Texting While Driving And Texting While Feeding The Baby, Two Sides Of The Same Coin?

September 19th, 2013 by avatar

By Jodilyn Owen, CPM, LM

Earlier this week, I had the honor of attending a full day workshop on breastfeeding, presented by regular Sceince & Sensibility contributor, Kathleen Kendall-Tackett.  In one of her presentations, Kathleen discussed how breastfeeding is a right brain activity and when we give mothers lots of instruction and detailed information, rather than supporting the dyad in laid back breastfeeding, (thanks Suzanne Colson for this concept) we may interfere in the normal and natural process.  Then, the very next day, I read this post written by author and midwife, Jodilyn Owen, CPM, LM and I knew wanted to share it here. Both topics are about keeping infant feeding as a right brain activity.  Please share your thoughts in the comments section below. – Sharon Muza, Community Manager, Science & Sensibility

© mochamanual.com

I recently read some research on texting and driving that immediately made me flash to the reactions of a group of new moms,  when I asked them what it looks like when they are nursing or feeding their babies.  Almost all of them mimicked holding the baby in one hand and frantic thumb movements on an imaginary phone in the other.  That image has stuck with me over the past week as I try to sort out the connection between these two seemingly different vignettes—driving and breastfeeding. 

The fact is that mothers and babies now have a third party in their relationship—technology.  This is not new news.  It’s just that there tends to be a pretty rigid opinion from many professionals that moms who allow this third party to enter are neglecting the needs of the primary relationship between mother and baby.

In today’s world we have to know that technology is ever-present.  And then we have to work with it.  It’s terrifically difficult for a woman who may have spent her entire adult life in the work force tracking progress and time-to-target goals, explaining her work to others through the use of spreadsheets, presentations, and lectures with sources cited, and full color graphs and charts, to not bring that into her new life as a mother.  It is not unusual to show up for a postpartum visit and be handed a notebook full of information about a baby from a mother who is very skilled at recording data.  It’s easy to look at this and point out everything wrong in this approach.  But guess what?  This mother is just bringing what has worked really well for her in the past forward with her into this new relationship.  And that’s why we are here—midwives, doulas, nurses, childbirth educators, doctors, lactation consultants, postpartum help, support group leaders—all of us.  We are here to allow her to shine and to introduce different ways to be with baby.

It is an un-plugging that is as much a learned, and learn-able skill, as how to use Excel. We know that a mother who has learned to do everything she has to be successful in the workplace, can learn everything she needs to know to be successful with her baby.  It can be hard, and confusing, and there’s no “Help” button in the upper left corner of the baby.

Each mother will find her way, and it will be her own way, and it will not always look like some of the pundits think it should.  There’s no one prescription that works for everyone.  It really helps a new mother to sit with other mothers and hear their stories, and it really helps to have a professional in the room who does little more than nod and affirm a mother’s experience of her baby and her new life.  Hopefully she finds what works for her and her baby, and hopefully she is surrounded by people who celebrate and have awareness of just how enormous an accomplishment that is.

Now back to the frantic thumbs and feeding the baby.  Here’s what research is showing—that as we humans text, a few interesting things happen physiologically  Our breathing becomes rapid, shallow, or non-existent (we hold our breaths until we must breathe).  Our pulse increases.  Our temperature goes up.  Sound familiar? Many of us will recognize the physical symptoms of “fight or flight”, or the human body in the sympathetic state.  To be super basic about it, there is a massive release of several hormones in our body that prepare us to act to save ourselves.  And it’s contagious.  We share our hormonal responses, breathing and heart rate with others who are near us.

In all of the research and work I have done with kangaroo care with preterm babies and skin-to-skin with healthy babies, science and observation have taught us that this principle holds true.  A mother will help regulate her baby’s temperature, heart rate, and breathing just by being close to him.  One of my favorite moments in my professional life was the first time I placed a pulse-oximeter on a newborn and took him out of the incubator and put him on his mother’s bare chest, then wrapped them up together in a sheet.  I got to watch as the little machine confirmed what so many others had discovered before.  The system works.  Moms work.  Babies work.  Moms and babies work really well when they are together.  It was thrilling.

