Many babies are born with the instinct and skills to make their own way to the breast in the hour after birth. It’s a slow and steady process, but these little ones are determined and have their eyes on the prize!
The 101 of breast crawling
When newborn babies independently wriggle, inch or crawl their way to their mother’s nipple shortly after the birth, it’s referred to as “breast crawling”.
Breast crawling is encouraged by popping the new baby onto her mother’s belly or chest, in the hour or so after birth.
Breast crawling babies go through a number of phases on their way to the nipple with most reaching the suckling stage within an hour of birth (sometimes sooner!).
A 2010 study by Swedish researchers first explained the breast crawl like this:
When birth crying had stopped, the babies showed a short period of relaxation and then successively became alert. They went through an ‘awakening phase’, an ‘active phase’ with movements of limbs, rooting activity and looking at the mother’s face, a ‘crawling phase’ with soliciting sounds, a ‘familiarization phase’ with licking of the areola, and a ‘suckling phase’ and last a ‘sleeping phase’ … It is hypothesized that when the infant is given the option to peacefully go through the nine behavioural phases birth cry, relaxation, awakening, activity, crawling, resting, familiarization, suckling and sleeping when skin-to-skin with its mother this results in early optimal self-regulation.
Obviously this is an age-old instinct but this Swedish team were the first to flag it as important. Once they’d documented it, other researchers leaned in with interest and sought to find out more.
What does research say about breast crawling?
What researchers discovered was that not all babies manage the crawl to the nipple and suckle independently, but very many do. It’s thought that these instinctual crawlers also receive some extra benefits, by taking things slowly and responding naturally, post-birth.
The Global Health Media Project (GHMP) says the breast crawl instinct encourages breastfeeding and bonding, helps regulate a baby’s body temperature, contracts the new mother’s uterus and stimulates the production of colostrum.
Of course, circumstances don’t always allow for this somewhat leisurely crawl.
Very often, medicalised birth in busy birthing suites means that there’s not a lot of time or inclination to allow for babies’ own “predictable” movement towards the nipple.
How can you encourage your newborn to crawl to the breast?
So how do we change that and optimise the post-birth environment to encourage the breast crawl?
The GHMP says there are a few ways to encourage your newborn baby to crawl to the breast:
- Keep things as quiet and calm as possible after the birth and avoid disturbing the baby too much.
- Wipe the newborn down gently and then pop her on her mum’s belly or chest with a blanket covering her.
- Avoid drying the baby’s hands as the amniotic fluid on them acts as a bit of a breastfeeding road map.
- Be patient, watch your baby and keep her safe and warm as she attempts her journey nipple-ward.
Watch these little babies determinedly make their way to the boob – it’s a study in persistence, instinct and cute!