We know that active muscle tone begins to develop at around 36 weeks gestation. Between 36-40 weeks, the baby is curled up in a smaller and smaller space, developing stronger muscles by pushing up against the ever constructing walls of the uterus. Babies born at gestational term have a tightness to their bodies called physiological flexion from being in this position. Physiological flexion provides some passive stability for the newborn baby to use as their learning to move around a world that is impacted by gravity. Because of this flexion, and being in that tight space, many babies come out with tension in their bodies and sometimes asymmetries in how their body moves or looks. Many also will have a head turn preference to one side based on how they sat inside your body. How a baby was born, how long the pushing stage was, and interventions like forceps and vacuums can also cause tension in baby’s body which can in turn impact breastfeeding. This can make the head, neck and shoulders or jaws tight which in turn can make for a chompy/clamping or shallow latch. Or for a baby that’s not comfortable feeding on one side or in certain positions.
I recommend a lot of oral motor and body exercises for the babies I see in my practice to help stretch them out and release that tension after birth. Whenever exercises are being done, it’s best to do them on a calm, happy baby. If your baby starts calm and becomes agitated or doesn’t tolerate the exercise, stop!! You’re either doing the stretches too hard or the baby isn’t ready for that exercise. Something else is going on that needs addressed first. We don’t want to cause an aversion or unnecessary stress. Don’t just push through. This is part of respecting your baby’s cues. If a provider is having you do exercises and your baby is always crying or fussy, speak with your provider about how to modify the activity to match baby’s skill level.