Colic has been described as inconsolable and frequent crying of an otherwise healthy newborn baby up to the age of three months. It can affect up to 40% of babies; they can cry for more than three hours a day, three times a week for three weeks in a row.
Suckling, meaning when a baby is breastfeeding, is more difficult and complicated than most people think. Your baby has to breathe, suck and swallow all at the same time. This takes a huge amount of effort from your baby’s musculo-skeletal system, as well as their neurological system. If your baby is struggling to suckle, problems of colic are likely to develop.
Two common reasons for colic are tongue-tie and recessive jaw, both of which can result in disorganised suckling.
Signs of disorganised suckling
Disorganised suckling results in reduced milk intake for the baby. Signs of this can be:
- Your baby feeding, sleeping then waking up an hour later to feed again (even when the latch with the lips looks perfectly normal).
- Your baby may lose weight.
- Mum may get very sore nipples (lipstick shape after feeding).
- There may be a clicking sound on suckling, either on the bottle or the breast.
- Your baby may also breathe loudly at night, sounding like he/she may have a cold.
- Wind can also be a problem as your baby’s tongue can loose contact causing them to swallow more air. The air is then stored under the diaphragm making it hard for the baby to burp; it can also increase reflux as it pushes up against the oesophageal sphincter.
Tongue-tie is where ‘the strip of skin connecting the baby’s tongue to the floor of their mouth is shorter than usual,’ according to NHS England. This can result in the tongue not pushing the nipple correctly up to the roof of the mouth.
Tongue-ties are fairly common and do not always need to be cut. It depends on the flexibility and range of movement of the tongue, the degree and tightness of tongue-tie and how far forward to the tip of the tongue the tongue-tie is.
Babies who are tongue-tied may also have a lip or buccal tie and this should be assessed when examining a baby with difficulties in feeding. For example, if your baby has a lip tie and you cannot fold your baby’s upper lip up under the nose, he/she will not be able to latch properly. If you have a baby with a difficult latch make sure you position your baby well at the breast.
Treatment for tongue-tie
Osteopathic treatment and home exercises can help treat your baby’s tongue and sublingual area to release the tongue and increase sucking strength. The osteopath may also use techniques to release the jaw, upper cervical spine, base of the skull (where the hypoglossal nerve (innervating the tongue exits the occiput), as well as direct work on the muscles of the jaw and upper cervical spine.
Positioning and latching advice may also be given to help breast or bottle-feeding. Referral for a frenulectomy (cutting the tongue tie) may also be made.
This occurs when the mandible (jaw bone) is slightly underdeveloped. It can cause issues latching to the breast as the mandible is tucked back making it difficult for your baby to open their mouth wide enough. The tongue tends to sit more posterior contributing to weaker tongue movements or tighter tongue muscles which lead to a weak suck.
This can often be mistaken for tongue-tie and a frenulectomy is often not advisable in these babies, as when the mandible develops and drops down, the tongue will move forward and the suck should function normally.
Treatment for recessive jaw
Osteopathic techniques help to open the mandible and temporomandibular joints, which allows the baby to open its mouth and helps with the position of the tongue. Sublingual exercises may also be given.
The base of the skull and upper cervical spine will also be treated to help your baby’s jaw be in a more relaxed position so that they can feed more effectively.
We will also advise on feeding positions and exercises to strengthen the suck, which should also help.
Article by Simone Ross
Kane & Ross Clinics
39 Harley Street, London, W1G 8QH
73 Courtfield Gardens, London, SW5 0NL
020 7436 9007