Principal osteopath Chantal Prince explains why babies benefit from osteopathic treatment
In 2009 a survey showed around 2.1% of osteopathic patients were children under 1 year old. This rose to 4.8% in 2019 and10% under 10 years old. Babies are mostly seen because they have ‘colicky’ type symptoms: excessive crying, distress, unsettledness and difficult to console. Other common issues include feeding and sleeping difficulties.
The osteopath’s role
The osteopath’s role is to free the movement of the bones and muscles so the baby or child can grow unhindered. This helps in developing healthy, meaningful movement patterns that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.
When we are treating infants and children, we must understand how a growing body can be impacted from being interrupted by disuse from illness, injury, or neurological compromise before it is fully formed. Treating a child before their bones have fused, helps influence the way their body grows and develops. This is crucial to judge the type and amount of pressure that may be safely applied during treatment of babies, children, and adolescents.
As osteopaths, we are uniquely placed in the healthcare system to make changes that allow the child’s body to grow in a more balanced way. These are special windows of opportunities to help aid their movement, which will hopefully prove to be beneficial to that person for the rest of their life.
When a body is well formed it can perform its tasks with effortless ease, it gets less tired and is less prone to injury and disease. Every system in our body has an in-built part of it that can grow, adapt, and change to create the adult form. The skull’s ability to change shape easily with osteopathic treatment is generally considered to be greatest before 14 months of age. That is not to say that you cannot change head-shape after that time, it is just slower and harder to achieve. So the sooner we can treat a baby the better.
Why a baby may need treatment from an osteopath
Movement before birth
A foetus in utero must move its body to prepare for life outside the womb. If you have twins, usually one twin is bigger than the other and can move more easily. The twin who moves less, often starts in the outside world at a disadvantage. They may have more hurdles to develop function, such as starting to move against gravity, or feeding and kicking. A baby with less amniotic fluid (Oligohydramnios) will be compressed and the quality of their movements will be affected. (Ianiruberto and Tajan 1981, Rosier van Dunne et al 2010)
The effect of birth
Birth is an event. The infant is subjected to moulding (abnormal shape) of the head and body (Ami et al 2019) which may persist after birth and can impact on the infant in many ways. The body uses mechanisms to correct the moulding that has impacted it, such as the first breath, sucking and crying, though the results can be only partially effective. As osteopaths we often witness in the really unsettled babies that head moulding is persistent even after four weeks post birth and that many of their symptoms of crying and not sleeping well can resolve as the head remoulds after osteopathic treatment. (Hayden 2006).
How the baby’s head is positioned during birth, the length of the birth process, and whether intervention (such as forceps, ventouse or c-section) has been needed, all leave their story upon the infant’s anatomy. The effect of birth can be obvious or maybe more insidious and not show up until the child misses a developmental milestone. The effects of birth could leave the baby with the following:-
- Torticollis (twisted neck)
- Plagiocephaly (flattened head)
- Cranial head moulding (abnormal shape head)
- Palsy of a limb (paralysis of an arm/leg)
- Shoulder dystocia (nerve damage to the arm or fractured collar bone)
- Brain haemorrhages (bleed on the brain)
- Retinal haemorrhages (bleed in the eye)
Handling and moving after birth
The way we are handled when we are unable to physically move ourselves makes a great deal of difference. If a baby is picked up under the armpits their shoulder girdles shift up round their ears. This is uncomfortable if you are healthy but if you have sustained a mild birth injury and your neck is tighter than it should be, this will give pain and dysfunction and can cause the baby to resist moving. A baby who does not move is not making all those good/natural brain to body connections. Osteopathy can help remove these restrictions so the baby is more comfortable.
When a mother is told to keep their baby upright due to reflux, a baby is often placed over the mother’s shoulder with its legs dangling down. The baby then struggles to make a good connection with their own stomach muscles and diaphragm, and the immature low back spine spine is impacted by being pulled out of its natural C-curve (which in my opinion leads to poor function in the spine and can be one of the contributing factors to bum shuffling rather than crawling). By reducing or removing the cause of reflux, this negative spiral can be avoided.
The respiratory system
The diaphragm is one of the first muscles to activate in utero. It is imperative that it boosts up at birth and this activates the all-important first breath. The first breath expands the lungs and the quality of that is important in the quality of breathing for the infant. As osteopaths we find that children who have had a poor quality first breath are more likely to be the child who does not sleep well at night. By treating a child’s respiratory system (diaphragm, ribs, spine and muscles) this may be able to help the child’s respiratory system and therefore, feeding and sleeping quality is improved.
I feel Osteopaths are privileged to be in the position to be able to assess and treat babies, children, and adolescents during their developmental milestones. It is key to help their bodies maintain good movement and provide up to date relevant advice to the parents/primary care givers, to produce healthy physical outcomes in the developing child to live and function freely and efficiently throughout life.
To book an osteopathic treatment for your infant or child with Chantal, follow the link below.
Ianniruberto A, Tajani E. (1981) Ultrasonographic study of foetal movements. Semin Perinatal 175-181
Ami O, Maran JC, Gabor P, Witacre EB, Musset D, Dubray C, mage G, Boyer L. May 15 2019 Thjree dimensional Magnetic resonance imaqing of fetal head molding and brain shape changes during the second stage of labor. https://doi.org/10.137/ journal.pone 0215721
Hayden C, Mulinger B, A preliminary assessment of the impact of cranial osteopathy for the relief of infantile colic Complementary Ther Clin Pract 2006 May ;12(2) 83-90