Heard of cranial osteopathy but have no idea what it is? You're in the right place.
As I write this, my 18-month old son is fast asleep. All I can hear over the baby monitor is the gentle drone of a dehumidifier, and the faint rasps of my wife's snoring – and that's it. No crying, no whimpering, no yelling.
It's not always been this peaceful. For months Noah has struggled to sleep. Putting him down to bed is fine, no problems there – but after an hour or so of sleep he becomes restless and ends up crying for most of the night.
As a result, his mum and I both look like the walking dead, and accidentally scare children and old ladies on the street by how ghastly we look.
Then, a week or so ago, one of my wife's friends suggested we try cranial osteopathy, which she in turn mentioned to me. I was instantly sceptical, for two main reasons: I inadvertently bit the inside of my cheek when trying to say 'cranial osteopathy', and I had absolutely no idea what it was.
Cranial osteopathy is the "gentle manipulation" of a baby's head and spine
Cranial osteopathy, as it turns out (with Google's help) is the gentle manipulation of a baby or toddler's head and spine in order to make them more comfortable. Most effective on newborns and young babies, as their skull bones are not yet fused, it essentially seeks to correct any damage or slight alterations caused during childbirth, especially if it was an assisted delivery, or particularly fast.
The latter was the case when Noah was born – from first contraction to birth took around three hours, so to all intents and purposes he shot out like the Human Cannonball. The fact that childbirth was so quick was great for my wife, but what we didn't realise was that the speed at which he came out could have caused a slight misalignment in his spinal structure, resulting in him becoming unhappy when laid down for extended periods of time.
And so, we took Noah to see an osteopath, whose first words after placing her hands upon his chest was 'He's had breathing problems in the past, hasn't he?' True: this time last year he was in hospital after suffering a particularly nasty bout of bronchiolitis. She then poked and prodded him for a bit, as he lay there in what can only be described as some kind of tantric state of bliss – most unlike his usual 'let's roll around and kick at the dirty nappy' self.
Mother-of-four Karen found herself in a similar situation with her youngest son, Harrison, and visited a cranial osteopath after she was recommended by a friend who was receiving treatment for migraines.
"She tried to get a picture of everything that Harrison had experienced so far," she says. "She spent 20 minutes working on him. She moved her hands slowly over his entire body focusing on his spine, his legs and his head. Her hands barely touched the body; they seem to hover just milimetres above. Harrison actually fell asleep during the process which amazed me. He had never spontaneously fallen asleep before!"
Karen took her son's treatment a step further, with she and her partner having a session themselves with the osteopath, describing the experience as "wonderful and relaxing, giving the most unusual sensation."
Upon leaving the osteopath, I was rather less sceptical than I had originally been; especially when, that night, Noah slept like – well, like a baby. Karen also saw an improvement in Harrison, especially when he had undergone a few sessions (osteopaths usually recommend about three or four visits).
However, Karen attributes some of the success to the effect the therapy had on her family, as she explains. "I think we were caught up in a cycle of being over-tired, fraught and anxious and no idea how to deal with this little boy who couldn't sleep. The therapy definitely helped us all to relax and form bonds again and this in turn meant we could understand Harrison a bit better."
Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Director of BabyCalm Ltd, deals with stressed and over-tired parents on a daily basis, and has no qualms with recommending cranial osteopathy as an effective treatment. "Once I explain the science behind my suggestions, most are very open minded," she says. "To be honest, most parents would try anything if she thought it meant they'd get more sleep at night!"
Make no mistake, cranial osteopathy is not the miracle cure for restless babies: but it can help correct the aches and pains that newborns and young ones might struggle to tell you about, which cause them discomfort in the middle of the night. Sarah often hears positive feedback from people like Karen, who are enjoying a better night's sleep.
So, if you every grumble that your child not sleeping is a pain in the neck, it might be worth visiting a cranial osteopath. It could be that you've just stumbled upon the exact reason for those restless nights.