Sep 1, 2016

Conflicting Baby Advice

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We have recently added a puppy to our diminishing family. As the children leave home, the house seems to grow bigger so it is nice to have the extra company of a puppy. The puppy is truly lovely, but I had forgotten how much work they are and how they keep you awake, much like a newborn. I am suffering from that long forgotten sleep deprivation.

Last week a mother came into the clinic tired and frustrated. She is breastfeeding her newborn and trying to do the best she can. She consulted books, friends, midwives and health visitors and everyone gave her different information. It just became depressing and confusing. She didn’t know who was right or which information to follow and some of it seemed to be in direct contradiction.


I come across this a lot and it was all the more pertinent to me at this moment in time as I am trying to crate train my new puppy. I had tried this with a previous dog with disastrous results, mostly because I was following the advice of books I had read, or what the breeder had told me I should do. There was all sorts of advice and a lot of it was contradictory and some of it was darn right useless.  For instance, one source said to get your puppy used to the crate each day and then, when they were happy it was their ‘den’, they could sleep in it.  Well, so where is the puppy supposed to sleep BEFORE this? A puppy needs somewhere to sleep day one.  Another source said to leave them to cry all night. Never go downstairs at night and never go to them when they are crying. Wait until they stop crying and then go to them. Well, how does that work if they are non-stop crying? 


So, as I doled out yet more advice to my poor frustrated new mother, I took the same advice. ‘Trust your instincts’. I told her. ‘You are the expert on your baby. You know her best and you know what is best for her. It may not feel like it, but you are uniquely qualified to make the right decisions. If she is hungry, feed her!  You don’t need a book to tell you what to do.”

So, that night I came home and did the same. That first night of leaving my puppy to cry in her crate was horrendous. So the second night, I decided to trust my instincts. When she cried, I came to her and took her outside. She relieved herself, crawled back in her crate, and went to sleep.  She knew what she needed and I knew what she needed. It was so much simpler. 


So, sometimes, book advice and people advice can be useful. It can sometimes provide a broad guideline or structure on which to hang some of your own ideas. But, cherry pick.  Use what ‘feels’ right to you and discard the rest.  Our new babies are snowflakes. Each one is entirely unique and different. No one book or person will be able to identify exactly what your babies needs are or how and when they should be feeding. Because they are not the expert. You are.



Jul 3, 2016

Musings on Osteopathic Treatment

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So, a mother came in the other day with her two year old who is suffering from glue ear - Chronic Otitis Media. Her toddler has been on and off antibiotics quite a lot this year and this mother was frustrated that this was all that was on offer and, it wasn’t helping. In fact, her doctor had said there was nothing more he could do and she was advised to ‘wait and see’ before rushing off to have grommets surgically inserted in each ear. She arrived in my office because someone reminded her that osteopathy might help.


This is a common scenario for me. It hadn’t occurred to her to try osteopathy she said. This is also a common scenario. And it is because I am not allowed to advertise to be treating any ailment unless there is evidence-based practice to back up what I am doing. In other words, every ailment I propose to ‘treat’ osteopathically, will need to have gone through randomised blind trials or some sort of quantitative, scientifically authorised, study before I am able to advertise that I can treat it. In theory, this seems a sound way to authenticate what the public sees as a consumer product ie. paying for a service that will eliminate or reduce suffering.  In practice, however, it all comes a little unstuck. For starters, osteopaths and the umbrella organisations to which we are obliged to belong, do not have vast sums of money nor time, to carry out trials; qualitative, quantitative or otherwise. NCOR, the osteopathic research arm, does as much as is physically possible but there are only a little over 5,000 osteopaths in the UK  and it is not possible for such a small profession to self-fund research in this way.

The other niggle is that large organisations, like pharmaceutical companies, that do have vast pots of money with which to do things like fund drug research, can STILL get it wrong! And do!  The British Medical Journal published that the number of deaths from licensed drugs could be more than 10,000 each year and that’s just in the UK. This appears to be sort of an accepted fall-out, but I doubt osteopaths would still be in business if they had such startling side effects. 

Another problem is that osteopathic philosophy upholds a belief that each individual is just that; individual, so treatment is tailored to individual needs. This upends the strict control guidelines for research which, by its very nature, collects individuals and puts them into groups and then the ‘group’ is viewed as one organism,  ie. a control group and a trial group. Let’s say the control group has no back pain and the trial group has low back pain.  Can you see the obvious problem already? So, with this low back pain group, surely one can already be questioning how this is assessed. Where is their back pain exactly? What does it feel like? Is it constant? What is the quality? How long have they had it? What was the cause? What do they do for a living? What do they do in their free time? Are they happy? What car do they drive? Are they male? Female? Any surgeries? Accidents? Medications?  

Do you see where I am going with this? Osteopaths see so many variables in ‘grouping’ people together in this way that it no longer feels like a valid way to assess outcome.

