Every month Science & Sensibility has been running a "Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators" series that highlights a different creative and fun teaching idea for childbirth educators to use in their classroom that other birth professionals can also use with their clients and patients one on one. In honor of celebrating National Breastfeeding Month, World Breastfeeding Week and Black Breastfeeding Week all in August, this month's Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators idea will be one that can be used when teaching about breastfeeding to the families that you work with. I originally learned this from Teri Shilling, LCCE or possibly during a teach back by an attendee in a Passion for Birth workshop, I actually can't recall, but a quick Google search finds several similar activities, so I am unable to credit the originator of this activity as I don't know the original source. Do you do this activity in your classes? How does it go? You can also share your favorite breastfeeding education activity with us in the comments below? You can find all the Brilliant Activities for Birth Educators past posts by following this link here.
While I talk about breastfeeding from the very beginning of class one and weave it in throughout the curriculum, the entire last class in my seven-week series is devoted to helping families get breastfeeding off to a good start. One of the topics we cover is the importance of a good latch for transferring milk and eliminating pain. We also talk about waiting until breastfeeding is well established (around four weeks) before introducing a bottle or pacifier so that the family is assured that breastfeeding is working well. A baby that is feeding well has a good latch can remove milk appropriately, has a nice weight gain, and can help ensure that the parent's supply is well established. Bottle feeding (even expressed breastmilk) before this happens can interfere with getting breastfeeding off to the right start. This activity offers a fun way to show the difference between bottle feeding and breastfeeding as well as how well baby transfers milk with both a good and a poor latch.
- Three seedless orange wedges per person (I cut each orange into six pieces)
- A new disposable plastic straw
How to conduct the activity
This activity occurs about 1/3 of the way through my breastfeeding class after we have covered some other topics, such as benefits of breastfeeding and other things. Pass out a napkin, a straw and three orange wedges to each person in class. I have a wastebasket easily available for after the exercise is complete. We have a discussion about getting breastfeeding off to a good start and delaying bottle feeding until breastfeeding is working well or there is a medical need to introduce a bottle. I talk about how removing milk from a bottle is much less effort than breastfeeding for the baby.
I ask the class to each take one orange wedge, put their head back and squeeze the orange so that juice runs into their open mouth. They often sputter and laugh as a gush of orange juice runs quickly into their mouth. I explain about how this can be the baby getting breastmilk or formula from a bottle, in big mouthfuls without a lot of effort. If babies become accustomed to being fed from a bottle, the transition to the breast may be difficult as babies might get frustrated with how much more work it is to transfer milk from a breast.
I then ask the families to stick their straw into the second orange wedge. I enourage them to suck up some juice from the orange through the straw. Lots of moans and groans about how difficult it is. I encourage them to try harder. No one really has much luck getting orange juice to move into their mouth via the straw. This is how difficult it is for baby to tranfer milk when they are only drawing in the nipple and have a very shallow latch. It is very hard for the baby to move milk. Additionally it can be very painful for the breastfeeding parent.
Finally, I ask them to take the third orange wedge and place it in their mouth, to try and get as much juice from the orange as they can by massaging the orange with their tongue and lips but not biting it with their teeth. They happily get just the right amount of juice for their efforts. I ask them to notice how their whole mouth (cheek muscles, jaw, etc) is working to remove the juice from the orange. This is how a baby with a good latch removes milk from the breast, by massaging the breast with their tongue and lips to remove and transfer milk.
The take aways
We talk about how establishing a good latch is an important key to a good breastfeeding relationship, that a poor latch does not facilitate milk transfer and how bottle feeding before breastfeeding is working well can interfere with a successful breastfeeding relationship.
I then go on to discuss what are the characteristics of a good latch, and what to do if the latch is not correct, and we continue the breastfeeding class, which is 2 1/2 hours in its entirety moving on to latching on baby positions and more.
I have been doing this for about three years, and each time it is a big hit with families in class. They enjoy the interactive learning, the learning objectives are easily met and experienced kinesthetically, and the take aways are clear. It is fun to teach because it is so effective and I enjoy having class members discover how important the tongue and lips (and the whole mouth) are for a good latch and to properly transfer milk.
For the price of an orange per family, this is a very effective method of teaching the importance of a good latch and how milk is removed from the breast and from a bottle. This activity makes a big impact, is fun to experience and fun to teach. How do you like to teach latch in your breastfeeding classes? Do you have any other fun breastfeeding class activities that you would like to share? Let us know in the comments below.