Are you struggling through feeding a baby with a recessed chin? I feel you, mama! My son, Jack, was born with a recessed jaw, and feeding my newborn presented so many hurdles, especially with breastfeeding.
Along with telling you my particular struggles with Jack’s newborn recessed chin (also called micrognathism or micrognathia), this article will walk you through the following:
- Tips for Getting a Diagnosis
- Tips for Feeding a Baby with a Recessed Chin, and
- What to Expect/Further Issues You Might Encounter
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What Does it Mean to Have a Baby with a Recessed Chin?
I remember looking at Jack in the hospital and asking my mom, “Are all babies’ chins so far back?
She replied that she’d never noticed before, but it was probably normal.
Major breastfeeding struggles, a lip tie and tongue tie clip, and a tremendous amount of pumping later, I finally called a lactation consultant. She gave me lots of advice and exercises, but ultimately, she diagnosed Jack with a recessed chin, which she called micrognathism (or micrognathia).
According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “micrognathia is a condition in which the jaw is undersized. It is a symptom of a variety of craniofacial conditions. Sometimes called mandibular hypoplasia, micrognathia may interfere with your child’s feeding and breathing.”
It sounds really scary, and it can be connected to some scarier issues that Dr. Google will happily tell you all about. But for most children, it’s a minor condition that they grow out of.
A lactation consultant in my favorite online mom group said that most children she sees with this issue grow into their jaw between their 10th and 12th week. If not fully, at least well enough to latch.
My own lactation consultant provided me with abundant emotional support for this diagnosis, and a bit of an explanation. While there are various causes of a newborn having a recessed chin, she explained that the jaw tends to finish development at the very end of pregnancy. Since Jack had been induced at 37 weeks due to pre-eclampsia, his tiny jaw still had some growing to do.
Symptoms of Micrognathia
If you’re concerned that your newborn has a recessed jaw, or micrognathism, be on the look out for a few common problems.
I literally could see Jack’s–I wondered about it before we even left the hospital, after all.
According to Children’s Healthcare of Philadelphia, other symptoms include:
- Difficulty latching/feeding
- Prolonged feeding
- Noisy breathing
- Short spells of not breathing
- Noisy breathing
- Poor sleep
- Poor weight gain
Notice that many of these things go together. Difficulty feeding, for instance, will lead to poorer sleep and poor weight gain. Thanks, micrognathia.
Side note: I get really annoyed when I read things like “poor sleep” as a symptom of anything in a newborn. I know some sleep better than others, but seriously, no newborns sleep well. I’m not going to lie, I don’t know what this means. But it’s listed by what’s basically regarded as the best children’s hospital in the U.S., so I’m going to go with it.
How To Get a Diagnosis for a Newborn Recessed Chin
If you fear your newborn may have a recessed chin, there are a few steps you can take to confirm a micrognathia diagnosis.
The most obvious is to ask your pediatrician. They’ll evaluate things like your child’s facial structure, lip and tongue tie, and the positioning of the upper jaw relative to the lower jaw. With a newborn recessed chin, the lower jaw is generally further back than the upper jaw.
If your concerns about a recessed chin have to do with being able to breastfeed a child with a recessed chin, then I recommend speaking with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).
Often babies with a recessed chin have difficulty breathing and latching. The primary struggle with a baby with micrognathia latching is that they cannot move their lower jaw far enough forward to get a good seal over your nipple. For this reason, using a bottle or nipple shield can make your life much easier.
You’re also in the tough days of postpartum recovery, and you’re weary. It’s not a recipe for success.
Reaching out to a lactation consultant during this time was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I love, adore, and cannot say enough amazing things about Danielle from Oasis Lactation Services. Danielle is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) accredited through the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice based near Minneapolis, Minnesota.
I seriously cried when she left Atlanta. And I wasn’t even nursing anymore. But! She practices telehealth, so she can work with you no matter where you’re located.
According to Danielle, there’s no centralized place to find a good lactation consultant. She recommends Zip Milk if it’s in your area, and says you can confirm your lactation consultant’s certification through the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE).
Your lactation consultant won’t be able to perform the crazy tests that hospitals can, like a series of x-rays, or a sleep study (if necessary–remember, most micrognathism is rectified through the normal infant growth process). If the issue is so severe that you think those tests may be necessary, definitely talk to your pediatrician.
Tips for Feeding a Baby with a Recessed Chin
If you want to breastfeed a baby with a recessed chin who is having trouble latching, I cannot reiterate enough the importance of a lactation consultant. They’ll help you figure out where the problems may lie and if there are things you can do to overcome them.
I also strongly recommend the Mamivac Nipple Shields by Spectra, which I found to be way better than the more common Medela or Lanisoh ones. Nipple shields create a vacuum seal to your nipples, but stick out more directly, and are thus easier for baby to latch onto.
You should see milk in your nipple shield to know your baby is getting milk. You can also have your lactation consultant weigh your newborn before and after feeding to be sure they’re getting fed through the shield.
But honestly, if your newborn’s recessed chin is as severe as Jack’s was, it’s probably time for you to make a choice regarding feeding your baby. Here are your options:
- Breastfeed with a nipple shield and supplement with formula
- Breastfeed and pump
- Formula feed
My lactation consultant was very supportive of all of these options. I told myself before having Jack that I would be lax about the whole breastfeeding thing–we’d do it if it worked, and we’d formula feed if it didn’t.
But when he was born with micrognathism, that all went out the window. Breastfeeding became the center of my universe. I HAD to do it. There was no logical reason, and I’m a full proponent that fed is best. But for some reason, I insisted on giving Jack breast milk.
