Saturday 17 November 2018

When their son had problems feeding, Will Hanafin and Mary Kirwan took him to see the bone doctor, with unexpected and miraculous resultsCracking it

Will Hanafin and Mary Kirwan

Hanging around the waiting room of Pam Synge's Dublin osteopathy practice can be a disconcerting experience for any adult waiting to get their kinks straightened out. But it's especially hard to focus on The World of Interiors when you see babies being whisked into the treatment room by anxious parents, the door shutting and the cries commencing.

"It can get quite noisy and I'm sure people ask, 'What is that woman doing to that baby?' when they are waiting outside," says Pam. But, despite the shrieks, parents flock to Pam. She has a reputation as a miracle worker for babies with feeding and other problems .

Pam has worked alongside her husband Teran at No 1 Merrion Square since 1977, after qualifying from the British School of Osteopathy. She chose osteopathy over medicine because blood made her squeamish.

Osteopathy was founded by Andrew Taylor in late 19th-century America. He believed that the musculoskeletal system was central to good health and wanted to develop a drugless medicine. Pam describes the osteopath as a "body mechanic dedicated to improving the body's movement by structural manipulation".

"Osteopathy is all about improving the movement," she says. "We increase fluid circulation in the skull and down the spine and aid the circulation of blood and lymphatics."

Osteopathy still struggles for recognition in Ireland from mainstream medicine. Most of Pam's referrals come from midwives or by word of mouth, with only a handful of referrals actually coming from paediatricians.

The Merrion Square practice treats both babies and adults. Pam initially treated babies using cranial osteopathy, which focuses solely on the skull, but found later that by treating the whole body, she achieved better results.

Osteopaths trace a baby's symptoms back to the traumatic events during the birthing process.

The ideal birth, in osteopathy terms would be a natural, "head first" birth, resulting in a perfect neck and back.

Our little boy, Ethan, was born last September and he's now a 17lb, red-haired bundle of absolute joy, currently obsessed with doing roll-overs and getting into crawling pole position.

We had a positive experience with our maternity hospital and neither of us has strong views on complementary medicine. Although, too many games of This Little Piggy have rendered my toes too sensitive for reflexology and I've never been comfortable with being used as a human pin cushion to cure snoring.

Nonetheless, we decided to bring Ethan for some sessions with Pam Synge when he was four months old, because he was having problems breastfeeding.

His feeds were taking over an hour and, at other times, he wouldn't feed at all. The marathon feeds meant that they started running into each other, so there was no downtime, which proved exhausting for Mary. We became especially worried when he didn't feed at all, as he was a tiny thing and desperately needed nutrition.

Despite his erratic feeding, his weight gain remained consistent, due to sheer persistence on Mary's part.

Ethan also developed a cow's-milk protein intolerance when he was a few weeks old, which meant that Mary had to eliminate dairy products from her diet and breastfeed him exclusively for six months. After six months, the baby's intestines are now more developed so they're able to cope with protein, overcoming the intolerance.

But it wasn't easy. I'm not being cow-ist, but there is dairy in everything -- sunflower spread, flavoured crisps, baked beans and even the coating on chicken slices! Shopping trips became like CSI episodes, with each food label being forensically examined.

Supplementing with baby formula wasn't an option because they also mostly contain dairy. Most babies with cow's-milk protein intolerance are also intolerant of soya protein, so we couldn't use that either .

Because Ethan was breastfeeding exclusively, any feeding difficulties had to be ironed out quickly.

One consequence of parenthood is that you have bizarre conversations with people, about things you would have never dreamed of talking about before your baby arrived.

We bored friends senseless about the mysterious workings of Ethan's digestive tract, but they were very tolerant and several people directed us to Pam Synge.

The Merrion Square clinic is Oscar Wilde's childhood home. As we arrived for our first visit, Wilde's quote sprang to mind: "Children begin by loving their parents; as they grow older they judge them; sometimes they forgive them." I hope Ethan will come to forgive us for disturbing his mid-morning snoozes for some joint-jerking sessions.

Pam Synge is the perfect Roald Dahl heroine, with her sweet-shop white coat and glasses perched on her nose. Ethan was comforted straight away by this calming baby whisperer with the soothing voice.

Ethan completed three osteopathic sessions and the results have been phenomenal. Before the treatment, he couldn't feed properly when he turned to his left and would only feed for short periods before becoming uncomfortable. Over time, this got worse and feeding positions were limited to sitting on his mum's knee or lying down with as little head movement as possible.

Now, he can feed quite happily anywhere, or in any position. Pam tries to make gradual improvements on each visit. "Always on first treatment I make a change, then the second time a better change. What I always look for is perfect movement in a joint," she says.

She also cautions parents against a quick-fix solution for a baby who has sleeping or feeding problems.

"People come here expecting to have smiling babies: it's important to realise if something is really restricted it can take several sessions, and can become worse before it gets better," she says.

When she first treats a baby, Pam draws up meticulous case notes before deciding on a course of treatment.

"When I first saw Ethan, the complaint was difficulty feeding on bottle and breast. It was worse on the right breast, and he used to sleep looking to the right," she said.

"There was restriction of movement right the way up. The upper neck was a big problem. When they breastfeed, babies bend their neck back and turn their head to the right and left," she explained.

"To treat this I had to straighten out the back. And his neck was also a problem on the left hand side."

Whatever Pam Synge did, she cracked it, and I'm not talking about Ethan's vertebrae. He hasn't stop rolling around since his last session and he'll be soon toddling off into the sunset if we don't keep an eye on him.

I hope Pam can fit his parents in for some adult sessions soon, when we have to start playing soccer with the human dynamo!

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