Cranial osteopathy is an absolute boon for new mothers. This most gentle form of manipulation can soothe the trauma of birth and give their babies a head-start for a healthy happy life. But what exactly is this wonder therapy and is it really such a miracle cure-all?
Cranial osteopathy is a very gentle, yet extremely powerful, part of osteopathy. While standard osteopathy is generally known for its high velocity cracks and crunches, cranial work is so gentle you would barely know you were having it. As the name suggests it involves manipulating the infinitesimal joints of the cranium or skull, known as sutures. Although these sutures are so very tiny, they can become as traumatised or restricted as any joint in the body. The osteopath seeks to ease any abnormalities, gently returning the bones of the cranium to a position of ease and comfort.
Although all osteopaths are aware of cranial work, many don’t choose to work in this way. Peter Bartlett explains that some osteopaths avoid cranial techniques because they simply cannot work at such a subtle level. ‘Put a hair under a page of a telephone directory and most people would be able to feel where it was,’ he says, ‘however the best cranial osteopaths could feel that hair through the whole telephone directory.’ Bartlett works a lot with babies who have had difficult births and says that a wide variety of behavioural and developmental problems can be ironed out with the treatment. He tells of one baby which cried incessantly, only sleeping for half an hour at a time. The parents were exhausted and worried sick. After half an hour of treatment, the baby become quiet and immediately slept for two whole hours. A few treatments later his behaviour was perfectly normal.
The treatment is so subtle and the results so powerful that many people find cranial osteopathy hard to comprehend. ‘People think it’s magic or faith healing, but it’s not,’ says Corina Petter, a cranial expert at the Hale Clinic in London. ‘This is firmly based on anatomy and physiology. It relies on fundamental science. If you know your anatomy you can feel the stress traumas within the body and release them.’
So why exactly is it so useful for babies? ‘Few births are ‘easy’ for either mother or child,’ explains Phil Parker who specialises in cranial work. ‘The mother’s pelvis and pelvic floor have to accommodate the turbulent passage of the infant, whilst the infant is forcibly squeezed (or more precisely wrung) out of the womb and then is subjected to a series of twists and turns as it passes through the birth canal to be ejected from the warm, comfortable womb into the (relatively) harsh, cold, bright lighted world.’
This is, of course, a totally natural process and in most cases the birth is fine, helped by the fact that the bones in a baby’s head are flexible and can easily overlap. However various problems can arise. At the first stage of labour, your cervix might not dilate quite enough and so the baby’s head could be forced repetitively onto the cervix and pelvic bones, causing trauma and stress.
As your baby leaves the womb it undergoes a series of twists and turns which help to mould his or her head. Problems can occur at this stage if the baby’s passage is either too fast (the head doesn’t have the time it needs to become properly moulded) or too slow (the head and body can get squashed and the baby can become very stressed).
When Mel Rowe had baby Martha, the birth was easy but very fast. By the time Martha was four and a half months old, Mel was, to use her own words, ‘desperate.’ Martha was crying relentlessly and had permanent colic. She couldn’t keep down milk and never slept in the day. ‘I had heard wonderful things about cranial osteopathy and desperately hoped it would make a difference,’ says Mel, ‘but at the same time wondered if anything could.’ She took Martha to Phil Parker and after a few days Martha became much more settled. A few sessions later the problems had vanished. ‘I was more than impressed,’ she says, ‘Martha became an incredibly happy baby.’
Forceps and vacuum (Ventouse) extraction can also cause trauma. Even Caesarian delivery can present a number of problems. In all cases, the cranial osteopath can gently align the bones of the skull into their optimum position – as if the baby had experienced an ideal birth. When this essential framework is in place, so many problems simply disappear. It really does seem like magic.
However osteopathy can help far more than birth trauma. Jenny Harris had a normal pregnancy and delivery but her baby Emily was floppy. ‘Emily was just like a limp rabbit’ recalls Jenny. ‘She didn’t make a sound, not even to cry; there were no reflexes, barely any life in her at all. We were shifted from doctor to doctor but basically they said there was nothing they or we could do for her. They more or less said she’d be a cabbage.’ Fortunately Jenny knew about cranial osteopathy and she took Emily to osteopath Rex Brangwyn in Brighton. ‘He didn’t hold out much hope but as he worked on her an incredible thing happened: she cried for the very first time. I couldn’t believe it,’ says Jenny. After that, he worked on Emily intensively – several times a week to begin with – and she came on in leaps and bounds.
‘Em still has problems – it isn’t a total cure by any means and she still has special needs,’ says Jenny, ‘But I have no doubt that, but for Rex, she wouldn’t be running around and playing. Cranial osteopathy saved Emily, I’m quite sure of that.’
In an ideal world all babies would have cranial osteopathy following birth – particularly if the birth is unusual in any way. Fortunately this gentle wonder-treatment is becoming better known and recognized – many doctors are now realizing that cranial osteopathy can find solutions where drugs and orthodox medicine are unable to help. Tina Longworth was initially surprised when her GP suggested she visit Phil Parker with her baby Marcus. Marcus was suffering terrible nightmares following a meningitis scare which had put him through the trauma of a lumbar puncture in hospital. He would wake five times a night screaming and arching his back. But after the first session Marcus only had one nightmare the whole week and, after the second session, they had disappeared completely. ‘We were amazed and delighted,’ says Tina.
There is no doubt that a visit to a cranial osteopath is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your new-born baby but it could also be a perfect present for yourself as well. Osteopathy isn’t just for babies – it works wonders for new mothers too. Pregnancy and birth put undoubted stresses and strains on your body and an osteopath can help to put everything gently back into place. Best of all, cranial osteopathy isn’t just effective – it also feels absolutely divine. And the one thing every new mum needs is the feelgood factor – both for her baby and for herself.
COULD CRANIAL OSTEOPATHY HELP YOUR BABY? Consider trying cranial osteopathy if your baby had a traumatic or difficult birth or if he or she suffers from any of the following: colic and other digestive problems; sleeplessness; learning difficulties; glue ear; persistent coughs and colds; hyperactivity. It may also help if your baby is constantly upset, crying and wingeing.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? It varies very much from practitioner to practitioner and according to which part of the country you live. Some clinics offer sliding scales or cheap treatment for babies. You are unlikely to get treatment on the NHS although it is technically possible providing your GP is a fund-holder and sympathetic to osteopathy.
HOW MANY SESSIONS WILL IT TAKE? It will depend on the problem. Generally expect to visit once a week at first; less often as the condition improves.
HOW DO I FIND A GOOD PRACTITIONER? In the UK all qualified osteopaths have the initials D.O. or BSc. (Ost) after their names. You can find your nearest cranial osteopath via the Sutherland Society or via the General Osteopathic Council
My verdict? A must-have for newborns. I took my baby and it worked wonders for him and I recommend it to all new mothers.
Your thoughts? Have you experienced cranial osteopathy – either for yourself or for your baby? Did you rate it? Share your thoughts and experiences by commenting below.