Is my baby born with feeding instincts like other mammals?

If you’ve spent a lot of time around animals, or watching Animal Planet on TV, then you know that newborn mammals are purposeful—and often adorably clumsy—in their quest to feed. Sure, the mothers make themselves available, but it’s the kittens, the puppies, the hamsters (choose your mammal) that sniff, nudge and slide their way to mama’s nipple for nourishment. Each mammal has it’s own species-specific feeding sequence. It’s all part of their animal instinct.Well, human babies have instincts, too. They are born with feeding reflexes that can help them get to the breast and latch on unaided (okay, someone has to place them on their mother’s stomach or chest—but beyond that, they are quite capable of finding the source of nourishment and comfort). In fact, when mothers and babies are kept skin to skin in the first hour or two after birth, most healthy babies demonstrate these instinctive behaviors by slowly pushing their way up to the breast, opening their mouths, dropping their tongues and attaching on their own.

So, if breastfeeding is so simple, why does it seem so complicated, you might ask. After half a century of bottle-feeding as the cultural norm, many of us have forgotten the natural rhythms of breastfeeding.

In other cultures and in days gone by, learning to breastfeed happened by osmosis. Little girls grew up watching their mothers, aunts and sisters as they nursed their babies. By the time she had her first child, a new mother had a long history of vicarious experience with breastfeeding. And if she did encounter any difficulty, she had her own team of lactation experts at the ready (mother, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and neighbors).

If you are a typical 21st century mom-to-be, you probably haven’t had that type of experience. If you get the chance before your baby is born, find a breastfeeding support group where you can watch and learn from breastfeeding mothers.