These are some of the infants I have worked with (names are changed), and the results seen.
Duncan was born preterm, with a large hole between two of the four chambers of his heart. This meant the oxygenated blood in his heart mixed with blood filled with carbon dioxide, instead of the two remaining separated.
The surgery needed to repair his heart was dependent on Duncan gaining weight. However, when he ate, his skin color turned a deep blue indicating decreased oxygen to his body, and he would struggle to get more air. In fact, he expended so much energy when eating that he lost weight instead of gaining it. To remedy this situation, the oxygen level in his blood was continuously monitored and oxygen-enriched air was blown towards his face during feeding time.
I gave my Alexander directions for coordinating a freer use of myself while feeding and holding Duncan. After a few minutes of this process, his monitor numbers indicated his oxygen level had climbed too high. I turned off the oxygen, and his skin color remained pink. I resumed feeding him while continuing to project my Alexander Technique directions to myself. His oxygen monitor read normal, as his pink skin also indicated. This was improbable — seemingly impossible — given the size of the hole in his heart.
He remained pink throughout the feeding. His mother, who had been afraid to even touch Duncan since his birth two weeks previously, now rushed forward to hold her baby for the first time.
Janine was born at less than six months, rather than the full nine months of fetal development. She weighed less than two pounds at birth and was given low APGAR scores by her doctors for her survival or future health. She had been in the intensive care unit three months when I first met her.
Janine was unable to go home because when she was bottle-fed, her skin turned blue and her abdomen got hard and swollen. She had never been able to breastfeed. I worked with her on two occasions that week, while she fed or slept. I also worked with her mother. In using the Alexander technique, I was again directing my own use of myself, using all the principles of coordination discovered by Alexander, while my hands were in contact with baby and mother.
Janine responded to my hands by immediately calming and releasing the trapped air in her abdomen by burping without her previous struggle and crying. The next day she breastfed for the first time. With a few adjustments to her bottle feeding, such as the size and shape of the nipple, she stopped turning blue when bottle feeding and within one week of my first working with her, she was discharged and sent home, now fully on breastfeeding rather that mostly bottle feeding. On follow-up, her mother wrote she was a very healthy baby who was ahead of her age in her developmental motor skills.
Monica was a full term infant born after an ideal pregnancy. Her mother had prenatal massages weekly and a healthy diet and exercise regimen. However, her mother had an infection at the time of delivery and remained in the hospital while Monica was transferred to a different hospital (one with an intensive care unit) to be treated for the same infection. Their separation lasted over a week before they were both sent home.
One month later, Monica and her mom came to see me. Monica was not having an easy time breastfeeding and her mom felt something was out of balance between them. She said she could not seem to get settled with her baby. Monica acted very social and energetic but on closer look, her eyes appeared anxious and vigilant and she did not easily relax. Her mother began to shake and cry as she spoke of the trauma of having Monica whisked away at birth to another hospital and placed in an intensive care unit, while she herself remained hospitalized, unable to get to her baby.
I worked with mother while she held and breastfed Monica. When Monica became anxious and disorganized in her movement and behavior, I held her and directed myself with the Alexander principles. As the baby calmed down, I handed her back to her mother and continued working with them together. I taught her mother the cues Monica was giving. These cues indicate what the baby is feeling and what she is asking for at each moment. Her mother called the next day to report all breastfeeding was going smoothly and she and her husband were delighting in Monica’s “talking” to them.
Owen had been in the intensive care unit for two months when I met him. He had acquired several hospital infections while there. Although born two months premature, he was expected to be going home very soon, but was not yet taking his feedings from his mother’s breast nor from a bottle. He could tolerate minute amounts of food given through a tube in his nose down to his stomach, but would vomit if the feedings were increased at all.
I observed him at rest in his bassinette and noticed on his monitor that his breathing and heart rate would drift downward whenever an alarm sounded from another baby in the large room of the intensive care unit. His rates would drop almost to the level of setting off his own alarms, then slowly come back to their normal levels until the next alarm went off a minute later and this process would repeat. This indicated to me that he was experiencing an extremely high level of stress, in that he was overly reactive to his environment. He seemed to have developed an internal cue to regain his stability without setting off his own alarms, the noise of which would stress him even more.
Because the parents’ presence helps their babies adjust to the environment of the NICU, I had Owen’s mother hold him and observed the two of them together. Despite his being in intensive care for two months, neither baby nor mother had adjusted to the stressful environment. Each time an alarm sounded, Owen’s mother tensed her body and looked over to the source of the sound, taking her attention away from the baby in her arms. Since it is not uncommon for one or another alarm to be sounding almost constantly in the NICU, it was not surprising that both mother and baby were stressed.
I worked with Owen in his bassinette and then with mother and baby together, using the same principles of the Alexander Technique with myself while I cued baby and mother to keep their attention on each other. I spoke to Owen with my hands and words, telling him he was not in danger when an alarm sounded. I gently brought his mother’s attention back to her own baby each time she looked over to another baby, and showed her how to remain calm despite the noise of the alarms and to stay present with Owen with her hands and voice. Later that very day, Owen took an ounce of expressed milk from a bottle for the first time. The following day I again worked with mother and baby. He then successfully took his mother’s breast and began to breastfeed. Within one week he was discharged from the hospital, fully breastfeeding.