The connection between texting and infant feeding and driving is all about the physiological consequences of these activities.  We all know that if mothers are catching up on Facebook, they are not eye-gazing with their babies or talking to them, important emotional tending-to that babies need.  Now we know there is something just as powerful happening in the mechanics of mothers’ bodies when they use feeding time to get things done online.  But as any mother in the first year of mothering will pointedly tell you—there’s not very much time other than those times to catch up.  And socializing—even social media socializing—is critically important to many mothers so that they can maintain a sense of connection with people who speak in full sentences.  This is the world we live in.  Do many of us wish it wasn’t so?  Yes.  Do many of us wish mothers had the time and resources to unplug totally and just *be* with their babies?  Of course we do.  But we have what we have.

The real question is how to work with it—how to create a balance that works for mom, baby, and the mother/baby relationship.  So here’s my simple proposal.

Suggest to the mothers you work with the following:

Mothers, if you find yourself catching up while you are feeding your baby, take intentional, slow, deep belly breaths while you do it.  Keep yourself out of “fight or flight” and in the state so appropriately dubbed “feed and breed” or “rest and digest”.   Your body can actually only be in one or the other state at any given time.  Simple deep breathing will keep your heart rate and temperature down, and your baby will reap the benefits of your biologically soothing presence.  If your baby is awake for the feeding, take a chunk of the time spent feeding or nursing— even if it is only 3 or 5 minutes, to eye gaze, to talk gently, to tell your baby the story of your day so far, or a funny story from your childhood.When you are ready, take a deep breath, tell your baby you are going to catch up on some work or social stuff while she continues to nourish herself and then hit the Facebook, email, or spreadsheets (while continuing to breathe well).  Babies are really understanding people.  Just like everyone, babies do best when we communicate with them and help them make sense of their stories.”

If you are a professional—take a moment to teach the mothers you work with, in prenatal visits, private sessions, groups, or classes, this simple lesson:  that humans breathe too fast and shallow, and that our temperatures, pulses, and breathing rates rise when we are texting or using technology while trying to do something else that shifts frequently and requires a lot of attention. Teach them to intentionally take slow cleansing breaths while nursing.  Talk about taking some of the time while nursing to tend to their emotional health and connection with each other.  Tell them it is not about right or wrong, this way or that way, my way or the highway.  It is about balance. Finding the right balance for them, their family, their baby, and their relationship with those they love.  And oh, of course, no texting while driving, please.


Lin, I. M., & Peper, E. (2009). Psychophysiological patterns during cell phone text messaging: A preliminary studyApplied psychophysiology and biofeedback34(1), 53-57.

McLeod, K. (2011, August 04). Texting while driving: targeted for extinction. Retrieved from http://www.edmunds.com/car-safety/texting-while-driving-targeted-for-extinction.html

Park, A., Salsbury, J., Corbett, K., & Aiello, J. (2013). The Effects of Text Messaging During Dual-Task Driving Simulation on Cardiovascular and Respiratory Responses and Reaction Time.

About Jodilyn Owen

Jodilyn is co-author of The Essential Homebirth Guide, a guide for families planning or considering a homebirth.  She is a practicing midwife at Essential Birth & Family Center in Seattle, WA and is a wife and mother.  Jodilyn is passionate about bringing babies into the arms of healthy mothers.  She is a co-founder of Girl Sense, lectures for midwifery students, and gives talks to high school students about midwifery, birth, and babies. She enjoys hiking, camping, boxing, and watching her kids on the basketball court.  Jodilyn welcomes your comments and questions and can be reached through her website

Babies, Breastfeeding, Childbirth Education, Guest Posts, Infant Attachment, Newborns, Parenting an Infant, Uncategorized , , , , , ,

  1. avatar
    September 19th, 2013 at 07:39 | #1

    I appreciate the advice at the end — to become conscious and take deep breaths. However, I think the majority of this post rides a fine line. Mothers are using their smart phones while breastfeeding. Want to further push moms away from bfing or instill more mother guilt? Tell them they shouldn’t be on their phone.

    Personal story: I didn’t have mobile tech when I was a new mom. Bedtime, long nursing sessions, & late night feedings used to drive me mad. Lots of mother guilt for not enjoying that time and just laying there in the dark was challenging for me. My next two kids I had a Kindle and a smart phone. Bedtime became an enjoyable time. Instead of rushing the little one off the breast I was content to relax and check-in on social media, check-in with friends and family, etc. I was happier for it and spent more time relaxing with them at the breast.

