Getting Over the Hump: Help For Breastfeeding
Dr. Brenda Trudell, DC

August 1-7th is World Breastfeeding Week, an event celebrated all over the globe to encourage and promote breastfeeding awareness.  Breastfeeding has been around as long as man, and yet, to many it seems about as foreign as Mars. Ever since their start in 1956, La Leche League has had one goal, “To help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.”

By now, everyone should realize the absolutely amazing health benefits of mother’s milk for infants. It supplies all the vital nutrients, minerals, proteins, vitamins, enzymes, antibodies and more to get babies through their first stages of life. Its life-saving properties can even help protect the young during times of pandemics, such as the swine flu. Breastfeeding encourages optimal neurological programming and development of the baby, and is the best way for a mom and baby to bond. Yet many mothers struggle with the very real reality that they cannot, for a variety of reasons, seem to breastfeed. This article discusses options for moms who want to breastfeed to “get over the hump” and get the help that they or their babies need.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that more women and babies than ever before are having difficulties nursing. Breastfeeding difficulties can affect the mom or the baby. Some of them are failure to latch, biting the nipple, choking, gagging, frequently pulling off breast, unable to fully open mouth, short feeding times, wanting one breast only, difficulty turning head to feed, excessive crying, fussiness at breast, low weight gain, gas, bloating, low milk production, painful nipples, and too weak or strong let down reflex.

On the surface, this may seem almost impossible, for if it wasn’t for breastfeeding, none of our ancestors would have survived, and hence we would not be here. There were no fancy books, educational classes or lactation consultants available, and certainly no infant formulas to feed babies. So what has changed?

Many feel that modern interventions in pregnancy, labor and delivery are affecting babies more than anyone realized, and that these children cannot nurse properly due to drugs, birth trauma and injuries. C-sections, premature deliveries, epidurals, pitocin, unusual presentation, delivery on mother’s back, forceps, and vacuum extractions can add a great deal of stress to the delicate skull, cervical spine, spinal cord and nerves of the infant. If a baby is groggy, or if there is damage to the nervous system, cranium, vertebrae, joints or muscles around the head and neck area, you can be sure that there will be some difficulty in nursing.

Even in the best of births, there can still be trauma to the TMJ (jaw joint), cranial distortions and spinal misalignments. 5 of the 12 cranial nerves affect breastfeeding by controlling the muscles of the face, mouth, tongue and swallowing. These delicate nerves exit near the base of the skull and can be injured if too much force is applied during delivery. The TMJ joint can be misaligned as well, affecting how wide or straight the mouth can open. Twisting the neck can misalign vertebrae and cause irritation to nerves that affect swallowing, breathing, and turning the head.

Perfect harmony is needed between the nervous system and the body for this intricate process to work properly. When there is structural damage to joints, muscles, nerves, or the spinal cord, communication is interfered with, and nursing may not happen at all. A chiropractor, lactation consultant or medical doctor should be able to recognize symptoms in the infant that may show a need for help.

These symptoms include inability to turn head fully in either direction, persistently tipped or rotated head, elevated skull on one side, cone shaped head, tight or pursed lips or mouth, uneven or high palate, strong gag reflex, tongue is rigid &amp pointy or pulls off to one side instead of being soft &amp rounded, jaw deviates to one side when opening mouth, not being able to fully open mouth, arching back, or one shoulder appears higher than the other.

It is important to find a professional trained in bodywork therapy to address structural complaints after more serious neurological problems have been ruled out. Chiropractors trained in pediatrics and craniosacral therapists may be able to help the mom and the baby. Chiropractic adjustments can help mom by balancing the nervous system, increasing milk flow, and reducing tension so she can relax. The baby can be helped by re-establishing proper communication, alleviating cranial distortions, and removing misalignments in the spine and TMJ, which will relieve the symptoms described above. In fact, almost all native cultures have birth attendants who use some combination of spinal manipulation, cranial work, and massage on the infant after birth, and do not leave until the baby can feed at the breast.

Other treatments may also be needed depending on the problem. For low milk production, herbs can be very beneficial. Fenugreek has been around for centuries in China, India and the Middle East, and is the most common herb to increase milk supply, often within 24-72 hours. Alfalfa leaf and blessed thistle have also been shown to increase milk production as well. Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine can help with breastfeeding difficulties such as low milk supply, breast engorgement, mastitis or blocked ducts, irritated nipples.

Mastitis is an infection of the breast in which the mom may experience breast tenderness, swelling and redness, flu-like symptoms, pain and a fever. During this time, it is important to KEEP NURSING to help release the blockage, and make to sure start with the infected side. Mom should slow down, get rest, drink fluids, use a cold compress with a rosemary or dandelion poultice, eat raw garlic, increase vitamins D and C, take fish oil and probiotics, and try a warm shower. Chiropractic adjustments and acupuncture can also help, although care should be used to avoid irritating the tender breasts.

Breastfeeding is such an important part of our human existence, and if a woman is determined to make it happen, she should know that there are many resources that can help her and her child. By working in conjunction with lactation consultants, chiropractors and craniosacral therapists, each woman should get the support she needs to continue providing this gift to her baby.

Dr. Brenda Trudell is a chiropractor and owner of New Beginnings Chiropractic in Mount Horeb.  The clinic focuses on natural health, especially for women, pregnancy, infants and children through specific, safe, gentle, and effective  chiropractic care. For more information, visit