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As the Twig is Bent: Osteopathic Manipulative Therapy for Breastfeeding Babies

“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” -A.T. Still, founder of osteopathy

In studying babies’ bodies in medical school, from the embryo into childhood and on into adolescence, through various illnesses and injuries and back to health, this foundational phrase struck a chord of resonance with me. Infants, newborns especially, are so impressionable. Early influences upon a baby’s body, starting in the womb, have lasting effects that branch and extend out through their lifetimes. In my pediatrics residency training and throughout my time treating children and babies both here at home and abroad, the meaning of this statement further deepens for me in each day of practice. I’ve observed how traumas resulting from birth and other events can lead to a cascade of complications and struggles, many of which cannot be resolved through mainstream medicine alone. I’ve felt with my hands how beautifully babies can and will release their own restrictions if given the appropriate support and allowances of time. Unfortunately, not every pediatrician has sufficient time to watch this process unfold during a clinic visit. Thanks to Ellen and the practice model she has created, I’m now among the lucky few that can give babies the time, care, and focus that they need from a clinician.

I first met Ellen a few years ago when seeking lactation support for my own little one. When I learned that she might have space for an osteopathic pediatrician in her new practice, I called her immediately. Within weeks we had drawn up designs for an integrative, collaborative clinic that merges our areas of expertise. While Ellen coaches mothers through breastfeeding techniques, I begin examining the baby’s body for areas of restriction, dysfunction, or dis-ease. I treat while I examine—gently releasing and realigning any problem areas I come across. It is these problem areas that are so often responsible for babies not being able to feed, develop, and grow well. At the base of the baby’s skull, for example, where the cranium meets the top of the spine, is a common area of compression, usually resulting from labor, delivery, or in-utero positioning. Compressions here can compromise any number of nerves travelling through that region, which are critical for basic newborn functions such as latching, suckling, swallowing, digesting, pooping, on and on and on. A simple osteopathic release, using a feather-light touch, can free up problem areas such as this, allowing the baby’s body to correct itself, and feed and grow as little ones are so well designed to do. Many babies fall asleep during our sessions, and are still slumbering on their way out the door.

Having practiced in different countries and contexts, it warms my heart to be able to engage our youngest citizens in this way, pre-treating problems before they arise and take root. And, knowing that this work influences these little ones just as they are laying down their physiologic designs and blueprints for life, echoes the words of an osteopath long ago: “As the twig is bent…”


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