Why babies struggle to breastfeed: the often overlooked problem

Why babies struggle to breastfeeding

We’re told that breast is best, but in the same breath, mothers only be expected to do their best, and if that doesn’t include breastfeeding, for whatever reason, then so be it. Plenty of kids are formula-fed and turn out just fine. Being a mother is hard enough without being hard on yourself, so no guilt trips, okay?

When it comes to breastfeeding, there are those moms who, without skipping a beat or a sip of their rooibos cappuccino, open a button and latch a baby as though breastfeeding were the most natural process in the world.

However, while the the source may be natural, nursing know-how – especially for newbie moms and their babies – often doesn’t come naturally at first. And it’s frustrating struggling to breastfeed a baby who won’t latch properly. Frustrating enough to make you want to walk up to those professional breastfeeding moms and tell them to STOP SHOWING OFF!

The good news is that most times, with a bit of trial and error and perseverance, nursing becomes one of the most rewarding parts of motherhood. A few visits with a lactation consultant can really help, too. They’re a wealth of information, and sometimes all it takes is a small tweak to get you on your way to becoming one of those breastfeeding show-offs.

Why babies struggle to breastfeed
Breastfeeding is your baby’s first stint at multitasking: sucking swallowing and breathing.

However, there may be times when mom is done the whole perseverance thing, and the cabbage leaves and the cracked, bleeding nipple, and she’s still struggling. This may be due to:

  • Baby not maintaining a firm latch
  • Baby only latching on one side
  • Baby only being able to feed in one position
  • Baby latching but not being able to sustain sucking or having a weak suckling reflex
  • Baby needing to suck 24/7
  • Baby not being able to smoothly coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing
  • Baby having difficulty opening its mouth
  • Clicking noises while baby feeds
  • Baby seeming dissatisfied when nursing or remaining fussy and distressed throughout the day
  • Baby chewing and damaging mom’s nipples

Firstly, let’s go easy on baby. Breastfeeding is your baby’s first stint at multitasking: sucking swallowing and breathing. Try do three things at once after being evicted from your home and see how you go.

Also, there’s quite a bit involved. For baby, breastfeeding requires six of the 12 cranial nerves (delicate nerves that exit near the base of the skull), 22 cranial bones and 60 muscles. Not to mention the fact that every movement of its head, face, and neck – whether big or little – occurs as a result of nervous stimulation. That’s a lot of activity going on.

In saying that, baby’s ability to breastfeed correctly can be hampered if the parts of the musculoskeletal or nervous system involved aren’t functioning as they should. And often, these parts don’t function properly because of undetected birth trauma.

After all, being born isn’t an easy ride down the birth canal. The closer baby gets to D-day, the less room there is to move, and it can spend a few weeks lying with its head or body tilted at an awkward angle.

These prolonged and fixed positions can put strain on the joints and affect their function. Then, when it’s time for delivery, great amounts of compression, twisting and pulling forces are needed to get baby out the birth canal or the uterus via Caesarean section.

What this means is, that regardless of how your baby enters the world, there’s a chance that some form of joint dysfunction occurred because of stressors applied to the head and spine at delivery. Unfortunately, these chances increase in the case of obstetric intervention (delivery by forceps or vacuum extraction).

Reasons why babies battle to breastfeed
Baby’s ability to breastfeed correctly can be hampered if the parts of the musculoskeletal or nervous system involved aren’t functioning as they should.

So, what do I mean by joint dysfunction?

Simply put, joint dysfunction means “faulty” motion. It means the joint isn’t moving the way it’s supposed to. This can happen in two ways: either there’s too little motion (hypomobility), or there’s too much (hypermobility).

When it comes to breastfeeding, the jaw, cranium (a fancy word for skull) and cervical spine play a big role. Baby needs to a have good neck range of motion and a properly functioning jaw for things to go smoothly.

When dysfunction occurs, decreased range of motion and pain can result in a baby not being able to latch properly because they can’t get comfortable. It may be difficult for baby to turn its head to one or both sides or open its mouth wide enough for a strong latch. This dysfunction could also interfere with the nerve supply that affects the suckling mechanism.

Now, if joint dysfunction is the culprit when it comes to mom’s breastfeeding nightmares, then a chiropractor can help. Research studies show that chiropractic treatment can lead to significant improvement in joint dysfunction.

Gentle and specific paediatric treatment can help to restore function by correcting faulty joint movement and reducing muscle spasm, making for a better breastfeeding experience. Check out Chiropaeds, which has a great overview of these studies.

 

About Dr Tony Karpelowsky

Tony is a chiropractor who has treated babies and children for close to 20 years, He is passionate about his work and about paediatric spinal health. Tony completed a masters dissertation on chiropractics in the treatment of infantile colic. He is one of the founding members of Paediatric Chiropractic South Africa where he continues to function as an executive member. He has been invited to speak at various schools, conferences, antenatal courses, expos, and moms’ groups.

Tony is also the founder of Dudes to Dads, a training workshop to teach new and expecting dads the information and practical tools needed to be a confident hands on father.
Outside of practice, Tony loves family time with his wife and two incredible children.

Dr Tony Karpelowsky, Chiro 4 Kids
Tony is a chiropractor who has treated babies and children for close to 20 years, He is passionate about his work and about paediatric spinal health. Tony completed a masters dissertation on chiropractic in the treatment of infantile colic. He is one of the founding members of Paediatric Chiropractic South Africa where he continues to function as an executive member. He has been invited to speak at various schools, conferences, antenatal courses, expo’s, and mom’s groups. Tony is also the founder of Dudes to Dads, a training workshop to teach new and expecting dads the information and practical tools needed to be a confident hands on father. Outside of practice, Tony loves family time with his wife and two incredible children.