Cranial osteopathy: could it help you and your baby?

Can gently manipulating the head really soothe pregnancy pains and baby colic? We take a look at the world of cranial osteopathy...

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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.

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Some parents and parents-to-be turn to cranial osteopaths when they’re looking for ways to treat everything from pregnancy aches to baby colic to crying.

It has to be said that there’s little or no scientific evidence that cranial osteopathy can solve these issues – and no reputable osteopath should be claiming to be able to ‘cure’ them.

And, because there’s no evidence, we can’t recommend it as a scientifically proven treatment but it is true to say that some parents and parents-to-be do report that sessions of cranial osteopathy seem to have had a beneficial effect on them or their child. This may well be the placebo effect, of course (a beneficial effect produced purely by a belief that a therapy is working, rather than the therapy itself actually working) but the parents and parents-to-be we spoke to were pleased with what they saw as good results, however they came about.

What does it involve?

Cranial osteopathy is all about treating the whole body through the process of detecting subtle, rhythmical movements of the cranial (skull) bones. “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 try to 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 we believe it has a role to play.”

Cranial osteopathy for pregnancy

Aims: To help you prepare for labour, ease discomfort and assist recovery after delivery. (Note that most osteopaths prefer not to treat women in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.)

Osteopath’s view: “During pregnancy, your centre of gravity moves forward and the muscles around your pelvis tighten,” says Geoffrey Montague-Smith, a registered osteopath at the Atman Clinic, in Tunbridge Wells, who runs a birth-preparation programme. “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 help support this alignment.”

Mum-to-be’s view: “My 1st baby was induced and my 2nd was an emergency Caesarean. So when I got pregnant for a 3rd 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.” Sally’s 3rd labour did go very smoothly, although it’s obviously impossible to tell this was directly connected to her cranial osteopathy treatment. 

Cranial osteopathy for babies

Aims: To treat common problems, including excessive crying, colic, feeding difficulties and sleep disturbances.

Osteopath’s view: “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 try to ease,” says Edward Buckwald, a registered osteopath at The Abbots Langley Clinic in Hertfordshire. “It’s thought some babies with colic may have neck restrictions, and cranial and structural treatment may be able to help 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 was sceptical about osteopathy when it was first suggested to her. “At 2 weeks, Cerys cried for 17 hours a day. My midwife suggested cranial osteopathy. After the 1st treatment, Cerys seemed much better, and 2 more sessions did the trick.” Of course, Cerys’ crying may have eased of its own accord – and no reputable practitioner should claim that cranial osteopathy is a complete cure for colic and crying – but Julia definitely found going for the treatments a helpful thing.

How to get treatment

It’s important to find a fully qualified osteopath who specialises in cranial techniques. To find a qualified osteopath, including practitioners specialising in the treatment of children, contact the General Osteopathic Council.

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If you live in London, you may be able to find a reduced-cost osteopathy treatment for your child through the Osteopathic Centre for Children.  

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