Newborns Can Crawl!

Newborns Can Crawl!

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Fun Fact Friday – WEEK 146


Believe it or not, a newborn can do far more than many of us think. Whilst they can’t talk, walk or dress themselves minutes after they are born, they can, under the right circumstances, crawl!



The time when we generally expect a baby to start crawling is somewhere in the region of 6 – 10 months old. But, given the right incentive, a motivated newborn can crawl as soon as they leave the warm confines of the womb.

Experts believe that babies are born with instincts that help them during their first hour after their birth. It’s these instincts that help to orchestrate this amazing phenomenon.

Every healthy and physiologically normal newborn has the ability to find its mother’s breast all on its own. This instinctive movement is driven by the need to feed and is called the “Breast Crawl”.

The breast crawl is exactly what you’d expect it to be, a crawl towards the breast. During the first hour of a newborn’s life, if placed onto the mother’s abdomen straight after birth, they will instinctively crawl towards the breast to initiate breastfeeding. This instinctive movement is sometimes referred to as “baby-led attachment”.

So how does a baby do it and what drives them in the direction of food?

Smell, vision and taste all help a newborn detect and find the breast. Whilst touch and sound are associated with the length and success of feeding once initiated.

Vision is a factor and is why a new mother’s nipples darken – creating greater contrast, thus making the breast easier to see for a baby’s monotone vision (135). But, arguably, smell is the most important factor when it comes to the breast crawl and not vision, as many once thought.

Smell appears to play a far greater role. Newborns are incredibly sensitive to anything that smells like amniotic fluid and guess what a mother’s nipples and areola smell similar to? Amniotic fluid. It is thought that a baby uses the smell of amniotic fluid on its hands as a gauge to help find the nipples. Studies have shown that washing a baby’s hands or a mother’s breasts can affect a baby’s ability to find the nipple.

With smell being so important and studies showing babies have a preference for unwashed nipples, how could a water birth affect this?

Well, the answer is, as yet, unknown. Whilst here at Small Acorn, we are very much in favour of water births and there is, quite rightly, an increase in their popularity, it is important to remember that this is a form of intervention. Whilst ranking very low in the grand scheme of interventions as a whole, it is still important to understand that any intervention comes with a set of risks and compromises. This could well be one of the very few downsides that a water birth entails.

There {Below} is an amazing video (Links in the description) showing three different babies successfully complete the breast crawl and which includes important aspects that contribute to its successful initiation, as well as many more if you look for them.

There are a host of advantages to the breast crawl:

With skin-to-skin contact being a key part of the breast crawl, contact with mother’s skin has been shown to help a newborn maintain a preferable and better-regulated temperature. This phenomenon is known as thermal synchrony and essentially enables a mother to cool a warm baby and vice versa.

Cardio-Respiratory Stability
Skin-to-skin is associated with better breathing rates and a more stable heart. rate

Babies that spent the first hours on their mother were shown to cry far less than those that did not. The same study concluded that most newborn crying was directly related to separation. To us, this comes of no surprise, especially after we discovered in week 109 just how important touch is to all babies and the devastating effects of having it withdrawn.

Better Latch
Those babies that are left to attach to the breast by themselves tend to have a far better latch. It has been shown that there is a direct link between early suckling patterns and the duration and success of breastfeeding.

Reduction in Postpartum Haemorrhage
Skin-to-skin and early breastfeeding are shown to induce higher levels of oxytocin. Oxytocin helps contract the uterus and close off many of the blood vessels within it.

Quicker Expulsion of the Placenta
Sometimes the pressure from the baby’s feet can help assist in the expulsion of the placenta. But, oxytocin plays a far greater role. Oxytocin’s increase stimulates contractions of the uterus, aiding the expulsion of the placenta.

It is within the baby’s first few hours – immediately after birth – that a mother is uniquely open, emotionally, to respond to her newborn. This time period can often set the stage for everything that follows. Extended early contact is related to a significant drop in parenting disorders including child abuse, failure to thrive and abandonment.

Some factors can inhibit the breast crawl with the most obvious being separation during the first hours, even for as little as 10 – 20 minutes. Then there are other factors such as washing of the mother’s breasts or the washing of the baby’s hands and adding scents or smells that could mask odour signals. Then there are things like the administering of vitamin K, weighing and measuring – all of which should be delayed until breastfeeding is established.

However, the most inhibitory factor to the breast crawl is the use of drugs during labour, the most notable of them being the narcotic analgesic, pethidine. Pethidine doesn’t just affect the mother, it also affects the baby, just for much longer. The half-life of pethidine in an adult is 3 – 4 hours. That is to say, that 3 – 4 hours after an adult has taken pethidine, approximately half of the active components will still be affecting them. This 3 – 4 hour half-life window is for adults who are able to process the drug far quicker than babies. When it comes to the effects on a newborn, the effects can last far longer, with some estimating the half-life to be somewhere in the region of 13 – 23 hours, with some components lasting in excess of 60 hours. As a consequence of its long half-life, the effects on a newborn’s nervous system cannot be overemphasised enough and this is especially true when it comes to their ability to perform the breast crawl successfully.

At birth, our babies have far greater abilities than many of us realise, but it takes patience and understanding from the get-go. The breast crawl can take an hour or so and will be interspersed with moments of rest, moments of alertness and moments of discovery – discovery of their hands and fingers, discovery of their new world and all that comes with it. The breast crawl is something that cannot be helped or sped up, it is something that has to be given time and space. When it comes to breastfeeding success, the studies show us that this is the best way.



Trusting our children to achieve things on their own and know what’s best for themselves is something that is increasingly hard in modern societies. As parents, we want to help and in many cases that is exactly what we do. We want to help, help make their life easier, help them to get to where they want to quicker, we want to help shelter them from the hard things life throws at them. Yet, this can interfere with the outcomes we desire and can, in some circumstances, actively sabotage them entirely.

But there may be an alternative: what if we trust our newborns, trust them to know what to do, trust them to achieve what they already can, trust them so much that we stand back, hold off from our inclination to do it for them and give them the space to achieve it all by themselves, without our help or intervention?

What if we were to take that mentality onwards, as we grow and as our children grow?

What if all the help we bestow upon our little ones is a form of active sabotage to their future development?

What if we let them explore, make mistakes, experience the joy of achieving things we thought they couldn’t do without us, winning those hard fought-battles we thought they couldn’t win?

What if their sense of self, was built upon what they did and what they achieved, rather than what we helped them do?


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