Chiropractic Care for the Breastfeeding Baby!
Updated: Aug 24
Guest Blog by Naiomi Catron, RN, IBCLC of Milk Diva Lactation Services
The mechanics of breastfeeding seem pretty straightforward, right? Baby, breast, suckling, milk, everyone’s happy. But did you know, in order to breastfeed, your baby coordinates the use of the 22 bones of their skull comprising 34 joints, along with 60 voluntary and involuntary muscles under the control of six of their 12 cranial nerves? Your baby needs to use all of 1 these to learn to suck, swallow and breathe to get the milk needed to grow. With so many working parts, though, there are lots of places where the process can go wrong.
Birth itself can work against this process, even a natural birth with few interventions. Your baby’s body experiences all sorts of twists and turns to get from the womb to the outside world. Then take into account babies who are malpositioned in utero, whose mothers are immobile during labor, who need the assistance of vacuum or forceps for delivery, who are born by cesarean surgery, or who are vigorously suctioned after birth. Often we don’t connect these events with poor infant feeding, but we should.
Imagine how you feel when you have slept in a weird position. Sometimes it hurts to tilt or twist your head, and sometimes you back aches. What happens with an injury like a sprain or strain or even a chronic condition, like a herniated disc in your spine? All of these things limit your range of motion, the activities you can do and your comfort levels. The same goes for your baby - if things are out of whack, your baby is likely to be uncomfortable.
Getting the right therapy for your baby is essential, especially if you're having feeding difficulties or if your baby isn’t gaining weight. Working closely with your baby’s doctor and a lactation consultant are your likely first steps, but other healthcare professionals may be a good addition to your team. This is where chiropractic care may make a difference.
In a recent study, researchers looked specifically at how osteopathic care can help with breastfeeding difficulties. Researchers randomized 97 breastfeeding mother-baby pairs to two groups. Both groups received two visits with a board-certified lactation consultant as well as a consultation with an osteopathic physician. While one group received therapy from the osteopath, the other babies were given a sham/placebo therapy (to serve as the control group). The lactation consultant assessed the baby’s latch before and after the therapy, as well as 2 days later. The results show that babies' feeding improved better after the osteopathic therapy with no adverse effect noted, and mothers' pain was improved (at least initially). The best thing about this study is that it was a randomized controlled trial, which is the ‘gold-standard’ in research. One of the biggest drawbacks, though, is that they looked at osteopathic manipulation only and did not include other modalities of care such as chiropractic or craniosacral therapy.
In a literature review, Frye gathers evidence supporting the use of body work therapies, such as chiropractic and osteopathic care, to resolve breastfeeding difficulties, from a poor latch and fussiness to nipple pain and breast refusal. She outlines case studies, case series and a clinical trial, and concludes that “[l]imited evidence exists to support chiropractic treatment for infants with breastfeeding dysfunction” though cautions that further study is needed. Chiropractors believe body work can be effective in treating any of the following breastfeeding difficulties:
● Problems with latching, including nipple pain
● Babies who have difficulty coordinating their suck-swallow-breathe - these babies tend to be very slow feeders and don’t gain well
● Fussiness in certain breastfeeding positions and relative comfort in others
● Frequent feedings and seeming to always be hungry, especially if accompanied by poor weight gain
● Problems feeding from a bottle as well as at the breast
● Baby is just fussy or colicky and seems uncomfortable most of the time
And what about you? Are you experiencing some discomforts from the birth? Are you having milk supply problems? It might be worth seeing a chiropractor to treat your body, as well. Vallone (2007) shares case studies where low milk supply issues were resolved with chiropractic (side note; I had the privilege of being trained by her this year, at a 3 day course for LC’s on Tongue Ties). Her theory is that nerve and hormone function can be disrupted when any vertebrae are misaligned, and this can impact the breasts.
Every parent worries about the safety when investigating therapies for their child, whether it’s an over-the-counter medication or a more hands-on therapy such as chiropractic. Because of this, Hawk and colleagues have developed guidelines for chiropractors working with children. In this study, researchers conducted a literature review looking at safety and efficacy of treating children. Based on their findings, they outline evidence-based guidelines for the healthcare providers which parents can also use to be sure their child’s care is appropriate. Vallone and Carnegie-Hargreaves (2016) also provide comprehensive guidance for chiropractors that may also be useful for parents. They outline a ‘whole child’ approach to care that takes into consideration what might be causing the breastfeeding difficulties and how a chiropractic provider can structure the history and exam to best diagnose and treat the infant.
ICPA certified Chiropractor, Dr. Stephanie Gessner of HomeBody Chiropractic Care in Austin, Texas explains, "A chiropractic adjustment on an infant is incredibly gentle! A pediatric chiropractor will only use the amount of pressure you would use to test the ripeness of a tomato to gently adjust the area of the spine that needs correction."
Still on the fence? The International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) has a collection of research that might help. www.ICPA4kids.com