Bodywork for Breastfeeding Difficulties

Many babies with difficult births or with anatomical issues (tongue-tie, high palate, torticollis, high or low muscle tone) benefit from bodywork to help improve their functional ability to breastfeed. Bodywork is broad term that includes any intervention that helps the function of muscles, nerves and bones - all of which are involved in the highly coordinated movements needed to effectively latch at the breast and suck. Some types of bodywork are simple and can be done by parents, such as infant massage and ensuring baby does tummy time each day. A bodyworker who specializes in babies with feeding problems can also be an invaluable resource. This might include a chiropractor, massage therapist, occupational therapist or speech therapist. The important thing is not the credential, but the breastfeeding-specific experience. According to skilled provider, Dr. Stefanie Gross Rodstater, of Adjusting the World Chiropractic in Huntersville,

"The birth process can be a traumatic experience on the spine of an infant, and the nerves that control the muscles of the neck and mouth are controlled through the spine. If a child is having trouble latching or seems to favor a side breastfeeding or sleeping, the cranial bones can be affected causing asymmetry and overall dysfunction. As a chiropractor certified in pediatrics, I see the trauma to the spine resulting in nervous system disruption that can cause colic, acid reflux, constipation, difficulties latching, etc. Correction of the misalignment of the spine and cranial bones is an easy, non-invasive solution for many infants in our office, especially in conjunction of a great lactation specialist. I encourage every mom to have their child's spine checked after delivery."

When babies are experiencing breastfeeding difficulties arising from functional limitations, parents can also work at home with their babies on easy exercises that help improve baby's coordination or range of movement. Below are four different types of "bodywork" parents can do with their babies. These should be done in a playful, gentle way that creates a positive atmosphere.

Video #1 Suck Training

Purpose: Helps organize suck patterns, improves range of motion of tongue, decreases gag sensitivity

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Directions: Hold baby in your lap in front of you on their back. Gently place your fingertip (index finger) on the roof of the mouth and allow baby to start sucking on your finger. If baby gags, pull your finger back slightly towards their gums. The goal is to gradually help baby build tolerance of touch to the highest peak of the palate. If baby generates a steady suction, play "tug of war" with your finger, encouraging baby to grip your finger as you apply gentle traction. Next, stroke baby's gums with your fingertip to encourage baby to twist and turn their tongue to follow your finger. Additional oral play recommendations may be demonstrated during a lactation consult depending on your baby's needs.

Video #2 Rhythmic Exercises

Purpose: Helps loosen tight muscles that restrict movement, integrates reflexes, and encourages equal use of left and right side of body (symmetry)

Video #3 Tummy Time

Purpose: Helps strengthen core and neck muscles involved in efficient breastfeeding. Helps prevent torticollis and flat head syndrome. We recommend about 30 minutes a day for a one month old, 60 minutes a day for a two month old, and for older babies we recommend they be placed on the floor anytime they are not being held (no seats or swings). Try tummy time after every nap.

Video #4 Massage

Purpose: Helps relax baby and loosen tense muscles. Could be especially helpful for a baby who seems tense or high strung.

Video #5 Guppy Pose

Purpose: Helps release tension under the jaw and neck for increased mobility and reduced risk of tongue-tie reattachment.

Video #6 Tongue or Lip-Tie Aftercare

Purpose: Helps prevent reattachment after release of tongue and lip ties as well as improve infant's range of motion and coordination. Skip ahead to 2:37 in the video to see demonstrations. We recommended performing stretches 3-4 times per day post frenotomy.

If you aren't sure if infant bodywork is something that would improve your breastfeeding experience, work with a Lactation Consultant who can develop an individualized care plan to help you and your baby breastfeed successfully. A breastfeeding specialist can also refer you to skilled bodywork providers in your area.

Mamas in the north Charlotte and Lake Norman area, we encourage you to setup a home visit so we can help you address these issues. If you are out of our travel area, you can setup a virtual consult with us or google "lactation consultant near me" to find local help. We also have a bodywork therapist on staff who is dual certified as a Lactation Consultant and can come to your home for bodywork and feeding support.