in the womb. If all goes well, we don’t have those at birth. Create too much- get rid of what you aren’t using. So, as you are snuggling, your child is hooking up happy brain cells and hopefully getting rid of the “eeeek” brain cells. Breastfeeding, skin-to-skin, is brain wiring. Not food.

Why go on and on about this? Because more and more mothers are choosing to breastfeed. But most women don’t believe that the body that created that beautiful baby is capable of feeding that same child and we are supplementing more and more with infant formulas designed to be food. Why don’t we trust our bodies post-partum? I don’t know. But I hear over and over that the formula is because “I am just not satisfying him.” Of course you are. Babies don’t need to “eat” all the time- they need to be with you all the time- that’s the ultimate satisfaction.

A baby at the breast is getting their immune system developed, activating their thymus, staying warm, feeling safe from predators, having normal sleep patterns and wiring their brain, and (oh by the way) getting some food in the process. They are not “hungry” –they are obeying instinct. The instinct that allows us to survive and make more of us.

Dr. Thomas

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Affirmations for Pregnancy

Affirmations for Pregnancy

Affirmations are statements that you use to help instill a sense of positivity in your mind about a particular subject. You use these short phrases and sentences to help your mind hear a positive message that you wish it to remember.

You can write your own affirmation, to use whenever you like. Remember they should be in the present tense, as if what you wish to happen is already occurring. For example, a friend of mine who was trying to get pregnant and having difficulty, would say, “I am a good parent to my child.” She said this every morning, even during infertility treatments. She says she remembers visualizing it as she would wait for procedures and tests. She feels it really helped her from falling into despair. And when she became pregnant, she switched to daily pregnancy affirmations.

If you choose to write your own affirmations, start with phrases like:

  • I am
  • My mind is open to
  • My body is open to
  • My baby is
  • My labor is
  • Breastfeeding is
  • I know
  • My body knows

Some women use positive affirmations to help them overcome fear, to get pregnant or to simple remind themselves that pregnancy is not an illness. While affirmations are simple and easy, they are also effective for many women.

Here are some samples:

  • I know how to take care of myself in pregnancy.
  • My body knows how to give birth.
  • My baby knows the true birthday.
  • Birth is safe for me and my baby.
  • My baby will be born at the perfect time.
  • My body knows when to give birth.
  • I am a good mother.
  • My baby will find the perfect position for birth.
  • I love my baby.
  • My baby loves me.
  • I am a strong woman.
  • Contractions help to bring my baby.
  • I will make the right decisions for my baby.
  • My pregnant body is beautiful.
  • My baby senses the peace I feel.
  • I accept the help of others.
  • My baby’s head fit snuggly into my pelvis.
  • I accept my labor and birth.
  • I am surrounded by those who love and respect me.
  • I trust my body.
  • I know how to take care of my baby.
  • My baby feels my love.
  • I will make plenty of breast milk for my baby.

You can use index cards to write your affirmations and place them in locations to remind you to say them. Consider using your affirmations as a part of your relaxation routine as well. They also make really nice mantras for labor!

If you’d like to have daily pregnancy affirmations emailed to you, you can sign up for the daily Pregnancy Affirmations delivered straight to your inbox.

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Pain in Labour: Your hormones are your helpers

Pain in Labour: Your hormones are your helpers

© Dr Sarah J Buckley 2005

First published in Australia’s Parents Pregnancy, Autumn 1999, as “Your Hormones are your Helpers” This version updated July 2005
Imagine this. Your cat is pregnant, due to give birth around the same time as you are. You have your bags packed for hospital, and are awaiting the first signs of labour with excitement and a little nervousness .

Meanwhile your cat has been hunting for an out-of-the way place — your socks drawer or laundry basket — where she in unlikely to be disturbed. When you notice, you open the wardrobe door, but she moves again. Intrigued, you notice that your observation, even your presence, seems to disturb the whole process. And, wish as you might to get a glimpse into the mysteries of birth before it is your turn, you wake up the next morning to find her washing her four newborn kittens in the linen cupboard.

Why does birth seem so easy to our animal friends when it is so difficult for us? One obvious difference is the altered shape of the pelvis and birth outlet that is caused by our upright stance; our babies need to twist and turn to navigate these unique bends. Even our nearest cousins, the great apes, have a near-straight birth canal.

