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Video Review: Baby-Led Breastfeeding: The Mother-Baby Dance

by Christina Smillie, MD
Geddes Productions
DVD, 16 minutes


Kathy L. Abbott, IBCLC
Beverly MA USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 44, No. 1, 2008, p. 7

Have you ever struggled to help a mother get her newborn latched on properly, only to find that the more the mother tried, the less cooperative her baby became? Have you ever wished there was an easier way to latch a baby on correctly without having to go through every known position in the book?

For thousands of years babies have been latching onto the breasts of queens and peasant women alike. These babies were breastfeeding before the invention of breastfeeding pillows and nipple shields and all our other technological gadgets. They were breastfeeding before the advent of breastfeeding classes and lactation consultants and La Leche League Leaders.

How did they manage?

In her new DVD, "Baby-Led Breastfeeding…The Mother-Baby Dance," Dr. Christina Smillie introduces an easy, hands-free way to help get babies latch on properly. That's right -- hands-free. In this incredible film, Dr. Smillie, who is the first pediatrician to have a practice devoted entirely to breastfeeding management, shows us baby after baby latching onto mother's breast. In this 16-minute DVD, the process of how babies are hard-wired to find the breast on their own is broken down step by step.

Some infants with breastfeeding problems are shown, and some infants without breastfeeding problems are shown. They range from a 17-day-old baby who has been nursing well from the beginning, to a six-day-old born four weeks early who has been mostly bottle fed. There is even remarkable footage of one three-month-old, bottle-fed baby (born six weeks early at three pounds and 11 ounces or 1.66 kg) who had never successfully latched on before.

The mother-baby dance begins with a calm baby. Dr. Smillie points out that it is the mother's job to calm her baby, but it is the baby's job to find her breast. With both mother and baby stripped down so that they can begin skin-to-skin, the mother places her baby in an upright position just under her chin. When he is ready, which may be immediately or in a little while ("We're on baby time!"), the baby begins to wriggle, crawl, or even throw himself toward the breast. As his cheek rubs against the breast, his search intensifies until he is bobbing his head about from side to side. From here (usually with eyes still closed) he moves until his nose is level with his mother's nipple. But it is when his chin connects with her breast that he throws back his head, opens wide, and latches himself on in that perfect asymmetrical latch that we all strive for.

Instead of holding her breast and trying to position it into her baby's mouth, the mother keeps her hands on the baby's hips and shoulders to make him feel secure. This is an essential part of the "dance" that Dr Smillie is referring to. Each partner has to allow the other to find his or her own way, neither can do it entirely alone. Both must trust that the other will help if needed, but that each has an individual role to play. When using the methods taught in this DVD, mothers learn that they don't have to do all the work alone. The baby is an equal partner in this very intimate dance.

In my own practice as a lactation consultant, I have used this DVD both in the classroom and during home visits. When showing it at a home visit the reaction is always the same. The father's eyes bug out and he says: "That's not the way that we've been doing it!" While the mother asks: "Do you think that my baby will ever be able to do that?"

I tell her we'll try it, and to her amazement her baby does indeed latch on. Invariably, the mother looks up at me as her baby comfortably nurses and says: "I didn't know my baby could do that!" Just seeing that her baby can do this on his own eases a mother's mind immensely, and right away it puts the two of them on the path to success.

In addition to the main program, which is suitable for a wide audience, there is also an hour of bonus video. While it is not as cleanly filmed or edited as the main program, it is very useful for those who want to know more about this technique, and to see it being used in a variety of situations. The bonus features include Dr. Smillie working one-on-one with clients and her colleague, Kittie Frantz, RN, CPNP-PC, using the same technique but in a slightly different manner. It is Kittie Frantz who points out that when babies latch themselves on they end up in a comfortable 45-degree angle on their mother's lap. Being in this angle helps them to digest easier.

The bonus footage also includes another international board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) working with clients, but I found her reliance on items such as pillows and nursing stools out of place in this video. The purpose of this DVD is to show that baby and mother can find their own way without assistance. A rather nice touch to the main program, however, is that it begins and ends with a variety of animals nursing, including a baby elephant, who caresses his mother's face when he's done. The message here is that we too are mammals with babies who already know what to do.

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