So, even if we had pots and pots of money with which to carry out research, we would need to use a different paradigm of assessment. 

I guess what I am trying to say, is that I may not be able to give you Evidence Based Practice all the time. NCOR is doing its best with publishing osteopathic research. And all the osteopaths I know, including myself, are all doing their best to help people feel better, to help alleviate suffering and pain, and by offering our clients a trial of treatment that may indeed, reduce a symptom picture. 

So, I’m not allowed tell you that I treat this ailment or that ailment like Otitis Media. The fact is, I don’t really treat Otitis Media, in isolation, as an entity on its own. But I DO treat your child as an entire person whose body is trying to deal with this affliction or any other. Osteopaths treat the individual, not the disease. And as a consequence, I have a steady stream of clients and their children whose ailments, according to them, appear to clear.  They tell me their suffering is reduced and they are grateful. And this has been happening regularly for the last twenty five years. It seems to me that, this is a better outcome than a life wedded to taking medication and suffering chronic illness or pain. With or without a base of evidence.



May 18, 2016

The Magic of Breastmilk

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A young mother told to me the other day how her friend, another mother, stated that breastfeeding was a really selfish act on the part of a woman as it denies the father the chance to bond with his baby.  She found this a sad reflection of how un-informed mothers are today. And indeed, it is truly a sad, misguided and mis-informed line of thinking. 

There are so many ways a father bonds with his new child. No other mammal, forfeits feeding her young so that the task can be shared. And yes, I know we differ dramatically from other mammals but we have mammary glands expressly for this purpose. 


I am not sitting in judgement on those women who choose not to breastfeed or are struggling to do so, but to deny your baby this most magic of suppers, this most delightfully ever changing intelligent elixir of life, just for the sole purpose of including dad in this one task, seems like an enormous mistake.  It is a decision made without a proper education of how unique and wonderful breastmilk is.  I am not admonishing this woman. She doesn’t know!  It is like a secret, not to be told, except to an elite few.  Why is this? Why isn’t the science of breastmilk right out there as common knowledge before the decision to have a child enters a woman’s consciousness?  Why aren’t we teaching our young women about their own innate magic?


Some of the magic is listed here:

Human breastmilk is specifically designed for human babies. It changes from feed to feed, from day to day according to the nutritional needs of your baby. There is a quiet choreography that occurs and baby gives signals to the mother’s body.  Mother’s body picks up these cues and the milk is changed to meet the changing needs of baby. Yes, I know it sounds like science-fiction but isn’t that just marvelous?


Breastmilk is anti-bacterial and also protects baby against certain pathogens. Also, there is a messaging system going on. Whilst baby feeds, bacteria are picked up and ‘read’ by the mother’s body which then makes antibodies to that pathogen, which is then fed back to the baby via her milk. Breastfeeding is an exchange of information which is necessary to start building a baby’s immune system. So all this furious exchange of information is going on in the secret silent world of the mother’s and baby’s immune system.


There is a hormone in the gut that signals satiation and gives the baby that ‘milk drunk’ look. Mother and baby both release it during feeding. Baby gets a peak of this hormone after feeding and then again half an hour or and hour or so after feeding when milk reaches the GI tract. Between these peaks, baby may ‘wake’ again to feed some more (maybe 10 minutes or so after feeding but it varies) which is when they may finish feeding on one breast or may be offered the other.  I call this ‘waking up for pudding’ after the main course. Around 30 minutes after ‘pudding’, mother’s can take advantage of the second hormone peak and put baby down for a nap.


Breastmilk contains nutrients especially designed to enhance the growth of baby’s central nervous system and visual centres.


Pre-term babies will get a different composition of breastmilk than a full term baby. And, here's more science fiction, because HOW does mother’s body know, but, this magic stuff is different for boys than for girls! That’s right. Boy babies receive milk that is higher in fat and protein.


Breast milk can also be used to help eye infections, ear infections,  and can help reduce itching and stinging, to mention a few health benefits other than nourishing baby.  It’s like this miraculous gift from Mother Nature. 

I don’t want mothers who aren’t breastfeeding to feel intimidated or guilty or defensive reading this. That is not my intention. A decision not to breastfeed is an personal decision and I can only hope, an informed one. What is heartbreaking to me is a woman who says ‘she can’t or couldn’t breastfeed’. To me, this is a woman who wanted to and tried to, but did not have the right support network around her to offer her the assistance she needed. That is a failing of our society or our health system or our lack of offering education early on in life to our young women (and men). It is very rare that a woman is truly unable to breastfeed.


However a decision NOT to breastfed based solely on the premise that it means dad can help feed the baby is a terrible indictment on how we are raising the next generation with next to no information on the miracle that is the vessel within which they reside.


