By Sara Castoldi
Although natural, breastfeeding can be difficult for some mothers, who might seek assistance from an osteopath. It is not for us to say whether you should or shouldn’t breastfeed, but if you choose to do so and find the process difficult, we may be able to help!
Given the biological specificity of human milk, the direct benefits for infant nutrition, growth, immunity and improved developmental outcomes have been well addressed in the literature. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, with the introduction of complementary foods and continued breastfeeding thereafter.
Lactation is a complex function: The mother must first position her baby to enable him to attach effectively to the breast. The new baby is born with reflexes, which must become integrated into learned behaviour, by practice at the breast. Once initiated, continued lactation relies on the sucking of the baby, which in turn, leads to hormonal releases, and milk ejection. The breastfeeding baby must coordinate latching, sucking, swallowing and breathing to be successful. Such successful coordination of these activities is dependant upon normal anatomy and appropriate neuromotor coordination.
The osteopath, co-operating with the obstetrician, can help a baby with breastfeeding issues. In fact, dysfunctions of the upper neck causing altered nerve input, reduced head and jaw movements, and muscular tension all influence the baby’s behaviour. These dysfunctions can occur during pregnancy or following a traumatic birth, often seen for a ventouse or forceps-assisted delivery.
What will the osteopath do? The osteopath will assess the cranium, including neck and jaw position, and determine mobility in order to evaluate whether somatic dysfunctions are altering the balance between them. Osteopathic manipulative treatment on babies is extremely delicate and will use different techniques with the aim of resolving these dysfunctions. In addition to this, the osteopath will give you advice to help make breastfeeding easier.