When Jessica, 32, sat down to make her birth plan before her daughter’s birth last May, she had one priority (in addition, of course, to everyone’s health and safety): The “breast crawl.”
Newborns are hardwired to breastfeed, and the breast crawl is the practice of letting them use those instincts to slowly inch their way to their mother’s nipple to nurse for the very first time. Immediately after delivery, the baby is placed on the mother’s abdomen and given time to scoot up to her breasts, sniffing along the way. (BreastCrawl.org says says it generally takes between 30 and 60 minutes, after which babies who haven’t arrived at the breast yet may need a little help.) Proponents say that giving babies that first hour of life to make the journey helps promote early initiation of breastfeeding ― which has clear benefits ― and eases moms and babies through one of life’s biggest transitions.
“It’s not something I’d heard about before,” says Jessica, who went to a practice with two midwives and two OB-GYNs ― all of whom were supportive of the idea. “When I read about it, I thought it sounded magical.”
Fortunately, Jessica and her husband hired Austin-based breastfeeding and birth photographer Leilani Rogers to document the birth, and she captured the crawl inch-by-inch. “To witness the connection baby made with mom over the span of that 48 minutes was fascinating,” Rogers said. “She didn’t fuss, just slowly but surely made her way to the nipple and latched on once she was in just the right position.”
Rogers: Just born! 5:50 a.m.Jessica: The birth was so fast. I labored at home for five to six hours, then delivered within an hour of getting to the hospital. I was pretty dazed.
Rogers: Here, baby is still taking in her surroundings. It's 6:12 a.m.Jessica: As soon as they put her on me, I kind of snapped back into focus. I remember that time pretty clearly.
Rogers: The baby begins her first movements toward the breast, as her mom has taken off her bra. It's 6:22 a.m., about 30 minutes after the birth.
Rogers: She scooches her face between her mother's breasts! Jessica: It was so cool. You could hear her grunts as she did this army crawl up my chest. She was so tiny and cute, part of me just wanted to hold her! But I really believed this was an important experience. We got a lot of skin-to-skin.
Rogers: The baby's first attempt at lifting her head. It's now 6:23 a.m.
Rogers: Amazing! This baby, just 33 minutes old, is lifting her head! Jessica: You can see in some of the photos that I'm supporting my breasts a bit to keep them from going over to the side, because I was worried she would have rolled over. And a few times I helped hold her head a bit. But that's the only support I offered. She knew how to do this.
Rogers: She's found the areola! It's 6:24 a.m.
Rogers: Another view. You can see that the baby is using her knees as leverage and is beginning to bring her hands to the breast. It's 6:25 a.m.
Rogers: More smelling. She knows it's there!
Rogers: The baby finds her mother's face and gets some encouragement. "You can do it, honey!" It's 6:29 a.m.Jessica: What was amazing is that everyone let us have this time. They knew we didn't want anyone to touch her or pull her off and just set her on my breast. They let us have this one hour, uninterrupted.
Rogers: Baby opens wide! It's 6:32 a.m.
Rogers: First latch! It's 6:34 a.m., just 45 minutes after the birth.Jessica: Since my daughter was born, I've had some issues with milk supply, but otherwise we have had a great breastfeeding experience. From the beginning, this child knew how to latch and feed herself.
Rogers: Now it's mama's turn to eat! It's 6:38 a.m.Jessica: These are such personal photos, but my husband and I both felt called to share them as an opportunity to educate people. People have never heard of the breast crawl. I hadn't either! But it was such a special part of our bonding and of our birth. It was amazing to witness.
These captions have been edited and condensed for clarity.