Realigning the little difficulties


Osteopathy for mothers and babies is well established in other countries. Why are we missing out? Sylvia Thompson reports

Óisín Riain Broin (17 months), the fourth child of Ciannait and Jim, was a very unhappy baby. "Physically, he looked fine but he had a very difficult birth as he was in the wrong position. And I had a very long and difficult labour which ended in a Caesarean section," explains Ní Riain Uí Broin.

She also explains how Óisín cried constantly in the first weeks of his life and how all the tricks she learned with her other three children didn't work. "He had to be carried constantly and when he awoke from sleeping, he lay slapping his little limbs against the side of the cot."

When Óisín was 11-weeks-old, Ciannait took him to an osteopath. "A whole new world opened up for us. Now, he's the happiest, chirpiest little fella. Even after the first appointment with the osteopath, he was different," continues Ní Riain Uí Broin who took Óisín for 10-12 osteopathic treatments over the next 14 months.

Pamela Synge, the Dublin-based osteopath who treated Óisín, explained to his mother how there was restricted movement in his head, neck, ribs, shoulder and hips as a result of the birthing process and with gentle, encouraging movements, everything was realigned.

Osteopathic treatment for babies and young children is well established in some countries - including Britain where clinics of the Osteopathic Centre for Children in London and Manchester provide over 25,000 treatments to babies, children and pregnant women every year.

However, in Ireland, osteopathy continues to be viewed as a complementary therapy and hasn't yet become integrated into conventional medical care. "I don't understand why maternity hospitals don't have osteopaths working with them," says Ní Riain Uí Broin.

Her view is shared by many Irish parents who are discovering the benefits of osteopathic treatment for babies with colic or otitis media (glue ear) and extremely irritable babies with poor sleeping and feeding habits - symptoms which osteopaths associate with the baby's experience of stress and trauma during birth.

Osteopaths also treat babies who have undergone surgery and children who have residual balance and co-ordination problems following falls and/or other injuries. There is also a growing fraternity of parents bringing children with intellectual and physical disabilities to osteopaths for treatment.

Colm Healy (three and a half) has global developmental delay in his physical and intellectual abilities as a result of a rare brain condition diagnosed before his birth. His mother, Yvonne, brings him for osteopathic treatments once a month.

"It's hard to explain cause and effect in Colm's case but he is showing more recognition in his eyes and initiating contact, his hearing has improved greatly and he's learning to crawl. I have also gained great support and understanding from Teresa Kelly [the Cork-based osteopath and trained midwife] who gives Colm both general osteopathic and cranial osteopathic treatment."

Kelly says she clearly informs parents of children with disabilities that while she can't cure their disability, she can improve their quality of life. She is one of a small number of osteopaths who have waiting lists over three months long due to their good reputation for treating babies and children.

"I first decided to study osteopathy when I noticed the huge improvement in a patient attending my antenatal clinic while I was still working as a midwife." Pregnant with her third child, Teresa Kelly sought osteopathic treatment for sciatica and was so impressed she returned to college in Britain to study for a four-year degree course in osteopathy.

Back in her native Cork, she now only treats pregnant women, babies and children. She believes mothers-to-be should be treated by an osteopath to help them and their babies deal with both emotional and physical stresses during the pregnancy. She also likes mothers and babies to return for post-natal check-ups as soon as possible after the baby is born.

"This is what I call post-natal preventative care and if more mothers and babies could have this treatment, we'd prevent so many physical and emotional problems later on. We have dental check-ups so why shouldn't we have check-ups for our bodies to keep things working in balance," she says.

Ian Wright, a cranial osteopath based in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, concurs: "I'd like if health visitors sent all babies with non-normal deliveries to osteopaths for a check-up."

The question remains - in spite of all the positive stories from parents - why is osteopathy not more mainstream in this country?

Teresa Kelly believes this is partly due to the historic presence of spiritual healers and bone-setters in Ireland. "I think a lot of people don't know the training we've had - a four-year full-time degree course in osteopathy - and they may believe we are working without the knowledge and skill that brings."

Osteopaths are also trained to make what's known as a differential diagnosis which means they will treat or refer to a medical doctor for treatment where appropriate.