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11/22/2004

Marco. Polo!

In 1990, Dr. Lennart Righard published a study on the effect of delivery room routines on the success of breastfeeding.

If a newborn infant is placed directly on a mother's naked abdomen immediately after birth and left there without interruption, the baby will crawl toward the mother's breast. By about an hour after birth, the baby will have locomoted up to the nipple without assistance and will be sucking, usually with the correct technique.

If, however, a newborn is initially placed on the mother's abdomen but subsequently removed for about half an hour for bathing, measuring, testing, and, I don't know, having a petite jersey hat popped on its noticeably cone-shaped head, the infant is more likely to have problems establishing a good latch.

If the mother has been given medication during birth, all bets are off: the majority of the infants in Righard's study who'd been exposed to drugs during labor were too zonked to scooch up to the breast, and when put directly to the nipple could not attach themselves well at all.

We watched a video in childbirth class featuring examples of each group. It was miraculous to see an hour-old newborn so determined to feed that he was able to do it with no help from his mother whatsover. And it was agonizing to watch the mother and baby who'd been medicated — as one of the conditions of the study, the mother lay quietly without helping the baby scale her sternum to find her breast. And it was wrenching to apply those circumstances to my own situation, where I'll unquestionably be medicated and separated from my baby for at least as long as that critical half-hour, knowing we won't have the chance to watch our baby squirm triumphantly through the first obstacle course of his life.

But after some careful thought, I've got it all figured out. Sure, our baby might be disoriented after being initially removed from me — big deal. He's been listening to me swear for so long now that I'm pretty sure all I'll have to do is chant a soft and loving string of profanity to remind him who's who. And our baby might be sluggish from the drugs — so what? I'll just gaily rattle a bottle of Percosets directly above my nipple, enticing the wee tiny junkie upward.

If he's not banging furiously on my chest with his minuscule fist within minutes, demanding brownies and vodka immediately, I'll eat that adorable little hat.

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