Breastfeeding expert debunks biggest myth parents are taught about 'latching on'

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Rachel FitzD has shared some breastfeeding tips with The Mirror (Image: Rachel FitzD)
Rachel FitzD has shared some breastfeeding tips with The Mirror (Image: Rachel FitzD)

When it comes to breastfeeding, mothers are advised by the World Health Organisation to exclusively feed their babies this way for the first six months of their life, but it's no secret that it can be difficult for some.

As with many aspects of becoming a parent, it's another thing to wrap your head around and mums may struggle with their milk supply or their baby may have an issue such as tongue-tie, which is where the strip of skin connecting the baby's tongue to the bottom of their mouth is shorter than usual.

However, while it may be a new experience, an expert has claimed it's a myth that mums and babies have to 'learn' how to breastfeed. Rachel FitzD, a baby and parenting expert for The Baby Show who spent years working as a specialist infant feeding midwife, has debunked the myth, explaining how many of the 'latching on' techniques that are taught to new parents can actually be unhelpful and unnecessary.

Breastfeeding expert debunks biggest myth parents are taught about 'latching on' erideuiqtqiqdrinvThe expert claims many mums are told a 'myth' about breastfeeding (stock photo) (Getty Images)

Speaking to The Mirror during World Breastfeeding Week, the expert said: "There is a widespread myth that babies have to learn to breastfeed. This simply isn't true … thank goodness. If mums and babies had to learn special skills then the human race would have died out! Sadly, most women now are 'taught' to hold and guide their babies when, in fact, babies have highly evolved reflexes and innate drives to do all the right things if only we didn't interfere so much.

"Just like sneezing, the rooting and latching reflex doesn't need to be learned, doesn’t need to be helped, and can't go wrong unless someone interferes. Try to help someone sneeze and everyone gets in a sticky mess. Try to interfere with a reflexive baby as it snuffles and muddles around to get on the boob and the little one is likely to get upset and mum may well get nipped.

Baby boy has spent his life in hospital as doctors are 'scared' to discharge himBaby boy has spent his life in hospital as doctors are 'scared' to discharge him

"During that skin-to-skin time in the first week, lie down to feed as evidence shows that mums who feed lying down during those early days are less likely to experience problems. This is probably because everyone is more relaxed and also because lying down, mums simply can't do very much in the way of manipulating their baby to 'latch and attach' but have to simply 'cuddle and muddle' just in the same way as our ancestors always did."

She continued: "The fashion to roll babies 'tummy to mummy' and position them 'nose to nipple' is around 30 years old - I was around, already supporting women on their feeding journey as a young midwife, to see it come in through what seemed like a long game of 'Chinese Whispers' and have, therefore, also seen the confusion and damage it can cause. Take a look at classical paintings of women breastfeeding, and even more modern paintings from the 40s and 50s, and you will not see the modern 'latching and attaching' cross-cradle positions.

"An easy cuddle hold, bringing baby in so close that you can feel the mouth pressed to the underside of the breast below the nipple triggers a reflex to open the mouth wide and quickly take in the nipple and areole deeply. Paradoxically, when a mum tries to see and 'wait for the big mouth', she has to create a teeny gap between her boob and the mouth in order to see what is going on and the reflex switches off and the mouth starts to close. Hence why so many mums I see have been told that their baby is struggling to feed because it 'has a little mouth'. So trust your instinctive little expert and stop being a back-seat driver!"

Despite this, there are numerous reasons why a baby might still be struggling to breastfeed, with the National Childbirth Trust explaining that these could include the baby having tongue-tie, experiencing discomfort due to a birth injury, an early unpleasant experience while attempting to breastfeed, the medication used during birth, difficult labour or birth or being separated from you after birth - even just for a few minutes.

As such some parents may find they need to feed with a bottle, but if doing so it is important to remember how crucial skin-to-skin contact still is for your baby, even when you are not breastfeeding. Rachel explains how some mothers who wish to breastfeed but are unable to, will choose to use a Supplemental Nursing System (SNS) to feed their child, as it provides closeness to the breast.

The parenting consultant, who is the author of Your Baby Skin to Skin, added: "Babies feel most connected through the breast itself - it provides the ultimate calm by providing endorphin-rich milk, the sound of mum's heartbeat and her unique mum-smell. Babies spend so much time at the breast not because they need a constant flow of milk but because suckling has been shown to be the greatest soother of all and can even wipe out the pain of having early injections and blood tests. So, snuggle your baby in close to your boob even when they simply want to suckle without taking milk down and they will feel super-connected and calm whilst you can get on with relaxing and filling in your best mate on your birth story over a cuppa. "

You can find out more about Rachel's parenting consultant services and her books at https://rachelfitzd.com/

Courtney Pochin

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