Booby Trap Series: Coneheads and caputs: How extra force in birth can affect breastfeeding.

This is the 13th in a series of posts on Booby Traps,™ made possible by the generous support of Motherlove Herbal Company.

Ever touch your baby’s fontanel and marvel at how flexible a baby’s head is?

Babies’ heads are made to be pliant and move during birth.  It’s what’s required to twist and turn through our pelvises.

But when extra force is required to help a baby make that journey, the result can be breastfeeding difficulty.

In The Impact of Birthing Practices on Breastfeeding, Linda Smith reports on a pattern of infant related behavior which is seen in otherwise normal, healthy babies.  This pattern includes:

  • Babies who can latch but not suck
  • Babies who can only feed in one position or posture
  • Babies who cannot smoothly coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing
  • Babies who appear to suck, but cannot obtain milk from a full breast

Linda reports that, “Evidence is accumulating that poor sucking has strong associations with epidural anesthesia/analgesia, forceps delivery, vacuum extraction, induction of labor, cesarean delivery, and/or long, difficult labor, especially with occiput posterior positioning.  The baby may have visible cranial or postural asymmetry secondary to these interventions or may appear to be normal except for feeding.”  [emphasis added]

How does extra force, in either a vaginal or cesarean birth, affect breastfeeding?

A complex interplay of bones (22 of them) nerves (6) and muscles (60) are required to allow a baby to breastfeed.

When forceps or vacuum are used to assist delivery in a vaginal birth, or when force is applied to the baby’s cranial base in a cesarean birth, pressure is placed on these bones, nerves, and muscles.

Pressure can cause obstructions in movement and/or coordination.  Any obstruction, whether from the compression of a nerve, shaping of a bony structure, pain from bruising, or restriction of muscle movement, has the potential to limit the baby’s ability to breastfeed.

The result may be visible, like caputs (swelling of the soft tissue on the top of the head), forceps bruises, torticollis (muscles pulling the head to one side), or asymmetry of the jaw, face or head, or may be invisible except in feeding behavior.

For a baby with torticollis, it may feel fine to feed in a position which is consistent with his ‘head tilt,’ but very uncomfortable in another.  For a baby with a misaligned jaw it may be very difficult to latch on to the breast.  For a baby whose facial nerve is compromised, the baby may not be able to even feel the breast in her mouth.

But if extra force is sometimes necessary, what’s the Booby Trap™ here?  It’s the fact that few people acknowledge that force can affect breastfeeding.  And fewer still know how to help moms when breastfeeding is impacted.

If you suspect that the extra force required to birth your baby might be impacting his ability to breastfeed, we encourage you to seek help from a board-certified lactation consultant.  She may be able to refer you to an allied health professional – a chiropractor or cranio sacral therapist – who can provide further help.

Was extra force required to deliver your baby?  Did he or she have a caput, a conehead, bruises or other injuries, or torticollis?  Did these things affect breastfeeding?


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11 Comments | Last revised on 07/20/2011

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