The benefits of breastfeeding can include the reduction of incidence of gastrointestinal infection, obesity and asthma; mothers have increased protection for pre-menopausal breast and ovarian cancer and rheumatoid arthritis, plus economic and environmental benefits.
But what if you find it painful or stressful or baby is struggling to latch and suck? With the stigma surrounding breastfeeding, any difficulty can lead to negative emotions and with discomfort, actually inhibit lactation and alter milk composition and secretion.
There is good news. Babies are born with reflexes to help prepare them for breastfeeding, but these must be practised and reinforced to become learned behaviour. Lactation also relies on these; sucking leads to hormonal releases and milk ejection.
If problems occur, remember feeding is complex. It requires co-ordination between muscles of the tongue, throat, neck and thorax. Their heads should comfortably turn to both sides to feed equally from each breast, their jaw should open wide enough to pull in enough breast tissue and create a seal with their bottom lip.
Their tongue should move sufficiently to pull the nipple backwards towards their palate and move tongue and jaw up and down to generate a negative pressure, drawing milk into their mouth.
Unsettled behaviour, fatigue when feeding, pulling on and off the breast and noisy feeds can be indicators of a feeding dysfunction. Does baby prefer one breast? Do you get soreness, engorgement or mastitis?
A thorough osteopathic history and examination can identify if there are any musculoskeletal reasons for difficulties. Gentle treatment involving stretching, massage and home exercises can help to alleviate these causes, improving babies’ physical capabilities for effective breastfeeding.
Gemma works at Broadwater Osteopathic Practice in Worthing, Sussex. She has a masters degree in osteopathy, alongside a diploma in paediatric osteopathy. To make an appointment with Gemma, please call 01903 820206.