    I appreciate that the author says this, “The real question is how to work with it—how to create a balance that works for mom, baby, and the mother/baby relationship.”

    But equating it to texting and driving which is deadly? I think that’s an unfair analogy.

  2. avatar
    September 19th, 2013 at 09:29 | #2

    I truly question the value of an article like this. It’s like the goal posts keep moving. First we have to breast feed, next we have to do it for set length of time, and now we have to do it a certain way?

    It makes a lot of sense that texting while driving would cause physiological changes. It’s inherently dangerous. and even if it’s not, it’s illegal, so it makes us anxious. You did include one study that looked at regular texting, but it only looked at 12 college-aged students. That is nowhere near enough evidence to write an article about this.

    Tons of mothers experience terrible anxiety in the early days of nursing. Now in addition to feeling guilty about not being “good” at nursing, a mom might read this and feel guilty she was hurting her child by the mere fact that she wasn’t exuding zen and happiness while she nursed.

    Just, stop. This kind of article doesn’t help anyone, it twists scientific evidence in a way to make mother’s feel guilty for not living up an imaginary standard. If texting helps a mom feel sane while she nurses, just let it be. I personally watched 4 seasons of Jersey Shore and one season of American Horror Story while nursing my daughter. And I was happy. leave it alone.

  3. avatar
    September 19th, 2013 at 10:00 | #3

    Agree with Anh. This is ridiculous, mangles and misuses the evidence and may actually cause harm. New moms often feel quite isolated which can contribute to PPD. Texting, social media etc can be sanity savers in the early days of parenthood.

  4. September 19th, 2013 at 10:20 | #4

    Thank you for your comments, Andy, Hilary and Anh. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts and personal experiences. I don’t want to speak for Jodilyn, who may be able to comment herself, but my read of the entire article doesn’t say it should be one or the other, rather that there is a balance, i would refer you to the last paragraph.

    “If you are a professional—take a moment to teach the mothers you work with, in prenatal visits, private sessions, groups, or classes, this simple lesson: that humans breathe too fast and shallow, and that our temperatures, pulses, and breathing rates rise when we are texting or using technology while trying to do something else that shifts frequently and requires a lot of attention. Teach them to intentionally take slow cleansing breaths while nursing. Talk about taking some of the time while nursing to tend to their emotional health and connection with each other. Tell them it is not about right or wrong, this way or that way, my way or the highway. It is about balance. Finding the right balance for them, their family, their baby, and their relationship with those they love. And oh, of course, no texting while driving, please.”

    Thank you for participating in the discussion and sharing your views.

  5. avatar
    September 19th, 2013 at 11:21 | #5

    I did appreciate her paragraph at the end, but it doesn’t change the fact that she used incredibly shoddy research to draw weak conclusions that will shame and stress out new mothers. The author is striking a false balance. There is no need to find a “balance” because texting while nursing is not inherently harmful. If a mother spends 100% of her time nursing while texting, so what? there is no harm in that.

    I’ve always respected this blog for being largely science and evidence based, but this is not well researched. I’m surprised it was published

  6. avatar
    September 19th, 2013 at 11:52 | #6

    A better analogy would be not to breast feed while driving, it’s like texting and driving. Not texting while breasting.

  7. avatar
    September 19th, 2013 at 13:17 | #7

    When you are breastfeeding, your baby does most of the work and your main job is keeping your child positioned correctly to provide a good, functional latch and comfort.

    The end.

    I suppose the author of this article would disapprove of women who use slings to support their nursing babies hands free as well. She can go right ahead and disapprove of anything she wants. It’s a free world.

  8. avatar
    September 19th, 2013 at 14:59 | #8

    This post also totally doesn’t address the situation where mom isn’t physically capable of “gazing into baby’s eyes” while breastfeeding. I’m not capable of holding that position for more than 30 seconds, and right after my child’s birth, I had to take my glasses off to get started, an completely non-functional state of affairs for me. There’s also several assumptions here such as every mother finds breastfeeding to be an enjoyable act all or most of the time, that there’s nothing else needing her attention (say, siblings), and so on.

