9 instinctive stages of the newborn

Based on the research of Ann-Marie Widstrom, a Swedish researcher on skin to skin contact between mom and baby at birth, there are nine observable newborn stages in the first hour or two after birth when a baby is placed immediately skin to skin with his mother. These are innate and instinctive to the baby.


Stage 1 – The birth cry

The distinctive cry occurs immediately after birth as the baby’s lungs expand. It is the most glorious sound imaginable as it confirms your baby is alive and well! He is making his presence felt and letting his mom and dad know that he has arrived. (It is probably the only time in life you love hearing the sound of a baby crying!)


Stage 2 – Relaxation

The baby is placed skin to skin with the mother

The newborns hands are relaxed. It is as though baby is taking a deep breath after this unusual experience of labour and birth. Whew that was quite something!


Stage 3 – Awakening

The newborn exhibits small thrusts of movement in the head and shoulders. Occurs about 3 minutes after birth. He is feeling the wide spaces around him, no longer tightly confined in the vagina but free to stretch.


Stage 4 – Activity

The newborn begins to make increased mouthing and sucking movements as he starts to explore his environment with his mouth. He has more stable eye movements now and looks at the breast and then looks at his mother. The dark areola around the nipple attracts him to the nipple area where his sustenance will come from. He is able to move his hand to his mouth, sticks his tongue out and massages the breast with one or both hands. All of these movements increasing the release of oxytocin in his mother’s body and preparing her body for bonding and breastfeeding.


Stage 5 – Rest

The baby may have periods of rest between the activity during the first couple of hours after birth. This resting time does NOT mean baby is disinterested in the breast and needs help latching. Just let him be and he will continue in his own time. Don’t rush him. Enjoy this time together


Stage 6 – Crawling

Baby “crawls” using sliding, pushing, leaping and crawling movements to reach the breast and nipple. These are short periods of action around 35 minutes after birth


Stage 7 – Familiarization

Baby becomes acquainted with the nipple by licking the nipple and touching and massaging the breast. Begins about 45 minutes after birth and can last 20 minutes or more. Baby makes sounds to get moms attention. He looks at the other people in the room, familiarizing himself with his new environment. Baby moves in a purposeful manner. Be peaceful and unhurried and watch the amazing happenings as baby finds the breast and will soon latch and suckle without assistance or interference. Don’t try to latch the baby – he is not ready just get. His tongue is flat and high in the roof of his mouth, whereas just prior to self-attaching, the baby cups the tongue and drops it while opening the mouth wide for a deep and effective latch. Be on baby time not on hospital or doctor or nurse time.


Stage 8 – The newborn takes the nipple, self-attaches and suckles.

This usually begins about an hour or so after birth. If the mother has had analgesia or anaesthesia during labour, it may take a while longer for baby to complete these stages.


Stage 9 – The final stage is sleep.

The baby and probably mom as well will fall into a restful sleep together


Anne-Marie Widstom 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 instinctive stages at his pace, that the likelihood of breastfeeding success is greatly enhanced!


However whether you want to breastfeed or not, put baby skin to skin as there is just so much more than breastfeeding that goes with skin to skin

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