However, in every other way, human birth is like that of other mammals — those animals that suckle their young — and involves the same hormones: the body’s chemical messengers. These hormones, which originate in the deepest and oldest parts of our brain, cause the physical processes of labour and birth, as well as exerting a powerful influence on our emotions and behaviour.

Researchers such as French surgeon and natural birth pioneer Michel Odent believe that if we can be more respectful of our mammalian roots, and the hormones that we share, we can have more chance of a straightforward birth ourselves.

Labour and birth involve peak levels of the hormones oxytocin, sometimes called the hormone of love, and prolactin- the mothering hormone. These two hormones are perhaps best known for their role in breastfeeding. As well as these, beta-endorphin, the body’s natural pain-killer, and the fight-or-flight hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline (epinephrine and norepinephrine) play an important part in the birth process. There are many more hormonal influences on birth that are not well understood.

All mammals seek a safe place to give birth. This “nesting” instinct may be due to an increase in levels of prolactin, which is sometimes referred to as the nesting hormone. At this stage, as you may have observed with your cat, interference which the nest — or more importantly with the feeling of safety — will stall the beginning of labour.

Even after labour has started, there are certain conditions that will slow, or even stop the process. If the fight-or-flight hormones are activated by feelings of fear or danger, contractions will slow down. Our mammalian bodies are designed to give birth in the wilds, where it is an advantage to postpone labour when there is danger, and to seek safety.

Many women have had the experience of their labour stopping when they entered the unfamiliar surroundings of a hospital, and some women can be as sensitive as a cat to the presence of an observer. Giving birth away from our natural environment can cause the sorts of difficulties for humans that captive animals experience when giving birth in a zoo.

Michel Odent cautions that even hunger, which also causes the body to release fight-or-flight hormones, can stop labour from progressing. He advises women to eat- if they are hungry- in the earliest stages of labour; many hospitals, though, have a policy that prevents labouring women from eating once they are admitted.

Oxytocin is the hormone that causes the uterus to contract during labour. Levels of oxytocin gradually increase throughout labour, and are highest around the time of birth, when it contributes to the euphoria and receptiveness to her baby that a mother usually feels after an unmedicated birth. This peak, which is triggered by sensations of stretching of the birth canal as the baby is born, does not occur when an epidural is in place. Administration of an epidural has been found to interfere with bonding between ewes and their newborn lambs.

Synthetic oxytocin is often given by drip- that is, directly into the bloodstream- when labour contractions are inefficient. Oxytocin given in this way does not enter the brain, and so does not contribute to the post-birth “high”, and in fact can lead to desensitisation to the mothers own oxytocin production. Nipple stimulation is sometimes used to stimulate contractions because, like breastfeeding, this causes oxytocin levels to increase.

Oxytocin has another crucial role to play after the birth. Oxytocin causes the contractions that lead to separation of the placenta from the uterus, and its release as the “after-birth”. When oxytocin levels are high, strong contractions occur that reduce the chance of bleeding, or post-partum haemorrhage.

Putting your newborn baby to your breast is the easiest way to increase oxytocin levels, but Michel Odent also emphasises the importance of privacy during the hour following birth. This gives the opportunity for uninterrupted skin-to-skin and eye-to-eye contact between mother and baby – conditions that optimise oxytocin release.

Oxytocin helps us in our emotional, as well as our physical, transition to motherhood. From the first weeks of pregnancy, oxytocin helps us to be more emotionally open and more receptive to social contact and support. As the hormone of orgasm, labour and breastfeeding, oxytocin encourages us to “forget ourselves”, either through altruism — service to others — or through feelings of love.

The fight or flight hormones- also called catecholamines (pronounced cat-e-kol-a-meens), or CAs- can interfere with oxytocin release during labour and after the birth. However they do have an important role to play in the second stage of labour, which is when birth actually occurs.

Early in second stage, when the cervix is fully open but the urge to push is not yet strong, a woman can feel the need to rest for some time. This is sometimes known as the “rest and be thankful” time. After this, she may quite suddenly experience the dry mouth, dilated pupils and sudden burst of energy that are all characteristic of high levels of CAs.

