Breastfeeding behavior…Is this normal?

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in a print edition of Collective Thoughts from 2010. 


by Amber Moravec, DC, FICPA

Breastfeeding has many obvious benefits. A common motivation for families is the nutritional value. Less obvious benefits to the baby are structural. Regular nursing at the breast aids the baby in cranial re-shaping and complete molding of the mouth, jaw, and tongue. Feeding at the breast induces rhythmic, deep breathing that supports the development of baby’s diaphragm, which is often tense from the birth process and/or under developed at birth. A tight diaphragm can cause increased incidence of crying or spitting up and can contribute to digestive issues like reflux and colic.

All is well when things go right, but parents often encounter situations after birth attendants or birth assistants leave. Normal, attentive parents start wondering… does every baby do this? Is this just a phase they will outgrow? Should I alert someone about this?

Some common behaviors and patterns in baby that warrant assistance from someone with experience in nursing or newborn care (such as a midwife, doula, pediatric chiropractor, cranial sacral therapist, or lactation consultant) are:

  • A nursingpattern of pulling away, latching on, pulling away
  • Prefers nursing on one breast over another
  • Jerks at the torso while nursing
  • Cries after nursing
  • Cries of frustration while latching
  • Spits up a notable amount after every feeding

The above observations and behaviors can be a sign of structural or functional distress, meaning that spinal misalignments, tight muscles, or ligaments (often due to restriction during the growth or birth process) can be causing discomfort for baby. Particular nursing positions or sleeping postures may also lead to distress in an infant’s growing body.
Baby’s diapers offer a guide to how well nursing is going. Adequate numbers of wet and poopy diapers say baby is getting enough to eat. Baby poop provides keen insight into their internal processes. After the meconium passes, exclusively breastfed babies should have mustard yellow, seedy stools that are loose in texture, with the consistency of pea soup or small cottage cheese-type curds. The odor should be mild and not unpleasant. Other textures, colors, or odors of poop should be considered abnormal.

An infant’s complaints can also stem from food sensitivities. Dairy and wheat are leading culprits when it comes to food allergies. Unless there is a strong family history of wheat/gluten issues most practitioners suggest starting with dairy elimination. Dairy tends to cause more problems and it is generally easier to remove from your diet. Restrictive dieting can be both difficult and overwhelming. This limiting diet will last a minimum of 15 days; to give both mom and baby time to purge the allergens from their systems and to respond to the absence of the irritant, if not longer. I recommend finding a professional who will provide you a list of alternative foods and strategies for success to aid you during that journey.

In many ways, breastfeeding is nature’s way of helping baby work through the residual effects of the birth process. The most experienced moms will often need four to six weeks of dedicated feeding at the breast to find a natural rhythm (every baby is different). Obstacles can happen to everyone, but in the end, a happy, content, healthy baby is a great payoff!

Dr. Amber Moravec, DC, FICPA is the mother of three beautiful children. She is a certified maternal and pediatric chiropractor and has completed extra coursework on the techniques and protocols of care for newborns, children, and pregnant women. Her practice is Naturally Aligned family chiropractic.

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