How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

[Editor’s Note: This is our fourth installment of guest posts from Lamaze International’s 2009 Annual Conference speakers. Dr. Kendall-Tackett will present the Opening Plenary Address at this year’s conference. You can listen to podcast interviews will all of our plenary speakers online. You can also read our other conference previews by clicking on the Lamaze 2009 Annual Conference tag. We hope to see you October 1-4 in Orlando at the Lamaze International 2009 Annual Conference. – AMR]

Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC

Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC

In modern Western cultures, mothers have more information about breastfeeding than any time in human history.  Unfortunately, most of this information is left-brained, which works well for some tasks, but can be a problem for breastfeeding new mothers. That is because breastfeeding is a right-brained activity. What do we mean by that? Think of left-brained instructions as head knowledge. Right-brained learning yields heart or body knowledge. To illustrate the difference, think about riding a bike. Did you learn by reading about it? Talking a class? Talking to other people about it? Or did you learn by just getting on a bike and doing it?

The Right-Brained Relationship of Breastfeeding

Mothers and babies have physiological responses that draw them to each other, that encourage them to look at each other, touch each other, and interact. Much of this behavior is guided by the right side of the brain. This is the side that has to do with affect or emotion.

A problem with the heavily left-brained, instructionally oriented way that many mothers learn to breastfeed is that it doesn’t allow mother and baby to take advantage of their natural responses. So much breastfeeding education focuses on all the things mothers must to do get the baby to breastfeed, which ignores the baby’s role. That type of instruction can be helpful to solve a particular problem, but it can be a definite drawback when one technique or strategy is applied to all mothers. It also discourages mothers and babies from using their hardwiring. Worse still, this kind of education can encourage them to tune out their natural responses or to violate their instincts. It can be upsetting for all who are involved, sometimes creating a crisis where none existed before. Another problem with highly instructionalized left-brained approaches is that they can leave some mothers feeling incompetent because it feels as if there are ten thousand things they need to remember.

A different way to think about this is to consider how mothers throughout human history managed to breastfeed without all of the information we have now. When breastfeeding was the norm, girls learned about breastfeeding as they were growing up by seeing women actually doing it. Dr. Peter Hartmann, a well-known breastfeeding researcher, makes this point well. He asked a young Australian Aboriginal mothers, “When did you learn about breastfeeding?” She answered, “I have always known how to breastfeed.”

So how can mothers use a right-brained approach to breastfeed their babies? First, encourage mothers to take some deep breaths and let go of those worries about doing things “wrong.” Instead of thinking of breastfeeding as a skill mothers need to master, or a measure of their worth as mothers, encourage mothers to think about breastfeeding as primarily a relationship. As mothers spend time with their babies, they’ll start to feel more adept at reading their cues. As they hold their babies, the babies will start seeking their breasts. Breastfeeding will flow naturally out of their affectionate relationship. Based on her extensive clinical experience with mothers and babies, pediatrician and board-certified lactation consultant Dr. Christina Smillie has developed some strategies that can help you help mothers. Here are some specific things you can do.

Start with a calm, alert baby. Sometimes women wait to breastfeed until their babies are screaming. Think about yourself. Do you learn best when you are upset? Probably not. The other reason to start with a calm baby has to do with physics. When a baby is screaming, her tongue is on the roof of her mouth. Mothers will never get their breasts in their mouths when their tongues are like that.

Watch for early feeding cues. These cues include turning her head when someone touches her cheek and hand-to-mouth. Help mothers take note of when their babies starts smacking their lips or putting their hands to their mouths. This is an ideal time to try breastfeeding.

Encourage mothers to use their bodies to calm their babies. One way to calm a crying baby is by having mothers place their babies skin to skin vertically between the mothers’ breasts. A mother’s chest is a very calming place for her baby. Encourage mothers to try talking and making eye contact. All of these activities can calm the baby down, allowing the baby to seek the mother’s breast on her own.

