The First Hour After Birth: A Baby’s 9 Instinctive Stages

The opinion used to be that if you wanted to breastfeed, put your baby to the breast as soon as possible after birth. However new research has come out by Ann-Marie Widstrom, a Swedish researcher on skin-to skin contact between mother and baby. Widstrom describes the nine stages that occur in the first hour or two after birth when a baby is placed immediately skin to skin with his mother. She believes that if a baby is put skin to skin on the mother’s chest immediately after birth, without a delay for routine procedures, and left there undisturbed as he goes through the nine developmental stages at his pace, that the likelihood of breastfeeding success is greatly enhanced.

When a baby is in skin to skin contact after birth there are nine observable newborn stages, happening in a specific order, that are innate and instinctive for the baby. Within each of these stages, there are a variety of actions the baby may demonstrate. The baby may do one, some, or all of these actions.

Stage 1 : The Birth Cry

The first stage is the birth cry. This distinctive cry occurs immediately after birth as the baby’s lungs expand

Stage 2 : Relaxation

The second stage is the relaxation stage. During this stage, the newborn exhibits no mouth movements and the hands are relaxed. This stage usually begins when the birth cry has stopped. The baby is skin to skin with the mother and covered with a warm, dry towel or blanket

Stage 3 : Awakening

The third stage is the awakening stage. During this stage, the newborn exhibits small thrusts of movement in the head and shoulders. This stage usually begins about 3 minutes after birth. The newborn in the awakening stage may exhibit head movements, open his eyes, show some mouth activity and might move his shoulders.

Stage 4 : Activity

The fourth stage is the activity stage. During this stage, the newborn begins to make increased mouthing and sucking movements as the rooting reflex becomes more obvious.

This stage begins about 8 minutes after birth.

During the activity stage, the newborn could:

  •   keep eyes open
  •   look at the breast
  •   salivate to the point of dampening the mother’s skin
  •   root by moving his mouth from side to side over the skin by  rubbing the cheek against the mother’s chest
  •   move his hand to the mouth
  •   move his hand to the mother’s breast and back to the mouth
  •   protrude the tongue
  •   look at his mother
  •   massage the breast with one or both hands
  •   exhibit high rooting (rooting that includes lifting part of the baby’s torso from the mother’s chest)

Stage 5 : Rest

At any point, the baby may rest. The baby may have periods of resting between periods of activity throughout the first hour or so after birth

Stage 6 : Crawling

The sixth stage is the crawling stage. The baby approaches the breast during this stage with short periods of action that result in reaching the breast and nipple. This stage usually begins about 35 minutes after birth. The crawling stage does not need to involve “crawling”. It could be accomplished through leaping, sliding or crawling and sometimes in conjunction with pushing and rooting.

Stage 7 : Familiarization

The seventh stage is called familiarization. During this stage, the newborn becomes acquainted with the mother by licking the nipple and touching and massaging her breast. This stage usually begins around 45 minutes after birth and could last for 20 minutes or more. During familiarization, the baby may touch the mother’s breast, may mouth on his own hand, lick the mother’s breast, look at the mother, make soliciting sounds to get the mother’s attention, mouth the nipple, lick the nipple, move his hand from his mouth to the mother’s breast, protrude his tongue, look at other people in the room, or massage his mother’s breast.

Stage 8 : Suckling

The eighth stage is suckling. During this stage, the newborn takes the nipple, self attaches and suckles. This early experience of learning to breastfeed usually begins about an hour after birth. If the mother has had analgesia or anaesthesia during labour, it may take more time with skin to skin for the baby to complete the stages and begin suckling.

Stage 9 : Sleep

The final stage is sleep. The baby and sometimes the mother fall into a restful sleep. Babies usually fall asleep about 1 ½ to 2 hours after birth.

She emphasizes the critical importance of NOT forcing the infant to the breast and of allowing the infant to proceed through the nine stages at his own pace.

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