How does osteopathy work on crying babies?

Torticolis, stress, crying, where to lie between some doctors who decree inefficiency see the dangerousness of certain osteopathic practices on infants and a[cf. : France info le 09/03/19 ]n osteopathic discourse sometimes blurred that advances amazing results on baby crying without showing the mechanism of action.

The best thing you can do to understand each other better is often to ask questions. So if you asked us, “But how does it work?”

Well, even if part of the aura of osteopathy is certainly due to its mysticism and often convincing results whose procedures remain a mystery to patients, I think that one day or another we will suffer the same loss of confidence that traditional medicine is currently undergoing, if like it, we do not make the effort to make our processes of action transparent. It is therefore necessary to do this work of popularization even if it burns our magician’s costume, if it can at the same time get rid of that of charlatan, I sign.

Here are some explanations of our method and rest assured, no need for abstract allegories to explain the levers specific to osteopathy that can reduce baby’s suffering, let’s stay in the tangible. Let’s go.

As you know, baby crying is symptomatic of discomfort, but not only. As specified by the Bordeaux Rive Droite Polyc[1]linic, crying is mainly generated by the following factors:

  • Hungry
  • sleep
  • Pain
  • Stress / Need for accompaniment

When it comes to hunger, our role will be primarily to help parents detect signs of hunger. Regarding the quality of sleep, we can consider that it is related to our other three levers.

So let’s look at what we have left, the pain, the stress and the need for support.

First of all, consultation with a practitioner usually has the effect of reassuring parents and this is far from anecdotal (see article on burnout). Often, their anxious state of crying causes signs of impatience and behaviour that is sometimes unsuitable for the situation, which only exacerbates baby stress. This quickly forms a vicious circle from which we do not foresee the exit. It is a question of explaining to parents how normal these crying is and reminding them of the importance of contact, mother-baby proximity, patience.

A little aside about it to remind that it is unique to the West that a baby is so distant from its mother. A 1994 study shows us that in Korea, for example, it spends only 8% of the time[5][1] alone, this figure was 67% in the same year in North America and it is shown that Korean babies cried less. In another way, the time of contact with baby is inversely proportional to his time spent crying.  

Back to our sheep, then, demonstrating the positions favoring the baby’s accompanying feeling in order to calm him down is also an important point of consultation, 30-45min session are often not too much.

Finally, with regard to the somatic approach to baby crying, that is, our therapeutic methods to combat the physical pain of the child, it is not conceivable to carry out an exhaustive list of our interventions. However, the great principle of osteopathy, which is the preservation of mobility and encompassing these interventions, is so simple to hear that it should be self-sufficient. That said not everyone is a specialist in physiology or anatomy, so it is not always understood how or why recovery from acceptable mobility affects the painful sensation. So here are some clear illustrations like rock water that help to understand how respecting this principle is an effective treatment.

  • The torticolis: rotators of the head are particularly tense on one side, this can come from a multitude of causes. For example, during a long delivery if the baby’s head is stuck in a large rotary amplitude during labour, muscle spasms appear. At birth the child turns his head well on one side, less well on the other. With massage and induced mobilization on the restricted side, the osteopath causes the muscles to relax. This is a way of proceeding among an infinity, but the principle is always the same, to make mobility.

As a result, the muscles (movement antagonists) are released, the rotation becomes less painful, the baby recovers from mobility, freedom of movement and the pain caused by difficult rotation disappears.

It certainly seems simplistic and that is normal. Indeed, another principle of osteopathy is the body’s ability to heal itself. Our intervention must therefore be sufficient without taking over what the body is already able to do on its own.

  • Plagiocephaly: here too the results are sometimes impressive and yet the solution we bring is always the preservation of mobility. 

We know that the tensions exerted by the skull muscles on the bone at the level of their insertions have an important role in the evolution of the shape of the [2]skull, which is particularly flexible the first 4 months. As with congenital torticolis, we are able to restore the proper mobility of the child’s head when necessary. This allows it to have a total use of all the degrees of mobility that the cervicals allow, and this without pain. Thus all the muscles of the neck and skull are used harmoniously since the child can turn his head again with sufficient amplitude, the same goes for bending and extensions. The pulls of the muscles on the bone during these recovered movements then act daily on the shape of the skull. It is not us who do the work, it is the child himself, it is the body. This is, of course, accompanied by advice given to parents to maximize the daily use of flexors, extenders, rotators of the neck in children.

Other health professionals use this treatment pathway. Although the preservation of mobility is a particularly present principle in osteopathy, it is not its prerogative. You will notice that I have not touched on the subject of colic in children here. This is not an oversight. Indeed, the majority of colic naturally disappear[3]s and the intervention of the osteopath only respects the principle of mobility. For a whole lot of reasons, colic can cause tension in the organs of the digestive system, we will try to restore mobility to these organs and thus reduce pain due to colic. This may already be of great help to parents, but there is no evidence at this time that osteopathy can act in the direction of the disappearance of colic in itself[4].



[3] “Excessive” or colic crying of the infant. J. Valleteau de Moulliac [student account needed)

[4] What treatments for colic in infants? Which treatments for infantile colics?

[5] Lee, K. (1994). The crying pattern of Korean infants and related factors. Dev Med Child Neurol, 36, 601-7.

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