Osteopathy: Helping Your Baby Recover From Birth Trauma

By Elissa O’Brien

As many parents can testify, labour is a transforming, memorable experience. It is a rite of passage that leaves both parents and baby changed forever. However, even with the most gentle of births, babies (and mothers) can experience a range of challenges that if left unaddressed can be cause for ongoing difficulties.

Elissa O’Brien is an Osteopath and mother and has spent numerous hours at her treatment table while a traumatised baby tells her and everyone in the waiting room (in no uncertain terms) that birth has been difficult for them too.

Osteopathy is a gentle, safe and hands-on manual therapy that can assist babies to recover from the trauma they may have experienced at birth.

Firstly, what is Birth Trauma?

Birth trauma can occur in many ways including:

• baby running out of room at the end of pregnancy
• less than ideal position during final weeks of pregnancy
• injury to mother during pregnancy – physical, chemical or emotional
• very fast or very prolonged labour
• intervention during labour such as forceps or ventouse
• trauma after labour either to the mother or the baby – physical, emotional or chemical

What can Osteopaths treat?

Basically most things that make your baby cry:

• digestive disturbance – colic, reflux, diarrhea and constipation
• breast feeding related issues – including poor latching and poor suckling
• musculoskeletal aches and pains – neck and back strain or tension and asymmetry
• poor sleeping patterns
• respiratory or ear infections
• clicking or asymmetric hips and pelvis

How will my baby tell me they need an Osteopath?

The baby often cries and appears unsettled. Proud parents might boast that their baby is really strong because at two days old he or she could support their own head; however, this can mean they have very tense neck muscles or have breech presentation. Some babies make peculiar grunting sounds, wriggle a lot and either arch their back or want to stay excessively curled up from birth, which may indicate abdominal discomfort.

Is Osteopathy safe for my baby?

An Osteopath’s ability to diagnose your baby’s condition comes from an extensive knowledge of anatomy, physiology, biomechanics and pathology.

Osteopathy is a five-year university course, which includes a degree and masters qualification. Senior Osteopathy students complete clinical training under the supervision of registered Osteopaths at student teaching clinics

Osteopaths believe in working as part of a health system of health providers and often refer back to the G.P. or another allied health professional where appropriate.

What does the treatment involve?

An Osteopathic treatment for your baby can take place as soon after the birth as the baby can physically get to the clinic or even as soon as the Osteopath can get to your baby. Osteopathic treatment involves the baby lying on a treatment table or being held by a parent while the practitioner uses a very light touch to ‘unwind’ any tension.

It is important to remember that the baby doesn’t feel any more discomfort during Osteopathic treatment than he/she already has during birth; however, even the gentle touch that we use can remind them of the compressive forces felt during labour, so they often cry during a treatment, The pressure used is as light as the pressure you would apply when you cuddle your baby.

Treatment will also involve a case history, which will explore:

• your health during pregnancy
• the position of the baby during pregnancy and labour
• the labour story and any complications or interventions,
• the short history of your baby’s life including medications, accidents, behaviours and patterns such as sleeping, bowel habit and feeding.

An Osteopath’s tools for diagnosis and treatment are a thorough case history and a hands-on physical examination of your baby’s musculoskeletal, central nervous, digestive, circulatory and lymphatic systems.

What else should I know about Osteopathy?

Elissa has seen first hand the benefits of Osteopathy. She once treated a baby girl who was delivered with only one or two pushes while the mother squatted and, much to the midwives’ dismay, was out and on the floor on her head before anyone could catch her. Needless to say, she told her parents about it for the first ten long weeks of her life. After three Osteopathic treatments to decompress her head and spine she was happy and smiling – and the parents were too, of course!

Many Osteopaths will use Osteopathy in the cranial field to treat children. Other Osteopaths who focus on the structural elements of the body will use functional or fascial techniques. The overall aim of treatment is to increase range of motion, increase circulation and improve lymphatic drainage to restricted joints, cranial sutures and other relevant tissues.

To find out more information on how Osteopathy can help you, or to find your nearest Osteopath, contact the Australian Osteopathic Association on 1800 4 OSTEO (1800 4 67836) or visit www.osteopathic.com.au

Elissa O’Brien (B.Sc(Clin)M.H.Sc(Ost)M.A.O.A) has been practicing Osteopathy for eight years in Victoria and during that time has met many very grateful parents.