The Dance of Breastfeeding, Bonding and Sensory Stimulation

Breastfeeding helps mom and baby bond, starting when baby is a fetus inside the womb

Developing senses inside the womb

A fetus’s senses start to develop in the womb in preparation for brain development and growth. We know through ultrasound that a baby experiences the sense of touch in-utero long before he/she is born. When a pregnant mom rubs her belly, her fetus can feel the vibration.

Pheromones are exchanged between mom and baby in the womb and trigger the sense of smell and taste for baby. The taste of the amniotic fluid prepares baby to recognize the similarity to the breastmilk. Mother’s pheromones will influence baby to recognize her odor and her breast milk scent.

When a fetus swallows amniotic fluid and sucks her thumb, hand, and arms, this helps to start strengthening the oral muscles necessary for the “suck, swallow” pattern of breastfeeding.

The auditory & sensory nervous system

The auditory sense is developed by 25 – 30 weeks of pregnancy. This means when baby is born, they may turn her their in the direction of mom or dad’s voice.

Newborns have limited vison at birth and may only be able to see 12 - 18 inches in front of them. Studies show that babies prefer circular objects like the areola, breast, eyes and faces. Color vision develops slowly.

Mom and baby bond thanks in part to pheromones and hormones

Once born, all of baby’s senses continue to influence brain development and growth, which is vital for a baby’s ability to adapt to life the womb. Birth initiates the bond between mom and baby, encouraging breastfeeding. Full-term, healthy babies have sensory instinctive skills and motivation to breastfeed. This cascade of hormones happens at birth and may last about an hour and will be repeated in their relationship as life goes on.

This bond starts with baby recognizing separation from mom, which causes her to cry. Once baby is placed skin-to-skin on mother’s chest, they recognize their mother’s pheromones. This helps to immediately quiet and console baby. Baby is comfortable in this safe space due to an increase of the hormone oxytocin and a decrease in the stress hormone cortisol. This in turn causes physiologic regulation of baby’s temperature, pulse, respiration and blood pressure and helps to stabilize the blood glucose for the newborn.

The same hormonal cascade is also distressing mother and triggering prolactin levels, which will increase her breast milk. She loves this shared moment as she stares at her new baby: learning its ways and counting their fingers and toes.

At this time baby may show increased activity and body movement, as well as signs of hunger: rooting (open mouth turns head), sucking, protruding tongue or salivation.

Newborns have the ability to do the birth crawl

Only present for 2 weeks or so, baby pushes with their feet, moving toward mother’s face and the darkened, circular shape of her mother’s areola.

Learning to breastfeed takes time for both mom and baby both but the good news is that you both get better in time, the more you practice

Human Breast milk cannot be replicated and has all the ingredients necessary for baby’s growth and development. It changes according to age and needs of baby and sets the foundation for gut immunity, better digestion and an improved immune system. Breastmilk also includes important fats specifically help wire the neurons in the brain, rods cones in eyes and myelin sheath, which covers the spinal column.

Babies attempt to breastfeed by touching, licking, nuzzling, massaging and bobbing of their head. Baby may attach on her own or may need assistance from mom to ascertain deep latch.

We encourage mom to hand expresses from her breast to entice baby to feed. Baby recognizes colostrum because it has a similar odor as in-utero amniotic fluid, which she is accustomed to swallowing.

The “suck, swallow and breathe” sequence pattern is a developmental milestone for successful breastfeeding

Baby will fall asleep when satiated and this same process will be repeated when baby shows signs of hunger.

The Maternal bonding between mother and baby lasts a lifetime and is a unique experience

Babies need to feel loved. When you respond to a baby’s needs and cries with gentle touching and a soft, soothing voice they feel secure and learn to trust, teaching her to reciprocate love to others.

Breastfeed as long as you can

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies receive breastmilk exclusively for the first 6 months of life and thereafter slowly introduce with foods up to at least one year old or longer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding / human milk for the first two years as it has health benefits for mom mother also.

For more information about breastfeeding support from our IBCLCs, or in your own community, please contact our Lovelace Lactation Services at 505.727.6797.
Eliza Schmidt, RN, IBCLC