Newsletter #47: Chiropractic Care for Breastfeeding

By Dr Eve Van der Perre, BMSG Volunteer

Dr Eve is a practising chiropractor who was previously a volunteer with BMSG between 2018 and 2020. She is currently based in Senegal, West Africa.

All babies want to breastfeed, but sometimes things just get in the way

Ideally when a baby is born, they would be placed ‘skin-to-skin’ flat on their tummy, allowed to rest until they’re ready to search for a nipple, and left in peace until they’ve latched on, fed and are ready to sleep. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen as often as it might. At the hospital, babies are invariably placed up in a cradle position and a sheet or towel is usually placed between baby and mother; they have hats put on them, they get whisked away for weighing and measuring, even injections, and sometimes they’re routinely suctioned. However, babies’ instincts are strong and even when conditions aren’t ‘perfect’, they prevail. Babies are smart and are always learning. Even if they don’t get to have a “golden hour” (or two) of uninterrupted skin-to-skin as soon as they arrive, it still works when they’re reunited, and it always helps to initiate breastfeeding. Placing a newborn baby’s bare skin to the mother’s own skin immediately calms both the mother and baby and triggers the baby’s innate feeding reflexes – it’s magical.

Birth Interventions

Some babies need a little time, and sometimes a little help, to get the hang of breastfeeding. When I meet a baby who is struggling to feed, I want to know all about the birth, and if mother and baby were separated for any reason. I want to know if the labour was long – perhaps the head was tilted to one side and labour didn’t progress. Imagine how sore your neck would be if you held your head to one side for hours, even without contractions going on around you! Perhaps the labour was very fast and the head had to mould very quickly, or perhaps there was an assisted delivery – imagine the headache you’d have! 

Eve, a practising chiropractor, sees babies with musculoskeletal issues including breastfeeding difficulties. [Credits: Eve Van der Perre]

Unfortunately, birth interventions are common and can negatively impact breastfeeding. Apart from the physical aspects, mothers who have had to have “help” in birth may feel less capable and less confident that they can breastfeed.

How Can Chiropractic Help Babies?

Chiropractors are musculoskeletal specialists, meaning they are interested in bones and the joints between them, and in all the soft tissues that hold everything together and facilitate movement – the muscles, tendons, ligaments, fascia. They’re also especially interested in helping the nervous system function optimally because it controls and regulates everything in our bodies.

Chiropractors are trained as primary care providers, meaning they’re able to diagnose and know when to refer if needed, if something is out of their scope.

Paediatric chiropractic adjustments are not like chiropractic adjustments for adults! The purpose of each gentle adjustment is to release restrictions to enable proper balanced movements to happen. These releases only need as much pressure as you would use to feel how ripe a tomato is.

Paediatric chiropractic care is gentle and safe for babies. [Credits: Eve Van der Perre]

Common Issues Chiropractors See

Breastfeeding requires 60 voluntary and involuntary muscles all working together in concert. 22 bones are involved, connected at 34 sutures (joints), and 6 cranial nerves. Musculoskeletal issues in the skull, jaw, neck or shoulder can all affect breastfeeding.

Common issues chiropractors see include:

  • babies who hold their head to one side, often refusing to feed on one or other side
  • babies who are clearly uncomfortable and arch away when brought to the breast 
  • babies whose suck is weak or disorganised, often after having a tongue-tie cut
  • babies who fall asleep at the breast, tired out from the effort of feeding 
  • babies who clamp down on the nipple or who are not opening their mouth wide enough to get a good deep latch

Often problems are attributed to breastmilk flow, and usually that is part of the picture. However, remember that breastmilk production is determined by stimulation. For example, a baby who is latching well on one side will stimulate that side more which will then produce more milk. This then reinforces the baby’s preference for that side.

Chiropractic care for breastfeeding is evidence based; new research is always welcome but a growing body of studies continues to be published to show chiropractic to be safe and effective.

Chiropractic care can also benefit the breastfeeding mother.
[Stock Photo]

Chiropractic Can Also Help Breastfeeding Mothers

When I observe a mother and her baby breastfeeding, as a chiropractor I’m interested in the baby’s alignment but also the mother’s posture – is everyone comfortable?

I ask mothers to imagine they’re drinking a big glass of wine or something else they really enjoy and haven’t had for a while – that usually gets a smile! Try tucking your chin down to your chest, how easy is it to enjoy your drink? Or turn your head round to one side, how long would you want to keep drinking? It’s logical that babies will feed better when they’re comfortable.

The mother’s posture is very important; breastfeeding positions need to be comfortable and sustainable. Postpartum bodies are often achy and are vulnerable to strains and sprains from the increased relaxin released in the body to allow the pelvis to open. It affects all the joints and ligaments and takes up to 5 months to go back to normal, coupled with the new bio-mechanical stresses of caring for a newborn.

I like to get mothers lying back with lumbar support, taking the pressure off their pelvis and recovering perineum area. I want to see their neck and shoulders relaxed and their arms supported. When we’re stressed and sore, the milk doesn’t let down so easily!

It’s not uncommon for mothers to experience neck and upper-back strains in birth, which are then compounded by hunching to breastfeed – all while tired and overwhelmed. Plus the low back and pelvis are finding their new normal after pregnancy and birth. Gentle chiropractic treatment for the postpartum mother helps restore normal movement and nerve function, increasing wellbeing and supporting recovery.

Chiropractic care can help breastfeeding dyads get past some of the things that can get in the way – so babies can get on with growing, healthy and connected, and mothers can ease into their new role a little more comfortably.