*This article was written by Velvet Escario‐Roxas, the deputy executive director of Arugaan‐ pioneering mother support group. She is a breastfeeding counselor and breastfeed her two children, the youngest (whom she waterbirthed) is still breastfeeding. She is also an active parent of Kolisko Waldorf School. This article was published in Baby Magazine’s November issue.
The child is a wonderful work of nature powered by intricately harmonious sense organs of sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. From birth, the child explores his physical world through these different senses. Breastfeeding provides these necessary experiences. Breastmilk is the substance produced by the mother’s breast to feed her baby. Breastmilk can come either from the baby’s mother or supplied by another mother through donor’s milk. It can be fed directly from the breast or expressed milk through a cup, a bottle or another container. In breastfeeding, the child draws milk directly from the breast. The act of breastfeeding is the gentlest way to feed a baby.
SUCKLING AS A SELF-MOVEMENT
For a child to stay healthy he must be active. The highest level of self‐activity is shown by a breastfeeding baby. The baby needs to exert more effort than if the baby simply sucks from a bottle. There is a difference between sucking and suckling. A baby sucks at the nozzle on top of a bottle, but at the mother’s breast a baby suckles.
Rather than simply squeezing milk out by sucking, breastmilk is extracted using rhythmic pressure, which strips milk from the ducts. Breastfed babies need to work harder to extract milk. This helps to strengthen the jaw and associated muscles and to encourage the growth of straight, healthy teeth. Development of the jaw and muscles at the front of the mouth will influence the later feeding patterns of chewing and grinding when solid foods are introduced. The mechanisms involved in feeding also provide practice for the actions of many of the fine muscles needed for clear speech and articulation later on. In other words, suckling is a precursor to chewing and chewing is a precursor to speaking.
Oral feeding that requires suckling, swallowing and breathing coordination is the most complex sensorimotor process that newborns undertake. These three actions works in synchrony and in rhythm.
RHYTHM OF NATURE
Rhythm and life cannot be separated. Plants, animals and human beings all reveal rhythmical qualities in form, movement and growth patterns. Nature’s rhythm of day and night; the changing of seasons. Human’s biological rhythms of heart and lungs. The organs used for metabolism and digestion coordinate their functions to work together optimally.
Infant’s ability to regulate rhythmic functions is still undeveloped thus needing support and stimulation. The baby has to find new rhythms in sleeping and waking, in digestion and excretion. While a normal, healthy adult’s heart beats at a regular interval, a newborn baby’s heartbeat is faster and at times irregular. Its thermoregulatory system is immature and easily disrupted. Their fluctuations in body temperature, blood sugar levels, levels of various hormones and blood salts and other metabolic processes are not yet synchronized.
Just the simple act of breastfeeding protects the child, warms the child and keeps the child well‐adjusted by mimicking the rhythmic heartbeat of its caregiver and through constant skin‐to‐skin contact. No wonder, mothers who immediately room‐in after birth creates an intimate mother‐infant bond which decreases the incidence of abandonment, abuse and neglect by mothers, and infant’s failure to thrive. Thus, breastfeeding is a very direct way for both to experience that we humans need each other and are there for each other.
Infants learn rhythm from their mother’s heartbeat and rhythm from the suckling of their breast. Babies suckle follow a rhythm. When the milk flow increases, the rate of suckling decreases. When the milk flow is low, the rate of suckling is higher. This rhythm substitutes for strength. Any rhythmically repeated action takes less exertion and energy than a one‐time action performed at an unusual time or under unusual circumstances. Babies who have slowly learned rhythm become more harmonized, more balanced.
BALANCE OF THE SENSES
Balance is not something that we automatically have but something that we learn to do. How is balance learned? Mothers know that slow rhythmic movements have calming effects on infants. Similar to the father’s gentle rocking of baby from side to side or a duyan’s rhythmic swaying. Balance is learned during the developmental milestones of turning, crawling, standing, walking, jumping and skipping.
The simple act of changing position from the left and right breast is an exercise of balance in a breastfed child. For a bottlefed child, a right‐handed caregiver would always hold the baby in her left arm while holding the bottle in her right arm, hampering the child from learning balance which may affect the infant’s neurological organization in terms of eye and hand preference. The process of suckling also is also an exercise for monocular vision. Monocular vision uses each eye separately increasing field of view but limiting depth perception. When an infant suckles, the eyes also tend to converge, an important mechanism in the development of stereoscopic vision.
Combined with the nutritional content of breastmilk, a breastfed baby has better visual acuity. When the infant suckles from the right breast, the baby’s left eye is partially concealed by the breast. While his left arm is limited by the breastfeeding position, there is active use of the right hand and leg ‐ waving, stroking and even kicking. Thus the baby is inclined to the right‐sided function of his brain. A reversed but similar thing happens when a child feeds on the mother’s left breast.
The hearing and balance apparatus are intimately connected as both reside in the inner ear. A bottlefed child’s recurring bout of ear infection will eventually lead to hearing problems which will eventually lead to problems with balance and movement. Vision and balance must learn to work together. Hearing must learn to support balance in helping the baby to locate sound in the environment. Touch and muscular awareness (kinesthesis) will eventually help the infant to have an inner awareness of its place in space, but none can work their magic in isolation. All five senses need to work in cooperation with balance to create a sense of harmony in the sensory system.
Breastfeeding gives children an edge in life. They are adequately nourished, have healthier bodies, stronger immune system, higher IQ, socially active and emotionally nurtured. By exposing the baby to its different senses, they have already been given a head start in education. The simple act of breastfeeding creates a child with a good sense of balance and whose rhythm in tune with natural vigor of life.
• A Guide to Child Health by Glöckler and Goebel
• Natural Childhood by Thomson
• The Well Balanced Child By Blythe
• Attention, Balance and Coordination by Blythe
• Breastfeeding and Human Lactation by Riordan