Regressive Therapy Could Give You and Baby a Fresh Start at Breastfeeding
By Teri Brown
When Janine Wilcox had twins, she did everything she could to ensure that she would be able to successfully breastfeed them. She went out of her way to hire a lactation consultant who specialized in twins, and after following her advice, she felt prepared. Unfortunately, after giving birth to a beautiful – though small – set of twins, things fell apart.
“My daughter latched right on,” says Wilcox, mother of three from Glastonbury, Conn. “My son, on the other hand, just couldn’t get the hang of it.”
After taking the babies home, Wilcox called another lactation consultant for advice. “She suggested that I crawl in the tub with him,” Wilcox says. “The results were amazing, he latched right on.”
Regressive therapy is a technique that is designed to relax the baby almost by mimicking the birth waters.
Jennifer Tow is the IBCLC that suggested Wilcox try helping the baby latch on through regressive therapy, a technique that is designed to relax the baby almost by mimicking the birth waters. “Breastfeeding is a learned behavior for mothers, but it is instinctive for infants,” Tow says. “Mothers learn to breastfeed by responding to the elicitations of the baby. When the mother responds appropriately, the infant is encouraged to continue to root, suckle, lick and seek the breast.”
Tow says that the human infant is uniquely prepared to thrive in the environment for which it was designed: the body of the mother. Removing the infant from this environment, especially after an interventionist birth, can short-circuit the infant’s hard-wired instincts and disorient him, leading to an inability to initiate breastfeeding.
“Another possibility is that trauma, either from birth or from postpartum experiences such as rough handling, deep suctioning or separation from the mother, can cause babies to be unable to latch or to latch poorly,” Tow says. “Infants whose instincts are intact and who have not experienced trauma will usually latch correctly with no assistance from anyone. The intention in regressive therapy is to restore the infant’s access to his hard-wiring – the instinctive information that allows him to elicit maternal response, to seek the breast and to latch well.”
Using Regressive Therapy
Regressive therapy involves taking your infant into the bath with you and allowing the child to follow his or her instincts in finding the breast and latching on.
Tow says that the best time to try this technique is during the first six weeks postpartum while the stepping reflex is still intact. Sometimes it is difficult to believe that such a simple technique can have such a huge effect.
“Many times, it takes a lot of encouragement before moms are willing to try such a low-tech approach to solving a problem that may seem so difficult,” Tow says. “But, it helps to remember that babies are low-tech people, and they respond very well to approaches that respect this fact.”
Marie Davis, a registered nurse and IBCLC, doesn’t think there is anything mystical or magical in the rebirthing technique, but rather it is a way for the mother and infant to relax with one another.
“The idea is that the warm water and the free flotation will relax the baby,” Davis says. “If the baby is relaxed, then the mother is relaxed, and the process of getting the baby to breast is easier.”
Davis gives the following tips for creating your own birth scenario, though it is much more likely to be successful if you are under the guidance of a skilled lactation consultant who has experience with this technique. Davis also stresses the importance of having another responsible adult present whose job is to watch for the safety of the infant.
Setting the Scene for Regression Therapy
Fill a large tub with warm water. Make sure the water isn’t hot or cold, but close to body temperature. The room should be free of drafts. Using candles or a soft night light will make the room dimmer and more comfortable for the baby.
Remember that this is a totally non-invasive way to help Mother and Baby relax with one another and reconnect as they should have immediately following birth. There should never be any pressure for the mother or the baby to initiate a successful latch-on. The technique can always be tried at another time.
- Have the mother undress and enter the tub.
- The support person then places the naked baby in the water.
- The baby should be well supported and gently submerged up to his shoulders. Allow the infant to gently float in the water for about a minute.
- Place Baby nude on the mother’s belly. The mother’s arms should be a warm fence on either side of the baby to prevent the baby from falling in the water.
- Bring water from the tub onto baby’s back every few minutes to keep him warm.
- Let the baby crawl his way up to Mother’s breast. This may take several starts and stops.
Sometimes the baby will fuss and cry on the way to the breast; this is normal. Nikki Lee, RN, IBCLC, and film editor for the Journal of Human Lactation, believes it is important that the baby be left alone to move or not as he wishes.
“The baby has to be free to do whatever it wants,” Lee says. “Usually, the baby ends up going to a breast and licking, nuzzling and rooting. Sometimes the baby latches on.”
Lee says it is beneficial for the mother to see that her baby is capable and interested in the breast. “After about half an hour, the baby will get mottled, indicating that it is chilly,” Lee says. “The mother and baby then leave the bath and may or may not breastfeed once they get dried off and dressed. The important thing is that the intimacy has renewed their commitment to each other and interest in breastfeeding.”
Sometimes it takes several times before the baby latches on with confidence, and that’s OK. Remember, regressive birth therapy isn’t a magic cure for all breastfeeding problems. This is meant to be a time of relaxation and reconnecting, which makes it more likely that your baby will latch on correctly. View the procedure as simply another tool to try in order to facilitate a successful breastfeeding experience.