Breast is Best…But Not Always Easiest!
Breast feeding versus formula feeding is huge debate among moms, as a quick search of the internet will tell you. I’m not looking to argue the cost, convenience, or cases where there is a lack of supply – that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms. What no one can debate, though, is that breastmilk is pretty awesome. It can literally change composition to adapt itself to the air in the room so that your baby is getting the proper antibodies and immune support that it needs in that moment. It can be used to soothe cradle cap and diaper rash (seriously). And that’s just scratching the surface.
So why the heck can it be so hard to get the hang of?!
Contrary to popular belief, women don’t always just know what to do when it comes to nursing. There are tons of tips and tricks that, in our society, are shrouded in secrecy until you are welcomed into the fold…usually with a hungry baby and out of sheer desperation. While there are hosts of support groups that can help moms learn to nurse their babies, like lactation consultants and The La Leche League, some women still end up in pain and needing to pump when their baby can’t seem to get the hang of what we’re told comes naturally. Many moms give up. But every once and a while, they find their way to a chiropractor as a last resort.
I swear, I could develop a complex here. Chiropractors are always the “all else has failed”, last-stop-before-the-end-of-the-road option for pretty much every condition. One of these days I hope to see my lovely profession as a “let’s try this gentle and non-invasive thing first and then see if we need anything else” choice. But I digress. Let’s talk about chiropractic care and what it can do for munchkins that can’t quite get the hang of this nursing thing.
Four Things Chiropractors Can Check to Aid with Nursing
There are actually a lot of things that need to be working in order for normal nursing to take place. Fortunately, a trained pediatric chiropractor knows what to look for, and how to correct the issues that may arise.
1. Do they have a rooting reflex?
All babies are born with certain instinctual reflexes that have evolved with them and a rooted in their brainstems (the most primitive part of the brain). These reflexes developed in order to keep them alive. While some are a little less obvious when it comes to how they would benefit a baby (like that one where they grab on to anything you put in their hand), others are pretty obvious. One of those more blatantly beneficial reflexes is the rooting reflex. Any time something brushes an infants cheek, they should turn their head to that side and start looking for some where to latch.
(Please resist the urge to test that out on any baby you pass.)
That being said, some babies do not develop this reflex upon being born. The reasons why are not clear, but suffice it to say that if a 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. Most pediatricians will test for the presence of this reflex, but chiropractors take it one step further and say, “Ok, it’s not there, we need to get it to show up.” The theory is that each level of the brain builds on the one before it in development. The brain stem is the base of the pyramid. If that is not nice and stable with no pieces missing, how can you build on the next level (with developmental milestones) and expect it to be stable. This continues right on up through early development and childhood. So we can just let this missing piece go unchecked. We have to teach the nervous system what it’s missing.
This is a relatively straightforward thing to do in the case of the rooting reflex. We stimulate the reflex by brushing the cheek several times a day. Eventually the brain will wake up and start to respond accordingly. As this happens, the instinct to nurse becomes more prevalent. Sometimes that is all we need to get breastfeeding back on track.
2. Do they have a sucking reflex?
Sometimes it’s a little more complicated than that. Much like the rooting reflex, the sucking reflex is one with which a baby should be born. This is why the baby will start sucking on anything that comes near its mouth, including your hand, shoulder, their foot, etc. They literally can’t help it. One of my favorite things is when a baby is given a pacifier instead of a bottle or breast and they realize that it is not really what they want, but they can’t help from continuing to suck on it for a bit. They give you this look like “I know what you’re up to and I am not pleased”. Priceless.
They baby should have this reflex if triggered by something directly in the center of the mouth or off to the sides. That is key because it can explain why a baby might have difficulty staying attached to the breast, despite initially latching. If the reflex is absent or weak, we, again, can work to build the reflex to improve the spontaneous desire to latch. This is done by light brushing a pacifier or finger along the bottom lip until the baby starts to draw the object into his or her mouth. Just like the rooting reflex, a simple fix can go a long way in changing a baby’s nutrition for the better.
3. Is the jaw aligned properly?
The jaw is a complicated joint. It moves in little circles when functioning correctly during nursing. In adults, this misalignment is known as temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJ, more commonly). It’s characterized by popping, locking, pain, and many other issues. If the baby’s jaw is not tracking properly, the signs are not always so obvious. Many times, the biggest clue can be that their latch will be weakened. This is sometimes the case on only one side, and may be seen with an infant who likes to nurse on one side but not the other. Testing this is a fairly quick process. If you insert your little finger into the baby’s mouth and he begins to suck on it, slide your finger over to the left and right to see 1) if the baby keeps sucking and 2) if the motion feels the same from side to side. If it doesn’t, or the baby stops sucking completely, odds are there is some work to be done on the jaw.
Gentle cranial work can help to improve the biomechanics of the jaw, thus improving latch, reducing painful nursing for the mother and nutrition and function for the baby. Make sure you find a chiropractor who has experience working with the bones of the cranium as a little goes a long way when it comes to that area of the body!
4. Can the baby fully rotate his head to nurse?
Finally, we have to look at the ability of the baby to get into the proper position to nurse. This involves a good amount of rotation of the neck. Most of the ability to turn the head comes from the joint at the very top of the spine, where the first cervical vertebra (known as the atlas) rotates around the second cervical vertebra (the axis). If the bones that make up this joint are sublimated (misaligned) then the baby’s range of motion will be decreased. Often, this is seen in children that will only nurse on one side or where mom has to switch from cross-body hold to football-hold depending on side.
Any chiropractor worth her salt knows to check this bone in an infant. It is an incredibly common area to be sublimated (misaligned) after birth. This is due to the fact that a lot of stress and pressure goes into preparing to be born and moving through the birth canal. The orientation of that top portion of the spine is different than anywhere else in the body, and because it is the location of the largest part of the spinal cord, the effects of a subluxation at this level can be far-reaching. Gentle adjusting can correct this misalignment and allow for more balanced nursing on both sides.
So there you have it! While there are many other things that can contribute to difficulty nursing (such as tongue tie or lip tie), please don’t give up until you have tried getting your baby adjusted! For more support with nursing please find a La Leche League in your area!