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Babies Feed With Their Whole Selves!

There is a wealth of literature that demonstrates that infants are not merely passive recipients of nutrition. Feeding is a multi sensory experience for us, and babies are no different! They use their arms, legs, trunk, mouths, faces, eyes, noses, hands, they need access to all of their parts in order to participate fully. So SET THEM FREE! Uncover, unswaddle, undress, free the hands and feet, pull your little close, and watch them do what they were born to do!

Let's take a closer look at how babies use their senses and their body parts to facilitate and initiate self-attachment and feeding! Most of this information is presented for facilitating breast/bodyfeeding, but much of it is applicable to babies being fed via other means (bottle, SNS, tube, etc.). Babies shouldn't miss out on these early sensorimotor experiences and skin to skin time because they're not being fed directly from a breast! Contact your local IBCLC to learn more about how to incorporate this info for your baby.

Babies use arms and hands to:

  • Facilitate movement toward the breast

  • Transfer smells and tastes to their face from the breast

  • Push and pull (themselves on you, or the breast itself) to position the breast in proximity to their mouth

  • Shape the nipple for easier latching

  • Locate the nipple

  • Suck for calming self-regulation

  • Hug the breast to provide stability to the body to maximize head and oral control

Think about this: Babies with oral restrictions may rely MORE on the use of their hands to explore when the tongue is limited in mobility with the mouth gaping!

Babies use eyes to:

  • Locate the nipple (the darker areola provides a contrast against the skin color, making the

nipple a visual target for baby!)

  • Connect to parent with eye contact while feeding

Babies use their ears to:

  • Hear their caregiver's heartbeat, voice, breathing to remain calm and regulated, which enhances motor performance

Babies use their noses to:

  • Follow the scent emitted from the Montgomery glands on the nipple or the smell of the milk itself toward the source of milk

Babies use their mouth and tongue to:

  • Scan the breast area to locate the nipple

  • Taste the hand which may have transferred milk from the breast, or may taste like amniotic fluid immediately post-birth, which shares the same scent as that which is emitted by the Montgomery glands

Babies use feet to:

  • Stabilize the pelvis and lower body

  • Push off the parent’s body to position self

  • Feel the proprioceptive feedback of contact to identify their position in space and the borders of their body

The feeding behaviors of infants are partly driven by reflexes, partly by these sensorimotor experiences, and heavily influenced by caregiver understanding of the competence of the baby to integrate this information to successfully self-attach and feed. Inhibiting the infant to utilize the input available to them by placing socks, mittens, or clothing on them, covering their heads with a nursing cover, or swaddling them can restrict their ability to fully participate. Of course, it is every caregiver's decision to implement such garments or practices, but it's helpful to know these things so we can afford our babies as much autonomy as we can and improve outcomes!

Tip: If you have nipple trauma or damage from a poor latch and you don’t want baby snagging your nips and pinching or pulling, making sure that the baby’s face touches the breast at all times will increase oral searching and decrease the amount of searching with the hands the baby has to do to locate the nipple!

Hi! I'm Dr. Meg Powers. I am a lactation-informed PT and I want to help parents alleviate some of the common barriers to meeting their breastfeeding goals.🤱🏻 I am a physical therapist with over 12 years experience in outpatient and homecare settings, treating patients of all ages and a very wide variety of diagnoses. Since having my kids however, through struggles of my own, I’ve shifted my professional focus to helping moms and families going through some common #fourthtrimester struggles.

My mobile physical therapy practice treats all ages and conditions, but my aim is to make the lives of new parents a bit easier by bringing my services right to you.

I am #pelvicfloor trained and specially trained in treating #TOTs (tethered oral tissues aka tongue tie, lip tie). I offer individual evaluations, as well as a #postpartum parent/infant combo eval. This is perfect for the birthing parent experiencing pain, breastfeeding problems, etc. which may be due to factors present within the infant.

If you need PT that meets you where you're at, check out the types of services I offer, or contact me to set up a free consult call to find out how we can #begintogether!


Smillie, Christina M. "How infants learn to feed: a neurobehavioral model." Supporting sucking skills in breastfeeding infants. New York: Jones and Bartlett Learning (2016): 89-111.

Widström, A.-M., Brimdyr, K., Svensson, K., Cadwell, K. and Nissen, E. (2019), Skin-to-skin contact the first hour after birth, underlying implications and clinical practice. Acta Paediatr, 108: 1192-1204.

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