Torticollis and Breastfeeding
Rochester MN USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 2, March-April 2003, p. 55
My story begins with a surprise pregnancy. My husband and I found out we were going to be starting a family earlier than we had planned. In nursing school, I had learned that human milk was superior to infant formula, so we knew I would be breastfeeding our baby. I found myself anticipating nursing my baby, and had several dreams during my pregnancy in which I nursed a baby boy.
I really wasn't worried about being able to breastfeed. After all, women have been doing it for thousands of years. I would roll my eyes behind the back of mothers who said, "I tried to nurse my baby but I just couldn't do it." I thought to myself, "What on earth did they mean? What's so difficult about breastfeeding? Your body produces the milk, you put your nipple near your baby's mouth and he drinks."
My sister- and mother-in-law encouraged me to attend La Leche League Group meetings prior to the birth of our baby. I eventually went to a meeting when I was eight months pregnant. I thought LLL was a breastfeeding support group, kind of like Alcoholics Anonymous or something. I thought it was a place to go where mothers who suffer social persecution because they breastfed go for support from other breastfeeding mothers who have great tactics for dealing with society. I didn't realize that LLL was so much more until after our baby was born.
On May 22, 2001, our son, Andrew, was born. I had a very detailed birth plan, thanks to my wonderful sister-in-law. The birth plan stated, among other things, that nothing was to go into my baby's mouth except my nipple, including a bottle or pacifier.
Andrew came into the world after 11 hours of intense back labor (is there any other kind of back labor?), resulting from his face-up position. After he was born, he cried for almost two hours straight. We started having problems nursing immediately.
I couldn't get Andrew to latch on. When I held him in my arms, he would arch away from my nipple. Only with the wonderful help of the postpartum staff nurses was I able to latch him on and nurse him. He never nursed for more than five minutes at a time.
By the next day, my nipples were cracked and bleeding. I sent my husband out to buy Lansinoh, which helped. Still, each time he latched on I cried out in pain. I actually didn't want to leave the hospital because I felt as though I couldn't nurse my baby. My husband was so incredibly supportive and encouraging through all this. Every new nursing mother deserves a wonderful husband like the one I have.
My mother- and sister-in-law asked if I wanted them to come to our home the day after I was discharged from the hospital. With tears in my voice, I explained to my sister-in-law, Maria, the difficulties that Andrew and I were having, including the state of my nipples. Maria, who had a new baby herself, and my mother-in-law were on the way! Maria came armed with her Breastfeeding Answer Book and a pair of nipple protecting cups, which prevent nipples from rubbing against material between nursings. The cups brought almost instant relief. She taught me how to express a little milk and leave it on my nipples because of its wonderful healing properties. She spent a lot of time troubleshooting possible nursing problems with me and offered me great comfort as I cried and worried. I'll never forget her patting my arm and saying, "You're a good mother, Jody." Boy, did I ever need to hear that! But poor Maria! I must have called her 10 times that first month and once at 3 am. She was always there to offer support, information, and encouragement.
I found that the only way I could nurse Andrew was in the football hold, which was not as cuddly as I'd imagined. Nursing lying down together was a challenge. Soon my milk came in and, once again, we were having problems with latching on. I had a very hungry baby who couldn't nurse. At Maria's advice, I went back to the postpartum unit at the hospital and sought the help of those wonderful nurses. They determined that I was engorged, which made it nearly impossible for Andrew to latch on. The nurse introduced me to an electric breast pump and assured me it would become my best friend. Thus began the adventure of pumping.
For the next four weeks I had to either nurse my baby or pump my breasts every two hours or else I became painfully engorged. When I pumped, I pumped just enough to soften my breast to enable Andrew to latch on. After eight weeks, my milk supply reached a supply and demand state and engorgement was no longer a problem. But Andrew and I were not out of the woods yet.
Andrew was still only nursing in the football hold position, and he was getting so long his feet were hitting the back of the couch. We nursed lying down, but he could only nurse with his head turned to the left. My husband and I noticed that he was never turning his head to the right to follow an object that interested him. His head would turn just a little and then he'd follow with his eyes. Maria suggested chiropractic care for a possible neck or spinal misalignment. Favoring a non-invasive approach to a possible medical problem, we took him to a chiropractor who specialized in children. After three weeks of treatment, it was quite evident that Andrew's body was not holding the chiropractic adjustments. There was no improvement in his range of motion and Andrew screamed with each adjustment, so we decided to stop the chiropractic treatment.
We then took him to see his pediatrician. "Torticollis" was the diagnosis which was made. Torticollis occurs when a muscle is twisted on one or both sides of the neck, and is considered a symptom of an underlying condition. We had x-rays taken of Andrew's neck. He saw many different specialists including a neurologist and a physical medicine doctor. It was a very frightening time for my husband and me, not to mention that Andrew has developed a profound fear of any stranger touching him. However, we were very grateful to find out that his torticollis was not related to a neurological problem and that his condition had the potential to improve with therapy.
The problem was that physical therapy caused him great pain. We were referred to a craniosacral therapist for a much more gentle approach to his problem. After hearing of Andrew's symptoms over the phone, the therapist immediately concluded that he had torticollis. She had successfully treated many children in this condition, and although she was a two-hour drive away through traffic-laden Minneapolis, we were desperate and hopeful that she could help.
After three months of various craniosacral therapy sessions, Andrew had improved tremendously. This therapy enabled Andrew's body to hold chiropractic adjustments. And I could now nurse my baby in the cradle hold position when his occasionally stubborn disposition allowed. We will never know for certain what caused Andrew's torticollis. I firmly believe that the birthing process in our ultra-interventional, modern medical community very often results in a baby experiencing trauma in many ways including cranial and spinal misalignment. I will definitely take each of our future children to both a craniosacral therapist and a chiropractor soon after birth to prevent them from possibly suffering the painful muscle contractions and spasms my Andrew endured.
In hindsight, were it not for breastfeeding my son, I may not have seen his compromised neck range of motion as a real problem that needed attention. As it was, I kept telling myself our nursing problems were something he'd simply outgrow. I have a lot of people to thank for helping and supporting me as I breastfed Andrew in those early days. My husband never doubted I could do it and never considered formula as an option. My sister-in-law, Maria, serves as a wonderful role model to me. I must also thank our craniosacral therapist for helping Andrew's body toward healing. I can also thank myself for never giving up despite these obstacles.
Andrew is now a healthy, chubby 14-month-old. I just know he will be nursing for a very long time. We've made it this far, why stop now?
Editor's Note: This article has been edited from its publication in NEW BEGINNINGS to correct the spelling of the condition from "torticlosis" to "torticollis."