I began breastfeeding my daughter in just a matter of minutes after she was born. The nurse set her on my bare chest, and quickly, she found gold. She rewarded me by punching my breasts. I can't be the only one to wonder, why does my baby knead me while breastfeeding?
Not surprisingly, this is not the most comfortable thing in the world. Who knew a tiny baby's fists could hurt like that? But, when your breasts feel as though they're a mere 10 milliliters from splitting at the sides like an overfilled pastry, those baby fists may as well be Balboa fists. It's not always painful — sometimes it's just funny. They get such a concentrated look on their little scrunchy faces while they speed bag your boobs like they've been personally affronted by the mammary glands.
Lindsay Greenfield, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) tells Romper that your baby kneading your breasts is a way to stimulate milk production in the mother. Greenfield also notes that their little fists help them guide themselves to the nipple to latch — and science is there to back that up.
Tera Hamann, IBCLC points moms to a video from the World Health Organization (WHO) that shows a baby crawling across the bare chest of a mom just moments after birth, because that baby knew what's up. According to the WHO, there are chemicals on the nipple and coming from the milk that lay just beneath that are like a siren's call to newborns, because it smells like the amniotic sac.
In their article "Facilitating Autonomous Infant Hand Use During Breastfeeding," scientists Catherine Watson Genna, IBCLC and Diklah Barak wrote that it is actually an important stage of development for the newborn. They found that babies who are not swaddled and allowed to root on their own, using their hands, are more likely to self-latch than babies who are bound in cloth or discouraged from using their hands while nursing.
They noted that this kneading motion also increases the level of oxytocin in the mother, stimulating production, allowing for easier let-downs of milk, and that it also has the added benefit of making the areola pucker, projecting the nipple into a better shape for breastfeeding.
So while it may be uncomfortable at times, an article in Early Human Development, found that this is a normal, primitive neonatal reflex that can be witnessed across the world in every corner of new motherhood, and should not be discouraged as it is beneficial for successful feeding, however peculiar it may seem.
I know it looks like a cat kneading at your leg or a blanket, but Hamann tells Romper that if you think about it, humans are, after all, mammals, so it makes sense that there are similar behaviors. Maybe be grateful that baby doesn't have claws? (Who am I kidding, baby nails basically are claws.)