Follow the baby’s lead. When a calm, alert baby is held vertically between her mother’s breasts, often she will begin showing instinctive breast-seeking behaviors, bobbing her head and moving it from side to side. Once babies start these behaviors, mothers can help in their efforts. Mothers should following their babies’ lead, supporting the babies’ head and shoulders, and encouraging their babies with their voice.

Have mothers play while they learn to breastfeed. Play is something that is largely absent from the mothers we see. It all seems so serious and they are terrified of doing something wrong. If mothers are feeling frustrated, encourage mothers to focus on their relationship with their babies and consider breastfeeding as a part of the larger whole. Breastfeeding will flow naturally out of their affectionate relationship.

In summary, if babies are healthy, they are wired to know how to breastfeed. It all doesn’t depend on mothers getting everything “right.”  Encourage mothers to relax and just focus on getting to know their babies.  The rest will follow.

Dr. Kendall-Tackett, Ph.D., IBCLC, is a health psychologist, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant and La Leche League Leader. She specializes in synthesizing current research on breastfeeding and related fields, facilitating the provision of evidence-based care. Dr. Kendall-Tackett has authored more than 180 articles or chapters and is the author or editor of 17 books on maternal depression, family violence and breastfeeding. This post was co-authored by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC.

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32 Comments

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 8, 2009 07:00 AM by Jill Arnold
I found this to be completely true. It tooks me weeks to just *be* and listen/watch/feel for cues. I wonder if this kind of left-brain/right-brain information ever gets co-opted by people with a bone to pick, e.g., Lactation Consultants Believe Mothers Can and Should Not Think Rationally. Can you tell I've met some angry weirdos lately? This was a great interview. Thanks.

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 8, 2009 07:00 AM by Kathy
YES!! When I was first pregnant, I read all sorts of birth and baby books, including the highly-recommended LLL "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding." There are a lot of good things about it, I will say; but, honestly, after reading it, I felt my confidence sapped, because it was -- as you said -- filled with 10,000 things to remember and/or things that can go wrong. It was almost as if it was written with the expectation that women WILL have problems breastfeeding, rather than that most women WON'T (but here's what to do, just in case). That's why my favorite b/f book hands-down is "Breastfeeding with Comfort and Joy" by Laura Keegan. I've reviewed it before on my blog, and it is just simply beautiful -- it's hard to imagine a book feeling beautiful in your hands, but it does; and then it has wonderful, touching, beautiful photographs of mothers nursing their babies, combined with just enough clear and concise text to guide it. I can't say enough good about it. For so many women who have not had the opportunity to watch their mothers, aunts, sisters, or friends nurse, this book can make up for that -- allowing them to "watch" women nursing their babies in the pages of the book -- making up for the right-brain experience they would otherwise miss out on.

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 9, 2009 07:00 AM by Pam Hirsch, RN, BSN
Halleluah! I am one of the few Lactation Consultants I know who have always believed that the best help we can give a mother and baby is to get them comfortable skin-to-skin (not only immediately after delivery, but anytime the miother/baby couple desire) and leave them ALONE! I was fired from my position as clinical lead of lactation services at a hospital (by the director midwife of all people!) because I actively promoted unlimited skin-to-skin care. The parents and babies loved it, the hospital staff hated it and unfortunately for the families, the hospital won out.

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 9, 2009 07:00 AM by Reality Rounds
Excellent article! I often see mom's hunched over their newborn with a look of anxiety in their eyes while nursing. I always tell them to relax their shoulders and relax their minds! Put away the damn clocks and timers and log books of every feeding (like I was given when my first was born). We focus more on that than the bond between baby and mom. Deep breath, feet up, cup of tea, and baby. That's what you need for successful breast feeding (oh, and boobs of course!) :)

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 10, 2009 07:00 AM by Henci Goer, BA
This seems like excellent advice to putting women on the road to successful breastfeeding, but conventional obstetric management handicaps most women having hospital births from getting off to a good start. I wondered what you recommend to overcome the difficulties imposed by such things as the effects of drugs during labor, instrumental vaginal delivery, and suctioning on the baby; separation of babies and mothers shortly after birth; breastfeeding after cesarean surgery; giving bottles of water or formula in the nursery; giving pacifiers, etc.

