Can an expert pair of hands really soothe pregnancy pains, crying babies and toddler tantrums? We take a look at the world of cranial osteopathy...
Cranial osteopathy is the technique of using fingers and hands in the gentle manipulation of the head, involving tapping and moulding, to coax the bones into proper alignment.
Parents are turning to cranial osteopaths to treat everything from pregnancy aches and babies’ colic to toddler tantrums and learning difficulties.
But is it just the latest fad? While there’s no scientific proof that it works, many parents claim that cranial osteopathy has had a remarkable effect on themselves or their babies.
“All five of my children have had cranial osteopathy, and I use it regularly for a back problem,” says Sarah Middleton, 40, from Cambridgeshire. “When my son, Gregory, one of triplets, was diagnosed with glue ear at 18 months, I decided to give it a go for him, too.
“It was amazing. After three sessions, his right ear was clear; he was fully clear in five, and his hearing improved dramatically. We’re hooked.”
Cranial osteopaths detect subtle, rhythmical movements of the cranial (skull) bones, though the term is misleading, as the whole body is treated. “We share the core belief that the body can heal itself,” says Alex Dent, a registered osteopath running a children’s clinic in Cambridgeshire.
“We get an overall picture of how well the body functions using cranial and other osteopathic therapies. It’s not appropriate for every problem, and we work with other practitioners to help expectant mums or babies get the best treatment, but it has a role to play.”
When looking for an osteopath, it’s vital to choose someone who’s qualified and registered with the General Osteopathic Council. “A registered osteopath should also advise you to involve a doctor if there’s cause for concern,” says London-based GP Dr Naomi Craft. “Osteopaths, like all complementary medical practitioners, work alongside conventional doctors – it’s not an either-or decision.”
Aims To help you prepare for labour, ease discomfort and assist recovery after delivery.
At what stage? Although most osteopaths prefer not to treat women in the first 12 weeks, it’s safe throughout the rest of pregnancy.
Osteopath’s view Geoffrey Montague-Smith, a registered osteopath at the Atman Clinic in Tunbridge Wells, says cranial osteopathy is “brilliant” for expectant mums. Geoffrey, who runs a birth-preparation programme, explains: “During pregnancy, your centre of gravity moves forward and the muscles around your pelvis tighten. After the 33rd week, the pelvis should twist, aligning the baby to the left side, into an optimum birthing position. We do craniosacral release work to support this alignment. Our mums tell us this drives a fast labour and their babies aren’t as traumatised after the birth.”
Mum-to-be’s view “My first baby was induced and my second was an emergency caesarean. So when I got pregnant for a third time, I’d have tried anything to have a smooth, trouble-free birth,” says Sally Beare, 40, from Kent, and mum to Jess, 8, Patrick, 6, and Rory, 4 months. “A friend recommended cranial osteopathy, and I thought, ‘Why not?’ I had a few sessions with the aim of making sure the baby was in the right position – and this time when I went into labour, it went smoothly. Rory was born after four hours of labour, and I didn’t even need gas and air. I’d recommend it to any mum-to-be!”
Aims To treat common problems, including excessive crying, colic, feeding difficulties and sleep disturbances.
At what stage? Cranial osteopathy is fine on babies from a few days old, according to Alex Dent, and suitable throughout a person’s whole life, although it’s much more effective in young children when the skull is still softer.
Osteopath’s view “A baby goes through great trauma during delivery,” says Edward Buckwald, a registered osteopath at The Abbots Langley Clinic in Hertfordshire. “If a baby’s unhappy being put down, inconsolable, particularly in the evening, won’t lie flat and just wants to suck, he may have a head problem we can ease. Around 90% of babies with colic have neck restrictions, and cranial and structural treatment helps them out of pain.”
Mum’s view Julia Howells, 35, from Surrey, is 29 weeks pregnant and is also mum to Cerys, 23 months. She admits she was sceptical about osteopathy. “At 2 weeks Cerys cried for 17 hours a day. My midwife suggested cranial osteopathy. Cerys was a ventouse delivery, and the osteopath found problems with her head and neck. After the first treatment she was much better, and two more sessions did the trick.”
Aims To help toddlers with difficult conditions including sleep problems, repeated infections, behavioural disorders and learning difficulties.
At what stage? Can treat children of all ages.
Osteopath’s view “Parents don’t know where to turn, particularly if they prefer drug-free treatment,” says Christopher Grey, who teaches at the London School of Osteopathy and practises at The Wishing Well clinic in Petersfield, Hampshire.
“Osteopaths look for a cause rather than symptoms. If we find something seriously wrong, we refer the child to a GP. But by feeling the deeper rhythms of the body, we can remove the stress and strains that may be causing behavioural problems. It might sound like magic, but common sense is at its core.”
Mum’s view Nikki Holley, 39, from Sussex, and mum to twins, Xavier and Zach, 3, is definitely a fan. “Xavier suffered brain damage at four days and has cerebral palsy and multi-sensory impairment,” says Nikki. “We’re used to being told what Xavier can’t do, but our osteopath is so positive. Two days after he identified and treated a balance problem, Xavier sat up on his own!”
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