By Madeleine Munzer – Sydney, Australia
Registration for the English version: https://www.llli.org/webinar-registration-what-does-a-baby-feel-at-birth-english/
Registration for the Spanish version: https://www.llli.org/webinar-registration-what-does-a-baby-feel-at-birth-spanish/
Dr. Heart’s webinar addresses beliefs and practices affecting modern maternal/child healthcare around the world. He promotes the need to protect the natural course of labour wherever possible, and to minimise interventions during and after birth. Dr. Heart advocates for delaying non-urgent treatment as well as other unnecessary interventions that are common in facility-based care, such as bathing or aggressive handling of babies to stimulate crying.
Dr. Heart’s presentation charts the development of the baby from her first weeks in-utero through birth and the beginning of life outside her mother’s body. Dr. Heart’s webinar is informative and easy to follow as it forges an evidenced link between the normal course of early development and the principles of healthy attachment.
For example, Dr. Heart shares evidence that a newborn baby is only able to see a distance of about 20-30 centimetres. Adults may interpret this as a newborn baby being poorly-sighted and underdeveloped. However, Dr. Heart explains that for a newborn baby this is the perfect distance for looking into the eyes of her breastfeeding mother, meeting her limited need for visual connection at this time.
The normal course of birth and breastfeeding
Throughout his presentation, Dr. Heart expresses wonder and respect for each stage of a baby’s development, and the normal processes of birth and breastfeeding that foster bonding in the mother/baby dyad. As a La Leche League Leader and mother myself, it is uplifting to hear Dr. Heart endorse instinctive breastfeeding processes such as the breast crawl. He highlights that, in the normal course of birth and breastfeeding, peaks of oxytocin occur. These activate maternal empathy, enabling mothers to care for their babies in a more intuitive and responsive way. This is good news for newborns and for mothers whose well-being are entwined.
Skin-to-skin contact as nurturing bond
Dr. Heart emphasises the importance of nurturing bonds created through skin-to-skin contact. Research shows that breastfeeding mothers tend to touch their infants more often, and this interaction provides yet more evidence for the positive influence of breastfeeding on the baby’s development. Importantly, Dr. Heart shares research findings demonstrating that skin-to-skin contact for one hour immediately after birth has been correlated to a longer breastfeeding duration overall, ranging from one to four months.
Protecting the breastfeeding dyad
It occurred to me, while watching this webinar, that so much of a baby’s development takes place effortlessly in their mother’s womb, while intervention by healthcare professionals or worried parents – when it is unnecessary – can be so confusing and frightening for babies. We owe it to mothers and babies to consider birth from their perspective, taking care to give everyone the gentlest transition possible.
The messages at the core of Dr. Heart’s presentation flow from a deep trust and respect for a baby’s innate wisdom and capabilities, in-utero and beyond. From a breastfeeding perspective, I was reminded of medical historian and health educator Maureen Minchin’s words: “Milk is the necessary bridge from the womb to the world, a unique source of information about, and, agent of mother/child response and adaptation to, and total programming for, life in a specific environment/culture/family.”  Mothers and babies deserve every chance of being able to enjoy their breastfeeding relationship, undisturbed.
Dr. Alberto Heart is a pediatrician and neonatologist from Panama. He shares research-based insights in this one-hour webinar suitable for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, parents, Leaders, healthcare professionals, and anyone interested in birth and early childhood development. Dr. Heart has previously worked with Liga de La Leche Panama in the education and promotion of breastfeeding in Panama and was chosen as “Ambassador of Breastfeeding” for his work.
1. Maureen Minchin. Just How Much Does Milk Matter: The Milk Hypothesis. 2018. https://infantfeedingmatters.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/PDF-how-much-does-milk-matter-m-minchin-18.pdf (accessed 14 February 2021).