Breastfeeding, Physiotherapy and Music

While Nature placed a mother’s breast near her heart, meaning that her milk is the food of love for the baby, breastfeeding can initially be painful. Music encourages relaxation and milk flow, and relieves anxiety, fear and tension.

Breastfeeding is the best possible start for a baby. The baby loves the closeness, security and warmth of skin-to-skin contact, seeing the mother’s face, and hearing the rhythm of her heartbeat. Breastmilk is also the best nourishment infants can receive. But breastfeeding is not always easy, especially at first.

LEARNING TO BREASTFEED

Women in earlier generations learnt to breastfeed by growing up watching the women in their family do it. Nowadays, women are often exposed to breastfeeding for the first time when they first try it themselves. Nearly half of all women have trouble breastfeeding on the day of delivery – fortunately this drops to about 15% a week later.

AN UNSUCCESSFUL ENCOUNTER

George was 10 weeks old at the onset of music therapy. He was a baby who cried excessively. During one of his music therapy sessions he began to scream. His mother tried to breastfeed him. He kept screaming. The mother felt helpless. The music therapist took a rattle and began to try to match George’s intensity of screaming. This managed to get the baby’s attention. He quietened down, burped and smiled. Then he sucked his fist and screamed once more. The mother saw he was hungry, but was afraid and anxious that he would be upset again.¹

If both mother and baby are in an agitated state, it puts pressure on the mother. When is he going to start screaming again? How long will it last? Fear of failure can develop into a continuous cycle, making it almost impossible for the mother to have any intimacy with her infant, suffocating their joy in one another. With good intervention and support, it may be possible for mother and child to find a solution and begin bonding.

CORRECT POSITIONING

Your baby’s body should be close to yours, with his buttocks supported and his head and body aligned with the mouth (horizontal to the breast and facing the areola). It is important to bring the baby to nipple height and prop him up with pillows. It’s tempting to lean forwards and drop the nipple into the baby’s mouth, but this makes it difficult for him to latch on, and can result in neck and shoulder pain for you.

BREASTFEEDING CHALLENGES

Your emotions

In the first few weeks after birth you may be tired and emotional. Everyday problems seem overwhelming, and all you seem to do is feed the baby, as he demands food every couple of hours.

Tender nipples

Tender or damaged nipples mean painful breastfeeding, and must be treated. It’s common to have latching problems at first, but when the nipple is tender, particular attention should be paid to ensure that the baby gets a deeper latch. Remember to break the suction before removing the baby from the breast by popping a finger into the side of the baby’s mouth. The hind milk is a natural bacteriostatic lubricant, and a little milk allowed to dry on the nipple can help prevent nipple soreness and promote rapid healing.

Treatment for cracked nipples

Contact your physiotherapist for laser therapy. This short treatment takes just a few minutes, and can be repeated twice a day to stimulate healing. If the nipples are badly damaged, rest them and express milk with an electric breast pump on low pressure. This is often more comfortable than hand expressing. Keeping the breasts uncovered in a warm room or in the sun for 20 minutes a day can also promote healing.

Engorged breasts

Painful engorgement is a common problem in the early days of breastfeeding. Ultrasound therapy from your physiotherapist and gentle effleurage massage will immediately reduce the pain and hardness. It’s advisable to breastfeed straight after the treatment, as ultrasound facilitates milk let-down. Rest, hot packs and emotional, practical and informational support also help. Cabbage leaves are comforting, especially if kept in the fridge or freezer and slipped into the bra between feeds.

Blocked ducts and mastitis

This infection of the breast tissue occurs when compression of the ducts restricts milk flow. The milk then sets and blocks the ducts. A blocked duct can become mastitis within hours. A hard lump can be felt, there is sometimes a red flare over the affected area, and you may feel unwell and have a temperature.

Hurried feeds, poor positioning, poor attachment, nipple soreness and poor bra design may cause mastitis. Professional help is needed if the blockage does not clear in 12 hours.

The baby can continue feeding during a bout of mastitis, and in fact this is beneficial because it helps clear the blocked area.

Physiotherapy treatment of mastitis consists of ultrasound and massage to clear the ducts. If caught early enough, treatment may clear the duct and prevent infection. Antibiotics are only recommended if there is pus in the milk. It’s usually safe to continue feeding while taking antibiotics under the direction of your doctor.

VOICE AND MUSIC

The baby knows the mother’s voice from his time in the womb. Unique in tone, melody and emotional substance, it conveys security, intimacy and warmth. Babies like the sounds of talking, and many mothers sing or read poems to their babies – reading out loud has a different rhythm, and a sing-song quality.

Music encourages relaxation and milk flow, and relieves anxiety, fear and tension. When a mother and child are not initially able to reach each other, it can help them to connect and allows light-heartedness to shine through.² It is advisable to choose relaxing music.

HAPPY ENDING

Music as part of the breastfeeding ritual bonds mother and baby and offers an opportunity to meet in a fun and free way. Shared happiness has the capacity to dissolve a negative emotional spiral. Music as part of breastfeeding directly accesses these deeper levels, allowing patterns of pain and discomfort to resonate into better feeding times. Babies are always sweet beginnings.

References

  1. Nöcker-Ribaupierre M. Music Therapy for Premature and Newborn Infants. Barcelona Publishers, 2004: 67.
  2. Lenz GM. Musikterapie bei Schrei-Babys. Eine Pilotstudie zu frühen Interaktionsstörungen zwischen Mutter und Kind. Musiktherapeutische Umschau 2000;21:126-140.

 

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Breastfeeding, Physiotherapy and Music

Dr Frances le Roux
About The Author
- BSC, MSC, PHD. She is a registered physiotherapist in Fish Hoek, Cape Town, South Africa. She has a special interest in music/medicine based on her research regarding music and pain, immune systems and spiritual well-being. She is a member of the International Music in Medicine Association and is on the International Editorial Board of Music and Medicine Interdisciplinary Journal. Her books Music is Healing and recently published Music and Babies are available from: adagio.frances@absamail.co.za