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Top 5 Ways Osteopathic Manipulative Treatment Can Help With Breastfeeding Difficulties

the 5 ways osteophatic manipulative treatment can help with breastfeeding difficulties

by Miral Vaghasia, DO | One Medical

One of the most rewarding parts of my Family Medicine practice is working with new parents to help their babies with breastfeeding/bodyfeeding challenges. Osteopathic manipulative treatment (OMT) for babies is an amazing modality, widely used in Europe, that few American parents are aware of. OMT can help change a frustrating and painful breastfeeding experience to a more peaceful and fulfilling one. Here are the top 5 questions people have about OMT to help you see if OMT is the right modality for you to try on your lactation journey!

My Doctor’s Initials are D.O….What does that mean? 

  • Physicians with the initials D.O.s (Doctor of Osteopathy) are osteopathic physicians. We complete a parallel medical training pathway and receive the same standard medical education as M.D. physicians. Furthermore, we receive an additional 300-500 hrs of training in musculoskeletal manipulative treatment (which is a part of osteopathic medicine). Osteopathic medicine emphasizes a patient-centered approach with the philosophy that a person is a unit of mind, body, and spirit. 

What is OMT? 

  • OMT is an abbreviation for osteopathic manipulative treatment which is musculoskeletal manipulation on the body that osteopathic physicians are trained in during medical school. The general goal of OMT is to realign structures, relieve tension in tight areas of the body, and restore normal structure so that the body can function optimally. 

How can OMT help with breastfeeding problems?

  • OMT recognizes that structure and function are related. OMT can gently restore proper a baby’s body structure by improving the alignment of bones and improving tension of muscles, tendons, and ligaments. An osteopathic physician will evaluate a baby from head to toe with a focus on the head and neck areas to check for structural misalignment and tightness. By releasing tight jaw, tongue, and neck muscles a baby may have, many bodyfeeding /breastfeeding problems can be solved. When the tongue muscles are tight (did you know there are 8 muscles in the tongue?!?), other muscles will also tense up to provide counterforce and that can lead to improper movement of the tongue which often presents as a weak or poor latch. Tight muscles around the jaw can prevent the baby from opening the mouth widely and/or lead to clamping. 
  • OMT can relieve tight neck muscles which can help a baby who used to only nurse on one side, be able to begin to nurse on both sides. 

Can OMT fix tongue ties/lip ties? 

  • OMT does not fix ties but focuses on optimizing body structures, which can diminish the functional problem. Especially in the case of mild to moderate tongue/lip ties, releasing the tension of the tongue, jaw, and neck muscles often improves tongue movement to the point where the tie (while still physically present) is no longer restricting tongue motion. An osteopathic physician will evaluate a baby’s structure and function at each visit and discuss the risks and benefits of a tongue-tie release with parents before making a recommendation regarding the tongue-tie release procedure

My baby also has plagiocephaly and/or torticollis… Can OMT help with that? 

  • It is not uncommon to find plagiocephaly (atypical head shape) and/or torticollis (also called “wryneck”) in babies who have difficulty breastfeeding. 
  • Atypical head shape can occur for a variety of reasons and this change in shape can create pressure on the nerves at the base of the skull that control tongue movement as well as muscles of the neck. 
  • Babies with torticollis have very tight neck muscles on one side making it difficult for them to turn their heads equally to both sides. Therefore, they have difficulty maneuvering their heads for breastfeeding. This also tends to lead to a preferred position during sleep and can cause plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome).
  • Gentle OMT on the head can encourage the head to change to a round shape and thus relieve pressure on the nerves at the base of the skull. OMT can also help alleviate the tension of tight neck muscles to help the baby move their head more easily for breastfeeding and during sleep. 

Osteopathic manipulative treatment is a wonderful tool to help parents and their babies deal with some common nursing issues and should be considered in the arsenal of any families struggling with feeding along with professional lactation support. The younger the baby is, the more likely OMT will help improve or resolve the problem. I have treated newborns as young as 1-day old. Each baby is unique and my goal is to help each one have a healthy and thriving beginning to their life. If you need help, we are here for you. 

Dr. Miral Vaghasia, DO is a Family Medicine Specialist at One Medical in New York, NY.  She graduated from the University of Health Science Center at Fort Worth Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine and she completed her residency in Medical City Fort Worth. She has a special interests in women’s health, obesity medicine, and managing chronic disease with a patient-centered approach. She loves incorporating osteopathic manipulative treatment into her practice for patients of all ages from helping babies with breastfeeding difficulties to older patients with low back pain and headaches.