Sensory Integration Disorder

The Sensory Integration Theory & Breastfeeding

hypersensitivity in babiessensory integration disorder

What is sensory integration? Or, also called Sensory processing disorder. 

When we see, hear, touch, smell or taste something, the information is first processed by our nervous systems before we react.

The nervous system needs to sort the information received and elects which parts of the information need ignoring and which parts need action taken.

Problems in this area are often called “sensory integration" issues, or “sensory processing" issues.

Some may struggle with hypersensitivity or a “high reaction" to a stimulus. Others may have hyposensitivity or a “low reaction" to stimuli.

A baby with a hypersensitivity sensory integration dysfunction may jump at every little sound. A baby with hyposensitivity integration problems may hardly respond or not respond to touch or sound at all. Some babies are selectively hypo or hypersensitive to certain stimuli.

Sensory Integration Disorder Symptoms

Symptoms of a Baby with Hypersensitivity “high reaction."

  • Extreme fussiness, long periods of crying and/or arching of the back.
  • The baby gets upset when touched or during diaper changes. The baby may also become anxious when placed in water.
  • The baby is more aware of a dirty/wet diaper. 
  • The baby shows a dislike to any motion such as rocking and/or bouncing. 
  • The baby is inconsolable.  
  • The baby gags and/or vomits often. 

“low reaction" Hyposensitivity Signs:

  • The baby doesn’t seem to notice a soiled diaper.
  • The baby does not seem to respond to touch.
  • The baby does not notice sounds.

The Impact on Breastfeeding

    Oral aversion is a common sensory integration disorder that can cause breastfeeding problems. With Oral aversion, the baby resists anything that touches the mouth or gums. This problem is usually caused by interventions during or after labor such as aggressive suctioning, gavage feeding. Dysfunction in sensory integration is associated with many breastfeeding issues.     

Some Feeding Problems that might Indicate Sensory Integration Problems:

  • A shallow latch or weak suck. 
  • The baby may gag when the mother tries to nurse him/her. 
  • The baby may struggle to find a sucking rhythm.     
  • The baby may struggle with specific tongue problems. 
  • The baby may show dislike towards certain breastfeeding positions. 
  • The baby may seem rigid or tense while breastfeeding. 
  • The baby may push away from the breast or refuse to latch. 
  • The baby may seem completely unresponsive at the breast. 

Sensory Integration Activities & making Breastfeeding Easier

Tips for breastfeeding a baby with hypersensitivity “high reaction."

  • Feed the baby in a dim lit, quiet environment.
  • Minimal movement and stimulation. Swaddling seems to help some babies with hypersensitivity.
  • If your baby has a gag reflex at the breast, try to aim your nipple towards his/her tongue, instead of at the roof of the mouth.

Tips for breastfeeding a baby with hyposensitivity “low reaction."

  • One of the most common sensory integration exercises include trying to stimulate a baby before a feeding, by rubbing the baby’s face, mouth, tongue and palate.
  • Lots of skin-to-skin contact is great as well as wearing the baby. Kangaroo care is advised. 
  • Sensory integration toys: including different fabric blankets and toys that make sounds.

What is Sensory Processing Disorder?

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Tracy Bejr,CBC, CLD (CBI)

Reference: Course information through Childbirth International on the physiology of breastfeeding/Health problems/sensory integration problems.

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