May 12, 2016

Sciatica is not a Diagnosis

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An elder came in the other day in a lot of pain and discomfort.  She is of a generation that was evacuated during the war and has that stoical sense about her that ‘just gets on with things’. She is really healthy and trim and has beautiful skin.  When I saw her, she had been suffering for about a week, and was in considerable pain and unable to sleep.

Her GP told her she had ‘sciatica’.  Ok. Sciatica is not a thing. It is not a proper diagnosis, but a word that describes a bundle of nerves that exits the spinal cord and serves the leg.  Everyone has a two sciatic nerves.  Telling someone they have ‘sciatica’ is like telling someone they have a toothache. They KNOW they have sciatic pain. That’s why they have come. To tell them they have pain when they are sitting there agonizing through it, feels patronizing to me. The real question deserving of an answer is, why?


So, it is okay for the doctor not to know why as there is more than one condition that can cause this terrible pain, but it does frustrate me that this lovely woman is palmed off with this ‘diagnosis of sciatica’ when it is not a diagnosis. I may not know exactly what the diagnosis is either, but it just seems to me that giving someone a ‘descriptive word’ does not help in easing their pain.  The thing is, I can’t help wondering what steps would have been taken had she been 30  or 40 years younger.  Many of the elders that come to me don’t seem to be getting the health service they deserve. I might be just super sensitive to this but it just sometimes seems that, because of their age, less is offered and more is put down to ‘old age’. 


She is healthy. She is fit. She takes no medications and gets plenty of exercise and fresh air. She is a vital participant in her community. She is not at the end of her life but we can’t pretend that she isn’t nearer to it. Still, it doesn’t mean she should go home and suffer this pain and stop living her very full and productive life.  She isn’t less important than someone younger. 


I am not ending this with an answer to solve this problem. But it is an increasingly annoying situation to me that our elders seem to get swept to the curb as less important members of our society. We are all (hopefully, actually) going to get there and I am quite sure that we will expect to be treated with the same respect as anyone else.


Apr 29, 2016

Fear of Birthing

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As an osteopath, I have talked to many women over the years about their birth experience. It is part of the case history we take and it helps us frame what each woman carries in her body tissue memory.  As a doula, I am now beginning to realise that we carry a body tissue memory of birth long before we even know how to get pregnant.  It is almost like we are in danger of writing a warped view of birth into our very genetic code. The number of pregnant women I see (as both osteopath and doula) who are frightened of the whole experience far outnumber those who know it in their bodies to be a natural ongoing continuum of human nature. This is deeply saddening but not surprising when you become aware of the messages we feed our children about human birth.  When my first son was small, he was addicted to nature programmes. He could never watch enough of them. It didn’t matter what they were about and I am sure he saw his share of natural births except... not one of them would have included a human mammalian birth. For that one, he would have seen it on an emergency medicine drama or a sit-com, like Friends.  There are many examples of human births on television.  All of them, high-tech hospital births with a woman on her back invariable screaming and fearful.  So this is the message our society sends to our children without even meaning to: that every other mammal on the planet gives birth instinctively and unaided, but no human mammal can ever do this.  When was the last time you remember a natural birth depicted in a drama/sit-com on television? Exactly.  But I do. It is seared into my memory because I was so stunned ( and excited) that a home birth had been written into a script. The isolated environment of the show demanded it, of course, but still. It was called Northern Exposure and was about a small town in Alaska and ran in the early 1990’s. The young woman running the bar gave birth upstairs whilst the townspeople awaited eagerly for news in the bar. They didn’t actually show the enactment of giving birth (like they do in Friends with stirrups, bright lights, machines etc), but at least the audience had to know that she gave birth on her own as naturally as the moose outside her door.

How can we change this culture of fear and begin to teach women to trust their bodies again? Our bodies are truly awesome. They MAKE people from two cells. It creates a special organ called the placenta used for the sole purpose of supporting a new life. We are designed to give birth even as evolution has made us bidpedal. Amazing transformations occur in a woman’s body to allow her pelvis to carry and then birth her new baby. And then, once a baby is born, our bodies carry on growing a human with breast milk. It is so astonishing that our bodies do these things without any real input from our thinking brain. It is all the miraculous doings of Mother Nature.  


I wish we could stop teaching fear and start teaching the awe-inspiring beauty that is birth.




Interesting Stuff

Here are some services that you may find helpful:

Acupuncture                             David Reynolds

Allergy/Food Sensitivity
Christine Wilson

Cheryl Brickell

Meli Paramio
01628 625313

Hypnobirthing                            Harriet Hancock

Ros Mandeville

Anita Happy and Sheila Carter Homeopathy for Children in Henley   01344 867 411

Catie Sharples
 01628 530302

Manual Lymph Drainage
Marilyn Homer
01628 671406

Massage/Injury Rehabilitation
Sharon Price 0787 623 7367

Jeanette Wallis

Nutritional Therapy
Suzie Walker

Alex Reynolds


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