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 10, 2009 07:00 AM by Lisa Petrino RN IBCLC
As an IBCLC eplyed @ 2 hospitals & in Private Practice, I encounter many moms who read too much in books. They want to get the breastfeeding "right." 'I'm supposed to put a pin on my bra so I know which breast to feed from '( cup your breasts in your hand, feed from the one that feels heavier.)Birth obstacles are often difficult barriers to overcome; however in the span of one year @ one hospital I work @ all c-section babies are taken to mom in the recovery room to breastfeed. It took a lot of education & removal of " this is just how we always did it." I also find myself completely stunned by what some moms read- questions about certain things related to breastfeeding that are so silly they make no sense! I find myself saying a lot " there are too many "rules" to breastfeeding. Just feed your baby. We have survived millions of years with moms & babies knowing what to do. Now relax your shoulders & enjoy your baby!"

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 11, 2009 07:00 AM by Pam England
Dear Dr. Kendall-Tackett and Nancy, How refreshing I found your article! I want to thank you for writing it. We will be sending all of our mentors and parents a link to your wonderful and encouraging article. I have thought, and taught, for years there are way too many "rules" for breastfeeding. I am dismayed at how many pregnant and newly postpartum mothers feel overwhelmed by the problem-focused teaching approach, instead of just being in an intuitive relationship with the baby. (Of course, when there is a problem, we can happily call an expert.) Warmly, Pam England

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 11, 2009 07:00 AM by Reality Rounds
"I wondered what you recommend to overcome the difficulties imposed by such things as the effects of drugs during labor, instrumental vaginal delivery, and suctioning on the baby; separation of babies and mothers shortly after birth; breastfeeding after cesarean surgery; giving bottles of water or formula in the nursery; giving pacifiers, etc." Henci, Here is what I do and teach my nurses at my hospital: 1. Drugs during labor: depends on the drugs of course. I not had to much difficulty with successful breastfeeding and epidurals. Stadol: Depending on when it was given during labor, both mom and baby may be to out of it to successfully breastfeed during those early key moments (just being honest). If they are, great, latch the baby immediately after birth. If not, encourage frequent and early breastfeeding as soon as possible. 2. TG where I work the right of instrumental deliveries has gone way done. I can not remember the last time I saw forceps used. Vacuums are more common, but still rare. It is recommended that an infant who is delivered by "difficult" vacuum extraction recovery in a NICU to monitor for occult intracranial bleeds like a subgaleal hemorrhage. This separation will impact breastfeeding. In this case we set the mom up to pump and establish a milk supply until the baby can room in with her. If it is a vacuum or forceps delivery and the infant is vigorous, we establish immediate breastfeeding as usual. 3. Babies should not be routinely suctioned. I teach this as does neonatal resuscitation. It is old school, but it can be hard to break this habit. 4. Breastfeeding after a C-Section: This can be difficult. (I will admit after my C-Section there is a picture of me in the recovery room feeding my newborn formula. I hate the picture!). We do encourage breastfeeding once the mom is out of the OR. The baby is not separated from her. Most mom's however are in pain, and do not show much interest in nursing. Not all mom's, but a majority. From my own personal experience, I was too physically exhausted and in pain and shaking uncontrollably to nurse my daughter immediately after the C-Section. 5. We do not separate our babies from the mom's. We do not even have a normal newborn nursery. All well babies room in with the parents. As it should be. 6. We do not give formula to breastfeeding babies. To be honest, there are some nurses (especially on night shift for some reason), who will encourage breastfeeding moms to give formula at night so they can sleep.(even some pediatrician's encourage this!) It is a battle that I have been fighting for years, at many different hospitals. We do not give water to babies. Many moons ago it was common practice to give a baby water as the first feeding to prevent aspiration or some garbage. This is not done anymore, at least where I work. 7. Pacifiers. This is per parent request. I personally am not anti-pacifier. There are studies that correlate pacifier use with a reduction in SIDS (which I am sure you know about). If a baby is breastfeeding great, I see no problem with a pacifier. If the baby is having difficulties with latch and suck, etc., I would discourage a pacifier until breastfeeding is well established. *Hope this helps.

