In the days following birth, the mother’s body is the baby’s “natural habitat”. When separated from this “habitat”, the baby, like all small mammals, has a “protest-desperation” response. This response helps survival by decreasing energy expenditure and growth, that is, by decreasing heart rate and body temperature and massively increasing stress hormone production. Once mother and baby are reunited, the baby’s heart rate and body temperature rise and stress hormones decrease. Research has shown that skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby reduces stress hormone production by 74% (1).
The hyper-contact of breastfeeding
Even if this physical closeness, this skin-to-skin contact can exist without breastfeeding, the fact remains that breastfed babies are much more likely to benefit from it than babies not directly fed at the breast: the breast cannot be given at a distance.
For the baby, feedings are a sensitive, sensual, relational and affective experience, where all his senses are fulfilled:
– exchange of glances,
– bath of words and noises already heard in utero (in particular the noises of the mother’s heart),
– smells and flavors of the milk (which change according to what the mother has eaten, as did the amniotic fluid that the baby swallowed at the end of pregnancy),
– peri-oral stimulations (face, nose, tongue, mouth) which are known to improve respiratory functions and therefore blood oxygenation.
This closeness of the child to the mother in breastfeeding is particularly marked in what Suzanne Colson has called Biological Nurturing where the mother adopts a semi-reclining position. In this position, the baby, lying on his stomach, pressed against his mother’s body, uses archaic anti-gravitational reflexes. This allows him to find the breast without having to be supported, to open his mouth wide and to latch on effectively and without pain (2).
This interaction between mother and baby is also found during night feeds: the physical proximity allows mother and baby to share the same sleep patterns, their internal clocks are as if synchronized.
An oxytocin bath
If physical contact, breastfeeding (and babywearing) encourage mother-child attachment, it is also a question of hormones, and more particularly oxytocin, the hormone of love and social relationships.
The breastfed baby and his mother are bathed in oxytocin.
So does the baby being carried. A study (3) has shown that, in premature babies carried skin-to-skin, “the duration of skin-to-skin contact during the last eight hours has a statistically significant influence on oxytocin levels measured in the baby, and in a dose-dependent manner“.
So what about the breastfed child while being carried, the “breastcarried” child?
I would like to conclude with the words of a mother who testifies to Allaiter aujourd’hui, LLL France’s magazine: “Baby hardly cries at all, he sleeps or watches what is going on. He calms down and falls asleep. Wakes up quietly… Happiness to feel your baby at ease, to see him live his life as a baby who needs this continuum, to be close to me for a few months to rediscover the sensations felt when he was in my belly… while being able to live my life as a mother of a large family with my two hands!”
(1) Modi N, Glover V, “Non-pharmacological reduction of hypercortisolemia in preterm infants”, Infant Behavior and Development 1998; 21(86), Special ICIS issue.
(2) See his book Biological Nurturing: Instinctual Breastfeeding, 2019, Pinter & Martin.