A Chiropractic Approach to Breastfeeding Issues

Why would I bring my baby to a chiropractor? How can chiropractic help with our breastfeeding concerns? Is chiropractic safe for infants? Are all chiropractors trained to care for infants? We are asked these questions daily in our practice and the purpose of this article is to help shed light on the answers.

In recent years, we have seen a rise in breastfeeding concerns and difficulty nursing, bringing many parents into our office with their young infants. We receive referrals from local midwives, lactation consultants, pediatricians and even pediatric dentists to help address common breastfeeding difficulties. Yet, parents are often perplexed when they are told to bring their infant to a chiropractor.

What many of these professionals know and understand, is that the modern birthing process contributes stress to the infants cranium and spine. This stress may manifest in the infant as difficulty nursing, colic, decreased bowel mobility, reflux and a host of other related issues. Chiropractic care can often be beneficial to improving and resolving many of the common breastfeeding challenges. Increasing numbers of women and families are acknowledging that breastfeeding is the superior choice for their infants nutrition for the first six months of life and continued until age one or longer, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

Subtle misalignments caused by birth trauma can cause discomfort to the infant when nursing. In newborns it is not uncommon that small misalignments of the upper cervical spine can restrict range of motion. These spinal shifts cause biomechanical changes and neurological stress on the baby. This often manifests as a mother saying, “my child won’t latch on one side but she nurses well on the other.” Often, this is a sign that a child is having difficulty being able to rotate their head into the proper position necessary for suckling and swallowing. We may also suspect a spinal shift if the child has a head tilt or prefers to gaze towards one side. These are signs of imbalance in the infant’s system, which can be gently and safely corrected through chiropractic adjustments.

Through gentle examination procedures, we are able to palpate or feel for spinal shifts and cranial asymmetries. During a normal vaginal birth the cranial bones are compressed as the infant skull travels through the birth canal. It is not uncommon to see imbalances of the cranium, especially at the sutures, or where the bones join. Detailed external and internal cranial exam is an essential part of the gentle assessment that we provide. We assess the sucking reflex and palate to rule out potential obstacles to proper latch biomechanics. If we suspect oral tether involvement, we commonly refer to lactation consultants and pediatric dentists for diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Many times if a revision surgery is performed, the lactation consultant and pediatric dentist acknowledge the importance of gentle chiropractic and craniosacral care in optimizing function of the mouth and tongue and to aid in healing post procedure.

Optimal breastfeeding requires all of the cranial structures to be balanced. For example, the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction is a common cause of difficulty breastfeeding. Proper function and symmetry of this joint is crucial for appropriate latch and biomechanics of sucking. Associated muscles of the TMJ are also assessed and gently released if needed, to allow proper motion and improve gape or opening of the mouth.

In other infants, they simply present with an overall increase in tone. Parents report that the infant seems, “stressed out” or “uncomfortable” most of the time. This is often a clear sign of imbalance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. These two systems work together to allow our body to properly function. The sympathetic system is the “fight or flight” portion of the nervous system, and seeks to protect us. The parasympathetic system is the “relaxing and healing” portion of the nervous system and seeks to balance digestion, sleep and growing. It’s important to have balance between these two systems. In some infants, the first few days or weeks of life may be stressful for a variety of reasons, and they may be in a higher sympathetic state. Common signs of this are decreased digestion or constipation, fussiness, inability to sleep well, and discomfort during breastfeeding. Gentle cranial sacral adjustments can help balance these two important systems and bring a sense of calm to the infant. When an infant is more balanced, she will be more comfortable nursing, digesting and sleeping.

Other neurological markers such as rooting reflex, gag reflex and suck reflex are used to determine appropriate neurological function. In many infants with a difficulty breastfeeding, one or more of these markers is abnormal. Take the gag reflex, for example. If an infant has a heightened gag reflex, they may have a difficult time being able to take the appropriate amount of breast tissue into their mouth for a successful latch. They may also gag during the mothers let down and become disoriented trying to latch again. Once again, this is a sign of imbalance or stress on the neurological system that can be carefully corrected through gentle chiropractic care.

The Doctors at Rhinebeck Chiropractic; with locations in Poughkeepsie, Beacon and Rhinebeck have chosen to focus on caring for pregnant women and children throughout the Hudson Valley. The techniques they use are appropriate for the diverse population that they serve. Care is always taken to be gentle, safe and specific in the treatment of infants and children. A chiropractic examination and adjustment for an infant looks and feels much different than for an adult.  Adjustments for infants never require forces that exceed a few ounces of pressure. Efforts are made in the office to educate parents about what we do and we encourage discussion of concerns upon starting care.  We take pride in our results and know just how important fostering a healthy breastfeeding relationship is for both mother and baby and we do our best to deliver personalized care that stands out for these populations.