The very best environment for a baby to grow and thrive, is the mother's body," says Dr Nils Bergman, a doctor specializing in Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC) in South Africa. "When placed skin-to-skin on the mother's chest, the baby receives warmth, protection and food, and its brain can develop optimally. Not feeding the baby often enough and leaving it to sleep alone after a feed can result in the baby getting colic", he adds. "The mother's skin is the baby's natural environment, and both physically and emotionally the healthiest place for the baby to be".
The mother's body is the only natural, healthy environment for a new baby
Nils Bergman says he would like to place the breastfeeding of small babies in its wider context, and his point of departure is the biological perspective. He says that the behavior of the baby is determined by its environment, and the environment in which it is placed can have a positive or negative outcome. The correct environment for a baby is the mother's body, and he emphasises that the baby is totally dependent on being kept in this optimal environment all the time.
Protest despair response
Failure to be kept in conact with the mothers skin, maintains Bergman, is not only a negative behaviour but also creates a state of pathophysiological stress. This is true for healthy full-term babies, as well as those born prematurely. As with other mammals that are moved from their natural environment, human babies react with protest and despair. In the protest phase, the baby tries intensely to re-establish contact with its correct environment, the mother, usually by crying. If that fails, the baby becomes too tired to cry anymore. Instead it lapses into a state of despair in which the individual withdraws in order to conserve energy and concentrate on survival. The result of this is a lower body temperature and heartbeat, while at the same time there are greatly increased levels of stress hormones, because a baby separated from its mother, is in fact stressed. When the baby is returned to its correct environment, which is skin-to-skin on the mother's chest, the temperature and heart rate quickly return to normal levels.
Human babies are biologically extremely immature when they are born. Nils Bergman points out that the newborn's brain size is only 25% of its final size, which he compares with 45% in chimpanzees and 80% in antelopes. Not until around one year of age does the human baby's brain reach 80% of its final size. Compared with other mammals, we should have a 21-month pregnancy. The reason human babies are born so early and so immature is the fact that the width of the birth canal through the mother's pelvis was reduced when our ancestors started walking upright. At the same time the brain volume increased. The evolutionary solution was that babies began to be born earlier and therefore more immature, and in need of constant parental care.
Despite their immaturity, human babies in their proper environment, which is skin-to-skin on the mother's chest, can take care of themselves, says Nils Bergman. He refers inter alia to the research of Ann-Marie Widstr?m, et. al, as well as the findings of other researchers, showing that healthy newborn babies without any prompting and without assistance, can, if placed on the mother, crawl up to her breast, find the nipple, latch on and start to breastfeed.
The right environment also means free breastfeeding
Dr Bergman says that babies sleep in cycles of 1 to 1 ? hours. But even if the baby is asleep, the brain registers whether or not it is in its right environment (skin-to-skin with its mother or separated from her). Of course babies can be made to sleep alone and for longer periods, but that is a learned behavior, not a natural or healthy one.
Colic, according to Nils Bergman, can be caused by too much food being given at any one time, or by the fact that the normal digestive process in the newborn baby stops when it is separated from the mother. According to him, the natural situation would be one where babies feed approximately every 90 minutes, and consume 30 mls of milk, which in turn corresponds to the volume of one excretion reflex. Among breastfeeding counselors, one often hears talk about several excretion reflexes taking place during one feed. But according to Bergman, this is a reflex that occurs because the baby is not fed often enough, and then is given too much at one single feeding.
On the first day following birth, the baby's stomach can contain only 5 ml of fluid. By the time the baby is a week old, its stomach can hold 30 mls. If the stomach is filled with more than 30 ml of milk per feeding, the excess content leaves the body either by way of excretion or by the baby positing up some of the milk. If neither of these occurs, the excess milk is trapped in the stomach and the stomach muscles become stretched as a result. That alone can cause colic, explains Nils Bergman, as he demonstrates the size of the tiny stomach with his hands.
Furthermore, if the baby is separated from its mother after it has fed, its level of stress hormones increases due to the trauma of being separated from her, and as a result the digestion stops, which can also cause colic. The correct digestive processes in a baby are totally dependent on the fact that it should not be separated from its mother.