The Breast Crawl: From The New Beginnings Archives

Jennifer Pitkin, Ames, Iowa

Editor’s Note: Over the years, many “classic” New Beginnings articles were available through both the La Leche League USA and La Leche League International websites. As these websites have been updated, the availability of the New Beginnings archives has changed, and many articles that were once found online may no longer be there. We plan to bring back some of these parenting gems from earlier years. For this “classic” posting from Issue 4 of 2013, we’ve updated portions of the original article in which Jennifer Pitkin shared about her experience with the breast crawl with her second child and how she prepared for it. We’re also including photos that were published in 2013.

If you would like to see a “blast from the past” published on the New Beginnings blog that you no longer have access to it, drop us a note at [email protected]. While our physical archives are not complete, we do have access to a large library of back issues and may be able to dig up a particular story for you.

Baby on abdomen I knew nothing about the breast crawl during my first pregnancy. After a rough start nursing my firstborn, I was extremely committed to begin the journey with my second child without the issues my daughter and I encountered after she was born. I knew that if I had a non-medicated birth, coupled with a healthy and alert baby, we would attempt the breast crawl.

My husband and I found out I was pregnant with our second child when our daughter was a little over one year old. I watched a video of the breast crawl, and I became fascinated with the process. I began researching everything I could about it and became determined to build a team to help support the baby and me.

While preparing for the birth of our second child, my husband and I developed a fairly simple birthing plan for the doctor: put baby on my abdomen after delivery, wipe the baby off (except hands) while on my abdomen, cover baby’s back with blankets, and wait until the baby has nursed before taking any measurements. To this day, it makes me laugh that my doula had written “Give baby to mama all gooey” on the white board on the wall of the delivery room.

After I gave birth, I remember my husband being the first to tell me it was a boy! My son was then placed on my abdomen. During the hour or so that it took my son to make his journey to the breast, my husband was stroking my head, telling me he was so proud, with tears streaming down his face.

Baby climbing to breastI knew from the research I had done on the average breast crawl that it would take about an hour, and it did. The wonderful thing was I didn’t know the amount of time that it took for us until I watched the video my doula took of my son’s voyage to the breast. I didn’t watch the clock. I watched my son the whole time. I couldn’t take my eyes off of my new baby. My husband and I were able to relax after delivery. We had time to focus on the next steps and so did our baby – literally. He and I were able to enjoy this special time with each other after pregnancy and before breastfeeding. He really did it. He pushed his little feet into my abdomen. He used his arms and hands to leave a trail of amniotic fluid to lead him to the breast. He latched himself.

What is the breast crawl?

Babies are born with an instinctive “stepping reflex” where, if their feet touch a flat surface, they’ll start “walking.” They can’t support their own weight, but in the right situations can give themselves the leverage they need to push themselves along the mother’s abdomen after delivery.

During my son’s breast crawl, his hands were in front of him leading the way, leaving a scent trail from the amniotic fluid on his hands to guide him to the breast. He stretched out his hands toward my breasts and pushed his feet into my now soft abdomen, gently massaging my stomach.

Baby opens white to latch In an article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is explained that there is a five-point sequence in the breast crawl if the little one is dried off, placed on the mother’s abdomen, and not separated from the mother.

  1. First 30 minutes: newborn rests and occasionally looks at mother.
  2. 30-40 minutes: newborn begins to smack lips and bring fingers to mouth.
  3. Newborn uses stepping reflex to push against mother’s abdomen and move forward. Newborn turns head side to side while crawling up to breast.
  4. When newborn reaches the tip of the sternum, the baby bounces their head up and down and into the mother’s chest.
  5. As the newborn nears the nipple, the mouth opens and the baby latches onto the nipple.

As my husband said, “We interfere with our instincts too much and we forget that little ones have instincts, too.”

Mom helps baby latchBenefits of the breast crawl

Studies of the breast crawl note extensive benefits, including metabolic and temperature regulation in the infant and a better quality of attachment. The newborn’s stepping reflex on the mother’s abdomen aids in the delivery of the placenta, and a mother’s oxytocin levels are higher than in those who are separated from their infants after delivery.

I saw what my son was capable of in his first hour of life, and I’m so thankful I gave him the opportunity to show me.


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