An investigation of the experience of osteopathically treating babies with breastfeeding problems

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Carey, Lydia
Author ORCID Profiles (clickable)
Master of Osteopathy
Unitec Institute of Technology
Gasquoine, Susan
Standen, Clive
Masters Thesis
Ngā Upoko Tukutuku (Māori subject headings)
osteopathic medicine
ANZSRC Field of Research Code (2020)
Carey, L. (2009). An investigation of the experience of osteopathically treating babies with breastfeeding problems. (Unpublished document submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Osteopathy). Unitec Institute of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand. Retrieved from
Aim – The aim of this phenomenological study was to investigate and describe the osteopath's experience of treating a baby who has problems breastfeeding. Background - Breastfeeding impacts positively on both maternal and child health in many ways. However the act of suckling is a complex sensory motor task for a baby and numerous problems can occur. Osteopathic practices commonly advertise that babies' breastfeeding problems can be alleviated with osteopathic treatment yet there is little research regarding the osteopathic experience and the methods employed by osteopaths to diagnose and treat babies with breastfeeding problems. Method – Participants comprised of five osteopaths who have practiced as a fulltime osteopath for at least five years and are experienced in treating babies with breastfeeding problems. Data was collected during five face-to-face semi-structured interviews that were conducted by the primary researcher. Interviews were transcribed and the textual data was analysed using the principles of van Manen's (1997) hermeneutic phenomenology. Using this approach, significant themes were identified in the data and a description of the lived experience of osteopathically treating a baby who is having problems breastfeeding emerged. Results – Three phenomenological themes were identified in the data and broken down further into constituent subthemes. Theme [A] Beliefs – The foundation, drew attention to the participant's beliefs surrounding the self healing mechanisms of the human body, their role as an osteopathic practitioner and also a belief that they were unaware of a set protocol when osteopathically treating babies with breastfeeding problems. Theme [B] Communication – a necessity for a successful treatment, identified practitioner-mother-patient communication as the nucleus of a successful treatment outcome. Theme [C] The Process explored the non-verbal conversation the participants employ when treating babies and also identified the treatment providers the participants work with and refer their patients to when working with babies who have breastfeeding problems. Conclusions – For osteopaths treating babies with breastfeeding problems the importance of trust between themselves and the mother permeates the osteopathic experience. Through verbal and non-verbal communication the osteopaths are able to establish a positive therapeutic environment so that a successful treatment can transpire. Furthermore the osteopaths identified employing a non-verbal conversation with the baby throughout the treatment session that is expressed through their intention and touch. This non verbal conversation was identified as a critical component of the therapeutic interaction.
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