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Baby’s First Feed | The Breast Crawl pt2

This is a continuation from pt1 that can be found here:

pt1 has an awesome video (you should check it out!)

This series of behaviors has become known as The Breast Crawl and is quickly becoming the golden standard for early initiation of breastfeeding. Babies are born with several innate reflexes that help them achieve this incredible feat so soon after being born. They are able to lift their head up for short periods of time, their arms can reach out and gather in whatever is in front of them, their fingers grasp, they can prop up on elbows briefly, they kick with their legs when pressure is placed on their feet, they instinctively bring things to their mouths and are born with the ability to suck. These movements create the predictable steps in the Breast Crawl.

  1. Quiet alert phase: The baby is placed face down, skin to skin on the birthing parent’s stomach. This allows baby’s body to adjust to the outside world, and their stomach to release digestive hormones that will help them absorb nutrients from the first feed. This is also an important time of bonding between parents and their new baby, while they gaze at each other and the baby listens to their parent's voices, which they have already been hearing in the womb.

  2. Feeding readiness behaviors: Babies will begin to stick out their tongues, smack their lips, suck on their hands, and may be more vocal after the resting phase. They will eventually pick up their head and nod it from side to side, searching for the nipple with their mouths (the rooting reflex).

  3. Incremental Movement to the Breast/Nipple: Babies will begin to kick with their legs against the birthing parent’s stomach (aids in stimulating the uterus to continue contracting and birth the placenta), and will prop up on their elbows briefly before resting their heads down again. This allows them to inch slowly upward towards their food source. Their hands smell and taste like amniotic fluid, which is similar to the smell and taste of the nipple, this helps guide them to where they need to go. The nipple has also become darker during pregnancy, to be more visible to a newborn.

  4. Rooting and latching practice: The baby will eventually locate the nipple, and begin to root around with their mouth, attempting to latch on. Their hands will often get in the way, as they use the gathering reflex to bring their hands back to their mouth. It is helpful to place the baby's arms around the breast in a hug position to keep the hands out of the way and to stimulate the breast and nipple to produce colostrum (the super-concentrated first milk).

  5. Successful latch and first feed: a successful latch occurs once the baby takes a big mouthful of the nipple, with both lips flanged out and not tucked in. They will begin to suck, taking long strong pulls as they start to taste the colostrum. Once baby’s sucks have become soft and fluttery, or they detach on their own, they are likely finished with the first side. If possible, offer them the second breast, to stimulate both sides and give the baby more of the nutrient-rich colostrum. Babies often stay latched for 8-12+ minutes on each side, which the medical staff would consider a full feed.

The Breast Crawl usually begins 30-60 minutes after the time of birth and can take an additional 30-60 minutes for the baby to complete the whole process.

Allowing this process to happen undisturbed has many physiological, emotional, and neurological benefits for both the baby and the birthing person.

  1. Keeps the baby warm and comfortable as they make the transition to life outside the womb.

  2. Immediately after being born, babies' cardiovascular and respiratory systems have to adjust to working on their own, and skin to skin contact has been shown to aid in this process.

  3. Babies who do The Breast Crawl jump-start their digestion and have fewer issues with blood sugar and acidosis in the first few hours after birth.

  4. The Breast Crawl has been associated with better latching ability in the following weeks, and higher rates of continued breastfeeding. As they go through the steps, they are creating important connections in their brain between feeding behaviors and the reward of food.

  5. Helps with the detachment of the placenta. Baby’s feet massage the uterus from the outside as they crawl. Stimulating the breasts and nipples releases oxytocin and helps the uterus contract back down to size.

  6. Experiencing this process together helps with bonding, and gets the breastfeeding relationship off to a great start.

The Breast Crawl is an amazing thing to experience and witness, however, sometimes a baby or the birthing person needs medical assistance immediately after birth. If they need to be separated to receive medical care, the Breast Crawl Experience can be re-created as soon as they are able to be reunited. With the right support, even higher risk families can enjoy the benefits of skin to skin, and infant led latching and feeding. Here are some tips to help create a supportive environment for The Breast Crawl after your own birth:

  1. Choose a birthplace that values evidence-based, breastfeeding-friendly care. And a care provider that is supportive of your preferences and priorities.

  2. Learn about The Breast Crawl with your partner or chosen support person, make sure they are aware of what needs to happen in order for this process to take place.

  3. Consider hiring a doula who is educated on this process, who will help make sure you are given the space to allow this to happen after your baby is born.

  4. Talk with your care provider and labor and delivery nurses ahead of time, let them know this is your preference, and why it’s important to you.

  5. Trust your body and your baby, this process takes patience, and breastfeeding has a learning curve for all involved.


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