Infant Feeding Isn't Designed to Be Hard.
Anyone who has ever fed a baby knows that feeding an infant is hard work. It's exhausting, all-consuming, and sometimes incredibly painful. But it isn't designed to be that way. If breast/chestfeeding was designed to be hard, then it wouldn't have evolved as a successful strategy by millions of mammals throughout history.
Why is infant feeding so hard for human mammals?
Human mammals are the only mammals that help our infants latch. Most other mammals help make sure their infant is safe, but then give them the freedom to feed. Instead of allowing our infants to use their own innate feeding reflexes to support the feeding process, we intervene. We compress our breast/chest, swaddle and shove our babies into position, without giving them a chance to use their own biological processes that were designed to support the feeding process.
As a result, we have collectively lost the understanding of the biological reflexes that an infant uses to help them be able to feed, and the infant has lost the chance to use these reflexes to establish feeding. Reflexes matter. The role of reflexes is to help provide the foundation for brain development through movement, starting from birth.
When we don't give our infants the opportunity to use their own feeding reflexes, the neurological pathway that the brain needs to be able to connect the body gets compromised. The brain uses the feeding process to wire the brain to be able to move the body with symmetry and ease, starting from birth.
A Cascade of Impact.
Infant feeding is about more than calories. The movement patterns that the infant uses to move to the breast/chest and feed are essential to development. A reflexively driven feeding process establishes the basis of tone and mobility in the head, spine, lower back, and pelvis, and it helps to develop the connection between the mouth, the hands, and the whole body. In addition, to helping establish physical mobility, the feeding process is also in charge of helping to establish emotional regulation through the development of the nervous system. The brain uses the feeding process to establish and foster development for the whole body.
When a baby is able to use their innate reflexes to drive the feeding process these things happen automatically. When we continue to use compensatory tools to circumvent these pathways - either because they can't use them at birth, or because we don't recognize their significance - these connections do not happen. This can create a cascade of impacts that reaches beyond just feeding.
If lifting and lowering your head isn't comfortable, being in tummy time isn't safe. If a baby doesn't develop an appropriate tone of your head and neck, then they often use compensatory muscles in the back to help hold their head and neck upright. This can create rigidity of the lower back, and prevent the spine from having the flexibility it needs to be able to begin the process of moving upright against gravity.
The importance of being on spending time on the belly is widely recognized because of its role in helping to develop other reflexes that allow the baby to coordinate whole-body movement patterns that goes well beyond feeding.
An infant whose body hasn't had the chance to work on developing their nervous system may struggle with internal regulation and does not feel safe in the world outside of the womb. These infants often resist being put down, even for brief periods, often rouse easily when sleeping, and can not nap without physical contact. This is exhausting for the infant because they don't feel good, and it's exhausting for new parents because you don't know how to help them feel better.
It doesn't have to stay that way. Human brains are designed to be wired and rewired from cradle to grave, and you can begin to transition to a more functional feeding process at any point along the way. It's never too late.
Finding the Way To Function.
Infant feeding isn't designed to be hard. When you understand the mechanics of how to support your infant during latching and understand how the feeding reflexes are designed to work, you learn how to allow your infant to more actively participate in the feeding process in a productive way.
The parts of the infant that made feeding feel hard - like the hand that get in the way - become important tools to help facilitate a letdown. Instead of falling onto the nipple and causing pain, a baby that reflexively gapes widely before latching can establish a deeper latch so they can use their tongue and mouth in a more functional way. When babies are able to use their feeding reflexes in the way that they were designed, feeding becomes easier for everyone.
The first step in helping your infant become a more functional feeder is understanding what is biologically designed to happen during feeding. Instead of choosing a position and hoping for the best, when you understand how the feeding process works, you can recognize not just when to help your infant but also when to intentionally step back and provide a supportive role, so that they can begin to establish function.
Compensatory feeding strategies, such as compressing your breast into a sandwich, have become so normalized they have widespread acceptance as a standard of care, even when an infant has the necessary motor skills to feed functionally. While those strategies may work initially to some degree and may have been initially necessary, in the long term, they cause an infant to become reliant on those compensations, at the expense of function. This often results in a cycle of painful and exhausting feedings, where you may feel trapped by feeding the feeding process. And this starts a whole different cascade of impact, because the newborn period simply doesn't look like you thought it would, and you don't know how to help.
Infants who learn how to are able to use their body to feed functionally are not just able to move better and feel better, but they also have the potential to change their developmental trajectory because the things that have been hard for them start to feel safe. Movement becomes easy, and meeting milestones become inevitable. I'd love to show you how.