Breastfeeding — Why Is It So Hard Sometimes?

Breastfeeding — Why Is It So Hard Sometimes?

breastfeedingBreastfeeding isn’t always easy. I can remember those initial days after our first son was born wondering, “How can this be so hard?”… Fortunately, with some great advice from our midwife and a little patience, my newborn and I slowly mastered this fine art.

You can imagine my surprise then when breastfeeding our third son we both found it really tricky. Our first two sons breastfeed well but baby Quin had some attachment issues that made breastfeeding those first few weeks exhausting and painful. In fact it made me feel as though I had completely forgotten how to nurture my baby. Have you experienced breast-feeding challenges?

Having four boys and twice experiencing frustration with what is seemingly “so natural,” I can empathise with all mother-baby duo’s battling to breastfed.

Quin could not open his mouth wide enough to take in the breast tissue fully, or close his mouth to form the appropriate suction and therefore made a clicking sound with his tongue. Of course with both his parents being chiropractors we were fortunate to be able to address the issue relatively quickly. Please know that I am not suggesting that through chiropractic care all babies become happy boobie guzzlers as there are often many factors involved. Breastfeeding is not for all mother-baby duo’s but if you are desperately keen to breastfeed then chiropractic has been shown to be effective in resolving neurological and musculoskeletal problems.1 I’ll explain this further below…

Why is breastfeeding so hard sometimes?

Sometimes breastfeeding post birth is complicated further if the mother is shocked or distressed from her birth. Sadly we all know that births are unpredictable. Additionally breastfeeding can be made difficult if the newborn is drowsy from drugs used during labour – planned or unplanned. Babies showing signs of being affected by these drugs are often described by as ‘sleepy’, ‘lazy’ or ‘poor’ feeders (Thompson et al, 2010), and demonstrate reduced spontaneous nipple-seeking and breastfeeding behaviours in the first hours after birth (Forster & McLachlan, 2007).

At times mothers and babies need to be separated post birth and formula supplementation may be given – these factors can also complicate breastfeeding techniques. (Vallone, 2004; Thompson et al, 2010).

With this said it makes sense that sometimes external factors make learning and mastering breastfeeding extremely hard. With this post I’d like to explore how sometimes breastfeeding challenges can result from craniocervical subluxations (meaning the skull and upper neck do not move freely) or mechanical dysfunction of the jaw or cervical spine which may create ineffective rooting or sucking reflexes or tight musculature. (Vallone, 2004) Put simply this means that a lack of good motion of the skull, neck or jaw may create poor nerve communication impacting an infant’s capacity to breastfeed.

One research paper discusses how chiropractic can play an important role in helping to resolve difficulties with breastfeeding. In a study of 114 infants diagnosed with feeding problems, chiropractors found that 89% demonstrated neck joint restrictions, 36% showed jaw imbalance, 34% had inadequate sucking reflexes and close to 14% exhibited overt signs of birth trauma (Miller et al, 2009). All had previously been seen by other practitioners including midwifes, lactation consultants, and paediatricians. After receiving chiropractic care in addition to the support given elsewhere, all children showed improvement with 78% being able to exclusively breastfeed after 2 to 5 treatments within a 2-week time period.

A second study of 25 infants with breastfeeding difficulties found that all babies were unable to open their mouths wide enough to encompass the breast tissue or close their mouths to create adequate suction (Vallone, 2004). They were also unable to use their tongues effectively compared to controls. The majority of the babies were found to have an imbalance in the muscles around the neck and jaw along with improper movement of corresponding joints. Chiropractic adjustments and soft tissue therapy resulted in improved nursing for over 80% of the babies.
Again let me emphasis chiropractic care may not solve all breastfeeding issues for all mother-baby duos.

Why pursue Breastfeeding?

If you are keen to breastfeed then I suggest seeking the advice of recommended lactation consults and girlfriends who have successfully breastfed. If problems persist then consider finding a recommended chiropractor or osteopath skilled with children.

There are many reported health benefits to breastfeeding including

  • Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of childhood illness, lower ear infection rates by 50%, asthma by 40%, and reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by 50% (Miller et al, 2009)
  • Breastfeeding also has long-term positive effects such as reducing the risk of being overweight, obese or developing type 2 diabetes later in life (Miller et al, 2009).

I outline other benefits in Chapter 16 of Well Adjusted Babies 2nd Edition.

How a baby enters the world may impact their capacity to breastfeed?

If you are pregnant and debating the smorgasbord of birth options that are available to you, one thing I urge all mothers to do – is to consider the short and long impact of any decision that they make. All births involve an element of risk even straight forward vaginal deliveries and it is vitally important that one prepares physically, mentally and emotionally for the myriad of outcomes that can eventuate with birth. I believe all mothers have individual birthing needs, what is right for one mother may not be for another but good preparation allows us to honour our individual needs.

Here are some interesting points to bare in mind when considering birth options.

  • Forster and McLachlan (2007) state that C-section has been associated with decreased breastfeeding on the day of birth, delayed onset of lactation and lower levels of breastfeeding after leaving hospital.
  • Miller et al (2009) found that mechanical extraction of a baby’s head with forceps or vacuum can lead to trauma of the baby’s jaw and neck and prevent proper movement for breastfeeding.
  • Torvaldsen (2006) found that out of 1289 labouring women, those given epidurals or general anaesthetic opioids were less likely to fully breastfeed their infants in the few days after birth and more likely to stop breastfeeding in the first 24 weeks.

. . .
Best wishes to you all and happy breastfeeding should that be what you desire.

Jennifer Barham- Floreani
Bach. Chiropractic, Bach. App Clinical Science
Registered internationally, no longer practicing as a chiropractor in Australia.

P.S. Don’t forget — if you’d like more information about breastfeeding, please read Chapter 16 of Well Adjusted Babies.


1. Miller JE, Miller L, Sulesund A & Yevtushenko A. Contribution of chiropractic therapy to resolving suboptimal breastfeeding: A case series of 114 infants. J Manipulative Physiol Ther 2009; 32:670-674.
2. Thompson RE, Kildea SV, Barclay LM & Kruske S. An account of significant events influencing Australian breastfeeding practice over the last 40 years. Women Birth 2010 doi: 10.1016/j.wombi.2010.08.005.
3. Forster DA, McLachlan HL. Breastfeeding Initiation and Birth Setting Practices: A Review of the Literature.
4. J Midwifery Womens Health 2007;52:273-280.
5. Torvaldsen S, Roberts CL, Simpson JM,Thompson JF, Ellwood DA. Intrapartum epidural analgesia and breastfeeding: a prospective cohort study. International Breastfeeding Journal 2006, 1:24 doi:10.1186/1746-4358-1-24.
6. Vallone S. Chiropractic Evaluation and Treatment of Musculoskeletal Dysfunction in Infants Demonstrating Difficulty Breastfeeding. Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics 2004; 6(1):349-61.
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