If this is you, mama to a newborn with a recessed chin, then settle into a comfy spot with a good breast pump and plan to stay closely attached. I walked around with mine so much that my friends and family just became accustomed to it.
I was lucky in that my hospital allowed me to rent a Medela Symphony, their hospital-grade breast pump, which is great for milk production.
My other favorite breast pump was the Spectra 2. It’s not as easy to work into a pumping bra, but it’s quiet, comfortable, produced well, has more settings than anyone could want, and it’s portable!
It was a much more affordable in-home option than the hospital-grade one I rented for a while.
I also tried the Medela Pump-in-Style, one of the most common breast pumps, and I’m going to be honest, y’all–I loathed it. I tell you this because it’s one of the most common pumps, and because many moms hate pumping. There’s probably a correlation. I wouldn’t have pumped for more than 2 days if I’d been exclusively using that thing.
Decide on the route that’s best for you, micrognathism mama. But if you go the exclusive pumping route, I have to tell you about this one lifesaving product. I learned about it when Jack was about 20 weeks, and I was furious that no one had told me before.
I’m not even kidding, the Kiinde Breast Milk Storage Twist Gift Set will give you back HOURS of your life that would’ve gone into washing bottles.
It comes with adaptors to work with any pump, and has a bottle base that the plastic bag clips into. All you have to wash is the nipple (and your other pump parts). Total game changer.
Note: If you need to turn to exclusively pumping like I did, check out our exclusively pumping tips!
Exercises for Overcoming Micrognathism
According to both my lactation consultant, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, there are things you can do to help your newborn grow into their recessed chin.
Many people claim that craniosacral therapy can help your newborn’s recessed chin, and that Osteopathic Manipulation Therapy can, as well. If you’re interested in these, look up practitioners in your area.
My lactation consultant said she’d seen these therapies work for some babies for different problems, but that generally, growing into a newborn recessed chin just takes time.
I cannot tell you how much I loved her for saying this. We’d spent weeks that felt like a lifetime doing exercises to try to help Jack latch. I just wanted to be done.
So we settled into the one thing she insisted helped: tummy time.
Jack slept on his back (I’m all about safe sleep practices), but he spent every waking moment possible on his tummy, which pulls the lower jaw forward.
Remember, tummy time doesn’t have to take place on the floor. Your newborn can lie tummy-to-chest on you, or you can do tummy time on your legs. I kept myself reclined as much as possible and held Jack with his tummy on my chest. I’m not going to lie–that’s one of the only parts of the newborn stage I remember loving. It was comforting for us both.
What to Expect When a Newborn Grows Out of Micrognathism
The good news is that, according to Feedingmatters.org, “the majority of infants with a slightly recessed jaw outgrow these feeding concerns. At around 3-4 months of age the infant’s neck elongates and the pharynx deepens as the jaw moves forward with facial growth.” Basically, an infant’s jaw grows rapidly during the first three months.
This means that baby can now move forward with more traditional breastfeeding positions!
If you aren’t breastfeeding, my guess is that you won’t even notice the change as your baby grows out of micrognathism, except that feedings might become faster.
But if you are breastfeeding, this moment is glorious. Oh, the latch!
Jack drank pumped breast milk from a bottle for the first 10.5 weeks of his life. And I suffered through being a mom alone on maternity leave, caring for a newborn and pumping round the clock. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t recommend it.
One night, Jack finished his bottle as we were putting him to bed, but he clearly wanted more. Husband was about to go heat another bag of breastmilk, and I wanted to cry and scream.
“Why can’t I just feed him and fix this?”
So I sat down, pulled the world’s greatest nursing pillow around me, got all set for nursing, and then said, “We both know this won’t work. But let’s just try it anyway.
That sweet baby latched straight to my chest and drank all the milk he needed to be satiated before bed.
I cried and shook. I took a picture. Honestly, I wanted a video, but Husband is a prude and didn’t want the video in the cloud. So I took a photo on my own.
Husband is going to love that I’m posting it here. Like, really love it.
Jack’s latch was shallow, but it was there.
I called Danielle, and she rushed over the next day, helped us perfect the latch, and off we went. My baby nursed, and I was in Heaven.
For most of us, this is the end of the micrognathism journey.
Further Issues You Might Encounter
If your baby is one of the rare ones who doesn’t grow out of a recessed chin, then more severe issues might be at play, such as Pierre Robin Sequence (PRS). However, this condition would likely be diagnosed a birth, as it can result in extreme airway obstruction that is not caused by other problems.
In the case of a recessed chin that causes severe or ongoing breathing trouble, surgery might be recommended by a doctor, but non-surgical methods are usually exhausted before this is the case.
It’s important to remember that most recessed chin issues are cleared up with infant growth. It may be a struggle to feed a baby with a recessed jaw, but just remember that there is a light at the end of that tiny, recessed tunnel!
What were your struggles feeding a newborn with a recessed chin?
General FAQ about Babies with Retracted Jaws
What is a recessed chin?
When a baby’s jaw is undersized, their chin may sit further back, closer to their neck, than the rest of their face.
Why do babies have retracted chins?
Retracted chin is a condition that may be caused due to prematurity, as a baby’s jaw develops in the last three weeks of gestation. In severe cases, a retracted chin is a genetic condition caused by trisomy 13 or progeria.
How do you feed a baby with a recessed chin?
Because babies with recessed chins cannot open their jaws fully, they struggle to latch for breastfeeding. Most newborns with retracted jaws feed most easily with a bottle, but some are successful nursing on their stomachs while mom lies on her back.
Will my baby grow out of a recessed jaw?
Most children outgrow a recessed chin within the first 10-12 weeks, the timeline may vary. On rare occasion, lifelong problems occur.
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Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and daughter (Branham). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Love What Matters, & more.