Oral Aversion in the Breastfed Neonate

Linda Killion Healow, BSN, IBCLC and Rebecca Sliter Hugh, IBCLC
Breastfeeding Abstracts, August 2000, Volume 20, Number 1, pp. 3-4.

Infants are incredibly oral creatures. Not only is the mouth the preferred route of caloric nourishment, but it is also the way newborns most acutely sense and come to know their new environment.


The oral experience is also an integral part of how the newborn learns to recognize his or her mother. As Ruth Lawrence observes, “Comfort sucking and formation of nipple preference are genetically determined behaviors for imprinting to the mother’s nipple. The recognition of the mother is at first through the distinctive features of the nipple. Although imprinting is multisensory and varies from species to species, it is oral/tactile for the human and other higher mammals.” Thus newborns’ mouths are “virgin” territory. Although the fetus experiences taste and possibly finger sucking in utero, nothing “foreign ” enters the mouth before birth. A noxious oral experience in the early days of life is likely to leave a more damaging impression than a similar experience taking place later in a baby’s development.

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