OT weighs in on holistic approach to infant feeding support

The difference in health outcomes in a proactive versus reactive medical system can be pretty striking. And while proactive medicine invests more time and resources up front, as blogger Todd Hixon points out, it ultimately reduces healthcare cost overall.

“…Proactive medicine is by far the most powerful opportunity to both improve health status and reduce the bloated cost of the U.S. healthcare,” Hixon writes.  

In the U.S., most families are subject to reactive medical care; they (sometimes) receive treatment when complications arise and progress.  

There are pockets where care is shifting though. Last year, we featured Dr. Ann Croghan’s work where she’s implemented a prenatal and postpartum physical therapy program at Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center (HRRMC) in Colorado. 

Croghan focuses on decreasing birth intervention, conducts postpartum day one physical therapy visits in the hospital, and follows up with a six week postpartum visit for a pelvic floor muscle assessment, biomechanical assessment, and a plan for safe exercise progression.  

Proactive care addresses health holistically, looking at social and environmental, physical and mental health needs.  

Tracer pictured with her children.

Another such superstar care provider is Sipporah Tracer MS, OTR/L,CLC practicing in Bergen County, New Jersey and formally in the Hudson Heights neighborhood of New York. Tracer’s work includes her occupational therapy (OT) practice where she works primarily with pediatric patients, running a breastfeeding lending library– the Teaneck Breastfeeding Gemach— and facilitating a free community breastfeeding support group. 

This comprehensive article offers a window into the type of sensory work she’s doing.

“What’s so nice about this profession is that it has such a holistic approach,” she begins. “We’re not just looking at the latch and suck–although that’s all so important– we’re looking at the baby and mother as a whole… looking at all of the factors that impact the baby’s performance.” 

Tracer highlights a few important components to create an environment ideal for babies’ development. She makes clear that each baby has their own threshold for stimulation.

Starting around the time babies are four to six months old, they become interested in becoming mobile. During this time, a breastfeeding parent might notice that their child wants to crawl, pivot, and move and have a decreased attention during breastfeeding. 

“We can try to meet the baby’s needs by providing sensory input in order to affect their behaviors and their arousal levels,” Tracer begins. “Rhythmic vestibular movement is calming input for many children and often assists them with focusing.”

In Tracer’s experience, having mothers rock babies in a glider that gives linear vestibular movement allows the baby to receive sensory stimulation and helps them to focus more on the breastfeeding.

Tracer subspecializes in reflex integration work.

“Understanding  primitive reflexes can really assist in breastfeeding,” she adds. 

For instance, the Babkin reflex— where infants open their mouths in response to pressure on their palms– may be useful if the mother and baby are struggling to latch.  

Another tool Tracer uses is baby wearing. 

“We have lots of places to put our babies down, especially on their backs with restricted mobility,” she says referring to car seats and swings and cradles and bouncy contraptions, etc. 

She goes on to say that as much as these “nests” can be saviors, babies set down for long periods of time aren’t receiving sensory stimulation from a human, which is vital to setting up their future programming 

Interestingly, researchers found that newborns were more apt to shift gaze toward touch when the touch was from another person as opposed to from an object. 

What’s more, increased carrying reduces infant crying which creates a less stressful environment for all. 

And as Danielle Downs Spradlin of Oasis Lactation Services points out, “Babies have a sniffable head that is easily accessed when carrying. It’s a perfect system.” The smell of babies triggers rewards in parents’ brains. 

Carrying a child constantly can be quite a frustration for some parents, Tracer acknowledges, especially in our culture where babies are often deemed needy or clingy for requiring connection. 

She suggests reframing that mindset: carrying infants builds a strong foundation for their sensory systems. 

“Parents are contributing to their baby’s development, ” Tracer says. “The things we do during these critical early stages become the building blocks for the future. .” 

There are potential long-term risks to not providing healthy environments for babies’ development.

“We do know that underdeveloped systems really do impact learning and behavior in schools as well as general motor-development,” she explains.

Her main point though, is not to instill fear in parents, but empower them with this knowledge. 

Having recently completed the Lactation Counselor Training Course (LCTC), Tracer says she feels well-equipped to guide mothers and families to spending their energy and limited resources on evidence-based practices.   

“So many times I find that as mothers who are breastfeeding, we are so dedicated, we want to do anything [for our babies],” Tracer begins. “Being empowered and equipped with the most accurate information is really life-changing and powerful.”

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