21 May 2017

Cranial osteopathy and the treatment of colic


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?


Cranial osteopathy encourages the release of tension and stresses in the body and the head that might have been caused by the birth. Osteopaths hold and observe the baby, carefully manipulating the body to encourage it to function as it should.

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?


Cranial osteopaths look to recognise any effects caused by this and release that pressure. They pay special attention on the base of the skull, as nerves to the tongue and guts may become irritated. This, in turn, may effect suckling and cause nausea.

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


David started by asking me questions about Catherine’s arrival to find out if I'd had a good pregnancy and a straightforward birth. Once he had all that information, he began the physical examination. The first thing he did was simply hold Catherine gently, feeling for that flexion and extension. He placed her on the couch and started with her feet, holding them gently and talking slowly, and quietly reassuring her all the time.

"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


During delivery a newborn's head faces huge pressure. The soft bones of the skull overlap and bend as the baby is born. Over the first few days of life the head will gradually lose its moulded shape. However, that feeling of pressure sometimes remains. This pressure can lead to crying and screaming as the baby is uncomfortable. It can also mean that a a baby has difficulty feeding because of the stresses throughout the head, face and throat. As David explained his work, I realised this was something Catherine struggled with. She was quite a 'windy' feeder, gulping air as I fed her. She would also regurgitate milk between and after feeds.

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


I carefully picked her up and placed her back in the pram. Normally she would jolt awake, but she hardly stirred as I negotiated the uneven pavement outside. I wasn't sure what to expect that night. Catherine certainly didn't go to bed at 7pm without a fuss. However, her crying was less prolonged and, when she did settle, it took less time.

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


More information and appointments


If you would like more information about cranial osteopathy, visit the Putney Clinic of Physical Therapy website. For appointments with  our resident cranial osteopath Aude Lauriot Prevost, call us on 020 8789 3881.


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