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In the past, many people believed that the newborn needs help to begin to nurse. But one of the most exciting observations of our era is the discovery that the newborn has the ability to find his mother's breast all on his own and decide for himself when to take his first feeding.
To allow this to happen, it is necessary to delay washing the baby’s hands after the birth. The baby uses the taste and smell of the amniotic fluid on his hands to make a connection with a certain oily substance on the nipple related to the amniotic fluid.
When placed on the mother’s abdomen, babies maneuver in their own ways to reach the nipple. They often make stepping motions with their legs to move ahead; to move horizontally toward the nipple, they use small push-ups, lowering one arm first in the direction they wish to go. These efforts are interspersed with short rest periods and, sometimes, changes in direction.
This sequence of maneuvers is helpful to the mother as well, since the suckling of the breast induces a large oxytocin surge into her bloodstream, which helps contract the uterus, expelling the placenta, and closes off many blood vessels in the uterus, thus reducing bleeding. This stimulation and suckling also helps in the manufacture of prolactin, a hormone that stimulates milk production.