Hello. I’m Dr. Lynn Gerner and I’m a Chiropractor.
The Oxford dictionary defines a Chiropractor as:
“A practitioner of the system of integrative medicine based on the diagnosis and manipulative treatment of misalignments of the joints.“
Hmmmm… that doesn’t sound very soft and baby-friendly, does it? Well, fortunately, there are many different ways to deliver this thing called Chiropractic. I’ve been in F/T practice for over 16 years with a strong background in Maternity and Pediatric care. I’ve had the joy of caring for thousands of pregnant women and helping them to have safer, easier births. I’ve also had the honor to care for their babies, either as preventative wellness care, or to address issues such as poor breastfeeding, colic, ear infections, and so many other things. This led me down a path of higher education to learn more about the causes of these issues; finding an absolute fascination with the cranial/sacral system and all of the infinite connections. I’ve been incredibly blessed to have amazing mentors, in the Chiropractic world and other disciplines. I have immersed myself in the birth world and networked with doctors, midwives, lactation consultants, doulas, etc… And built a specialty practice that I absolutely love.
Let go back to that definition so I can explain why someone like me, a Chiropractor, would work on babies; and more specifically, babies who struggle to breastfeed. I’m going to break apart that previous Oxford definition.
The system of integrative medicine
The phrase “integrative medicine” means “a form of medical therapy that combines practices and treatments from alternative medicine with conventional medicine”. Breastfeeding usually begins in the hospital or birthing center with the assistance of the “conventional” professional- the doctor, midwife, and the lactation consultant. Oftentimes, with just a little technical direction about positioning and latching, parent and baby get off to a great start with breastfeeding and no further assistance is needed.
Sometimes, however, that isn’t the case. Sometimes, despite all of the best efforts of the conventional team, mother and baby just cannot seem to breastfeed effectively. When breastfeeding challenges occur, sometimes the problem is not with the mother’s technique, but rather with the baby himself- barriers within the alignment and tone of his body causing abnormal function and preventing normal breastfeeding.
In that case, the other members of the integrative team can be the Chiropractor, an infant massage therapist, a myofunctional therapist, and a Pediatric dentist in the case of tethered oral tissues (tongue, lip or cheek ties).
We just established the WHO, now let’s talk about the WHY and WHAT. What sort of issues can a Chiropractor address for the breastfeeding infant? Well, as I just said, oftentimes the baby has barriers within the alignment and tone of his body causing abnormal function and preventing normal breastfeeding. When we think about the limited space and compromised position of the baby inside of the womb during those long 9 months AND the sometimes traumatic birth process, it’s easy to understand why a baby might not be aligned perfectly after birth. The infant cranial bones are not fused at birth (or for quite a while afterwards) and are meant to collapse in on each other a little bit to allow for the passage of the head through the birth canal. Quite frequently, those cranial bones just don’t come back together in the proper alignment after birth.
The skull is like a 3-dimensional puzzle, each piece effecting every other piece. Imbalanced cranial bones often cause misalignment and dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint (the TMJ or the jaw) and the upper neck. This results in a baby who cannot open his mouth fully or evenly to get a proper wide latch on the nipple. If the jaw is imbalanced, oftentimes this continues on to the palate (which is next door in cranial alignment) causing it to be high or uneven. This makes it harder for the baby to reach his tongue all the way to the top of the palate to achieve a vacuum seal during nursing. If the upper neck (cervical spine) is rotated or restricted, the baby cannot turn his head normally and usually struggles to nurse on one breast more than the other.
All of the muscles involved in sucking and tongue control are attached to these boney structures and become pulled and weak. In addition to all of this… the cranial nerves which innervate the tongue and other necessary muscles for breastfeeding also exit in small holes called foramen which are located in the cranium and upper neck. Traction and tension in these areas compromise these nerves.
The structure completely determines the function.
Manipulative treatment of misalignments of the joints
Again… this doesn’t sound very soft and baby friendly. After giving any length of talk about Pediatric care, and especially cranial work for infants, I always get the question… What does an adjustment look like? In all honesty, I’d go so far to say that the word Chiropractor can actually be a liability for us doctors in this specialty. It shouldn’t be, but it is.
Cranial work and spinal adjusting for an infant is very different than the traditional techniques used for adults. The adjustments are done using very gentle, acupressure and massage type contacts (sustained contact) and extremely light pressure. The cranial bones are not fused until much later in life and the skeletal structure is mostly cartilage as a newborn. Imbalances are corrected easily with little to no force at all. In all honesty, it sometimes doesn’t look like I’m doing anything at all!
The Best Breastfeeding Support Team
Here’s an excerpt from a wonderful article by Miller, Joyce, BS, DC, PhD . She says…
“Most interventions have focused on the mother. However, chiropractors have specific evidence for their role to address the biomechanical factors in the baby that may contribute to the problem. A recent review of the original research of chiropractic care for infants afflicted with suboptimal breastfeeding reported 16 studies including 514 infants that resulted in good improvement both short- and long term (Edwards & Miller, 2019)… An early assessment of the newborn with suboptimal breastfeeding by a neonatal-trained chiropractor can rule in or rule out biomechanical complications as a contributing factor… The chiropractor is one of many professionals poised to support and assist effective breastfeeding. A collaborative team can be helpful to gain early establishment and continuation of breastfeeding”.Miller, Joyce, BS, DC, PhD, Clinical Lactation, Vol 11, Issue 1
Here’s another excerpt from a very thorough research article…
“While we do not yet fully grasp the implications to the human infant, nor to the maternal-infant dyad, when early trauma causes impaired function and loss of competency, we can take significant steps to heal them through awareness, proper assessment and integrative interventions that make full competency the goal… As the lactation consultant and chiropractor find a common language in their abilities to assess form, function, competency and compensations, the dialogue between them can expand and the opportunity to provide broader and deeper healing is a realistic and achievable objective…
The very possibility of restoring the competency that forms the foundation for all loving human relationships is surely a worthwhile goal by all accounts“.Development of an Integrative Relationship in the Care of the Breastfeeding Newborn: Lactation Consultant and Chiropractor, JENNIFER TOW, B.F.A., I.B.C.L.C. AND SHARON VALLONE, D.C., F.I.C.C.P, JOURNAL OF CLINICAL CHIROPRACTIC PEDIATRICS, Volume 10, No. 1, June 2009.
I love that last line! This is so beautiful. This is what pulls on my heart to do what I do. There’s so many possible challenges when we attempt to raise children. Our jobs as lactation specialists to bring that sweet little baby and it’s parent together, skin to skin, as close as you can be- giving and receiving love and trust. That is a great start to everything else the child will be exposed to on this planet.
I’m so honored to be a Chiropractor and to be an integral part of helping parents and babies to breastfeed for their lifelong health and wellbeing.
Dr. Gerner is a Chiropractor and has been a Maternity and Pediatric Specialist in private practice for over 16 years with an additional focus on functional infant cranial work. She teaches other professionals to support breastfeeding across the USA and internationally. She is a graduate of Life Chiropractic College West in 2004. She is a Fellow with the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) and a trained doula. She is currently Post Graduate faculty at Life Chiropractic College, West. She is the founding partner of The Good Life Collective, Davis, CA and the creator of The Good Life Learning, LLC. She is a wife, mother of 3 grown children, and lives in Northern CA with her husband and their 2 rescued dogs.