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Hush Little Baby
Hush Little Baby

Infant Physical Therapy

Tara Diel

Any parent knows . . . babies cry. The problem comes when a baby cries a lot. No matter whether we call it colic, reflux, or a high-need infant, most parents want nothing more than to soothe their fussy child, and the first step is to figure out the reason.

Most parents quickly master the basics: the hungry baby, the sleepy baby, the over stimulated baby, and the baby that needs a diaper change. The solutions for these are easy and self-evident: food, a nap, swaddling, and a clean diaper. The real dilemma comes when a parent tries all of these and the tears don't end.

The next tier of causes to explain persistent fussiness would include teething, gas, or ear infections. These not-uncommon issues have their own solutions, but what if your baby is not suffering from one of these either? Parents should know that there are other options available that may help soothe those tears. One is manual physical therapy.

You may wonder how an infant, with no specific injury, can benefit from physical therapy. Yet, if we think about it, the act of coming into this world is a bit of a traumatic experience. A newborn's body undergoes intense pressure when squeezed through the birth canal. It is likely that the infant's skull was compressed in this process, especially if the mother had a long labor. Compression of the skull can irritate the nearby nerves and affect the organs that these nerves go to, as well as the baby's global nervous system and their ability to self regulate.

The birthing process can also cause mal-alignment of the temporal bones (what the ear canal runs through), which can lead to frequent ear infections. And, infants delivered via cesarean section experience a rapid change in pressure from the womb to the outside environment that can create an imbalance in the internal pressure systems of the pelvis, belly, trunk, and head. Later, these imbalances may lead to frequent reflux, constipation, digestive issues, and general discomfort for the baby that may be expressed as endless whines and whimpers.

Manual physical therapy for infants is a gentle, noninvasive approach that can be effective at equalizing imbalances in pressure, improving the alignment and mobility of bones and organs, as well as decreasing tension throughout the central nervous system. During a treatment session, the physical therapist first looks at the infant as a whole to evaluate any causes for distress. Treatment is performed while the baby is held by a parent, distracted with toys, or nursing.

The therapist may incorporate several techniques to work on an infant. CranioSacral therapy uses a feather light touch on the infant's skull to release any tightness in the soft tissue around the bones, improving mobility of the skull and spine. An organ treatment may be used to apply gentle pressure to the baby's abdomen, soothing any upset in the stomach and intestines. Myofascial Release may also be integrated to gently stretch an infant's muscles, releasing any stored tensions. An initial treatment can last over an hour and subsequent visits less.

Sometimes during a session, a baby will cry, as releasing any present tension can remind him or her of the initial trauma from birth. Treatment is not painful for the infant, and the tears are healing in themselves as an emotional...

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