Maria posted recently about "the breast crawl," where a newborn baby less than an hour old crawls up his mother's chest and latches on to her breast without any outside assistance. It's not an accident that a baby can do this - it's the perfect art of evolution. A baby is born with reflexes providing the ability to crawl. This reflex goes away shortly after birth. In the immediate postpartum, however, a baby is able to crawl to his food. You can almost picture the evolutionary path here - years and years ago a woman gives birth alone. She is too exhausted to lift her baby to the breast. In order to survive (time lapse years and year) babies develop: 1) the ability to crawl at birth, 2) the ability to recognize his mother in the scent her colostrum (colostrum smells like amniotic fluid), providing an incentive to move closer to the breast and eventually latch on, where the colostrum is excreting, and 3) an instinctual visual attraction to round things (like nipples). At the same time, women evolved to develop large, darkened areolas at birth, providing an easy-to-see target for hungry babies.
As if this process weren't perfect enough, the baby's crawling to the breast and his nursing actually benefits his mother. Here is more evolution allowing mothers to survive childbirth. The baby's moving feet as he crawls press on his mother's uterus, helping it to clamp down to stop any postpartum bleeding that may occur. Did you know that if the baby doesn't do this, often a nurse, midwife, or doctor will have to? Also, when a baby breastfeeds, oxytocin is produced in the mother. The oxytocin causes uterine contractions, which also cause the uterus to clamp down, also stopping or slowing maternal bleeding. If the baby doesn't do this, a mother may need synthetic oxytocin (Pitocin) injected to accomplish this.
And you know what?! The perfection continues! A recent perusal of the Cochrane Review database brought my attention to a review on skin-to-skin contact at birth. As background, Cochrane Reviews are the gold standard of medical reviews. They combine several quality studies on a specific medical issue to create a statistically significant mega-study. They provide conclusions on quality medical care based on their conclusions, which can include a conclusion that evidence supports a certain medical practice. Or they may conclude that evidence doesn't support a certain practice. It's fascinating reading.
Anyway, a review I read recently had this conclusion:
Eureka! (Faking surprise again.) I had seen studies showing this, but a Cochrane Review of the evidence takes it to a whole different level.
Early skin-to-skin contact for mothers and their healthy newborn infants
Skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby at birth reduces crying, improves mother-baby interaction, keeps the baby warmer, and helps women breastfeed successfully.In many cultures, babies are generally cradled naked on their mother's bare chest at birth. Historically, this was necessary for the baby's survival. In recent times, in some societies as more babies are born in hospital, babies are separated or dressed before being given to their mothers. It has been suggested that in industrialized societies, hospital routines may significantly disrupt early mother-infant interactions and have harmful effects. The review was done to see if there was any impact of early skin-to-skin contact between the mother and her newborn baby on infant health, behavior and breastfeeding. The review included 30 studies involving 1925 mothers and their babies. It showed that babies interacted more with their mothers, stayed warmer, and cried less. Babies were more likely to be breastfed, and to breastfeed for longer, if they had early skin-to-skin contact. Babies were also, possibly, more likely to have a good early relationship with their mothers, but this was difficult to measure.
So, in short, babies who are immediately placed on their mother's chest at birth:
- cry less
- interact with their mothers
- stay warmer than babies in baby warmers (what? technology is trumped by nature?!)
- breastfeed better
- breastfeed longer
- breathe better ("have better cardio-respiratory stability" according to the author's conclusions as reported at the end of the review)
Is it any wonder that I am continually amazed by birth and the perfection of the human body?