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Published by Better Health Osteopathy on 17 January 2023, Babies
Colic is a poorly understood condition affecting up to 30% of babies. Babies cry for an extended period of time for no apparent reason or underlying medical condition. Colic can cause significant distress for both the baby and their parents, as colic-related symptoms such as excessive crying, restlessness and abdominal pain can be very difficult to manage. Parents can feel very helpless as they find it exceptionally difficult to soothe or calm their baby.
The term colic is a bit of a misnomer, as the name suggests an intestinal origin, however, the underlying reason is unknown. Colic is, therefore, a diagnosis of exclusion, it is given when no other reason can be found as to why a baby is crying excessively. In only 5% of colic cases, is an underlying organic cause of excessive crying found.
Sometimes the pain and discomfort in your baby can be due to stresses and strains in your baby’s body, which can occur during the birthing process. Fortunately, there are a variety of very gentle osteopathic treatments that may help reduce these stresses and strains in your baby’s body.
Babies have been known to fuss and cry, especially during the first 12 weeks of life. The range for what’s considered ‘normal crying’ can be difficult to pin down. Medically, colic is defined as crying for three or more hours a day, three or more days a week, for three or more weeks. Unfortunately, some colic babies can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to comfort.
Features of colic may include the following:
Sometimes there can be some instant relief in symptoms after the infant passes gas or has a bowel movement. Gas is likely the result of swallowed air during prolonged crying.
Simply put, the cause of colic is unknown. This is exceptionally frustrating for parents to hear. We know this as we deal with upset babies and their parents daily in our clinic.
There are, however, numerous contributing factors that may contribute to pain and discomfort in your baby. Symptoms of colic will vary for every baby.
Possible contributing factors that have been suggested include:
Colic typically appears within the first month of life, peaks at about age 6 weeks, and resolves itself by age 3 to 4 months. Bouts of crying and fussiness often occur at about the same time of day or night and continue for hours for no apparent reason. A few infants cry almost incessantly.
Excessive crying may cause aerophagia ( too much-swallowed air), which results in flatulence and abdominal distention. Typically, colicky infants eat and gain weight well, although vigorous nonnutritive sucking may suggest excessive hunger. Compared with regular crying, colicky crying is more turbulent and has a higher pitch.
Colic is benign and self-limiting as most babies improve by the age of 3 to 4 months. Drug treatment generally has no place in the management of colic unless the baby is suffering from gastroesophageal reflux. Always discuss any concerns you have about your baby with your GP or pediatrician.
You should definitely see the GP if your baby:
If your baby is suffering, always take your baby first to the GP for a full check-up in order to rule out any serious underlying conditions such as bowel constriction, infection, neurological issues, possible reflux, allergies etc. If the GP can’t find anything wrong, then it is a good idea to see your Osteopath, who will do a full examination of your baby’s musculoskeletal system (joints, muscles, ligaments and bones).
The birthing process can be a very traumatic event for lots of babies due to prolonged births, the use of forceps and ventouse and emergency caesar sections. Babies often present to us with stresses and strains in their neck, upper back, ribs, and pelvis, which can be a very normal part of the birthing process. This can potentially cause pain and discomfort to your baby, just like what any child or adult would experience if they had a similar strain in their body.
Often we find that babies have very obvious restrictions in their necks, back or shoulders. For example, they often can’t rotate their neck in one direction and are having problems latching on to one of the breasts. Your osteopath will clearly point out any of these restrictions to you.
Osteopathic treatment for babies follows a very gentle and holistic approach that focuses on the root of the problem. Treatment aims to remove any tensions that may have occurred during pregnancy and/or delivery and to restore proper balance and alignment of the body to optimise health and well-being.
With gentle and appropriate techniques, your Osteopath will rebalance the baby’s tensions by working on the whole body (skull, spine, abdomen, pelvis, and lower and upper limbs.) It can also release the tensions around the mouth (jaw, throat, soft palate) to allow your baby to breastfeed and bottle feed better if having difficulty.
At your first appointment, the Osteopath will undertake a detailed medical history, where questions will be asked about the delivery, the baby’s health, family history, and the mother’s health.
A thorough Osteopathic exanimation of the baby’s spine, joints, and muscles will be undertaken. The examination will be very gentle and aims to feel for any unusual restrictions, tightness, or stresses within the joints, muscles, and ligaments of the spine. Any findings will be discussed with the parent, and consent for treatment will always be sought from the parent in advance.
A treatment plan will be developed and tailored to the baby’s needs. The Osteopath will use exceptionally gentle manual techniques to address any dysfunction, tensions, or imbalances in your baby’s spine and body during the treatment. These hands-on techniques will improve mobility and release tension in your baby’s body and spine.
In some cases, we may feel that Osteopathic treatment is not suitable for your baby’s condition; we will then refer you back to your GP or paediatrician for further screening or treatment if needed.
Osteopathic treatment rebalances strains and stresses in your baby’s body. The majority of babies respond very well to Osteopathic treatment. You may notice they can turn their neck better, have a better latch, sleep better, cry less, or have less constipation, but that all depends on their specific condition, treatment, and individual response to treatment. Some babies can feel tired after treatment. Often it can take a couple of treatments for babies to respond fully, but most babies will start to improve after their first treatment. If you have any concerns after treatment, your Osteopath will be happy to discuss those with you.
Here are some tips to help you plan for your baby’s first osteopathic consultation.
Rhythmic calming techniques are effective in calming colicky babies, which forms the core of the 5 Ss approach.
1. Swaddling, safe swaddling carefully avoiding overheating, covering the head, using bulky or loose blankets, and allowing the hips to be flexed
2. Side or stomach, or holding upright (holding a baby on the back is the only safe position for sleep, but it is the worst position for calming a crying baby);
3. Shhhhhh sound (making a strong shush sound near the baby’s ear, or using a white noise machine.
4. Gently swing the baby with tiny jiggly movements (no more than 1 back and forth), always supporting the head and neck
5. Sucking (Putting your baby on the breast for comfort, on your clean finger or a pacifier)
Lorraine Herity is the Clinic Director of Better Health Osteopathy in Christchurch, New Zealand. She previously worked in Osteopathic clinics in London and Ireland, before moving to New Zealand. Lorraine trained at the British School of Osteopathy in London, where she gained her Master of Osteopathy (M.Ost). Lorraine is a dedicated and passionate Osteopath. Her main aim is to help her patients regain their health and to return her patients back to their everyday activities, in as quick a time as possible. Lorraine is also a clinic tutor on the Osteopathic Course in Ara and relishes the opportunity to teach the next generation of osteopaths.
24 April 2022
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