It is widely known and undisputed about the benefits and importance of breastfeeding.
But, as “natural” as breastfeeding is many new moms find themselves disheartened when they run into difficulties while attempting to nurse.
Chewing on the nipple…
Preference for only one feeding position or breast…
Irritable baby during and after nursing…
Insufficient weight gain…
Marathon feeding sessions…
Blocked milk ducts…
All these things are way too familiar too many breastfeeding moms which ultimately leaves them feeling depressed and believe that she cannot meet the needs of her child, or even worse…that she is not a good mother.
WHAT’S A MOM TO DO?!?!
Let’s take a step back for a second and review how we might have gotten into this predicament…
The Birth Process
I know what you might be thinking…
What does my pregnancy and the ‘birth process’ have to do with whether or not I can breastfeeding successfully?
Have you ever stepped back and REALLY thought about what your baby had to endure to be born?!?
The baby’s body is LITERALLY squeezed out of the birth canal (if they are born vaginally) which contributes to the molding of the skull, and this can cause a bit of stress on the baby’s delicate upper neck.
Imagine if the baby is delivered with the assistance of a vacuum, forceps, or by cesarean section…
What many people fail to realize is that the molding of the skull and the alignment of the upper neck are REALLY important for two reasons…
- The neurology of the Rooting and Sucking Reflex
- The biomechanics of the Sucking Reflex
Did you know that the upper neck region houses the brainstem and cranial nerves that give life to the muscles of the face and jaw?
In addition to the proper neurological input, the bones and muscles need to be aligned properly and functioning optimally for mechanical reasons.
What Is The Rooting Reflex?
All babies are born with a certain amount of innate knowledge that has evolved with them and are rooted in their brain stems.
This innate knowledge is there in order to keep them alive.
The Rooting Reflex is part of that innate knowledge that baby “should” have and helps to ensure successful breastfeeding.
The reflex is supposed to be elicited when a stimulus is present on the cheek or the lip and the baby should automatically turn their face towards the stimulus and make a sucking (rooting) motion with their mouth.
Why this is important is because if the baby doesn’t know to look for food, they are going to be on a little bit of a delay when it comes to eating properly and efficiently.
What Is The Sucking Reflex?
Similarly to the Rooting Reflex, the Sucking Reflex should be present in the baby at birth.
This reflex is linked with the rooting reflex and breastfeeding. What happens is that a child will instinctively suck anything which touches the roof of their mouth.
How Does Breastfeeding Positioning Affect These Reflexes?
Weirdly enough it has been seen that sometimes that primitive neonatal reflexes can be a barrier to successful breastfeeding when not positioned correctly.
Research suggests that these reflexes proved to be a barrier (either through inhibition of the necessary ones and the activation of others) when mother was feeding in skin-to-skin contact or lightly dressed and was lying on their sides, sitting straight upright, or leaning slightly forward.
Generally, mothers who breastfeed upright place baby on a pillow in front of and at right angles to their bodies, and although the baby is turned toward mom, there is usually a gap or angle between their bodies. The baby’s thighs, calves, and feet were often in contact with thin air.
More importantly, mothers had to hold their babies by applying pressure to the baby’s back to keep them at breast level and/or close enough to feed adequately – ie. dorsal feeding.
The more the mother struggled to elicit mouth gape, leading in with the chin, the tighter she gripped the baby’s back.
This firm grip often extended to the baby’s neck or head and with an increase in the firmness of grip, the more the baby struggled with frantic arm and/or leg cycling (activation of some primitive neonatal reflexes, increasing in strength and amplitude as they worked themselves up to a crying state – AND THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES….
Switching It Up: Ventral Breastfeeding Position
Have you heard of Biological Nurturing?
Biological nurturing is an approach to breastfeeding aimed to reduce latching problems and early unintended breastfeeding cessation.
What it looks like is that mom leans back and places the baby on top so that every part of the baby’s body is facing, touching, and closely applied to one of the mother’s curves or to part of the surrounding habitat.
The laid-back postures for breastfeeding are not only ideal to promote maternal comfort – mother’s shoulders, neck, and head are supported while they gaze, groom, and coo at their newborn, but this also naturally lead to that fascinating “en face” mother-baby conversation.
But what needs to be explained further that Biological nurturing is much more than simply a feeding posture…
It has been found that breastfeeding in a range of semi-reclined maternal position interacting with neonatal positions, releasing maternal instinctual behavior and primitive neonatal reflexes (ie. rooting and sucking reflex) stimulating breastfeeding.
I know it seems counterintuitive to feed in a laid-back position since we have been conditioned to believe that baby needs pressure along the baby’s back. But studies have provided information that illustrates the newborn is a ventral (abdominal) feeding and, similarly to other animals, display anti-gravity reflexes which aid in attaining a successful latch.
Remember…breastfeeding and breastfeeding initiation is innate for both mother and baby, not learned.
If the baby continues to have difficulty breastfeeding after changing positions, it could be attributed to a biomechanical issue.
The Biomechanics of Breastfeeding
Proper latch and a successful nursing session are somewhat dependent on making sure the structures of the babies cervical spine (neck), cranial bones and TMJ (the jaw) are functioning optimally. These structures may influence the infant’s ability to suckle successfully.
The jaw is a complicated joint – it moves in litter circles when functioning correctly during nursing.
In an infant, the signs of a jaw tracking improperly isn’t always quite obvious.
Generally, a weakened latch is a cardinal symptom that the jaw isn’t functioning appropriately. You may witness a child that likes to nurse on one side but not the other.
Sometimes, a child favors one side versus the other not because of a jaw issue but because of it’s inability to rotate their head to get into a proper position to nurse
The majority of the rotation found in the neck is situated at the very top of the spine, where the first cervical (C1 – Atlas) vertebra is situated.
Due to the unique nature of that first bone, it is incredibly common for this bone to shift during the birthing process as they traversed through the birth canal.
What About Tongue Ties/Lip Ties?
The incidences of tongue ties/lip ties (aka Tethered Oral Tissues) in babies are becoming increasingly more common.
Babies who suffer from tongue-ties generally have problems allowing them to attain a secure latch on the breast.
More often than not, they try and overcompensate by increasing their suction leading to nipple damage and pain.
When a baby is no longer able to maintain a sufficient latch through suction, a click and a slight loss of suction may occur OR the baby may completely detach from the breast
If this occurs, this may not only cause pain but also affects the baby’s ability to adequately drain the breast, leading to supply issues and in the worst case scenario, the baby is really not able to attach at all.
By now, you might be asking yourself…What can I do for my nursing child if they are still having difficulty breastfeeding?
Chiropractic Care and The Nursing Baby
Chiropractic care can help to improve the biomechanical changes in the infant regarding their jaw, cranium, and their cervical spine through gentle specific adjustments to the spine and skull.
When things return to proper alignment, your little one’s body begins to function optimally resulting in an improved latch, decreased pain while nursing for mom, and adequate intake of nutrition from baby.