Cranial Osteopathy for Pregnancy and Birth by Carolyn McGregor

Wisdom to heal – the listening hands of a cranial Osteopath. Osteopathy in Obstetrics and Paediatrics:

I began my training at the British School of Osteopathy in 1988. The course was five years full time and involved studies in human anatomy and dissection, physiology, pathology, pharmacology, psychology and included detailed study of gynaecology and obstetrics.

On graduating I went into full time practice, specialising in Obstetric and Paediatric practice and joined The Osteopathic Centre for Children, London (OCC) in 1992.

The OCC is an Osteopathic centre specialising in the care of the newborn and older child. Children are referred to the OCC from across the UK and children are often flown from many international locations to receive specialist Osteopathic care for their particular condition.

At the OCC I gained tremendous experience in caring for general everyday conditions of the newborn infant such as latching, suckling and other feeding problems, colic, sleeplessness along with treating the acutely sick child, the premature infant and the dying child.

In my practice I gained experience by results, observing the clinical improvement of the breathing function of children with Downs syndrome, with their associated tendency to Glue ear and asthma. Conditions which incidentally benefit readily from cranial Osteopathy. One of the areas in which cranial Osteopathy excels, is the treatment of neurological conditions such as Cerebral Palsy where there is either specific or global developmental delay.

Parents who have been told that their child will ‘probably never walk’ especially where Cerebral Palsy is involved, have been delighted to see their infant begin to roll over, then steadily gain their motor milestones. In my work with children with Cerebral Palsy, it has been a delight to watch the steady development of the growing nervous system, being given sufficient stimulation and the specific, individual care that Osteopathic technique provides. I have a number of families whose child now walks, swims, runs and crawls and participates in daily school activities. With specific Osteopathic care delivered at significant developmental stages, those children will go on developing and achieving major landmarks through childhood and adolescence.

The fundamental basis of Osteopathy is the gentle listening hands of the Osteopath. Osteopaths are trained in the ability to perceive subtle motion of the body through their hands. These skills are called palpation skills. It is these skills which make an Osteopath unique.

With experience, Osteopaths learn how to perceive the entire health of a person through the wise palpation of the body. Osteopaths learn to perceive the health that is intrinsically normal and unique for that individual, even if such health has been compromised by conditions developing during foetal life; by a traumatic delivery; or by illness or trauma early on in babyhood.

The key to Osteopathic understanding is ‘knowing normal’, that which is a normal, full and vital expression of a persons’ health, whether a foetus, newborn or adult. That is, normal health unique to that particular individual with the understanding of the way they developed in utero, how they developed as a child, grew into an adult.

With experience, an Osteopath learns to detect how a persons health may differ from their normal. The body tissues each retain a degree of cellular memory, of every event that occurs to the body. The developmental patterns set up within the body tissues can be likened to observing a tree that grows in a particular way, according to the patterns of sunlight, winds and water to which it has been exposed.

The human body similarly records in its tissue matrix a unique blueprint of its vital health, posture, developmental milestones, of every event which has ever occurred to it. For example, in the newborn baby where a chest infection has led to fever; long lines placed into hands and feet to receive intravenous antibiotics; being fed by nasogastric tube; how the child cries, suckles and swallows; digests and sleeps. These events are recorded and subtly expressed by the tissues of the body. The body retains a memory imprinted into the tissues of every event which occurs to it. This can lead to specific symptoms in the body expressed as pain, discomfort or impaired function in the body.

Often an Osteopath will place their hands on a patient and perceive particular emotions that were experienced at the time of a traumatic incident.

The event may have occurred yesterday, the week before, months or years ago. Sometimes the body has learnt a way of adapting to the trauma, seemingly got better, but the parent knows that the emotional wellbeing of their child has altered. After a traumatic event or infection the parent knows that their child’s health has never fully recovered its full expression of vitality and the subsequent development and growth of the child has never fully expressed vigourous health.

Such understanding is intrinsic to Osteopathic practice as are the techniques used to restore the body to health. The wisdom to heal by enabling the body to recall its unique blueprint for health.

The wise palpation of the body by the Osteopath, gives precise information which enables the Osteopath to use gentle and purposeful techniques which allow the body to return to health. Cranial Osteopathy techniques are unique to Osteopathy, are taught at post graduate level, and require continued training and learning. I continue to attend post graduate training and teach Osteopathy at both undergraduate and postgraduate level.

After 27 years of full time practice, I remain passionate and excited about cranial Osteopathy for pregnant mums, women in labour and post partum, for the newborn and older child.

By virtue of the close bonds of understanding that develop between Osteopath and patient, I have had the privilege of attending many deliveries as Osteopath and Homoeopath. In fact it was my experience of attending a labour early on in my career that led me to train to become a Homoeopath. I now provide cranial Osteopathy and Homoeopathy during the labour, whether it is a home or hospital facilitated birth. It is important to build trust between the different agencies involved in the labour suite, and it is helpful for the midwives and medics to have the opportunity to talk with me, wherever possible. Six years of nursing background in several London NHS hospitals enabled me to understand how the role of an Osteopath/Homoeopath in the labour suite could facilitate a sensitive and successful birthing experience.

