There are many things that can affect the way a baby feeds, including positioning, handholds, tongue and jaw movement, but this post is going to focus on neck movement.
Babies can sometimes have tension in their neck which can lead to them having a preference as to which way they like to look. There are a number of things that may contribute to this, including a tricky birth, possibly with forceps or ventouse and the position that the baby was in in-utero.
Neck tightness and a preference to look one way can sometimes mean that babies may find feeding more tricky on one side than the other. For example, if a baby is more comfortable looking to their right side they may feed well when they are turning that way, but when they are feeding on Mum's right side they are being encouraged to look to their left, which may not be as easy.
The muscles in the neck are closely related to the muscles that control the jaw movements too. Sometimes neck tightness can be linked to jaw tightness, particularly if a baby has had a tongue tie or if they are struggling to opening their mouth wide to establish a deep latch.
So how can we tell if a baby has any neck tightness?
Things to look out for are:
A baby that always looks one way. This is often noticeable when they are sleeping - do they always let their head rock to the same side? Sometimes looking through pictures of the baby and seeing if there is a clear pattern can help!
If they have a particular preference for which side they feed from. Do they click when feeding just on one side?
Any flattening on one side of their head. The bones in babies skulls are not fully fused when they are born, meaning their skulls are slightly softer. If they put more pressure on one side of their head this can sometimes lead to flattening on that side - often referred to as a plagiocephaly.
What can we do to help?
One of the best things to do is repositioning - encourage your baby to look to their less preferred side. This can often be done while playing - talking to them on that side and put toys on that side. In the car you can put a mobile or toy on their less preferred side. At night time you can arrange their crib so that you are on their less preferred side.
Trying different feeding positions that they may find more comfortable. There are many to try such as the rugby ball, koala or side lying position. There are lots of feeding support groups available where you can go for more advice.
Tummy time - this is a great way for babies to build their neck strength and stretch the muscles at the front of their neck. You can mix it up so babies enjoy it more - for example tummy time on mum or dads chest is a great one because they are supported but can still see and interact with you. There are also lots of tummy time mats availible so your baby has new and interesting things to look at.
If you are concerned about your babies feeding there are many support services available, you can always speak to your GP, health visitor, midwife, local breast feeding support group or lactation consultants.
Osteopaths can work alongside lactation consultants to give postural advice related to breast feeding. Osteopathy is very gentle and can include massage that may relax tensions and help soothe your baby.
Here are some links to NHS and local support services in Cheshire East.
If you have any questions please do get in touch!