Crying babies and sleepless nights

Krystyna Zielinski MSc.Ost.Med, DO(Hons) and Alessia Iannibelli DO, M.Ost are paediatric osteopaths working at The Wimbledon Osteopath, previously the Daybrook Road Osteopathic Clinic and South West Osteopathic Centre for Children. Both have experience dealing with crying babies.

Here we tell you how osteopathic treatment could help with common paediatric problems.

Clive Hayden, also an osteopath, published a study into the effects of cranial osteopathic treatment on babies. He was able to prove that some parents perceived the following changes in their children’s behaviour: reduced colicky crying, improved sleep, less unsettled irritable behaviour and increased quiet happy spells.

How can Cranial Osteopathy help with sleeping and feeding difficulties in babies?

Baby James’ Story

Baby James was delivered in the breech position aided by forceps after a 20 hour labour. He fed well for the first 3 days but then things became extreme difficult. James screamed continually after only a couple of sucks. His mother Anne would try to pacify him on the breast again but after a few more sucks he was fighting her and screaming till he was red in the face. What milk he did take in, he then promptly regurgitated.

At this point, Anne resigned herself to the fact that James had ‘three month colic’. After 5 months and no change in the feeding pattern, Anne started to wish she had never had a son. In desperation and following a friend’s recommendation, she came to see us.

After the first treatment, James cried continually for 3 hours after the gentlest head massage possible. After 4 visits, he was completely transformed. He fed and slept better and seemed much happier and content as he started to engage more with his surroundings and his mother. Not surprisingly, Anne looked and felt much better too!

In this case, James’ head had been delivered backwards and the two halves of his skull had received a slight twist as the forceps helped him out. This meant that when he sucked, instead of two halves opening symmetrically, they would press on each other and trap the vagus nerve. This resulted in severe discomfort and hence the screaming. The situation was also compounded by a corresponding twist through the pelvis which we addressed with cranial osteopathic techniques.

Baby Helen’s Story

Baby Helen used to wake up crying during the first 6 months of her life. Sometimes she woke up as much as 6 times every night and would not go back to sleep without lots of attention from her parents. By 10 months, she had only slept through the night 12 times. Her immense lack of sleep made her very cross and miserable during the day.  This caused great disharmony between the parents and the rest of the household.

In Helen’s case the problem was not due to a traumatic birth but rather the speed of it. She had the umbilical cord round her neck during her birth and it had also turned blue. Her parents also noted that her skull was misshapen for days before it finally decided what form it would take.

I started treating Helen from the base of her spine and then moved up to her skull. She screamed her head off as I worked on her.  This happened as she was just at the age when older children don’t like to be messed around with and are not always great at being in one position for too long. Slightly older children are usually quite happy to lie back and let the paediatric osteopath get on with the relaxing treatment.

That night, Helen slept 11 hours and was found sucking her thumb, something she had never done before. This was her body’s own attempt to correct the position of the cranial bones; a very positive sign. Several treatments later, she was transformed into a happy child who was always grinning.

So what’s it all about?

Cranial osteopathy is usually studied at a post-graduate level and is a branch of classical osteopathy. It was pioneered by William Garner Sutherland, an American osteopath in the 1890’s. He concluded that the skull bones (about 22 in all) were free to move at all times with the aid of body fluids such as cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). The cranial impulse, thought to be produced by CSF was found to expand and contract the bones at a definite rhythmic rate of around 12 cycles a minute, measurable by hand or electronically. This impulse is quite distinct from heart beat or breathing.

On every first appointment with a baby or child, the paediatric osteopath will take a detailed case history which includes information about the delivery, feeding and sleeping patterns or the baby. Then, with gentle hands, they will examine the child before any diagnosis or treatment is given. We pride ourselves on guiding you throughout the session with confidence and are happy to answer all your questions as we go along. We are primarily here to help and alleviate your stress at this difficult time and above all, make your special person more comfortable.

The paediatric osteopath feels for areas of abnormal tension and works expertly to ‘free’ these areas by applying gentle external pressure. This is felt as no more than the weight of the practitioner’s hands. We aim to ease various structures of the body into a more comfortable position so that muscles relax, the bones release and all the tissues can function normally again.

So why check babies’ heads?

Children and Babies massage treatments in WimbledonDuring labour, the baby’s head is subjected to a large number of compressive forces. It accomodates for this by a process known as moulding of the skull. This is when skull bones get distorted or overlap.

Normally the moulding is reduced in the first few days. This is aided by crying, as this raises intracranial pressure, and helped further by sucking, which helps to re-expand the base of the skull by repeatedly moving the facial bones. However, if moulding is extreme, the ‘un-moulding process’ is not completed properly. The retained compression can then have a variety of effects on the baby including crying, increased irritability and sleeping difficulties.

The baby might prefer being picked up and held all the time as the pressure of the head on the pillow or mattress increases the pressure already present in the head making it feel uncomfortable for them. It’s as if the baby has a headache and we all know what that feels like.

We have been treating children for over 25 years at the clinic and have always had a well earnt reputation in the field with a strong association with local midwives, health visitors and the NCT (National Childbirth Trust) and the Osteopathic Centre for Children, where Krystyna worked and taught when it was based in Cavendish Sq London. Krystyna has a Masters in Osteopath and part of her speciality was gained in Paediatrics.