Any time something brushes an infant’s cheek, they should turn their head to that side and start looking for somewhere to latch. For some reason, not all babies develop this reflex upon being born. 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 brainstem 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. Therefore, we can’t 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.
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.
The 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 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 have long lasting effects.