The health of every individual is unique, as is the story of their birth. I have now recorded the birth histories of thousands of mothers and their children.
There are common themes and threads which weave into the fabric of common experience but I remain mindful that each conception, pregnancy and birth is a journey of sacred nature. The role I am given is in the quiet listening attention of my hands for the mother and her baby as they make the journey; in spirit, psyche and body.

All the pregnancies and births I have witnessed have given me extraordinary opportunities in gaining wisdom, insight and experience. Working as a cranial Osteopath with the skills of the Homoeopath are furthering my understanding of the labouring experience in its many facets. Many birth stories have taught me things that have subsequently afforded other mothers to benefit from such insights.

I remember treating a dear friend of mine, who after emergency caesarian with her first child, became pregnant for the second time. At twenty weeks pregnancy she was rushed to me with a threatened miscarriage. Using my palpation skills, I was able to gain sufficient information to understand the cranial Osteopathic techniques most useful to her, performed them and able to restore the body’s normal physiology. This enabled the contractions to cease, for the mother to rest and sleep. The techniques were performed repeatedly over several days and she went on to have a successful vaginal delivery at full term.

Several months went by, the family quietly adapting to the presence of newborn baby alongside toddler. All family members received Osteopathy for sleep difficulty, the newborn receiving Osteopathy for latching and suckling problems, mum was treated for mastitis, back ache from breast feeding along with lower back pain from a residual strain in her pelvis following the first long labour which led to caesarian section. The baby’s feeding and sleep became settled, and successful weaning achieved after diagnosing a lactose intolerance in the baby to formula milk.

Eighteen months later, I was treating mum again, for an acute lower back pain, its history stemming from the residual strain in her pelvis following her first labour and emergency caesarean section, when I realised with my hands on her head as I treated her, that she was ovulating from her left ovary at that time. She became very excited; and could not wait for her husband to get home from work and I hurredly left! She carried her pregnancy well.

Six weeks before the anticipated due date, I was treating mum and babe and I recognised that mum’s pelvis had developed a particular strain and the baby was lying in an unusual position head down but quite high in mum’s abdomen. Through palpation skills, I became aware that this was all indicating towards a possible problem with the baby going head down and engaging in the pelvis during delivery. The midwife was informed of my findings, but all was considered to be ‘normal’ by the clinical team as there was an absence of any clinical symptoms. Routine ultrasound showed no abnormal findings. The morning of the labour came. My phone rang at 6am and my friend travelled to hospital. I asked the husband to keep me informed of any problems during labour. My phone rang again. By this time it was mid morning, completing a busy clinic seeing patients. The news came through, labour had stopped, the contractions had ceased, nobody could explain why. My receptionist hurriedly rescheduled my patients, I dashed to the hospital.

I arrived in time to meet the consultant who had been paged to attend. The midwife briefed us both on the progress of labour. Mum wished for me to exam and ‘see if I could get the labour going again’. As the consultant looked on, I placed my hands on the top of mum’s head. I remained there quietly, still, eyes closed concentrating for ten minutes. My palpatory findings were that the pituitary had switched off, no longer sending hormonal messages to the uterus to contract. Mum’s health was good, no fever, infection, all organs except the uterus functioning optimally. I perceived that the baby was in good health, heart beat strong and steady, no foetal distress. But the baby’s position remained unnaturally high and it seemed almost as if he shied away from descending into mum’s pelvis.
I rechecked mum’s pelvis using Osteopathic techniques. All I could discern was that the uterus wall had become inert, rigid, although full dilation had occurred.

I felt concerned about the uterus.

The consultant looked on with genuine interest as I explained my findings.

I explained to mum that I felt that in the circumstances it would be clinically unwise to initiate Osteopathic technique to get labour restarted. I explained that I felt that something was wrong with the uterus. The consultant listened fully and then performed his own examination. Fully dilated cervix, it was like rummaging around in the bottom of a chest of drawers for a missing sock. However he concurred with my findings. Unusually the midwife was very insistent that mother attempt normal labour. She was all for using cyntocin drip to get the labour restarted, perhaps because she knew that her patient desired a vaginal delivery.

In my heart I felt sure that the baby knew what was best, both for him and for mum. I gently suggested that labour had stopped for good reason, and that this did not follow the pattern of previous labours. I encouraged my friend to consider a rapid caesarian section.

The consultant I think was genuinely surprised at my findings, was supportive of my advice. The midwife was insistent however and got her way. Mum laboured for four hours with cyntocin drip, the baby’s heart rate rapidly dipping but failing to regain after each contraction.

The baby was born by emergency caesarian section. On delivering him, the consultant found that the scarring from the previous caesarian section had caused the uterine wall to stretch so thin that mum was in grave danger of uterine rupture.

This story is unusual. In my experience, midwife and Osteopath usually work together as a brilliant team for the health of their patients.

The thing I really learned from this experience was to implicitly trust the wisdom of the body, and as an Osteopath to have the courage to say so. The baby will always guide you. It instinctively knows the right thing to do, I always listen to the health of the body and the story it is telling me. Mum made a good recovery and healed well. The baby is now my godson of 23 years.