This burst of CA’s gives a mother the energy to push her baby out, and Michel Odent observes that, when unmedicated, women usually want to be upright at this time. Some traditional cultures have used this fight-or-flight effect to help women having difficulty with the delivery by surprising or shouting out at this stage. It makes sense, at this point-of-no-return, for fear or danger to speed up the birth, so that a mother can gather up her newborn baby and run for safety.

CA levels drop quickly after the birth, which can make a mother may feel cold or shaky. At this stage a very warm atmosphere is essential, according to Michel Odent, to keep CA levels low and to allow oxytocin to work effectively to prevent bleeding.

The other major birthing hormone, prolactin is most noteworthy for its effects after the birth. Prolactin is the major hormone of breast milk synthesis. Suckling by the newborn baby increases prolactin levels; early and frequent suckling from the first days makes the breast more responsive to prolactin, which in turn helps to ensure a good long-term supply of milk.

Like the other hormones, prolactin has effects on emotion and behaviour. Prolactin helps us to put our babies needs first in all situations by increasing submissiveness, anxiety and vigilance.

When prolactin is combined with oxytocin, as it is soon after birth and during breastfeeding, it encourages a relaxed and selfless devotion to the baby that contributes to a mother’s satisfaction and her baby’s physical and emotional health.

Beta endorphin (pronounced beet-a en-door-fin) is one of the endorphin hormones which are released by the brain in times of stress or pain, and is a natural equivalent to painkilling drugs like pethidine.

During labour, beta-endorphin helps to relieve pain, and contributes to the “on another planet” feeling that women experience when they labour without drugs. Levels of beta-endorphin are reduced when drugs are used for pain relief.

Very high levels of beta-endorphin can slow labour by reducing oxytocin levels, which may help to “ration” the intensity of labour according to our ability to deal with it. Moderate levels of beta-endorphin help us to deal with pain in labour, as well as encouraging us to follow our instincts. As part of the hormonal cocktail after birth, beta-endorphin plays a role in bonding between mother and baby, who is also primed with endorphins from the birth process.

Beta-endorphin also switches on learning and memory, perhaps explaining why we remember our labour and birth in such amazing detail. Like oxytocin, endorphin hormones can induce euphoria and are also released during lovemaking and breastfeeding. In fact endorphins are actually present in breast milk, which explains the natural high that babies can get after a breast-feed. Beta-endorphin helps the body to release prolactin, underlining the elaborate interplay between these hormones of labour, birth and breastfeeding.

So there you are, at the door, with your bag in your hand and a strong contraction. You remember the oxytocin and endorphins, which you also carry with you, and with your next relaxed breath, you breathe out fear and tension. You’ve packed your new nursing bra, and you know that prolactin will come to your aid as well. As you take a last look around the house, you notice your cat.

She’s lying down as her kittens attach to her nipples, and as you catch her eye, she winks at you.

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How Dilated Am I? Assessing Dilation in Labor WITHOUT an Internal Exam. (via Helping mothers give birth joyfully without fear)

If your water has broken either spontaneously or through an amniotomy this is even more important!!

It's the magic question weighing on most laboring mothers' minds: (as well as the minds of her partner or birth attendants!) How much longer? Is there any way to tell how far along I am in the birthing process? I've seen mothers beg for an internal exam and then be gutted about the answer (What? ONLY 4cm STILL!?) and suddenly *poof* she looses her resolve. It's akin to having a test and finding out you've failed it, in front of your loved ones as … Read More

via Helping mothers give birth joyfully without fear

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How A Doula Helps Women have Better Labor Outcomes

Benefits of the Doula

Studies examining doula programs have produced several important findings about how babies and mothers fare after birth. The support of a doula can help to reduce:

  • Duration of labor
  • Likelihood of complications
  • Need for epidurals or epidural pain medication

The support of the doula often also reduces the normal physical and physiologic stress a child experiences during birth. This benefit to the baby may occur as a result of the doula’s care, reducing the anxiety of the mother and her partner throughout labor and delivery. In fact, the newborn is often more attentive and ready to begin the bonding interactions with the mother.

