The Anatomy of Breastfeeding:
It’s About the Baby Too.
Breastfeeding is often portrayed as a natural and beautiful bonding experience between a mother and her baby. While this is undoubtedly true for some, others are left in a flood of tears, pain, confusion, guilt all of which can be contributing factors to post natal depression. Many professionals including midwives, lactation consultants and pediatricians provide care to mothers and their techniques and positioning. It is essential to remember that breastfeeding is a skill that both mother and baby need to learn together much like a dance. Breastfeeding difficulties can arise for various reasons, and sometimes, it’s more about the baby’s anatomy and nervous system more than the ability of the mother’s. In this blog, we will explore the anatomy of breastfeeding, focusing on why the baby’s physical factors play a crucial role in ensuring a successful breastfeeding journey.
The Baby’s Role in Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding involves not only the mother but also the baby. To achieve a harmonious breastfeeding experience, the baby needs to be pain free and have the ability to use their head, neck and mouth properly. Here are some key aspects of the baby’s anatomy and function that contribute to successful breastfeeding:
- Proper Mouth Opening:
- A baby’s ability to latch effectively begins with their mouth. A wide and open mouth allows them to take in as much breast tissue as possible. This ensures a deep latch, which is essential for efficient milk transfer.
- Babies who have difficulty opening their mouths wide may struggle to latch onto the breast correctly, leading to nipple pain and poor milk transfer.
- Due to birth trauma or prematurity some babies may have difficulty opening their mouths wide due to TMJ (temporomandibular joint) issues.
- Tongue Function:
- The tongue is a critical player in breastfeeding. A baby’s tongue is a muscle and should have the strength and coordination to create a good latch and maintain suction.
- Some cranial and neck issues prevent the nerve supply for the tongue from working in a strong and co-ordinated fashion. (refer to picture of hypoglossal nerve for tongue and positioning in head/neck)
- Babies with tongue ties, a condition where the strip of skin beneath the tongue restricts its movement, can have trouble latching and maintaining suction, making breastfeeding painful and less productive.
- Paediatric chiropractors work in conjunction with dentists and ENT Drs to do specific pre and post body work for tongue tie revisions.
- Neck and Shoulder Mobility:
- Proper motion of the baby’s neck and shoulders is essential for comfortable breastfeeding. Babies should be able to turn their heads and reach the breast without difficulty.
- Babies with restricted neck or shoulder movement may struggle to latch effectively, leading to frustration for both the baby and mother.
- Signs and symptoms of this issue include preferring one breast over the other, constant pulling on and off breast, baby always looking one way, baby crying when getting dressed and arm lifted over head, hates the car seat just to name a few.
Why Addressing Baby’s Anatomy is Crucial
It’s vital to address any anatomical issues in the baby because breastfeeding difficulties can have long-term consequences for both baby and mother.
- Establishing a Good Milk Supply:
- A baby who doesn’t latch well and cannot extract milk efficiently may not stimulate the mother’s milk supply adequately. This can lead to decreased milk production and a frustrating breastfeeding experience. Even perhaps the belief there is not enough milk and early stopping of breast feeding as a result.
- Nipple Pain and Damage:
- If the baby is not latching correctly due to anatomical issues, it can lead to nipple pain, damage, and increase the risk of mastitis for the mother.
- Frustration and Feeding Challenges:
- Babies who struggle to breastfeed may become frustrated and may not get enough milk, which can affect their growth and brain development.
- Studies have indicated mothers who struggle with breast feeding have a harder time bonding with their baby and are more prone to post natal depression.
How Chiropractic Care Can Help
Chiropractic care can be a valuable resource for addressing some of the anatomical issues that babies may face during breastfeeding. Chiropractors who specialize in pediatric care can help ensure that the baby’s spine and nervous system are functioning optimally. This can improve neck and shoulder mobility and aid in tongue-tie concerns.