If you’ve ever watched kittens nursing, you will see them pressing on their mom’s belly with their paws. You’ll even see adult cats doing this sort of massage motion when they are content. That’s a deep instinct, hard wired in animals and humans brain. Watch your baby’s little hands, curling and uncurling… same instincts.
Watch your baby sticking his hands in his mouth, moving them to her face. Hand to mouth is part of the learning process.
Even when in the womb, newborns suck their thumbs. Learning to nurse begins with their fingers. When they’re first born and are left undisturbed on the mother’s chest, they’ll suck and smell their hands. Sucking releases digestive hormones in the baby’s gut and the smell of amniotic fluid on his/her fingers is calming and familiar. These are guides for our infants.
This is one reason why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends newborns not be given a bath right away. There’s no need to wash off that important ‘birth goo’ smell. Bathing also separates mom and baby, maybe tires or confuses a newborn and when they’re swaddled (they get chilly with a bath), they don’t have access to their little fingers.
Babies who are not given a bath right away will suck on their hands more often. The small bumps on around the mother’s areola emit a secretion that smells like amniotic fluid and that subtle cue guides a newborn.
When your baby is at your breast, pressing on your breast just like kittens do, this also helps bring the milk down. If your baby is fussy at the breast and ‘getting his fingers in his face all the time’, focus on calming your child. Let them use their hands as they need.
For the most part, babies already know what to do. They need calm and patience. And when we understand this, we can give them a hand.
American Academy of Pediatrics: “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk”
The photo is of a beautiful felted doll that my friend Katherine Lew made for my teaching.