What's Going On In Your Baby's Brain While Breastfeeding? Experts Weigh In

by Sarah Bunton

Staring into your little one's eyes can feel like you're gazing into an uncharted galaxy. If you're anything like I was, you probably locked eyes with your infant the most while feeding them. I used to sit in our rocking chair and wonder what my little dude was thinking about for what seemed like hours on end. Wouldn't it be great to know what's going on in your baby's brain while breastfeeding? If you've pondered this before, then you're in luck. Thankfully, experts have weighed in on the topic to give you a peek into the inner workings of your little one's brain and what occurs while they're feeding. If Look Who's Talking was any indication, you might find it quite interesting to discover all the different ways your baby's development is affected during the bonding process of nursing with you.

In a way, it really isn't all that surprising to understand that your baby's brain is just as new and active as they are themselves. "There is so much going on in a baby’s brain while nursing," International Board Certified Lactation Consultant Leigh Anne O'Connor tells Romper. "Neurons ignite by the act of nursing, hormones exchange with skin to skin contact, and the parent is often talking to their baby — all of this helps with neurological development." Since breastfeeding stimulates virtually all of the senses, it's no wonder that nursing lights up their brain activity like fireworks on the Fourth of July.

I remember my pediatrician telling me that, since my son pretty much only heard my voice while he was growing inside of my womb, that hearing my soothing tone again during breastfeeding offered a bit of nostalgic comfort to him. Dr. Seema Csukas, director of child health promotion at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, told Parents, "Unlike eyesight, which can take a few years to develop, smell is the most advanced sense that babies have at birth." Csukas further explained that newborns can differentiate between the unique scent of your breast milk and another mother's breast milk. In addition to the smell of your milk, "for the first two months, your baby prefers your scent to anyone else's," Csukas added. Your little one's sense of smell is engaged during nursing and this, in turn, creates activity in their brain associated with memories. Amanda White, a research technologist and PhD candidate for neuroscience, told Psychology Today, "odors that trigger strong emotions also trigger elevated activity in the brain areas strongly linked to emotion and memory." So your little one's brain is already linking your scent to you and creating the pathway for memories.

Beyond the neurological synapses being made, there is a deeper development which can take place while you're nursing your infant. During breastfeeding, "the baby gets emotionally and physically attached to the mother," physician Dr. Faisal Abdul Karim Malim tells Romper. Malim further explains that this likely occurs because your newborn's brain is forming a connection between you and the act of being fed. This, in turn, helps them associate you with having their needs met in a safe and comforting environment. Breastfeeding is just one of many ways your baby learns to build a solid foundation of trust and closeness with you.

According to the official website for Dr. Sears, "every time a baby interacts with their environment, their brain makes a new connection. Because breastmilk is digested faster, breastfed babies feed more often and therefore probably interact with their caregivers more often," and this potentially allows for more neural activity to occur more often.

So the short answer to the question: a lot.

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