Nothing quite prepares you for the kind of screaming a colicky baby will do – I say this firstly as a mum, as a mum of four, with twins in the middle who both had colic – at the same time. Twins, who although I loved from the heart of my very being, also nearly ‘broke me’ and had me in tears more often than not! I recall many evenings heading upstairs at 7 ish to put them to bed, and my husband and I would return hours later looking like we had fought in a significant battle – we had – and they had won! Those nights were long and tiring, with feeds often running into each other. Life is hard enough with a newborn or two, so when faced with a baby who cries more than expected or doesn’t feed well, the stress levels increase significantly.
I also say this as a physio, as a physio who has been using the gentle treatment of craniosacral therapy to treat babies, children and adults for over 15 years now, with over 90% of patients reporting (or parents of babies reporting) a significant improvement. The beauty about babies is, as they are so young, their improvement is swift, and more often than not, only one or two treatments are required. I have treated all my children with excellent results (my eldest was born at 25 weeks, and had health issues for some time, my twins were induced at 37 weeks, I had a natural delivery but twin 2 needed a little help with forceps, and they both had colic from about 4 weeks, and my youngest was a speedy delivery – 15 minutes after arriving on delivery suite he was in my arms!!)
So, what is colic, and how can I help my baby first?
Colic is surpisingly common, yet still, poorly understood. Colic is the medical term for excessive, frequent crying in a baby who appears to be otherwise healthy and well fed. 1 in 5 babies will suffer from colic, usually starting within the first few weeks, lasting until the baby is 4 months old, 6 months at the latest. It is equally as common in girls and boys, and in babies who are breast fed or bottle fed. Medically, there is little evidence to show the cause, some suggesting indigestion, trapped wind, or temporary gut sensitivity to certain proteins and sugars found in breast and formula milk, and it is helpful to exclude reflux, eczema and dairy intolerance. Parents can often be dismissed and I know frequently tell them “don’t worry, it’ll pass”…. Which can exacerbate feeling of stress, tension, tiredness and feeling out of control! I wonder if they have had to listen to the screams of a colicky baby night after night?!
Tips for you to help
Priority number one – look after yourself. A mum, or dad who is at their wits end, who is stressed and sleep deprived will not be in the best place to help – babies are extremely perceptive, and will quickly react to your mood or state of mind – so trust me and take time out when you can, and if you can’t and it all feels like it’s too much, make sure baby is safe, and remove yourself, to another room for 5 minutes.
Your baby will get better, your baby’s colic is not your fault, and your baby is neither unwell, rejecting you or telling you that you’re doing something wrong. When your baby is upset, try holding your baby, try more upright feeding and winding, try a sling, warm bath or gentle baby massage, especially around the tummy. Colief and infacol are widely used and some find benefit, but again little evidence is out there to support it, but it’s worth a try right?
So, what is craniosacral therapy?
Craniosacral therapy is a light touch, manual therapy that addresses tightness or restrictions in the craniosacral system – this includes the membranes and fluid that surround the brain and spinal cord, and the bones of the skull and spine, which directly impacts the nervous system. Craniosacral therapy helps to correct these restrictions, allowing the system to adjust and move more naturally. It is widely practiced by a number of healthcare bodyworkers, including physiotherapists, osteopaths, chiropractors, doctors and massage therapists. It was developed in the 1970’s by an osteopathic physician Dr John Upledger, and treatments are used worldwide.
How can babies be ‘tight’ or ‘restricted’ when they’re so young?!
Little in life is probably as traumatic as the journey into this world! Babies are designed beautifully to make their way, usually through the birth canal, by making a series of manoeuvres , or 7 cardinal movements, to enable them to work their way down through the birth canal, to delivery. Extension ( or looking up) and rotation are two of these main movements. In other words, baby twists and turns their head and torso, but in reality, sometimes these 7 movements are often not quite as they should be, for a multitude of reasons; did they spend longer than expected at one stage? Did they whizz through and have a very quick delivery? Were they ‘back to back’ making it trickier for mum and baby to negotiate the twists and turns? Nature designed and intended this process to rely more on pushing from uterine contractions than pulling from external forces. In my practice, I see babies after ventouse, forceps or caesarean delivery who have restrictions in their craniosacral system, the first 2 often due simply to the external pressure and traction applied, and the latter often due to baby not being ‘squeezed’, or having had a big depressurisation.
So, babies little cranial bones ( bones that make up the skull), are designed to override each other, and should self correct, once the pumping of spinal fluid ( CSF) occurs, however, sometimes this doesn’t happen, and in terms of colic, an experienced practitioner will be able to gently assess all the areas of baby’s head and body to look for, essentially, restrictions, and correct them, gently ( the pressure we use is usually no more than the weight of a 20p coin). A common area of restriction in babies with colic is at the base of the skull, behind the ear. This restriction can often affect the vagus nerve, which has a direct impact on baby’s breathing and digestion. I find it an absolute privilege to work with babies and their families, and it never ceases to amaze me, what babies are capable of, and how quickly they are treated. Usually babies only have the birth journey to influence where they are at (unless mum had a particularly stressful preganancy or other issues), so they typically respond quickly, often within one or two treatments.
I see babies and children more regularly if they have plagiocephaly (flat head syndrome), autism, cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, epilepsy or any number of different healthcare challenges, but every child is assessed as an individual and a plan is devised with parents. There is no ‘cookbook’ recipe for babies and children. We treat what we find and modify our techniques according to the age of the baby/ child and how they present.
What happens on the first appointment?
The first session begins by talking about the pregnancy, labour and delivery, usually in a lot of detail, and how any intervention may have affected mum and baby. More and more mothers are being induced, yet most don’t consider this an intervention.
If mum is overwhelmed by the birth or initial mothering experience, this may need to be given top priority to resolve.
We will then begin by gently feeling (palpating) different areas of baby’s head and spine and if any areas are notably tight or restricted, a gentle release can be done. Treatment is carried out wherever is most comfortable for mum and baby – mum can feed baby, hold baby, lie down with baby – and some babies just enjoy lying down and moving! Most babies really enjoy craniosacral treatment, typically falling asleep during or after a treatment. As you can imagine, working with babies and children brings a degree of unpredictability! Some babies may find it strange and some do cry, but you will notice it is a different cry to that of hunger/tiredness or pain. Parents are usually amazed at how such a gentle approach can create such a difference.
Want to know more or are you already thinking of a baby or mum and baby who may benefit? There is more information on the website www.tayloredfitphysio.co.uk or you can email me at email@example.com
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. Please share and help spread the word about craniosacral therapy, and let the results speak for themselves.