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 11, 2009 07:00 AM by Judy Dodge
Kathy this is wonderful!!! Back to basics. I have always felt that mothers and today's society gives TMI (too much information)....this is the right direction....Great message! Keep it simple, relax, skin to skin...and the baby will lead the way! Sure miss you in NH! :-) Judy

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 11, 2009 07:00 AM by Norma Ritter, IBCLC
Oh yes! As an IBCLC in private practice, this is why I teach women to breastfeed by having them practice holding babydolls at their breasts. The body remembers what the brain forgets. As for rules, I say *If it works, that is great, and if it does not work, we will try something else." Norma Ritter

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 14, 2009 07:00 AM by Giedre
This is true where a new mom has seen other moms breastfeed. For those, that come from generations on non-breastfeeding moms/relatives...you need to read a book to get an idea...also to get an idea that sometimes some things can go wrong (and that it won't mean you as a mom doing it wrong...baby might be tongue-tied) and what to do in that case. If you are lucky to find out about LLL, or to have support network... then...I agree.... but otherwise... you need to start somewhere...and way before that small baby is born!!!!

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 14, 2009 07:00 AM by Mary
Wow! I wish I had seen this article 6 hrs ago before teaching breastfeeding class! ;-) I love these recommendations, and wish that I could have shared this tonight. I also look forward to checking out "BFding w/Comfort and Joy" recommended above. Pictures are fantastic for opening our eyes to possibilities. Thanks Kathleen and Nancy!

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 15, 2009 07:00 AM by Laura Keegan
@Kathy Thank you Kathy for your mention of my book. And thank you Dr. Kendall-Tackett and Nancy Mohrbacher for an excellent article that is completely in tune with the needs of mothers. This article resonated with me on so many levels as a mother, a practitioner and my personal drive to communicate to our culture the need to trust mothers and babies and believe in them. The beliefs of all those around the mother (from professionals to family and friends) impact her and her baby more than I think most people realize. We need to respect, understand and believe in mothers' indispensable instincts when we are helping them so as not to interfere with their process. This is not only crucial for breastfeeding but in every area where mothers are making decisions and consulting with professionals from health care practitioners to child educators. We need to listen to mothers and we need mothers to listen to themselves without all the "noise" that disconnects them from themselves and their children. It is my goal and hope that when men and women, boys and girls, see enough clear breastfeeding images that my image filled book will become obsolete from an instructional standpoint. However, the stunning beauty of the women and babies is timeless as these women were so committed to sharing their intimate experience with the world.

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 18, 2009 07:00 AM by Molly Remer, MSW, ICCE, CCCE, CBE
Wonderful post! I'm glad I finally settled down to read it. I had a head packed full of "book learning" when breastfeeding my first baby and I think that caused me a lot of stress--both about baby care/normal newborn behavior as well as breastfeeding. The second was more intuitive.

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 19, 2009 07:00 AM by Science & Sensibility » Lamaze On Call Virtual Conference
[...] Breastfeeding Made Simple Kathleen Kendall-Tackett, PhD, IBCLC [...]

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 22, 2009 07:00 AM by Karen Geertsen
As a IBCLC, I have taught these concepts for 32 years. I believe Mom's can find peace and calm when the lights are down and it is quiet.I speak with a lower voice. Then I show her the power of confidence.I give her support, and enough knowledge to facilitate nursing as nature intended. I then see Mother's who succeed in the relationship. Feeding is only one part of this beautiful union.

