This is the 21st in a series of posts on Booby Traps, made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.
My doula once attended a training in which the presenter shoved a giant bulb syringe in the faces of the participants, and then asked, “feel like eating?” Her point, if it isn’t obvious: It’s not fun to be suctioned right after birth, and it can interfere with your desire to eat.
Obviously, suctioning is sometimes necessary – for resuscitation in the most extreme example. Linda Smith, in The Impact of Birthing Practices on Breastfeeding, notes that “babies born by cesarean section usually require considerable suctioning, because the oropharyngeal mucus is not squeezed out as it is during vaginal birth.”*
But suctioning an otherwise healthy, vigorous newborn? Research shows that 1) there are no demonstrated benefits to routine suctioning (randomized controlled trials have shown no difference), and 2) routine suctioning can cause breastfeeding problems.
Linda Smith cites research showing several ways in which this causes problems for breastfeeding:
Mispatterned tongue movement: “The tongue muscle group can be mispatterned by early superstimuli such as deep or repeated suctioning.”
Defensive tongue position: “Physical irritation of the posterior palate creates a reflex guarding of the airway by the tongue…This is exactly the opposite of the anterior-to-posterior tongue peristaltis needed for breastfeeding.”
Pain, possibly leading to aversion to feeding: “Suctioning a vigorous newborn (except as needed for resuscitation) can cause physical damage to the oropharynx, causing pain during feeding attempts.”
The evidence is strong enough that the American Academy of Pediatrics makes a point of discouraging suctioning in its breastfeeding policy, recommending that physicians: “avoid procedures that may interfere with breastfeeding or that may traumatize the infant, including unnecessary, excessive, and over-vigorous suctioning of the oral cavity, esophagus, and airways to avoid oropharyngeal mucosal injury that may lead to aversive feeding behavior.”
Nevertheless, suctioning healthy, vigorous newborns appears to be very common. If you do not want your healthy, vigorous baby suctioned, we encourage you to discuss this with your care providers before your birth.
Was your baby suctioned? For good reason or because it’s just “what they do?” Do you think it had any impact on your breastfeeding experience?
* One study challenges the utility of this practice.