Breastfeeding is natural but may not come naturally!

For many mothers the delight of breastfeeding their newborn baby may not have been easy at first.

In fact, most mothers at times may experience discomfort, nipple soreness, pain associated with cracked nipples and poor latch/suck, engorgement and possibly mastitis in the first few weeks of breastfeeding their newborn baby. Getting through the first 2-3 weeks is probably the most difficult time for most mothers, especially if it’s your first time. But if you can, stick with it, as it does get easier.

Common questions

After the euphoria of giving birth, many questions around breastfeeding start to pop up from how should I hold my baby when I feed? Do I have enough milk? How will I know if my baby is getting enough breast milk? How long should I wait between feeds? How long should my baby feed for? Should I feed from one or both breasts per feed? Is it ok if my baby falls to sleep on the breast? Do I need to burp my baby after each feed? Is it ok to use a nipple shield? And can my baby use a dummy if I’m feeding? These and many other questions are only natural!

As an osteopath and mother of four, my clinical experience has been that when there are breastfeeding difficulties, most of the time the baby is the cause and not the mother! The mechanics involved in breastfeeding for a newborn baby are complex, and if the baby has experienced any form of difficulty or trauma during delivery then these mechanics can be easily compromised.

Birthing process

At birth, the hypoglossal nerve that supplies the muscles of the tongue pass between two soft cartilaginous bones of the skull (occiput) which articulate with the highest vertebrae of the neck (C1). This area between the skull and the C1 vertebrae is under a lot of stress and strain during the birthing process which can compromise the function of the hypoglossal nerve and make for poor sucking mechanics. The jaw, its associated joint (TMJ) and muscles can also be strained in the process of birthing. The neck is also vulnerable to strains which may result in the baby turning its head to one side which may make it difficult to feed off the other breast. Also keep in mind that birth trauma can be very stressful for babies, and as such newborns can tire easily in those first few days so may not initially breastfeed for as long.

Signs of mechanical strain

These maybe signs that your baby may have a mechanical strain relating to poor attachment and/or suck:

  • Fussy baby at breast
  • Pulls on and off
  • Arches away from breast
  • Chews on the nipple
  • Prefers one breast over another
  • Baby favours turning head to one side
  • Breast refusal

How osteopathy can help

We have found babies experiencing breastfeeding difficulties due to strains in the joints, ligaments or muscles of the jaw, neck, and/or cranial base may respond very well to osteopathic treatment. When a baby’s mechanics for latching and sucking are functioning smoothly then the action of breastfeeding is actually not painful. It is still normal of course to get sore and even cracked nipples when you start out as a baby’s suck is very strong.

This natural thing called breastfeeding sure does take a lot of effort from us mums but is absolutely worthwhile! I believe one of the best gifts you can give your child is breast milk, whether it comes straight from the breast or expressed breast milk in a bottle or the combination of breast and formula. What a golden gift for your child!


cartoon breastfeeding

Relevant links: Australian Breastfeeding Association



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