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The best position for breastfeeding
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May 04, 2007

Breastfeeding newborns in a lying down position may reduce feeding problems and improve babies' natural reflexes, says recent research.

A study of 40 mothers breastfeeding in various positions found that babies' natural reflexes started off more easily when the mothers were lying down. The position seemed to activate primal reflexes usually seen in young mammals.

Dr Suzanne Colson, senior midwifery lecturer at Canterbury Christ Church University, UK, says women should follow a technique called biological nurturing where the mother lies on her back and lets the baby lie on its stomach on top of her.

The UK study reported that when mothers were lying flat or semi-reclined, it was easier for the babies to find the breast and, in many cases, attach themselves and feed while sleeping.

To find out whether this technique encourages feeding reflexes in human babies, Colson videotaped 40 women breastfeeding in the sitting, lying down and reclining positions in the first month of the baby's life.

The results showed that the lying down position led to 17 reflexes in the babies, including reflexes usually associated with other mammals who feed their young ones in this way.

Conversely, breastfeeding in a sitting position only promoted the three generally seen reflexes -- routing, latching and sucking.

After using the lying down technique, mothers who initially reported problems with breastfeeding, continued breastfeeding and didn't encounter any difficulty.

Dr Colson said the study could not confirm whether the technique was more successful than the usual sitting position. However, the BBC quoted Dr Colson as saying, 'Nine out of 10 mothers who start breastfeeding stop because of problems. What was interesting to note is that, when mothers were lying flat or semi-reclined, babies could find the breast easier and, in many cases, attach themselves and feed whilst asleep.

"The research suggests that babies when they are on their tummy display these primitive reflexes, head bobbing in particular, that is seen in other mammals who are abdominal feeders."

She recommended mothers to use the most comfortable position, but also added that in her experience mothers time and again find it easier to breastfeed when lying down.

"For many new mothers, breastfeeding can be difficult and challenging. Not being able to do something which is supposed to be as simple and as natural as feeding their own child can leave many new mothers feeling disappointed and let down," Dr Peter Carter, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said.

"By challenging conventional breastfeeding positions, this new research could go a long way in helping those mothers who are experiencing difficulties feeding their infants by suggesting other easy-to-adopt positions," he added.

Pat O'Brien, consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology at University College, London, and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said the knowledge of different feeding positions will prove useful for mothers.

"From a health point of view, there's no reason they couldn't try breastfeeding in that position. We welcome any research that might improve the chances of success at breastfeeding. Maybe women just have to experiment and find a position that suits them best," O'Brien said.
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