NURSING a Natural Instinct

Lactation Consultants Help Moms “Learn” Breastfeeding

Human beings have been breastfeeding for millennia—after all, if we couldn’t figure out this breastfeeding thing, we wouldn’t be alive, right? So why would anyone need a consultant to help with the most natural thing in the world?

Yes, breastfeeding—or rather, suckling—is an instinctive behavior in infants. Research suggests, however, that the mother’s breastfeeding behaviors are learned.

Take the story of the female gorilla born and raised in an Ohio zoo in the 1980s. After losing one baby gorilla, this second-time mama received a visit from the local La Leche League during her pregnancy. A group of volunteer (human) moms sat nursing their babies in front of the pregnant gorilla, who watched with keen interest. After her baby was born, she was visited by another a nursing mom and, mimicking that mom’s actions, fed her own baby for the first time.

Breastfeeding is a set of learned skills, and all of us—human or gorilla—deserve the chance to learn before we’re expected to do it well.

Some education may not be all it takes, though. Before each of us learned to ride a bike, we likely watched older children riding, over and over. Sitting on the curb studying the motion of the pedals and the posture of the rider wasn’t enough, though. There was eventually a moment when we sat, terrified or exhilarated, on that sweaty bike seat in the sun, ready to pedal for the first time. But chances are we had a parent running beside us until we felt confident, or an older sibling cheering us on, offering advice.

Many mothers remember keenly the similar feeling of being left alone for the first time with their newborn. You mean you expect me to be able to take care of this precious life all by myself? Despite all the watching and learning, every new mom eventually faces her time to ride, and she doesn’t have to do it alone.

An IBCLC—a member of the International Board of Certified Lactation Consultants—is that been-there-done-that voice, with years of clinical and academic experience to boot. She cheers you on and can offer crucial information and course corrections along the way. She is a medical expert in lactation, and very often a mom herself, who has spent years studying the art, science and practice of breastfeeding.

Jen Chendea is a lactation consultant with Belly to Cradle, which provides comprehensive birth support for the whole family, including doula care, childbirth education, and placenta encapsulation, in the Greater Pensacola Area. For more information, contact Belly to Cradle at 850-324-5393 or, or visit

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