When is osteopathy for babies a good idea?

Author Name: Heidi Holvoet, PhD

If your baby often cries with discomfort and wakes up many times at night, a pediatric osteopath may help. But what good is osteopathy for babies?

Can it improve sleep? What's a consult like? Is it safe? Our guest expert D.O. Carole Chevalier answers all our questions.

Newborn baby at the osteopath

Many parents with excessively crying babies have been SO relieved after just one cranial massage.

Since birth, they have had a healthy child but one who never seems to be content. Crying, screaming, seemingly in pain, never finding a truly comfortable position, ...

Let's find out what can cause this and how to relieve.

What is osteopathy for babies like?

Cranial osteopathy is a set of utterly gentle and painless techniques to release existing tensions in the skull, spine and pelvis.

At birth, the bones of the skull are not welded together yet, allowing a certain degree of malleability. This actually facilitates birth.

But sometimes (often?) it’s not all that smooth …

… delivery is too long (> 12h), too fast (<2h), baby gets stuck because the cord is wrapped around the neck ...

When that happens, the bones of the skull can become overlapped in some places.  This creates discomfort for your baby, a feeling that is like wearing a hat that’s extremely tight.

The role of the osteopath is to relieve these tensions by applying gentle pressure. This pressure is done so subtly and softly that there is no painful sensation at all, far from it.

The most typical issues this leads to are:

  • asymmetries in the infant skull (plagiocephaly)
  • asymmetries in other parts of the body (curvature of the spine, club foot ...),
  • digestive disorders (reflux, colic, constipation ...)
  • sleep disorders
  • irritability
  • screaming and excessive crying
  • ear nose throat (ENT) dysfunction (tear duct obstruction, nasal congestion, snoring ...).

Which issues typically cause sleeping problems?

The compression – since birth – of the skull or pelvis can make baby nervous and irritable in the weeks on months to come. These are naturally typical sleep disturbers.

She will constantly try to find a comfortable position, one in which she feels less pain. This can be trying to stretch back into a « banana » position, always turning her head to the same side, throw her head back or lean her head against the bars of the crib.

She will have difficulty falling asleep and will often wake up crying after regular short stretches.

What is a typical consult like?

In a pediatric osteopathy consultation, the osteopath will first ask you about the progress of pregnancy, childbirth, medical history and behavioral habits of your child.

Then he or she will conduct a thorough palpatory examination of the entire body. He/she will then gently release the tensions of the skull, pelvis, spine, and digestive system.

More often than not, babies fall asleep during treatment, that’s how soft and relaxing it all is. At the end of the session, many of them usually feel very relaxed but tired.

A session typically lasts about 45 minutes, and a maximum of 2 to 3 sessions are needed to relieve the tensions caused at birth.

When is osteopathy for babies not a good idea ?

First and foremost, only consult a specialized (pediatric) and certified osteopath. Unless you're 100% certain of your therapist's reliability and experience, don't go.

The used techniques are always gentle and harmless.

There is only one rare contra-indication, namely craniosynostosis. This is a genetic defect leading to an early closure of skull sutures. No well-trained osteopath would treat a baby with craniosynostosis but of course you need to be aware of this as a parent.

Also, for comfort it’s best to postpone a session of osteopathy when your little one is ill with a fever, ear infection, a cold, … After vaccination, it will be better to wait at least 48 hours before seeing the osteopath.

Is it safe?

It is, but only when done well by a certified and well-trained pediatric osteopath.

Only osteopaths who completed an official certification training are allowed to practice and to use the title of D.O. (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine). In many countries this training is very close to or parallel to that of their M.D. colleagues.

Unfortunately though, there are insufficiently trained persons who claim to be D.O. …

Therefore, always consult your country’s osteopathy professional association – you’ll find that easily online.

Remember too that not all osteopaths are trained to practice pediatrics. So don’t hesitate to ask when you call to make an appointment. It’s important to make sure you see someone who is trained and specialized in babies and children.

Article Author: Heidi Holvoet, PhD - Founder, senior sleep consultant

Heidi Holvoet, PhD

Heidi Holvoet, PhD, is the founder of the Baby Sleep Advice website and movement, an award-winning author, baby & toddler sleep consultant with 15+ years experience as well as a certified lactation counselor.

Over the years, Heidi has received several awards inluding a Mom's Choice Award (MCA) and National Parenting Awards (NAPPA) for her Baby Sleep Advice website, programs and books. Also, Baby Sleep Advice was awarded "Most Trusted Infant's Sleep Solutions Company 2023" in the Benelux Enterprise Awards 2023.

Heidi continually conducts personal research and participates in continued education and in that way stays up to date with current scientific and pyschosocial infant care.

Association of Professional Sleep Consultants

She is also a member of the Association of Professional Sleep Consultants of which she was one of the earliest contributors. She obtained her PhD degree in physics at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

Heidi is passionate about helping babies and their parents sleep more and better, with her trademark approach that has been proven and praised time and again by parents worldwide to be effective and truly no-tears. Respect for you as a parent and your baby, is at the heart of Heidi's warm and kind support. Her approach always keeps in mind a baby's needs and abilities at any given age, is based on pediatric science and the most up to date knowledge in infant care and sleep science.

As well as the award-winning baby sleep programs, Heidi offers popular 1:1 consults and easy-access 30-minute SOS Sleep sessions.