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How can Osteopathy assist newborns with feeding?

Updated: Oct 11, 2023

Were you aware that for an infant to feed successfully, they must coordinate the actions of sucking, swallowing, and breathing? This seemingly simple process relies on the proper functioning of 6 cranial nerves, over 60 muscles, and 22 bones, all working in harmony to allow your precious little one to feed. It's truly astonishing that many newborns manage this without any issues, as the complexity involved is remarkable.

However, poor sucking and feeding can disrupt the transfer of milk from mother to baby. This not only affects the immediate milk intake but can also impact future milk production due to milk stasis. This creates a cycle where reduced milk production further complicates the baby's feeding, perpetuating the issue. The first month of a baby's life is critical, and they are most vulnerable to being weaned from breastfeeding during this time. Of those who decide to stop breastfeeding, fifty percent cite biomechanical issues with their baby as the problem.

During the initial weeks of motherhood, whether for first-time moms or those with multiple children, navigating everything can be quite daunting. It is precisely during this period that support and education on lactation and breastfeeding become most important.

Research indicates a strong association between poor sucking and certain birthing interventions, such as epidural, analgesics, forceps delivery, vacuum extraction, induction of labor, caesarean birth, or long and difficult labors.

Babies experience significant forces during birth, and their heads have 34 sutures or joints that allow 22 bones to overlap and adapt as they navigate through their mother's pelvis. However, when additional force is applied during birth (e.g., forceps, vacuum suction, prolonged labor), it can impact the baby's body, affecting nerves, joints, and muscle function.

Even babies born via cesarean birth can encounter biomechanical issues with breastfeeding, as lactation consultants report more challenges in these cases compared to vaginal births.

How can an osteopath assist if your baby is experiencing mechanical issues with feeding? We approach each baby as an individual, considering all the muscles, joints, and nerves involved in the complex process of feeding. Our gentle technique called cranial osteopathy supports the body's natural healing mechanism, releasing any strains, improving movement and function of the neck, base of the head, and jaw, and restoring overall health and balance.

Recent research is showing promising results for osteopathic treatment in addressing biomechanical sucking difficulties. Studies revealed that osteopathic treatment, combined with lactation consultants' support, was more effective in improving latching and sucking compared to lactation consultants alone. Additionally, a small pilot study found that infants with sucking dysfunction experienced significant improvement in the quality of their feeding after receiving osteopathic treatment.


  • Smith LJ., & Kroeger, M. Impact of Birthing Practices on Breastfeeding Second edition

  • Homdrum, A., & Miller, J. (2015). Maternal report of feeding practices: A cross-sectional survey of 1753 mothers presenting infants to a chiropractic teaching clinic. Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics, 15(1), 1198–1202.

  • Kearney, MH., Cronenwett, LR., Reinhardt, R. (1990) Cesarean delivery and breastfeeding outcomes. Birth, 17(2):97-103.

  • Herzhaft-Le Roy, J., Xhignesse, M. & Gaboury I. (2016). Efficacy of an Osteopathic Treatment Coupled With Lactation Consultations for Infants’ Biomechanical sucking difficulties: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Human Lactation, Vol(1) 165-171.

  • Fraval, M. (1998). A pilot study: Osteopathic treatment of infant with a sucking dysfunction. Journal of the American Academy of Osteopathy, 8(2), 25–33.


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