I think instinct is one of the more fascinating things to witness….truly. I am often in awe and amazement watching how we are driven by instinct even when we don’t realize we are. You’ve seen it…you probably have even done it and not realized it. Let me share some of my favorite instinctual things that I’ve seen time and time again and see if some of this doesn’t sound familiar to you.


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat with a pregnant mother in the middle of her pregnancy and had her tell me how frightened she is to give birth. Often the thought terrifies her, she takes childbirth classes hoping that they will calm her fears. That same woman will sit with me when she is 38, 39, 40 weeks pregnant and tell me she is “done” and she is ready to “get this baby out”. The same woman who was terrified at 25 weeks is now having thoughts such as “bring it on!!” when she thinks about labor! She WELCOMES contractions that are powerful, hoping each Braxton hicks that she feels will grow to a level of intensity that she knows labor has begun.

How is this instinctual? Well think about it – at 25 weeks it SHOULD be scary to think about having your baby! Babies in nature do not survive being born at 25 weeks! Even if you are trying to think about having our babies at full term (while at 20 weeks pregnant), your body knows that it is a “wrong” thought because you aren’t there yet!! So every signal you get from your primitive brain says, “birth? Baby? YIKES!!” because yes, it WOULD be scary to give birth at that point in pregnancy. But nearly every person I’ve dealt with over the years finds that this changes when they hit ‘full term’. They aren’t scared anymore – nervous, excited – but not scared. They welcome the sensations, waiting for them like waiting for a friend they have known their whole lives but never met in person to arrive. Their body gives them the signal that it is okay now….and whether we know it or not, we FEEL it and KNOW it on a deeper level.


There is a cycle that I see mothers go through in the first year after having a baby. Usually I sit with a mom at her 6 week postpartum visit and have her tell me how much she does NOT want to get pregnant with another baby in the foreseeable future – maybe the distant future, but she’s surprised at how low her drive is to have another baby. She will often cuddle with her baby and look a little guilty at admitting how much she doesn’t want another baby right now (as if that means she doesn’t love or appreciate the baby she has, which is clearly not the case!). So again, lets go back to instinct – instinct says that you have a baby RIGHT NOW that needs your love, attention…and most importantly, your breastmilk. In nature there is no formula. This baby is completely dependant upon you for your milk for its survival!! Your body knows that if it gets pregnant again, that putting a placenta inside your uterus WILL compromise your milk supply. That could bring with it tragic results! Because of that, your body will do a couple of things: First, it will usually inhibit your fertility until the baby is taking enough solid ‘other’ foods that your breastfeeding relationship has slowed down. Secondly, it will make your very soul not want to have another baby…it is about as appealing as the thought of eating a mud milkshake.

That same mother will usually find sometime between 9 and 18 months postpartum that her baby yearnings come back full force! Baby starts taking more and more solids, her cycles return, and suddenly the thought isn’t quite as bad as it seemed. Within a couple of months she has full blow baby fever and is oogling over every newborn she comes into contact with. Yup….that’s instinct!!! (and while I’ve known a couple of people at 6 weeks who said they couldn’t wait to have another baby – when asked if they felt ready right now, even they looked at me and said, “HELL NO!”)


How do babies know how to find the breast and latch on? True, some need some help (some a lot of help)…but usually babies know how to find the breast, root for the nipple, latch on, and suckle perfectly. You may sit there and nod your head and think, “yeah…so…” but I think WOW! That is so cool!! Here is this baby that has known nothing but a liquid world, has never been hungry, never eaten, never smelled a breast or tasted milk…and they know how to do all of that! WOW!

It also disappoints me how many times I’ve heard “babies don’t smile” or “it’s only gas”. Why do people believe this? I truly don’t know! Now, while it’s true that newborns don’t smile as a method of manipulation, as a way to get you to smile as they will when they are older (they don’t look at you and smile because they know it will make you happy) – but that doesn’t mean they don’t smile!! Good grief! I’ve seen it…many times…not from gas. If you believe that a baby can CRY when they are born, why don’t you believe they can SMILE! It’s a response to a feeling, same as crying. Babies can feel bad and cry but can’t feel good and smile? What a depressing thought…and I don’t believe it’s a true thought, either. I’ve seen plenty of newborn smiling….but I’ve also seen plenty of unmedicated newborns happily cuddling in their mothers’ arms snuggled up to her breast listening to her breathing and heartbeat.


