This is a great article circulating some of the breastfeeding forums I am on, and I wanted to share it with you. Many thanks to my friend Anna for sharing it with me!
Breastfeeding the Right-Brained Way
By Kathleen Kendall-Tackett (PhD, IBCLC) & Nancy Mohrbacher (IBCLC),
co-authors of Breastfeeding Made Simple
In modern Western cultures, mothers have more information about
breastfeeding than any time in human history. Unfortunately, most of this is
information for the left side of the brain, which is fine for lots of tasks.
But too much left-brained information can make you anxious about
Breastfeeding is a right-brained activity. What do we mean by that? Think of
left-brained instructions as head knowledge. Right-brained learning yields
heart or body knowledge. To illustrate the difference, think about riding a
bike. Did you learn by reading about it? Talking a class? Talking to other
people about it? Or did you learn by just getting on a bike and doing it?
The Right-Brained Dance of Breastfeeding
Mothers and babies have physiological responses that draw them to each
other, that encourage them to look at each other, touch each other, and
interact. Much of this behavior is guided by the right side of the brain.
This is the side that has to do with affect or emotion.
A problem with the heavily left-brained, instructionally-oriented way that
many mothers learn to breastfeed is that it doesn’t allow mother and baby to
take advantage of their natural responses. So much breastfeeding education
focuses on all the things mother must to do get the baby to breastfeed,
which ignores the baby’s role. That type of instruction can be helpful to
solve a particular problem, but it can be a definite drawback when one
technique or strategy is applied to all mothers. It also discourages mothers
and babies from using their hardwiring.
Worse still, this kind of education can encourage them to tune out their
natural responses or to violate their instincts. It can be upsetting for all
who are involved, sometimes creating a crisis where none existed before.
Another problem with highly instructionalized left-brained approaches is
that they can leave some mothers feeling incompetent because it feels as if
there are 10,000 things they need to remember.
A different way to think about this is to consider how mothers throughout
human history managed to breastfeed without all of the information we have
now. When breastfeeding was the norm, girls learned about breastfeeding as
they were growing up by seeing women actually doing it. Dr. Peter Hartmann,
a well-known breastfeeding researcher, makes this point well. He asked a
young Australian Aboriginal mothers, “When did you learn about
breastfeeding?” She answered, “I have always known how to breastfeed.”
How exactly do you use a right-brained approach to breastfeed your baby?
First, take some deep breaths and let go of those worries about doing things
“wrong.” Instead of thinking of breastfeeding as a skill you need to master,
or a measure of your worth as a mother, think about breastfeeding as
primarily a relationship. As you spend time with your baby, you’ll be more
adept at reading her cues. As you hold her, your baby will be more
comfortable seeking your breast. Breastfeeding will flow naturally out of
your affectionate relationship.
Based on her extensive clinical experience with mothers and babies,
pediatrician and board-certified lactation consultant Dr. Christina Smillie
has developed some strategies that can help you help your baby. Here are
some specific things you can do:
* Start with a calm, alert baby– One mistake that many women make is to wait to try breastfeeding until their babies are either sound asleep or
screaming. Think about yourself. Do you learn best when you are asleep or
upset? Probably not. The other reason to start with a calm baby has to do
with physics. When a baby is screaming, her tongue is on the roof of her
mouth. You will never get your breast in her mouth when her tongue is like
* Watch for early feeding cues– These cues include turning her head when
someone touches her cheek and hand-to-mouth. Take note of when she starts
smacking her lips or putting her hands to her mouth. This is an ideal time
to try breastfeeding.
* Use your body to calm your baby– One way to calm a crying baby is by
placing your baby skin to skin vertically between your breasts. Your chest
is a very calming place for your baby. Try talking and making eye contact.
All of these activities can get her to calm down, allowing your baby to seek
the breast on her own.
* Follow your baby’s lead– When a calm, alert baby is held vertically
between her mother’s breasts, often she will begin showing instinctive
breast-seeking behaviors, bobbing her head and moving it from side to side.
Once your baby starts these behaviors, help her in her efforts. Following
your baby’s lead, support her head and shoulders. Move her rump toward your
opposite breast. Encourage her explorations with your voice.
* Play while you learn to breastfeed– Play is something that is largely
absent from the mothers we see. It all seems so serious and they are
terrified of doing something wrong. If you are feeling frustrated, we’d like
to encourage you to look at this another way. Focus on your relationship
with your baby and consider breastfeeding as a part of the larger whole.
Breastfeeding will flow naturally out of your affectionate relationship.
In summary, if your baby is healthy, she is wired to know how to breastfeed.
It all doesn’t depend on you getting everything right. Relax and just focus
on getting to know your baby. The rest will follow.
Breastfeeding Made Simple is an awesome book, and I encourage you to search out the other books written by these two women. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett in particular has done a lot of work with postpartum depression, depression and other less than positive feelings dealing with motherhood. The works of these two wise women are well worth checking out!