A Doctor's Nursing Journey


A few weeks ago I had my youngest patient. Four hours old, my son. The birth had been long and difficult, and he had swallowed a good amount of fluid on the way out. He held his body as if he was still floating around inside me, arms and legs pulled tight to his body and head now locked down onto his spine. His feeding instincts were decent for a newborn, but his latch needed work as did his suckling/swallowing coordination in general. I laid his new body out on the hospital bed before me, starting at his cranial base and working up, down, and around-- rediscovering the many miraculous connections and biophysical nuances that I'd so often felt in other babies I've treated. This little body's

Dr. Emily Esmaili & Baby Ash

potency was just so amplified by its very young age. The treatment only lasted a few minutes, largely because of my exhaustion, but also because adjustments often come quickly and easily to such a young, open and responsive body. Through that first night of interrupted sleep together, I watched as he slowly unwinded. Eventually he gained better control of his suck, swallow, and elimination, and cleared his lungs and belly. We did a few more treatments as the days progressed and my head cleared. And of course had a visit with Ellen to help with nursing techniques. The early treatments seemed to help my son transition into this world more easily, and reinstated my belief in osteopathy in helping these little ones feed, grow, and thrive.

The post-partum weeks marched by and life picked up its usual pace. And while my faith in osteopathy did not at all wane, my attention to breastfeeding and the delicacy of the dyad I was part of started to dim. Concomitantly, my son became sleepier and pokier at my breast, asking for less and less of me as I became busier and busier. Soon his half-hearted feedings and slow weak suckling were not enough to stimulate my milk production and so my supply slowly trickled down--and next followed his weight. At his one-month peds visit he had dropped several weight-percentile lines. While his pediatrician was not terribly worried, I was devastated. I, a pediatrician and osteopath specializing in newborns with feeding issues, and a mother, had neglected one of my son's most essential needs: breastfeeding.


I called Ellen right away. In her characteristically calm and supportive way, she helped lift me out of the mud. We came up with a plan that not only fit into my family situation and lifestyle, but also allowed me to forgive myself. I pumped, supplemented, and focused solidly on nursing for the next several weeks. Those weeks were not at all easy, but certainly humbling. I tried giving him osteopathic treatments when I could, but understood that what he needed now could not be given in a quick adjustment. Perhaps these little treatments supported the process in some way, but what I believe helped us most was paying careful attention to his body at my breast-- in other words, simply being his mother. That, and having faith in the plan Ellen helped us create-- and recreate as some goals were met and others were not. Though I've sat alongside so many other mothers in similar situations, and treated so many babies with similar needs, and had been in this place previously with my first child, it seems I needed a lived reminder of the commitment, strength, and forgiveness necessary for getting through this.


My son slowly regained ground while our collective skills improved, and I could start to see an end-- while realizing this was truly only the beginning. Now nearing the end of our fourth trimester, I'm pleased to say we can now think about things other than my milk supply and how many milliliters he might have taken in. I still give him osteopathic treatments for the occasional clogged tear duct, constipation, or general fussiness I can’t explain, but it seems what is more valuable than any fancy, nuanced treatment is giving careful attention to the ever-changing dynamics between my milk, his blossoming body, and our growing family.