Colic Questions and Answers

The following is a letter I received with some common questions concerning osteopathic treatment, newborns, and colic:

Hello Dr. Dolgin,

I hope you can help me. I am an American living in... and I do not know the language yet. My newborn is receiving treatment, but I do not know much about it nor can I get much information from the osteopath because he does not speak English. I really would like to know more about Craniosacral Therapy.

I cannot say much about Craniosacral Therapy (CST), but I have much to say about osteopathy in the cranial field (OCF). I suggest to make sure your (non-US) osteopath has taken a Cranial Academy or Sutherland Cranial Teaching Foundation course or one approved by the Cranial Academy. For US osteopaths, make sure that they are certified by the Cranial Academy. Please keep in mind that CST is not the same as OCF. There are major differences in the training and the approach. CST can be effective for some problems, but cannot match the potential or the results of proper osteopathic technique.

We took our baby to an osteopath at the suggestion of our midwife. Our baby seems to be colicky. It is not sure that she really suffers from colic, but she does cry endlessly from 7:00 p.m. until 3:00 am.

That is part of the definition of colic.

Her first session with the osteopath was when she was two weeks old. He said yes, that he could feel and see that there was a problem and that he could treat her in about 4-5 sessions. I trust him and he has a good reputation. I just want to know more about the treatment and why it works. Now she is five weeks old and she has made some improvement. Her crying is less and the power of her cry is less. Perhaps the therapy has helped or perhaps my change to a non-dairy diet has helped. Or perhaps she is adjusting to life outside the womb. So you see I question just how much the therapy has helped her. Here are some other questions I have: What percentage of babies born need Craniosacral Therapy?

I can answer concerning OCF: According to a study on more than 1000 newborns, 85% exhibited structural problems on post-natal exam.

Of those who need it, how many actually receive therapy?

Very few, that is a small fraction of those who need it.

What if a baby does not receive treatment? What could result later in life?

The musculoskeletal system will act as an organizer of disease and the existing problems will become more chronic as tissue fibrosis develops. Even if the symptoms abate, the underlying structural problems causing them will still be present. When these structural problems and other factors degrade the health of the individual enough, whatever genetic predispositions to disease that are present, will be manifested. The threshold is different for each person and each individual's life circumstances are not the same, so onset of the problems will be different and at different times for each individual.
(There are times in a persons life where onset of problems tends to be more common. Those are the times when certain anatomical structures (sacrum, cranial base, etc.) tend to ossify more and lose some of their flexibility.)
However, structural problems in a specific area can add to the susceptibility of that area or organs that the nerves from that area affect.

If the a baby needs treatment at birth but does not receive it, can he still be treated years down the road?

Absolutely! All else being equal, it is easier and quicker to get results in children than in adults.

What I understand is that the strain of birth, compression on the head, can cause different dysfunctions in the baby.

Yes, that is correct and the strain can affect the whole body, especially with the contracting uterus pushing down on the baby's sacrum (tailbone). Add to that at a cervix that does not soften and the added forces of contraction from giving a mother pitocin and there can be considerable problems. This does not take into account possible trauma from forceps or vacuum extraction (the use of which may be necessary), or other problems involved in labor and delivery.

Babies who are born by a planned C-section would then not experience this compression. That leaves me to believe then that these babies would not need cranial therapy? Am I right on this?

Not really.
The infant needs to go through the birth canal with compression on the head and its contents in order to get the proper stimulus to start life. C-section children do not get this and it shows on structural examination.

As long as there are no abnormal forces on the child and they get a good first breath, they can expand the compressed areas of the body with little difficulty, as nature intended.

Since birth can be potentially damaging to the baby's cranium and thus cause problems, are there better birthing positions than others that would lessen the compression on the head?

Yes, whatever is most comfortable for the mother is generally best. Each women's uterus and pelvis is different, children are slightly different weights and shapes so the best position can be different for each mother. In general though, a kneeling or stooping position works quite well as this relaxes the back muscles and allows gravity to assist. Keep in mind that there are other considerations, though.

Birth is traumatic for all babies except those who don't experience labor (cesarean born babies).

No, for the aforementioned reasons.

It seems to me then that an osteopath... should be present at birth to check each baby born. Any comments?

It would be highly beneficial for an osteopath trained in OCF to be present at births to examine and treat (if needed) both the mother and the newborn.

How can an osteopath say that the baby's displaced bones in the skull cause gas problems?

This is a simplification in order to easily explain the problem. What it boils down to is that there is deformation of tissues, decreased motion, and a change in tone of the membranes (which contain the bones or what little there are of them at birth), the bony structures, the nervous system, and the fluids. All these affect nerve function. Any physician will tell you that mechanical tension on a nerve can affect its function by either increasing or decreasing its tone.

Maybe the displacement is causing other problems and the gas problem is from diet, sucking too much air or simply an inexperienced digestive track.

Most problems are multifactorial. If there is dysfunction in the body it will be manifested in the musculoskeletal system and the body will benefit by treatment. The idea is to get the body functioning at as high a level as possible by treating out the musculoskeletal dysfunctions and allowing health to manifest. Occasionally the other influences are overwhelming and they need to be dealt with. This is why we are trained as physicians rather than therapists.

I understand if an osteopath can say there is a problem with the placement of the bones but how can he associate the placement of the bones with an exact problem?

It is more complex an issue than this. As an osteopath, we can identify structural problems in the body that are contributing to or causing a problem. Some problems tend to manifest in the same area with a given set of symptoms or region of the body. Newborns frequently have cranial compression and we have seen colic go away by treating this, especially the area around the occipital base, occipital condyles, and occipitoatlantal area. There is good anatomical reasoning for this. It is just a matter of knowing applied anatomy and developing your sense of touch. Then these two can be used in conjunction with a physician's general medical knowledge to get a good picture of a patient's problem.

Again, bones are not "in" or "out" of place. Bones are encased in membrane and connected by ligaments. They follow the tensions in the in the membranes, ligaments, and fluids of the body. It is a question of what is in proper motion and how all the structures are working together.

Thank you for your interest.

Best Wishes,

Eric J. Dolgin, DO