How cranial osteopathy can help soothe away your baby's colicky cries
by Liz Neale
Get a group of new parents together and it won't take long before they start talking about sleep. Or, more likely, the lack of it. The advice to 'sleep when your baby sleeps' is all well and good. However, if your little one likes to party all night, every night, you are soon functioning like a zombie if you can't catch up during the day. So when one of my friends suggested taking my four-week-old to a cranial osteopath to reduce her stress levels (and hopefully help us both rest), I was intrigued.
What is cranial osteopathy?
I wondered if it was some sort of 'baby whispering'. After all, if the osteopath was merely holding my baby, how could that be deemed treatment? But several mums recommended cranial osteopathy as a way of combating the dreaded colic. Those long evenings when baby cries and cries – and cries – before sleep eventually comes.
I visited osteopath David Isherwood at his practice in south west London for what he called a ‘Baby MOT’. He explained that newborn babies can be subject to enormous forces when they are born. Twisting and turning as they squeeze their way to the outside world can mean a lot of stress and pressure. This pressure falls particularly on baby's head.
How do cranial osteopaths work?
David said there may also be a build up of pressure around the Temporal bone which houses the hearing apparatus. As well as this, the Eustachian tubes may become compressed during delivery, especially by forceps. This may lead to blocked ears and infection.
David explained: "There is a fundamental subtle movement within all body tissues that cranial osteopaths are trained to feel. This is present throughout the connective tissues (which are fascia, ligaments, muscles and bones) of the whole body, including the head. Within the skull and spinal cord, the sensitive meninges express this movement as a shape change. If the body is subjected to strong compression or twisting forces, such as those experienced by the baby during birth, these connective tissues can become distorted and strained. As a result, the baby may feel uncomfortable. Osteopaths use their highly developed sense of palpation to feel these strains and to gently release them".
Cranial osteopathy treatment
"I watch the face and body for any reaction" he said. "I then wait to feel for the rhythmic fascial pull. Is it symmetrical? Is it stronger on one side? Next I test for mobilisation and the angle of movement of the ankle joints and toes. I then do this with the knees and hips".
David continued working his way up Catherine’s body. He examined her ribs through her clothes before moving on to her spine. I was convinced she would keep wriggling and perhaps even start crying at the unfamiliar surroundings. However, to my surprise, she was relaxing and closing her eyes. Her arms were thrown up above her head, yet she clearly felt safe and secure enough to sleep. David continued with the examination; moving along Catherine’s fingers, wrists, elbows and then to her shoulders and head.
Cranial osteopathy and colic
David said: 'Many babies are mouth breathers. They struggle to drink and breathe through the nose, hence this gulping of air. Once these 'lumps' of air have descended below the stomach, they have a long way to go. Very often this will cause abdominal pain, as the air stretches the baby's sensitive small intestines on its journey.’
That certainly sounded familiar and I was grateful for tips on how to combat this. This included a nifty little trick to burp baby using a combination of leaning and stretching. As Catherine lay on the couch fast asleep, it was hard not to think David had performed some kind of magical 'witch doctor' spell.
After the treatment
Perhaps, more importantly, I felt I had some peace of mind from the osteopathy treatment. I had had a straightforward delivery, but it had all been quite quick. In addition to this, Catherine had needed oxygen when she was first born. David's baby MOT provided reassurance that things were as they should be. Even as a first-time mum, I was doing things correctly.
Originally published in the Daily Mail Online on the 20 June 2011