Updated: Dec 7, 2022
By Coby Langford, Paediatric Cranial Osteopath
Babies should wake because they are hungry. That's all.
There are many reasons for a child not sleeping, some of which cranial osteopathy can help with.
Many babies struggle to sleep because they are in pain due to colic or reflux. The abdominal pain caused by wind, or the pain of acid reflux leaves them writhing in pain, screaming through the night. Others wake for 'osteopathic' reasons. More often than not, both are present at the same time.
Whenever a sleepless baby is brought to my clinic, 9 times out of 10, they have had a forceps delivery, ventous delivery, induced delivery or a prolonged stage 2 birth (and in some cases, all 4!).
If someone were to place a metal clamp around your head, twist, and pull you through a small space, would you be surprised if you were left with a bit of a headache? If you were to lie upside down and be banged repeatedly against a structure, no matter how soft, you wouldn't be surprised to have a resultant headache either right? And so it is with babies. Osteopaths postulate that forceps, ventous, induction and a prolonged stage 2 labour can leave resultant areas of tension through the skull of the baby, as well as through the muscles of the neck, resulting in a headache or neck pain. This headache increases when the baby lies flat, a lot like when we as adults experience difficulty lying flat when we have a head cold or sinusitis.
We know this postulation to be highly plausable due the the effect of tension in the skull on adults. If an adult has strong dental work, they can experience stabbing head pains, sinus pain, headaches, eye pain, and a feeling of pressure in the head as a result of tension left through the facial bones from the forces used. Babies are no different to adults. They have the same anatomical structures as adults. Pressure through the skull, from any source, can leave tension and resultant uncomfortable symptoms.
The skull is not one bone, it is 27 bones that articulate together. In babies they are not even bone, they are cartilage, floating around in a membranous sac, designed to slide over each other during birth to allow the baby's head to pass through the birth canal. Any increased pressure such as forceps, can result in what is called 'retained moulding', in which the baby's head shape remains a little 'distorted'. This is completely natural, and usually resolves itself once the baby starts suckling and crying. But often it doesn't. And this is where Cranial Osteopathy can help.
Osteopaths also believe that in some cases, this moulding can place very gentle pressure through the sleep centre of the brain, (the pituitary gland) resulting in the child having difficulty 'switching off'. A bit like having had 5 cups of coffee and trying to sleep.
The goal of a cranial osteopath is to remove this residual tension left in the body of a baby as a result of birth, or during pregnancy, allowing the headache to ease and the feeling of pressure to dissappear, enabling the baby to relax and sleep.
Babies often respond extremely fast to osteopathic treatment, falling asleep during treatment and sleeping through that same night.
The reason people experience differing results when consulting an osteopath for a sleepless baby is because cranial osteopathy can only help the situations in which tension is the cause of the poor sleep. If the baby is not sleeping because of abdominal gas, the cause of that gas production needs to be addressed.
Personally, I would like to see a Great Britain in which all babies delivered by forceps or ventous are offered cranial osteopathy immediately, as is the practice in hospitals in many countries. It would save alot of parental distress and suffering of new borns.