  9. avatar
    September 19th, 2013 at 15:00 | #9

    And as other posters said, it’s not like texting while breastfeeding can kill you like texting while driving can.

  10. September 19th, 2013 at 15:37 | #10

    That babies are relational beings and depend on relationship in order to develop and thrive is well researched. An educator does a service to advise new parents to get to know their newborn by reminding them to slow down and be with, breathe, observe, be observed. Baby language development comes from listening to language. It seems like the title of the blog post is not the best, but the concept of putting down the device sometimes, I’m in agreement with Jodilyn.

  11. September 19th, 2013 at 16:07 | #11

    I have a saying on my wall, “We cannot operate separately from the system in which we are embedded.” – Stanislov Grof, founder of transpersonal psychology. All infants are shaped through gestation and early infancy to live in a particular society and set of circumstances. Today’s mothers are living in our high tech society and shaping their children’s brains to also exist in it. Our brains were also shaped by our mothers and families. We have found new ways to relate to others, find practices that sustain our values and way we want to live.
    I also think smartphone activity can be tied to reducing anxiety and boredom! In the 1980′s you could get a telephone without a cord and we were warned not to be talking on the phone “too much” when we nursed or spent time with our babies. Trust mothers and give them the guideline “to listen to their babies and their babies will teach them”. In the end it will be alright.

  12. September 19th, 2013 at 17:29 | #12

    This article is about being present when we feed or interact with our babies – texting and breastfeeding are just an example of how distracted we are in our daily lives. When we are present with our children as we interact with them, they feel valued. It does us both harm to multi-task. Take a moment and just *be* with your baby. It doesn’t matter if you breastfeed or not… pay attention and you both will have a more rewarding experience.

  13. avatar
    September 19th, 2013 at 18:36 | #13

    There are plenty of other good articles out there about being “present” with your children and taking a technology break. This is trying to make a physiological connection that simply does not exist. For all the talk about how practitioners are not evidence based and here we are recommending that care providers say, “we’ll if you must text while breast feeding, then pay attention to your breathing.” The articles cited do not support this. I know she talked about balance but seriously if any of my care providers tried to talk to me about that I’d be a little angry.

  14. September 20th, 2013 at 10:52 | #14

    About 3 years ago I was with my small son at the doctor’s office. Across the room was a little family — mom and dad sitting next to each other, and baby boy, about 6 months old, sitting in his infant seat on the floor, facing his parents. I was in the position of being able to see all of their faces. Mom was on her hand-held gaming device, dad was texting on his phone, and baby boy was rocking his carseat in the attempt to elicit interaction with his parents. This went on for 15 minutes until we were called into our appointment. It hit me: we are raising a whole new generation of kids with all this technology, and what will be the repercussions of the lack of human interaction on these children? Ever since then, I share that story with my classes.

    I don’t think we need to tell moms they shouldn’t use their phones while breastfeeding, because we can’t ignore that human touch and contact is there. We need to be mindful of the facts we do have, attachment theories, even psychology research about how babies are affected when they view their moms’ faces when moms experience happiness, stress, depression, etc.

  15. avatar
    September 21st, 2013 at 13:51 | #15

    When my first was young I read the first three Harry Potter books while feeding him to help pass the time. I would give him eye contact and then read a bit and so on. The next child I would feed and then see what my toddler was up to, maybe read to him while I was feeding the baby. My third was lucky he got fed as I had to fit his feeds in around a 3 and 1 year old. My 4th was glad that they were at school by the time she came along and she only had to share me with my laptop. My 5th (just turned one) can’t talk yet and sometimes when I’m feeding him he gets down and walks off to play with his toy phone that is an imitation of a better phone than I have. I would never breastfeed and drive or text and drive but I can eat, read and breastfeed all at the same time and I’m proud of that!

  16. avatar
    Susan Martin
    September 21st, 2013 at 15:55 | #16

    I am the mother of teen. When I gave birth and breastfed, I didn’t have any of this tech stuff so it wasn’t an issue for me. However, my husband and I can directly see the effect that texting and technology has on our 15 year old — it causes a state of anxiety; there is absolutely an observable physiological change. So, actually, I will buy the breathing theory and the change to fight-or-flight in the nervous system especially for susceptible individuals, even if there haven’t not been enough studies on it. Not enough studies on it does not means it’s not true or could be true, just that no one has bother to put the money into trying to see if it is true. We can’t rely just on “scientific evidence”. Our personal observations of other’s behavior and how our own is affected can give us great insight.