Studies About Doulas

Numerous medical centers have conducted studies to examine the effects of enlisting a doula to stay continuously with a pregnant woman through labor and delivery. In 2003 the prestigious international Cochrane Collaboration review of 15 randomized studies that met their research criteria stated: “Given the clear benefits and no known risks associated with support, every effort should be made to ensure that all laboring women receive continuous support. This support should include continuous presence, the provision of hands on comfort and encouragement.” They found:

  • Cesarian Section – 26% less likely
  • Forceps or Vacuum – 41% less likely
  • Analgesia or Anesthesia – 28% less likely
  • Dissatisfaction or negative rating of birth experience – 30% less likely

As an added benefit, those with doula support often report:

  • Higher self-esteem
  • Less depression and anxiety
  • Breastfeed more successfully
  • More confidence about caring for the baby
  • Lower tendency to develop fever

Types of Doulas

Birth Doula

A birth doula assists the woman before, during and often after the delivery. Birth doulas are trained in childbirth, and most have given birth themselves. The main goal of a birth doula is to help the woman have a safe and satisfying childbirth as the woman defines it.

The birth doula has three main responsibilities:

Emotional Support – The doula provides emotional support through her constant presence throughout labor and delivery. Once labor begins, the doula remains by the side of the mother-to-be until the birth is completed and frequently for the first one or two hours afterwards.

The doula provides emotional support in an active way. She adjusts her style to fit each patient and responds as the patient’s needs change during the labor. She understands and accepts the woman’s pain and fear and serves as a source of support, helping the woman remain confident and in control. The doula also supports the father and any family members who may be present.

Education – The doula educates and informs the mother about obstetric routines and procedures and thus keeps the mother advised about her progress during birth. The doula encourages the mother to manage the situation by listening to the messages the body sends during birth, changing her position, adjusting breathing, and using other stress and pain reducing techniques.

Especially now with the discovery of the importance of skin-to-skin or kangaroo care immediately after childbirth the doula can act as an emotional and informational resource for the mother. The doula can explain what will happen immediately after childbirth and the woman can prepare to have the baby on her chest, skin to skin.

Liaison – The doula functions as a liaison between the patient and the medical staff. She does not give medical advice or perform any medical duties, but she’s on hand to support the mother if she has questions for the medical staff. Most medical staff appreciate the extra attention and support the doula gives their patient.

Postpartum Doula

A Postpartum doula works in the fourth trimester, just after pregnancy. The role of the postpartum doula is to provide support, advice, and assistance in the weeks and months following birth. In the past, the family of a new baby could rely on their family members or friends to assist them. After giving birth women are often surrounded by caring family members who have a great deal of experience and wisdom to offer. While these resources are available today, they may not always be provided due to increasing distances between family members and their loved ones.

The postpartum doula provides:

  • Education
  • Non-judgmental support
  • Companionship
  • Assistance with newborn care and family adjustment
  • Assistance with meal preparation
  • Assistance with light household tasks

Postpartum doulas offer evidence-based information on:

  • Infant feeding
  • Emotional and physical recovery from birth
  • Infant soothing
  • Coping skills for new parents
  • Safe infant sleeping
  • Referrals for more education on these topics when necessary

The doula may also be a buffer to parents who may have received outdated advice. The doula can help friends and family to foster and support the parenting decisions of the new parents. By modeling a deep respect for the wisdom and decision making abilities of the new parents, she makes clear that supporting them in their own choices will have the best results.

Thanks to Penny Simkin and Jamie Swan of DONA International for their valuable contributions.


Please note: only your personal physician or other health professional you consult can best advise you on matters of your health based on your medical history, your family medical history, your medication history, and how information from any of these databases may apply to you.

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New to this game

WordPress is a new platform for me so be patient as I set it up and I promise you once I get the hang of it you won’t be disappointed!

I am a DONA trained Labor Doula working towards certification. As I move through this journey I will post things I find of use to pregnant moms and their support teams here, as well as articles, and items of interest for the birthing community.  As always any information you have may find here isn’t intended to treat or diagnose it is only offered as a jumping off point for discussions with your care providers and to help you decide what information on which you want to do more research. Please feel free to ask questions by following the form spring link on the right, but know they are public so keep your information safe!



“Follow Your Bliss” Joseph Campbell.

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