An Osteopathic Approach to Poor Latch

Have you had trouble breastfeeding? Have you been trying to get your baby’s neck to extend, or heard about the “tummy to tummy” thing but not really got it working? Or perhaps have you had trouble with your baby not opening their mouth very wide, only attaching to the nipple, or even just generally causing pain while they are breastfeeding.

All these are really common problems for new mothers.  Lactation Consultants do a fabulous job of helping most mothers to position their babies better so that these problems go away, but sometimes problems still persist if your babies body is strained and that is when a different viewpoint can be helpful.

Common strain pattern 1: Torticollis, where the baby looks to one side 

Sometimes, despite optimal positioning, there is tension in the baby’s body which is not allowing it to latch on and breastfeed well.  Some of the most common strains in a newborn after birth come from being in utero and some come from the birth itself – in fact even caesarean births can be difficult for a baby sometimes!

If there hasn’t been much room in utero for those last 6-8 weeks, then a newborn may have some twisting through their neck from having their head engaged in the mothers pelvis but their body still moving a little.  Another time a twisting strain can occur in the neck is during the birth as the baby twists through the birth canal.

These twisting strains can lead to a baby who breastfeeds well from one side and not from the other (either causing pain for the mother or causing them to be very fussy on that side).

Common strain pattern 2: Neck flexion (nodding position) where the baby can't look up easily

Another common strain in the neck from birthing is that the baby is unable to extend their neck (i.e. look up) very easily.  This can make it really hard to breastfeed – have you ever tried opening your mouth when you’re looking down? You can’t open it very wide at all!

These babies are difficult to get latched on because their mouth won't open wide and they won't stick out their tongue very far.  They often end up only on the end of the nipple with very little in their mouth (which will often cause pain for the mother).

They may feed for long periods or may become fussy at the breast because they can't get enough milk.

Common strain pattern 3: Strain in the throat 

Finally, the most important and common strain that I treat in babies who are having difficulty breastfeeding is in the little bone in the throat (it’s called the hyoid bone).  The muscles of the tongue attach to it, as do all of the muscles from the jaw and the muscles which join on to the collar bone and sternum, and even one that goes onto the shoulder blade. Pretty complex stuff! It’s not hard to imagine that if one of those structures isn’t functioning well with the others that it can affect the whole way the tongue moves!

These babies don't stick out their tongue well as its being held down.  This may make them fussy at the breast because they are unable to get much milk.

As an osteopath I assess and very gently treat all those areas for a baby who is not breastfeeding well, and also because I have had my own breastfeeding troubles and thought about the mechanics of them I like to check out how the baby is feeding and give feedback to the mother about various positioning that may be making it difficult for the baby.

Rebecca Baxter is a qualified osteopath who graduated in 2004.  She is a mum of two beautiful boys and struggled at first with breastfeeding both of them.  Her passion for figuring out a solution lead to her really examining the mechanics of breastfeeding from an osteopathic view.