COMBATING THE EFFECTS OF BIRTH TRAUMA

Being born is a pretty strenuous experience for both mother and baby, and the strain on baby in particular can produce a range of post-birth problems such as colic, poor sleeping patterns, excessive crying and so forth. Paediatric Osteopaths can help relieve these strains and tension, and make for a much happier, healthier baby.

By Dr Guy Ashburner OSTEOPATH on behalf of the osteopathic profession.

Although it is a common belief that babies are flexible enough to recover from these strains, which can be the case for minor strain, with larger strains the problems often cannot self-heal. Below, we run through the reasons behind the tension in newborns, as well as what to look out for, and how to ease that tension.

Natural birth

During natural birth, the strain on the baby comes about mostly through compressive forces – the uterus contracts to expel the baby against the natural resistance of the birth canal, and baby also has to twist and turn as it squeezes through the bony pelvis.

Abnormal strain can also occur if the baby attempts to pass through the birth canal in a less than optimal foetal position, or the mother has structural problems with her tail bone or pelvis. Add to this failure of the mother’s cervix to dilate, a long delivery, the use of induction medication (which increases the force of uterine contractions), forceps, or vacuum extraction and it is easy to see why problems may occur.

And while some births may not appear at all problematic, they can still produce substantial strain (twisting, overstretching or compression of tissues). An abnormally quick delivery may prove equally overwhelming as one that is long and difficult.

An Osteopath will be able to advise on solutions to help facilitate optimal foetal positioning and administer treatment for the pelvis, spine and associated areas during pregnancy to assist in a having a less complex or stressful delivery.

Caesarean section

There are many situations where a C-section has to be performed, but it is a misconception that this form of delivery is less stressful to babies.

A major factor that causes strain in babies born through Caesarean section is the rapid transition from uterus to the outside world. There is a sudden pressure change, and little time for acclimatisation. For a premature infant, the stresses are even greater as their body is less prepared to handle life on its own.

A deep, full, vital first breath needs to be taken at birth and this may be affected by anaesthesia or pain medication that the mother has been given. It is the first breath that initially expands all the structures of the body that were squeezed in the descent through the birth canal. Caesarean section babies don’t benefit from this beneficial squeeze.

LOOK OUT FOR…

Colic, wind, reflux and constipation

If your baby is showing signs of inconsolable crying, irritability, tension in the abdominal area, difficulty with winding, regurgitation, and constipation, there’s a good chance that they may have colic.

This comes about during delivery, when the nerve to the stomach and diaphragm  which lies at the base of the skull becomes irritated, and affects function of the digestive system. Osteopathic treatment is focused on releasing the compression on the nerves and the diaphragm.

One common cause of colic is birth strain to the occipital area (base of the skull at top of neck). With the compression of the occipital area and any distortion in the shape and relationship of parts of the head, pressure may be placed on these structures, altering the way in which they function, which causes further symptoms.

Feeding difficulties such as problems with attachment and sucking

If your baby is not latching onto the breast, this may be caused by reduced mobility in the neck. Compression at the back of the neck whilst the baby emerges from the birth canal may affect the nerves to the tongue and mouth. Gently releasing these tensions will allow the baby to feed on both sides, and will prevent developmental delays linked to restriction of movement of the head.

Disturbed sleep patterns

Often with a difficult birth the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) is over stimulated, making sleep very difficult. Osteopaths will assess and identify  possible causes, and work to release key areas of the body to balance the autonomic nervous system, as well as release generalised tension that may affect their sleep.

Unusual head shape

The bones of the head (known as Cranial Bones) are designed to shift and overlap to accommodate the birth canal and then return to a normal shape. However, tension can remain in the dura – a tough membrane that protects the brain and absorbs torsion and pressure during birth. This tension can contribute to behavioural or learning difficulties later on, as well as influence nerves that control the eyes, sinuses, suckling, swallowing and digestion, and therefore affect their function Finally, tension in the dura and cranium also affect the entire body’s alignment and can affect motor development. To help the cranium return to its natural shape, osteopaths will gently encourage optimum position of these bones and tension within the Dura, which helps to normalise dural tension. The touch required for this type of work is precise yet extremely light.

Recurrent ear, lung and sinus infections

Mobility of the spine in the upper back is important for normal function of the nerves which are responsible for sinus, ear and lung secretions. If the upper thoracic part of the spine (around the top of the back and below the neck) is compressed, this may cause irritation to the nervous system, resulting in over abundant secretions. For chronic ear and sinus infections, it is also key to encourage normal mobility of the cranial bones. Osteopaths can release tension in the spine, as well as remove limitations of mobility to improve drainage of fluids throughout the face, ears, throat, chest and neck.

FACTORS THAT CAUSE BIRTH STRAIN

The amount of strain is affected by factors that sum up the mechanical forces exerted on the baby.

  • Presentation and position of the baby
  • Mother’s musculoskeletal back and pelvic mobility
  • Position of mother during delivery.
  • Gestation – whether the baby is premature or full term.
  • Medical intervention in labour including medical induction, pain control, assisted or instrumental delivery
  • Type of birth – vaginal or Caesarean

ABOUT PAEDIATRIC OSTEOPATHY

Paediatric Osteopathy is based on the principle that all ailments – whether minor or serious – are as a result of an imbalance somewhere in the network of the body’s systems.

After making a diagnosis following a full medical history and examination, a paediatric osteopath will use refined and subtle manual techniques to bring about profound changes within the child’s body through gentle manipulation.

This will allow the musculoskeletal system, the gastrointestinal tract, the nervous system, the immune system and the circulatory system to work effectively. The treatment uses no drugs, and is non-invasive.

CONTACT A PAEDIATRIC OSTEOPATH IF YOUR BABY HAS

  • Excessive crying and difficulty settling
  • Colic, wind, reflux and constipation
  • Feeding difficulties such as problems with attachment and sucking
  • Disturbed sleep patterns
  • Unusual head shape
  • Recurrent ear, lung and sinus infections
  • Abnormal limb joint positions, clicking or asymmetry

A study by Clive Hayden in 2006, based on 28 infants over a four-week period, showed osteopathy to be successful in the treatment of infantile colic (Hayden and Mullenger, 2006).

The infant group was split into two; one group receiving osteopathic treatment, and the other forming the control group. The infants who received osteopathic treatment showed a 63% reduction in crying and 11% increase in sleep, compared to only 23% reduction in crying and 2% increase in sleep in the control group.

 

MINI-GLOSSARY

autonomic nervous system: part of the peripheral nervous system, controls visceral functions (organ functions), functions largely below the level of consciousness

dura: the outermost of the three layers of the meninges (series of membranes which surround the brain and spinal cord.)

musculoskeletal: a combination of the muscular and bone structures in the human body

Source: The Baby Club