Osteopathy Good for Babies? Let's look at the latest evidence


What to do with a crying baby...

A crying baby can be a parent's worst nightmare. As the lack of sleep sets in, parents can become desperate to find a cure for their screaming sprout. A search on the internet for help may lead you to many different health care specialists, one of them being osteopaths.

Many mums might wonder whether to try osteopathy for their babies.

A brief search on Mumsnet brings up many colourful viewpoints on whether or not osteopathy has worked for their darling babe. Like Marmite, some swear by it, whilst others (thankfully just a vocal minority) think it is a load of rubbish or worse, harmful to their babies.

The predominant view is that osteopathy can help with troubled sleep and/or feeding issues. The gentle head-cradling movements or adjustment techniques applied in treating babies could promote relaxation by lowering the tone of the sympathetic nervous system and ultimately improve sleep patterns (so it seems).

As a parent, it can be difficult to assess what the efficacy of the treatment is, when the patient (i.e. baby) cannot give verbal feedback, apart from better sleep and less crying (a form of verbal feedback!).

NB: You may not care about the evidence or the literature, in which case, you can skip to the end of the article to the conclusion!

The Uncertainty with the Literature

With very little evidence-based research to back up the specific mechanisms on what actually takes place during a cranial osteopathic treatment (not to be confused with structural osteopathy, less head-holding, more adjusting of the spine), at worse, it could be a very expensive placebo session (in the eyes of the parents).

In other words, the perceived beneficial impact of the treatment (e.g. confidence that you as a parent are doing the right thing for your baby) plus genuine relaxation-inducing therapy could give the impression that it has been a miracle cure. What is certain is that a lot of these treatments will have short term effects. (If that is enough to get your baby to sleep AND allow you to get some rest, then why not?!)

According to the NICE guidelines from 2012 (the evidence-based advocate for medical health and care in the UK) for the use of osteopathy in infant colic, studies suggest that parents report FEWER HOURS CRYING PER DAY at a clinically significant level. But they go on to say that there is a "high risk of performance bias due to the fact that the assessors (parents) were not blind to who had received the intervention" and therefore conclude that there is "insufficient evidence to support the use of spinal manipulation or cranial osteopathy".

Insufficient evidence, however, does not mean osteopathy does not work or is ineffective. It just means that there is a lack of research (good research) that ask the right questions. Furthermore, how many parents would be willing to leave their newborns to be prodded alone in a room with a researcher?!

Without digging a bigger hole into the complexities of the biopsychosocial model of health and wellbeing, it is important to understand that there are many many factors that are integral in the healing process, far more than we can easily control for (i.e. in general, in evidence-based research, you need to be able to control or account for various influencing factors in order to isolate the main cause-effect relationship) and that MORE QUALITATIVE RESEARCH IS NEEDED in order to understand how osteopathy works on some and, perhaps, not on others.

Breaking News!

In a recent article on a systematic review done on "Manual therapy for unsettled, distressed and excessively crying infants", by Carnes et al. (2017) the researchers analysed over 19 studies (including one qualitative one... YAY!) and found that there is MODERATE EVIDENCE (to quantify this, 'moderate' is actually VERY GOOD) to suggest that manual therapy can help TO REDUCE CRYING TIME!

NB: They, didn't find any 'conclusive' evidence for improving sleep or parent-child relations.

More importantly, I believe, was that they found that the risk to any reported adverse events was LOW.

What Should I do?

Choosing osteopathy for your baby is a safe option. Osteopathic treatment and techniques can help to settle your baby and possibly help to reduce crying time.

Try it, you may be surprised to get a few extra hours of better sleep, for you AND your wee bairn!

Ben Thompson is a registered osteopath and assocIate at Core Clapton, as well as a published researcher.

Core Clapton run a Paediatric clinic every Tuesday along with Parent & Baby yoga. Book in for a FREE child consultation to learn more about how we can help you and your baby/child.

#osteopathy #paediatrics #colic #unsettledbabies #evidencebase #crying

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Core Clapton

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