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So, you and baby can’t quite get the hang of this nursing thing.

You’ve scoured the internet. You’ve visited a support group. You’ve tried everything and still end up in pain, with a ‘hangry’ baby, wanting to throw your breast pump against the wall. I mean, it’s no wonder why so many moms give up on breastfeeding! 

It is not easy. And contrary to popular belief, mothers and babies don’t just magically know what to do and have this euphoric, bonding experience from day one. 

Whether or not you’re reading this page because “all else has failed and this is my last ditch effort”, here are some of the things we can do to figure out what’s up and help baby get on track in the nursing department.

Check for Rooting Reflex

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.

Check for Sucking Reflex

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.

Check jaw alignment

The jaw is a complicated joint. It moves in little circles when functioning correctly during nursing. 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.

Check head rotation

Getting into the proper position to nurse involves a good amount of rotation of the neck for baby. Most of the ability to turn the head comes from the joint at the very top of the spine. If the bones that make up this joint are misaligned then the baby’s range of motion will be decreased (and this is an incredibly common area to be misaligned after birth due to the stress and pressure that goes into moving through the birth canal). 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.

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.

Tongue ties, lip ties, and many other things may be contributing to baby’s difficulty nursing, but please don’t give up before trying an adjustment! Call us or book an appointment below if you have any questions. 

Here are resources for CranioSacral therapy and other gentle body work for breastfeeding problems.

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