Babies are hardwired to breastfeed. When they are born, if all is well, they already know how to latch on and get their nourishment. Sometimes moms need a little more help in learning how to facilitate the relationship but babies are born with natural reflexes and innate knowledge on how to feed.
Unfortunately things don’t always go smoothly in pregnancy, labor and delivery. These disruptions can cause baby to not be able to breastfeed with ease or symmetry. As a baby grows in the womb, the mom must be balanced structurally and functionally. Her pelvis must be able to move and be balanced. Her pelvic floor must be able to relax for birth and work to help the baby come out without being twisted or torqued. If these things are not in place a baby often is born with asymmetries in their skull, neck and body. These stresses affect the neurology and muscles associated with nursing and efficient feeding.
The proper cranial bone movement of the infant is essential in proper suck, latch and breastfeeding. Specifically the frontal, occipital, parietal, temporal and sphenoid bones. If these are out of balance and out of symmetry due to improper head position in utero or at birth, or c-section delivery, forceps or vacuum extraction, this can cause problems in the breastfeeding relationship.
On top of the imbalance of the bones, cranial nerves directly affect the baby’s ability to suck at the breast. The hypoglossal nerve controls the movement of the tongue. Babies born with stress on this nerve can have an uncoordinated or loose suck. The glossopharyngeal nerve controls the posterior palate and the gag reflex. and the vagus nerve controls the larynx, diaphragm and is essential in coordinating the suck-swallow-breath coordination of the baby. If these nerves are not firing properly baby can have a very difficult time latching, expressing the milk from the breast with proper tongue movement and keeping a good hold of the breast while they are breastfeeding. These babies can have a hard time handling let down, come off and on the breast many times during feeding or gag easily when trying to feed.
Some common things that cause this imbalance in a newborn are:
- Fetal position in utero. If a baby is transverse, breech or asynclitic head position this can cause stress on the bones and nerves of the head and neck. This is a main reason that we suggest chiropractic care during pregnancy. To not only balance mom and keep her healthy and happy during pregnancy. But to also help baby be in a balanced womb to reduce in utero stress on their growing and developing body.
- The birth process itself. Even in the most uninterfered with birth, traveling through the birth canal can be stressful on baby. Most births in the US involve interventions such as pitocin, epidurals, forceps, vacuum extractions or c-sections. These interventions lead to intense stress and pressure on the cranial bones and dural trauma as well as the neck of the newborn.
So what are the indicators that cranial and chiropractic care could help with your breastfeeding relationship?
- Asymmetry of the cranial bones. The easiest way to see this is to look from the top of the baby’s head. Is it symmetrical or flatter on one side than the other?
- Gag response in baby when trying to feed.
- Favors one breast over the other. If you can hold your baby in cradle hold on one side but can only feed with out pain or discomfort in the football hold on the other, that is a sign of side preference. Some babies will refuse one breast entirely.
- Looks toward one side frequently.
- Takes a long time to nurse. If you baby takes over 30-40 minutes to nurse they may not be efficiently sucking and they are having to work very hard to get enough milk. Baby should be able to nurse in 20-30 minutes.
- Always hungry. If your baby never seems to be satisfied even though you are nursing non-stop, that is a red flag.
- Tethered oral issues such as tongue tie. Tongue tie puts extra stress on the cranial bones as well as the neck. Some children need the tongue tie released along with body work but on occasion cranial work and chiropractic can get baby functionally nursing again.
- Excessive gas. This can indicate a poor seal or suck-swallow-breath response.
- Arching their body while nursing or immediately afterwards.
If you’re having breastfeeding difficulties consider body work to help you get over these struggles. If you are expecting a baby or trying to get pregnant, this is an awesome opportunity to get chiropractic care to balance your body and increase your wellness to help get you both off to a great start.