    I also concur that attachment theory and psychological research points to babies being directly impact by their caregivers interactions or lack-there-of. I think it’s more empowering for new moms to know that in the first moments of breastfeeding your child is going to want to make eye-contact and connect with you. That this is important to their development. Does that mean every single interaction has to be like that? No. That’s not real life even without technology. Sometimes siblings need attention or other things come up. Having the perspective that mothers are going to feel guilty doesn’t make any sense to me. No one can do everything 100% perfectly — those are unrealistic expectations.

    However, there is something about technology that ropes us in in a different way than regular life did before all this technology. A screen seems to demand our attention. I think there is a something a little addictive about it — I think it plugs in to our very human need to connect with others but it’s really not the same. This draw/compulsion to look at the screen (and I feel very aware of it since I didn’t grow up with it and can even feel it now when I use the computer or phone and my kids want my attention) is something to be aware of, to be conscious of. Our bodies really haven’t changed over thousands of years of evolution. Our children’s developmental needs for healthy nervous systems, bodies and minds haven’t changed over this time. But our world has changed a lot. A lot. Being mindful and aware is important.

    I felt the author did an excellent job portraying that the important point is balance and that being aware that technology might have a negative influence in some situations is something to consider as a possibility at the very least.

  17. avatar
    September 23rd, 2013 at 14:15 | #17

    My baby is now 13 years old, but when he was a baby I usually read a book while breastfeeding when I wasn’t engaged with my other children. I think attempting to make breastfeeding moms feel guilty for texting while breastfeeding is counterproductive. Moms need to do whatever they need to do to feel comfortable, stimulate their minds, and stay connected while breastfeeding, a practice that can be isolating.

  18. avatar
    Amanda Loring
    September 23rd, 2013 at 20:36 | #18

    I appreciate this article and do not find it offensive. As a mother to mother Breastfeeding support person, I found the points about the physiological implications of texting on Breastfeeding very interesting. I wonder how many pumping mamas, struggling to get let downs at work, are furiously I-phoning? They might find the tips about deep breathing and being selective of content to be very helpful.
    I don’t find this to be a judge mental piece, designed to criticize mothers and make us feel guilty.
    Thank you for these pertinent points!
    LLLove Amanda

  19. November 19th, 2013 at 03:11 | #19

    Mothers are using their phones while on the delivery room table while the still wet baby is skin to skin. I came upon the scene of an accident, where there were 4 adults all on their phones while a terrified, squalling baby was still tethered into the upside down stroller. Not one adult rushed to right the stroller and comfort the baby; instead they were all focused on their phones.

    Women have always multi-tasked; the corpus callosum between the hemispheres of our brains is larger in women than in men so we have the built-in systems to do just that: to tend the fire, and the other children, and make the bread while nursing the baby.

    Between these two lies the ultimate decider: what is the impact on the baby of being so close to a source of electromagnetic frequencies for so long? What is the impact on the developing brain and building the foundation of relationship when Mamma is paying attention to her hand held device more that anything else.

    I do see, in my City, parents paying more attention to the hand held device then they do their babies.

  20. avatar
    November 21st, 2013 at 19:54 | #20

    I gotta agree with the ridiculousness of this article. I’m actually lying here with my 22 month old asleep and attached while reading on my phone. Having it has let me stay productive while nursing for hours everyday without losing my mind. It helped in the early days when I felt anxious about his wanting to nurse constantly because I would go to Kellymom three times a day and feel like I may actually be doing just fine. I can plan play dates with friends, catch up with my mom and feel connected despite being in the bed with my toddler for every nap and the hours after he falls asleep every single night. I have spent countless hours holding my sweet baby and staring in his eyes. We have conversations now while he nurses, which is hilarious. I think this article is bit extreme. My phone is probably the reason I have nursed into toddlerhood and we’re still going strong.

  1. September 28th, 2013 at 16:45 | #1