Every mum-to-be is told of the benefits of breastfeeding; the incidence of gastrointestinal infection, obesity and asthma is reduced in breast fed infants, mothers have increased protection for pre-menopausal breast and ovarian cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, not to mention the economic and environmental benefits.
But what about those who wish to breastfeed but find it a painful or stressful experience? Or for those whose baby is struggling to latch and suck? With so much stigma surrounding breastfeeding, when there are difficulties mums can feel a whole range of emotions. These, alongside maternal discomfort, can actually inhibit lactation and alter milk composition and secretion.
The good news is that virtually all mothers and healthy full-term babies have the capacity to breastfeed successfully. Babies are born with reflexes to prepare them for breastfeeding, but these reflexes need to be practiced and reinforced to become learned behaviour. The mother’s lactation also relies on these reflexes; a baby’s sucking leads to hormonal releases and milk ejection.
When there are problems breastfeeding, mothers often blame themselves, assuming that the problem lies with them – they must be doing something wrong, or their milk isn’t good enough. However, establishing the above requires co-ordination between muscles of the tongue, throat, neck and thorax in the baby. Baby needs to be able to comfortably turn their head to both sides to feed equally from each breast. They should open their jaw wide enough to pull in enough breast tissue and create a good seal with their bottom lip. They must also be able to move their tongue sufficiently in order to pull the nipple in a backwards direction towards their palate and move their tongue and jaw up and down to generate a negative pressure, drawing milk into their mouth.
So, how do you know if feeding is dysfunctional? Look out for unsettled behaviour, fatigue when feeding, pulling on and off the breast and particularly noisy feeds. Feeding from one breast better than the other is also informative. Mum might also have sore nipples, breast engorgement or mastitis.
If you are experiencing any of these, help is at hand. A thorough case history and examination of mum and baby can help to identify any neuromuscular skeletal reason behind breastfeeding difficulties, and treatment for mum and baby can help to alleviate these causes, improving both of their physical capabilities for effective breastfeeding. Call or email us for more information or to book an appointment.