28 Apr Cranial Osteopathy Can Help Soothe Away Your Baby’s Colicky Cries
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, but 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.
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 mothers 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. That can mean a lot of stress and pressure, particularly on baby’s head.
Cranial osteopaths are looking to recognise any effects caused by this and release that pressure, particularly in the base of the skull where nerves to the tongue and guts may become irritated and 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 and the Eustachian tubes which may be compressed, especially by forceps, during delivery and 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 compressive or twisting forces such as those experienced by the baby during birth, these connective tissues can become distorted and strained, and the baby may feel uncomfortable as a result. Osteopaths use their highly developed sense of palpation to feel these strains and to gently release them.”
David started by asking me questions about Catherine’s arrival, to find out whether 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 all the time to reassure her.
“I’m watching the face and body for any reaction,’ he said, ‘waiting to feel for the rhythmic fascial pull. Is it symmetrical, is it stronger on one side? I test for mobilisation and angle of movement of the ankle joints and toes, and the same goes for knees and hips.”
David continued working his way up Catherine’s body, feeling through her clothes to her ribs and then onto her spine. I was convinced she would keep wriggling and maybe even start to cry at the unfamiliar surroundings but to my surprise she was relaxing and closing her eyes. Her arms were thrown up above her head – clearly she felt safe and secure enough to sleep. David kept going, along Catherine’s fingers, wrists, elbows, to her shoulders and then onto her head.
During delivery a newborn’s head faces huge pressure as 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 but that feeling of pressure is sometimes retained. It can lead to crying and screaming as the baby is uncomfortable, or it can mean a baby has difficulty feeding because of stresses through the head, face and throat. As David explained his work I realised that was something Catherine struggled with – she was quite a ‘windy’ feeder, gulping air as I fed her and then regurgitating milk between and after feeds.
“Many babies are mouth breathers, struggling 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 and will cause abdominal pain as they stretch the sensitive small intestines on their journey.”
That certainly sounded familiar and I was grateful for tips on how to combat that, including a nifty little trick to burp baby with 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. I carefully picked her up and placed her back in the pram – normally she’d 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, but 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’d had a straightforward delivery but it had all been quite quick and Catherine had needed oxygen when she was first born. David’s baby MOT provided reassurance that things were as they should be and that I was doing things right, even as a first-time mother.
David Isherwood studied Cranial osteopathy for babies with the Sutherland Cranial College