The first few weeks of motherhood are extremely demanding and involves an incredible amount of learning. Almost all care is transferred onto the baby as parents attempt to dissect each little squeak, leg jolt, and cry in hopes of understanding what their newborn needs. As the week’s progress in the postnatal period, a remarkable instinctual communication develops between newborns and their mothers. BUT what if, your newborn is inconsolable at times and is crying due to something beyond your control? The urgency to figure it out can generate pressure, self-criticism and eventually self-doubt amongst new mothers.
There is an insane amount of pressure on new mothers! As a practicing birth doula, I acknowledge that the pressure on new mothers begins during the early stages of pregnancy. A common question like, “will you be delivering naturally?” might suggest to an expecting mother, that a delivery method other than a completely medication free, vaginal, home birth is subpar or not natural.
The presence and accessibility to social media, and constant exposure to the “ideal” pregnancy, delivery and motherhood make it difficult for mothers not to question or doubt their parenting skills. Pressure to provide the best care continues into the postnatal phase, such as the pressure to breast feed exclusively, that is, if you are lucky enough to produce enough milk, and have your baby latch…Let’s tack on more pressure and more judgment! I have witnessed new mothers feeling guilty for their inability to soothe their colicky newborn while attending my postnatal fitness class.
I have good news. Osteopathy, specifically cranial-sacral therapy, has been extremely effective at relieving and lessening the numerous symptoms that newborns display and cause tons of distress for parents. Osteopathy offers a non-invasive solution to empower and relieve newborns and their mothers! First:
What Is Osteopathy?
Osteopathic manual therapy is an alternative medicine, often recommended for the relief of musculoskeletal dysfunctions and pain management. However, the scope of practice extends to the treatment of respiratory and digestive issues, menstrual irregularities, migraines, headaches, insomnia, anxiety, depression and peripheral or local pain management.
Osteopathy is a natural form of medicine which views the body as one interdependent and continuous system. Theoretically, osteopathy aims to restore normality and function throughout the entire body by determining the cause of imbalance and discomfort. The treatment itself involves a subtle, intuitive manual manipulation of bone and soft tissue within the bodies’ limitations. An Osteopath will use a light tactile pressure to find increased musculoskeletal tone and work to release any tensions with a very slight palpation.
Osteopathy for Infants and Paediatrics
Currently trending amongst midwives and numerous health practitioners is cranial-sacral osteopathy for newborns and babies. It is now recommended that new mothers make a visit to their friendly osteopathic practitioner to assess and correct any strains or trauma the baby may have endured during birth. As babies make their exit, their heads must rotate, compress and narrow, this is referred to as “molding” of the soft baby cranium. In some cases, the re-inflation or un-molding process can be incomplete. A difficult birth, such as one which required forceps, vacuum delivery, an especially lengthy labor followed by emergency caesarean most commonly contribute to cranial compression and incomplete re-inflation.
Many symptoms which are commonly observed in newborns, such as: inconsolable crying for hours at a time, clenched first, belly gurgling, poor sleep patterns, knees tucked, latching or feeding difficulties, discomfort with “tummy-time” may all be associated unresolved cranial compression. More specifically, the compression of the back of the skull, at the occiput can put too much pressure on the hypoglossal, glossopharyngeal and vagus nerves. All these cranial nerves help stimulate the tongue for latching. The vagus nerve alone is responsible sending motor and sensory stimulation the almost every organ in the body, especially the digestive organs.
Osteopathic intervention, specifically cranial-sacral therapy immediately following birth has been very beneficial for the relief of the following difficulties during infancy:
Gastroesophageal reflux (GER)
GER results in crying, vomiting and discomfort after eating. Primarily, reflux has been linked to the vagus nerve, as it relates to the opening and closing of the lower esophageal sphincter as it connects to the stomach. Gemelli, Ulbricht & Romaneli (2014), observed the cessation of all regurgitation and crying after feeding in four infants after they received Osteopathic treatment over a twenty-eight-day period.
Some common signs of colic include: flatulence, gurgling tummies, clenched fists and knees drawn into their chest. Osteopaths Hayden & Mullinger (2006) defined infant colic as at least 90 minutes of inconsolable crying over 24 hours on 5 out of the 7 days of the week! Inconsolable meaning: no holding, rocking, walking could soothe the infant.
After four weeks of cranial-sacral therapy 12 out of 14 infants no longer required treatment for colic symptoms and the remaining two displayed only mild colic like symptoms.
The term “Plagiocephaly” refers to an asymmetrical cranium, more specifically Occipital Plagiocephaly, refers to the flattening of the Occipital bone, what you may think of as the back of your skull. Since the initiation of the “Back to Sleep” foundation in 1992, which encouraged placing newborns on their back for sleeping in order to prevent the occurrence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), there has been an increasing prevalence of occipital flattening in newborns. Lessard, Gagnon, & Trottier (2011), reported a significant decrease in cranial asymmetries after a total of four Osteopathic interventions. In addition to Osteopathic intervention, you may want to encourage tummy-time, first to counter act the flattening of the back of the head, but also for the added benefit of postural and core muscle conditioning.
Let’s not forget that the theory of Osteopathy suggests that the body tends towards normality. Naturally, these resilient little bodies can resolve many of the issues on their own. However, Osteopathic treatment can help speed up this potentially long and uncomfortable process; enabling more space for a happy and healthy development!
Florence was first introduced to alternative therapeutic modalities in her teens, as a dancer and competitive athlete. After high school, Florence furthered her dance training and obtained her Honors Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from McMaster University. Teaming up with the artistic director of the McMaster University contemporary dance company, she developed introductory dance classes for children and teens across Hamilton. Inspired to further her teaching skill-set, she obtained her yoga teacher certification in Hatha yoga. Florence teaches across the city and combines her knowledge of human kinetics, dance, strength and conditioning, and yoga. Teaching movement to pre and postnatal women, and coaching as a birth doula, she gained a unique perspective into the supportive systems available to new and expecting mothers. Florence has an affinity for the holistic approach to women’s care. She is passionate about the assimilation of progressive knowledge to educate and empower women at any stage of life including: pre-conception, pregnancy and recovery after birth. Most recently, Florence completed her five years of study at the Canadian College of Osteopathy in Toronto. As a manual therapist, she believes in having her patients actively participate in their healing. She currently is working to complete her thesis which will examine how osteopathic treatment effects diastasis-recti abdominus in postnatal women.