You have probably heard that Chiropractic care can help with breastfeeding issues. However, you probably have not been told how specifically this can help. There are a wide variety of things that can impact how well a baby is able to breastfeed. Cranial alignment, spinal alignment, TMJ (temporomandibular joint) alignment, fascial restriction, dural restriction, tongue tie, lip tie, cranial nerve function, etc. There are clearly more things that can impact breastfeeding, but these are the major ones in which chiropractors can help. This article will go over each of these aspects and explain how and why they can affect nursing.
Let’s start with spinal alignment. It was found in a study many years ago that up to 95 percent of babies born had some degree of upper cervical misalignment. The Upper cervical consists of the C1 or atlas and the C2 or axis vertebrae. The occiput sits right on the Atlas and closely affects upper cervical alignment as well. Babies go through a traumatic experience being born and most develop some type of misalignment. This upper cervical alignment is very important for several reasons. One is that this is the area of the brain stem. The brain stem is home to many of the vital centers of breathing heart rate blood pressure as well as the origin of many of the cranial nerves that innervate the head, neck, tongue and throat. If there is a misalignment in the upper cervical spine around these areas, then it can lead to inflammation that affects the brain stem function and the cranial nerve function. Altered cranial nerve function can cause an abnormal suck/swallow/breath pattern or affect how the tongue and jaw move to latch and suckle. Upper cervical misalignment can also lead to tight musculature and fascia in the upper neck. This can cause the baby not to be able to open their mouth as wide or hold a latch through the whole suck swallow breath rhythm.
Cranial alignment and movement is very important as well. Proper occipital movement on the atlas allows for the baby to be able to tip and rotate his head optimally to find the nipple and latch. Proper temporal bone motion affects the range of motion of the jaw. The Jaw attaches into the temporal bone so if the temporal bone is not moving the way it is supposed to or it is stuck in an abnormal position it affects how the mandible is able to move in the TMJ and it may get stuck or tight while trying to open in order to latch. Altered temporal motion or positioning can lead to tight fascia or muscles that cross the TMJ. This again can pull the mandible to one side or pull the mandible into the joint too much so it can’t rotate and pivot the way it needs to in order to open fully. Altered maxillary shape and movement can affect how well the baby is able to latch or maintain a latch. The bottom of the maxilla forms the hard palate. If the palate is too high or too flat, it can make it harder for the baby to maintain a proper seal when trying to latch and suckle. The Maxilla should be a smooth semicircle from one side of the gum line to the other. Often times one side will be flat or there will be a ridge or a peak in the center of the palate which will all indicate that the maxilla is not shaped properly or moving properly.
One aspect that will affect all the cranial bones as well as whole body movement and flexibility is the dural tightness. The dura is the connective tissue that attaches from the surface of the nervous system to the surface of the skull, sacrum, and vertebrae. Most times tightness in this system is associated with the findings of a tongue and lip tie. This tightness will present as a very stiff baby. He won’t want to flex forward or droop his head toward his chest. He often is stiff and straight through the mid and upper back and down through the sacrum. He often times has shrugged shoulders and can have a tendency to arch his back often. If a child is stiff and inflexible, this is going to make it more difficult for them to relax their jaw and open wide enough for a proper deep latch. If a baby is tight and stiff and anxious trying to nurse, then typically it makes the experience quite a bit harder. Babies who are stiff like this also usually have fascial restrictions through their neck, upper back, shoulders, often down through their sacrum and hips. Again, a baby who is tight and ridged is not going to move comfortably to get in an optimal position to open their mouth wide and achieve a proper latch and suck swallow pattern.
Lip and Tongue Tie
One of the biggest issues that is more and more prevalent today is newborns with a lip and tongue tie. I have done a whole blog post on just this topic if you want more information (here). But here is some basics. With a tongue tie there is extra tissue or tighter tissue underneath the tongue that is restricting the upward motion of the tongue. It affects other movements as well but mainly the upward motion of the back of the tongue. This means that they can’t bring the back of the tongue up to form a seal on the breast. This leads to the baby needing to alter his tongue movement to try to transfer milk. This altered movement is linked with altered throat movement during swallowing, so the suck swallow breath pattern is altered. This can lead to babies clicking while nursing, scraping the nipple with their tongue, swallowing air leading to reflux and colic. Tongue ties also cause restriction in the connective tissue throughout the jaw, throat and neck which affects how they open, latch, suck, swallow, etc.
Lip ties are additional tight tissue that connects the lip to the upper gum line. This will affect maxillary movement and shape as well as affecting how wide the baby can open his mouth to latch. Often you will notice you have to flip his upper lip up or there will be a blister that starts to form at the middle of his lip.
All of these issues can be helped by a chiropractor. Chiropractors can help align the upper cervical spine and cranial bones. A chiropractor proficient in craniosacral therapy can help stretch the dural tissue and establish proper cranial movement. Chiropractors that utilize CST usually know how to do myofascial release or bodywork to help loosen the tissue restrictions throughout the head, neck, jaw, throat, shoulders, upper back, rib cage, sacrum, and hips. They can also release and loosen the tight tissue of a tongue and lip tie to help improve tongue movement. Chiropractors can also align the TMJ itself and make sure that the surrounding soft tissue and muscles are released and relaxed so that the baby can open his mouth wide and have a better latch. Chiropractic care is essential to help babies have optimal spinal, cranial, TMJ and whole-body motion. Chiropractic care allows the baby to be as relaxed and loose as possible to be able to move his head neck and tongue as freely as possible to achieve a proper latch and breastfeed affectively.