A variety of factors can affect the soft bones and cartilaginous structures of the foetus before, and during birth, and of the infant, soon after. If the mother-to-be has a spinal curve or an acute lumbar curve (hollow back) then the developing foetus may lie in such a way as to crowd or warp, the skull bones. If labour is induced, and the mother's birth canal has not had the opportunity to soften and prepare for the engagement of the foetal head, or if the birth is too rapid and the contractive forces acting on the foetal head are too powerful, or if the process of labour is too long and difficult, the effect on the soft head bones and their supporting structures (tension membranes etc. ) can be to so mould them that a return to normal never takes place. If instrument delivery is clumsy this too can cause cranial distortion, and long term problems. This is not to say that forceps delivery is always harmful, indeed it often prevents even worse damage, but it certainly can cause damage, wrongly applied.
If a baby is born prematurely, and is laid on a normal surface then the very weight of the head can have a compressing and warping effect. After all, the foetus has been cushioned in fluid, and a water bed would be a better start as a surface on which to lie, for such a newcomer.
If a newborn child cries too much, refuses food, is stiff and difficult to handle, has sleeping problems, has swallowing difficulty or even shows a distinct preference to lie on one side or not to lie on its back, or is dopey and just 'too good', taking no interest in anything, or rubs or bangs its head, or fails to develop normally, then chances are that there is a cranial distortion. All such children should be seen as soon as possible by a cranial osteopath, as should all cases of cerebral palsy and spasticity.
The treatment methods are exceedingly gentle, and treatment can be started within hours of birth. There is no heroic pushing and pulling which so many people associate with conventional osteopathy, but a gentle, subtle attempt to restore structural normality and with it functional normality (health). Learning the specialized techniques of cranial osteopathy requires lengthy and diligent study and practice. The anatomy and physiology of the skull, and its relationship with other spinal and body structures and functions, is a demanding study. Sensitive and subtle manual skills are required in the application of cranial manipulation, which is not so much concerned with altering the position of bones as with releasing articular strains between the structures and restoring physiological motion. As has been stated, it is in infants and the new-born that the greatest good can be achieved. The following quotation from The Selected Writings of Beryl Arbuckle D. O. published in the USA by The National Osteopathic Institute and Cerebral Palsy Foundation (1977) illustrates this:
The under-developed cerebro-spinal system of the newborn is housed by an immature cranium and vertebral canal. To the skull, with all its intricate construction, so often taken for granted, its physiological movement, little considered and less understood, is attributed the function of protecting the brain. The infant skull is very immature having little ossification and many of the bones are in separate parts, cartilaginous and membranous. The vault consists of very thin bones with but one layer and no bony sutures. The overriding thus possible during delivery is one of nature's provisions for the reduction of cranial size to better enable the passage of the head through the birth canal. If, by chance, for any one of a hundred reasons, that infant is unable to reduce to the full extent this natural moulding it is impossible to prognosticate the severity of the symptoms which may be manifested in later life on account of the persistent unnatural strain throughout the stress bands of the aural membranes. 'An osteopath sees cause in a slight anatomical deviation for the beginning of disease' (A. T. Still). There may result severe or slight muscular handicaps, mental difficulties, from idiocy to mere confusion or general slowness, inability or instability.
The physician who is able to recognize these deviations and able to make the necessary corrections intelligently at the very first sign of slight difficulty, often years before serious symptoms could be manifested, while the child is still in the developing or growing stage, will turn the trouble of today into the triumph of tomorrow.