Imagine the frustrations of a new mother having difficulty with breastfeeding her newborn. Ideally, this is a time of bonding, but studies suggest that 13-44% of infants experience problems with breastfeeding. If left untreated, infant feeding disorders can lead to failure to thrive, or interfere with physical, mental, and social development. The infant’s “job” during the early months is to eat, sleep, and grow. These functions are governed by the nervous system, which regulates digestion, immunity, and sleep/wake cycles. Neurospinal dysfunction can impede proper growth and development if the biomechanics of breastfeeding are suboptimal.
Breastfeeding problems can include:
- Postural and positional alterations that create a preference for one breast vs. the other
- Inefficient latching due to poor control of mouth, tongue, and neck muscles
- Difficulty with coordinating the biomechanics of sucking, swallowing, and breathing
The biomechanics of breastfeeding are complex and require a high level of coordination from the infant’s nervous system. A newborn uses sixty voluntary and involuntary muscles to suck, swallow, and breathe. This cycle repeats 40-60 times per minute, 10-30 minutes per feeding, 8-16 times per day. Based on these estimates, a newborn typically performs this cycle about 10,000 times per day. These 10,000 cycles are coordinated by cranial nerves that arise from the brainstem and exit from the skull. Of the twelve cranial nerves, those numbered 5, 7, 9, 10, 11, and 12 control muscles in the head, neck, digestive tract, and respiratory system.
Some of these cranial nerves also send sensory information from head and neck structures back to the brainstem. Breastfeeding relies on primitive reflexes like rooting and suckling. These neurological reflexes depend on correct interpretation of a sensory stimulus like touching the baby’s cheek, which causes it to turn its head in search of sustenance. This example is the rooting reflex. If the neurospinal system is malfunctioning, the muscular contractions involved in suckling may increase tension on cranial nerves and produce headache pain in the infant.
To a significant extent, breastfeeding difficulties can be successfully addressed by a chiropractor with pediatric training. The amount of pressure used to assess and correct neurospinal dysfunction in an infant is roughly the same amount of pressure used to test the ripeness of a tomato. Pediatric chiropractic for infants with breastfeeding difficulty is safe and simple, in the hands of a well-trained chiropractor.