Labour and delivery can have an impact on a baby’s body. While the baby’s head is designed to adapt to the process of labour, some distortion can occur – especially if forceps or suction are involved during delivery.
Stresses and strains experienced in utero as well as during labour and delivery can also lead to some dysfunction in the baby’s soft tissues.
“This can lead to a number of common difficulties experienced by babies such as colic, winding problems, reflux and other digestive issues,” says Catherine Dolan, a registered osteopath who specialises in paediatrics and treats many babies with such problems at her practice, Dublin Bay Osteopathy.
“Cranial osteopathy involves gentle hands-on contact of the baby’s body in order to identify any tissues that might not have recovered naturally following birth,” she says.
“Using a similar light contact, the osteopath can release any area of tension still in the body.”
Cranial osteopathy works on the physiological model that there is a very subtle rhythmical pulse through all tissues known as the primary respiratory mechanism.
“Some osteopaths undergo specialised training to learn how to feel this pulse and how to use it to help the body work to its full potential.”
Catherine, who chose osteopathy as a career because she loved the idea of having a skill in her hands, insists that cranial osteopathy does not involve any heavy movements of a baby’s skull or body.
“While some babies don’t like being touched or held by a person they don’t know, on the whole the treatment is incredibly relaxing and subtle, even on adults.”
Catherine’s strategy is to work on a baby in a position that seems to make them most contented.
“Quite often the baby will sleep through the treatment, but we can also treat them while they are being fed by their mothers via breast or bottle,” she explains.
“They might also be lying down or they could be held or carried by myself or the parent.”
Catherine’s work involves a focus on the stomach, rib and diaphragm areas to help with wind or reflux symptoms.
“I will also often work in the mouth, around the cheeks, jaw, shoulder and neck to help with issues around feeding, lightly working around the head and rest of the body to help relax them and support their body’s natural unwinding post-partum.”
Too long to wait
While babies have generally been signed out of hospital and have had all their health checks by the time osteopaths see them and they may have issues like colic that they will, in time, grow out of, this may be too long a wait for many parents.
“It can be an incredibly upsetting time for both infants and parents if their baby is crying or seems to be in pain, or if the mum is struggling in any way with breastfeeding,” she says. “The idea of waiting for the baby to grow out of it can seem overwhelming and far too long a time to wait.”
She also points out that some of the issues a baby could have aren’t necessarily a result of the labour or delivery.
“Perhaps the infant was in an awkward position or a little squeezed in utero towards the end of the pregnancy,” she says, “and so might be a little tight around the tummy or neck or mouth.
This could potentially limit their natural ability to have a bowel movement with ease or in the case of breast feeding, limit the ability to tip their head back to fully open the mouth for a deep latch.”
Precision and care
She points out that the top of a baby’s head is not fully ossified at birth and so light pressure is vital.
“The fontanelle are all still open, so you must be precise and careful with your palpation and treatment,” she says. “You can’t force the movement, either, because you then won’t be able to pick up a subtle change in the tissues, but it is really working with anything that is a little tight. Cranial osteopathy just helps the body to do its own releasing and reach a point of best health possible for that individual.”
Feeding problems can be the main reason why parents attend, she says.
“They might include a shallow latch or difficult sustaining a latch, long feeding times, pain and/or nipple damage for mum, blocked ducts and mastitis and poor weight gain. I have found, more often than not, my treatment will work very well in combination with a mum meeting with a lactation consultant, also.
With most babies, a little bit of osteopathic work around the mouth, tongue, neck, shoulders can help. I would work on the suck while at the same time lightly supporting the tissues around the neck and head. I would not really be moving it too much but the gentle movements can help the body to remember what it is supposed to do.”
Response to the treatment is usually fast, she states.
“I would usually see babies between one and three times but I would expect a positive change within 24-48 hours among 80% of patients.
“Obviously we can’t fix everything but if it is going to work it is going to work relatively quickly.”
Is it well researched?
Structural (general) osteopathy is very well researched, but cranial osteopathy less so, she says. Osteopathy itself has a growing body of researched evidence, however.
“Around Europe, osteopathy is more widely recognised and used. A lot more people would have confidence in it and parents would be more inclined to have osteopathic check-ups for their babies. Working in London after graduation, I found that a lot of people brought their children specifically for cranial osteopathy.
“In Ireland, osteopathy is continuing to become more recognised and utilised,” she adds. “Some osteopaths have a general practice, some focus on sports-related injuries, some focus on paediatrics and there are a number of osteopaths working primarily with animals.”
All osteopaths complete a four- to five-year degree programme and complete at least 30 hours of continued professional development each year.
“There are a number of post graduate certificate, diploma and masters programmes also for osteopaths who specialise,” Catherine says.
She completed a MSc in paediatrics with the Osteopathic Centre for Children in London, which offered part of its training within hospitals as well as having links with Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital.
“It really was a fantastic and rounded experience,” she says. “The paeds masters focused heavily on cranial osteopathy as a treatment approach and I was really so impressed with the benefits I saw. Now a significant proportion of my work is with children.” CL
History of cranial osteopathy
Osteopathy was founded in the 19th century by an American doctor, Andrew Taylor Still, who became convinced that many illnesses arise when part of the body’s structure goes out of alignment.
William Garner Sutherland (1873-1954) discovered, developed and taught cranial osteopathy, however, in the early to mid-1900s.
Several of his manual therapy techniques are still practiced today by practitioners of osteopathic medicine. While Sutherland acknowledged Andrew Taylor Still as the developer of all osteopathy, including the cranial approach, he was the first person to claim to feel a rhythmic shape change in the bones of the cranium. He later applied this movement to all body tissues and this movement is the agent of change in dysfunctional tissues. He later named this motion the body’s Primary Respiration.
Osteopathic Council of Ireland
The Osteopathic Council of Ireland is a member of the European Federation and Forum for Osteopathy (EFFO) and is committed to the provision of quality healthcare for the benefit of patients in Ireland, while ensuring the highest standards of ethical and professional practice by its members.
Osteopathic research resources are available at the National Council for Osteopathic Research (NCOR) and the European Federation and Forum for Osteopathy (EFFO) websites.
To find a list of registered osteopaths see the Osteopathic Council of Ireland’s website (osteopathy.ie). Catherine Dolan’s website is dublinbayosteo.com
The term cranial refers not just to the head. It is another osteopathic method rather than a separate therapy.
Musician and broadcaster Una Healy launched the 2021 Vhi Virtual Women’s Mini Marathon in Tipperary, her home county. The event, now in its 39th year, will take place virtually on Sunday 19 September with the help of the brand-new Official Event App that has been developed to support those looking to walk, jog and run the 10km route anywhere in the country. Registration for the event is now open on vhiwomensminimarathon.ie
Every participant will receive a Race Pack, including a Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon T-shirt, and the 2021 commemorative medal. Participants can also download and personalise their race number to wear while they are completing the 10km in September.
The new app will also allow participants to ‘Race the Real Route’ and get the real-race experience by following the official route of the Vhi Women’s Mini Marathon in Dublin city, right from their doorstep.
Other features of the app include the ability to join a team with friends, family, workmates or a charity they are supporting.
Una Healy said: “I am delighted to be involved with the 2021 Vhi Virtual Women’s Mini Marathon. It’s great that this special virtual race has been created as this event is such an important one for women all across Ireland.
“While it’s disappointing we can’t run the usual event, we can still build a community together and help raise much needed funds for so many charities by doing it virtually. I can’t wait to get started!”