Chiropractic Care and the Breastfed Infant
When you saw this title, you may have wondered, what is a blog post about chiropractic care doing on a lactation consultant’s website? To answer that, let's consider the chiropractic care definition, and how some breastfeeding difficulties may be connected to the defined scope of chiropractic treatment. The American Chiropractic Association defines chiropractic as “a health care profession that focuses on disorders of the musculoskeletal system and the nervous system, and the effects of these disorders on general health. Chiropractic care is used most often to treat neuromusculoskeletal complaints, including but not limited to back pain, neck pain, pain in the joints of the arms or legs, and headaches.” There can be connections between infant musculoskeletal discomfort and a bad latch (among other potential impediments to meeting your breastfeeding goals).
You may have heard of chiropractic adjustments and may have even experienced one during pregnancy. I don't regularly see a chiropractor, but in my limited personal experience - had an adjustment during my pregnancy, went into labor the very next day, and had a successful VBAC.
However, my primary interest in starting some dialogue on the topic of chiropractic care and breastfeeding is on infant adjustments instead of how chiropractic treatment may play into other pre- or post-natal care for momma. For the breastfed infant there is both anectodal and research-based data to suggest that chiropractic care can be invaluable for achieving and maintaining effective and comfortable feeding at the breast.
What’s involved in an Infant Adjustment
An infant chiropractic adjustment is not unlike an adult adjustment in terms of the areas that are often in need of tweaking. An infant adjustment is, however, much gentler. A local chiropractor explained it this way:
“You wouldn’t shake an infant’s hand the same way you would an adult’s, right? That’s the difference. I’m much gentler in my approach because the infant’s body calls for that gentle touch. The pressure is similar to how you might check the ripeness of a tomato. Sometimes babies even sleep through the whole thing!”
For some it helps to see just what an infant adjustment will look like. As I’m no chiropractor, I won’t attempt to explain the ins and outs of an adjustment, so here is a great video with explanations.
Suck, Swallow, Breathe, Repeat
Breastfeeding is the optimal means of infant nutrition. In order to properly feed at the breast, the infant must coordinate the reflexes of sucking, swallowing and breathing. Unfortunately, modern birth procedures can cause trauma and stress to the infant’s cranium and spine and interfere with these most necessary of functions. Breastfeeding requires numerous muscles in the face (the lips, cheeks, tongue, etc.) that extend down into the jaw and neck. Any misalignment can challenge the symphony of breastfeeding.
Some Reasons Babies Need Chiropractic Care
There are numerous situations where a breastfed infant can benefit from chiropractic care. As I alluded to in the intro, birth itself can cause trauma to the newborn and create misalignment. Sometimes a baby, who is fussy and always at the breast, but otherwise gaining well, may benefit from the gentle touch of a chiropractor to realign the spine after a difficult labor and birth. Torticollis or a “twisted neck” is another condition that may cause a newborn to favor one side, making milk removal from one breast less than optimum. This can lead to supply issues and/or breast inflammation for mom. And lastly, but certainly not the least, a baby with ankyloglossia or tongue-tie can benefit from body work like chiropractic care. A baby whose tongue is tethered tightly to the floor of his mouth likely also has tight muscles in the surrounding area. Chiropractic care is often the second step after a tongue-tie revision and, in my experience, often leads to breastfeeding resolution.
How to Pick your Chiropractor
Not all chiropractors are trained in infant care. Just as some medical doctors specialize in podiatry or ear, nose and throat, there are also specialized chiropractors. One way to identify a chiropractor who is qualified to work on infants is to look for one who has completed training through the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association or ICPA. They complete a rigorous 400 hour competency and certification program and are well-qualified to work on the most fragile of bodies. Check out their website for more information and research on the subject. At my office in Birthmarks, I am lucky enough to be down the hall from a certified chiropractor. Dr. Erica of OptiLife spends several days a month at Birthmarks providing chiropractic care to families. She has over a decade of experience working on newborns and children and understands the link between a sound body and a healthy breastfeeding relationship.
Have you taken your infant for a chiropractic adjustment? Do you think your breastfed baby would benefit from chiropractic care? It's always a good idea to speak with an IBCLC for a full breastfeeding assessment first; chiropractic care may just be what she recommends!