There are MANY things I could talk about when it pertains to infants, but they all share a common thread – our bodies only grow normally when there is freedom of motion. Birth is a serious hindrance to free motion! If you introduce any restriction, the body cannot overcome it and must adapt. The adaptations, if not treated, become permanent in adulthood. These can cause symptoms and disease.
Let’s take two relatively common issues with an infant – poor suck/latch and colic and explore them osteopathically.
In a normally developed newborn, poor suck is due to birth trauma. Period. That is a bold statement. When we are born the occiput is on four pieces that overlap a bit when we come through the birth canal. This allows our head to fit. What is supposed to happen is that, upon coming out of the birth canal, the babies first breath is supposed to decompress (expand) the portions of the occiput – this moves those parts back into a normal relationship. However, Robert Fulford, a pioneering DO who practiced in Cincinnati for many years, found that 95% of us did not take a good first breath. That leaves the occiput compressed in most of us into adulthood.
The parts on the sides of the occiput articulate with the first cervical vertebra and are called the condylar portion (they articulate with a groove in the 1st vertebra). If either of these get jammed, the hypoglossal nerve is effected. The hypoglossal nerve runs through an opening in this part of the occiput. This nerve controls movement of the tongue and, if it is not working efficiently, the tongue can’t move effectively. Thus, babies with poor suck (because they can’t move their tongue well) have a hypoglossal nerve that works inefficiently and a compressed occipital condyle. Releasing this compression in the occiput and the hypoglossal nerve can be like turning a light switch on in a child – they brighten up, start to feed (and feed well) and their diagnosis of failure to thrive goes away.
These are babies that would have been bottle fed becasue mom would have been told that the baby could not breast feed. Breast feeding is SO important for good mouth, tooth and mental development that is recommended for every child (historically that is how your ancestors got here after all). Babies with compressed condyles and rescricted hypoglossal nerves would not get this opportunity. They will then grow in this pattern – which could mean that they have headaches, poor posture, the need for othodontia (braces), and chronic disease at some point during their life. This is in no way a comprehensive list of what could go wrong from this one issue either.
Colic is another thing that is directly related to birth. When we are born the liver is not quite fully formed and the valve that delivers bile to the small intestine from the liver (the sphincter of oddi) may not be working in synchrony with the rest of the digestive system. If this happens, bile does not get adequately released and fats don’t get digested well and they ferment in the gut. The gasses from this process cause pain and the child tells you in no uncertain terms that things are not right.
The coronal suture in the head can also influence the pituitary and the hormones of the body that can add to colic. Releasing the suture and coordinating the motion between the head and the valves of the gut frequently relieves the symptoms during the treatment. More than one treatment may be required for full resolution, since this can be compared to “training” the gut to work correctly. Colic responds very well to osteopathic treatment.