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 24, 2009 07:00 AM by NMGyrl
When my first child was born (6 pounds, C-section for frank breech, sleepy from jaundice), we were having some difficulty nursing. My GP informed me that studies have shown an inverse correlation between the mother's level of education and success at breastfeeding. In other words, the more you've learned, the harder it is to do! I took that as a challenge and determined to make it work; after a few days with some initially-painful sessions, we really got it going, and it was wonderful. Maybe we edumacated women try to over-think what is really a very natural function! :-)

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 26, 2009 07:00 AM by Dianne Caza
I have a question: is it safe to breastfeed a one-year old while pregnant?

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 27, 2009 07:00 AM by Kathy
@Dianne, Yes, many women breastfeed while pregnant, and then after the baby is born will "tandem nurse" (nurse both the baby and the older child) -- you can do an internet search for numerous resources, including books, articles, and blogs written by a

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

October 14, 2009 07:00 AM by More links than you could ever want « Welcome to Birth a Miracle Services weblog!
[...] Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers [...]

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 2, 2010 07:00 AM by Epidurals… Dealing With Potential Complications | Life is X-tra Ordinary!!!
[...] great information on relaxing and letting the baby lead the way to good breastfeeding check out this article on Science and Sensibility. While, you canít predict if an infant will have trouble nursing, the plan should just be to do [...]

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

June 14, 2012 07:00 AM by Lorraine Cuadro
Hi, Im a a new IBCLC and I have written a couple of breastfeeding courses aimed at couples and pregnant women which I would like to run in my area as there is nothing available here at the moment. My intention is to really build confidence and a partnership between the mum and dad so that they are on the same page when it comes to breastfeeding and so that they know how to support each other. Are there any topics in particular that you feel should be included or especially excluded from a breastfeeding course. I'd love your feedback as I'd really hate to overload mums & dads with information that they don't need. Thanks so much for your help.

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

June 14, 2012 07:00 AM by Sharon Muza, BS, LCCE, FACCE, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), CLE
@Lorraine Cuadro Hi Lorraine, I hope that Kathy Kendall-Tackett responds as well, but I think that it is critical that new moms now how to hand express. I love the series of videos on the Standford University site, http://newborns.stanford.edu/Breastfeeding/HandExpression.html as a resource for new moms. This is a skill that every breastfeeding mom should learn.

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

June 14, 2012 07:00 AM by Lorraine Cuadro
@Sharon Muza Thank you for that Sharon, that wasn't one of my topics actually so Im glad you mentioned it. I'm going to look at those videos now.

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

February 25, 2013 07:00 AM by Nathalie Dumaresq, RN, IBCLC
Did you know that when someone prints this article there is a Nestle commercial that pops up?

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

February 25, 2013 07:00 AM by Sharon Muza, BS, LCCE, FACCE, CD(DONA), BDT(DONA), CLE
Nathalie, I used the print widget and did not see it. Could you send me a screen shot or something that I can pass on to the IT folks. Thank you so much! Sharon

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 8, 2013 07:00 AM by Uncovering breastfeeding: The Lost Secret of the Throne screening | Our Milky Way
[...] ?In modern…cultures, mothers have more information about breastfeeding than any time in human history,? Kathleen Kendall-Tackett writes in How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers. [...]

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 12, 2013 07:00 AM by Attie
Again you have hit the nail on the head. It is time for mothers and babies to take the lead and not the internet and our standard breastfeeding teachings. Thanks as usual!

How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers

September 26, 2013 07:00 AM by Are Mother’s Being Bombarded With Too Much Information On Breastfeeding? | The InTune Mother
[...] read more on this subject ——>>>> CLICK HERE [...]

left-brained information v

March 1, 2015 07:00 AM by Media consciousness and parenting | Our Milky Way
left-brained information violates our natural instincts, Dr. Kathleen Kendall-Tackett writes in How Too Much Information May Cause Problems for Breastfeeding New Mothers. Or, in my experience, I breastfed just fine? that is I made milk to feed my baby, but a [?]

study of decisions about i

June 28, 2015 07:00 AM by ?Moving images? help health workers save lives | Our Milky Way
study of decisions about infant feeding among women in east end of London. In other words, we must see (and do) breastfeeding to learn to [?]

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