Have you ever heard of “Kangaroo Care”? Most people think of premature babies when they have hear of this, but this is what we do even when our babies are full term – we just usually call it “skin to skin”. It has become universally accepted that skin-to-skin with our babies is a good thing, but let me share some of the finer (and more interesting) details about it.

First off…babies do better when placed skin to skin with their mothers. We used to worry about preterm babies being taken out of our incubators and held by mothers because we thought they would get too cold too quickly because they lack the special fat that full term babies are born with (called Brown Fat). This special fat serves a variety of functions, one of the more important ones is helping to keep newborn babies warm and preventing hypothermia. The interesting thing that we found when we studied the effects of skin to skin contact was that when a new mother held her newborn, her temperature would immediately go up, keeping her baby’s temperature more stable and perfect than our warmers were doing!! And if baby’s temperature dropped at all – mother’s temperature would go up more, matching the baby’s and keeping them perfect! Incredible!

Research has shown that there is a mammalian “protest-despair” response that all newborn mammals exhibit when they are separated from their mothers. First they will cry (protest stage)…then if their cries are not answered they enter a “despair stage” where their bodies send out incredibly high stress hormones which shut down function in their gut, digestion, and growth. These babies “shut down”, slower heartrate, lower body temperature…it is not a “calming”, because all systems remain bathed in high stress levels and as soon as baby is returned to its mother the heartrate becomes normal and temperature returns as stress hormones reduce. It is our instinctive drive to be with our protecting parents as well as our instinct as parents to hold and carry and snuggle and nurture our most precious and helpless babies. You might have even experienced this phenomenon yourself….driving in your car with your baby? You hear your baby in the carseat crying – and it’s a cry that is asking to be picked up, asking to be fed, asking to be protected. You are not at a place where you can pull over for a few minutes so your baby continues to cry. There is a pulling on your heart, listening to your baby cry, that isn’t there listening to another person’s baby. Then the baby takes its cry to “the next level”….the cry intensifies as the baby goes into “protest”…they may even cry so hard you can’t hear them at the peak. You have no choice at that point…”PULL THIS DAMN CAR OVER RIGHT NOW, I NEED TO GET MY BABY!” Every part of your being is screaming at you to pick up your baby…

Instinct at work! We smother our babies in kisses – to expose ourselves to any germs that they may come in contact with so that our milk can produce antibodies to protect the baby from them. We smell our baby’s gas and feces to check on their health and well being, inspecting their diapers for signs of health. We rock them and talk to them in higher ‘softer’ voices to soothe them and will often know that they are sick long before anyone else would be able to identify it (and without being able to explain how you knew they were unwell).

What disturbs me is how hard some people work to overcome their wonderful instincts! I see people reading books or the internet and being motivated by what they read to fight their instinct. “feed on a schedule”, “let them cry”, “need to learn to self soothe”, “spoiled”…..there are hand held computer devices that keep track of how long baby has been crying so you don’t cave in to your instincts and pick your baby up before a timer dings to allow you permission to respond, there are pacifiers and automated swings and vibrating bassinets and teddy bears with mother’s heartbeat sounds built right in. How often do we need these items in places where babies are held skin to skin with their parents…when they are carried against mother’s body with full access to her breast and the true sounds of her heartbeat? How many of those babies are considered “high needs” or “fussy” or “colicky”?

We want to have sex and are driven to make babies. Once pregnant, we are guided by our bodies (if we can actually shut up and listen to them) to protect ourselves and our babies….our babies want to be born and be healthy, and our bodies want to birth and nourish this baby at our breasts. Our instinct is to hold and feed our babies and to respond to their cries. We keep our babies warm, happy, well fed, and protected…all without thinking about it. The more we think about it, the more we can get in our own way. (how many mothers who “couldn’t breastfeed” actually just got in their own way by questioning whether baby was getting enough rather than listening to their baby and their instinct?)

Instinct is a wonderful and fascinating thing – rather than fighting it, we should rejoice in the perfectness and appreciate that we have the inner guidance that is usually so beautifully perfect.

Thermal Response to Skin-to-Skin
Skin to Skin and Temperature and Protest-Despair
Benefits of Skin to Skin