Thoughts on sleeping issues in babies by Philip Owen D.O. (Paediatric Cranial Osteopath)
When asked about lack of sleep in babies at my Children’s Clinic, I usually remind parents that babies not only should, but need sleep and it is extremely rare for a baby not to need much sleep. Much of the growth and mental development takes place when babies are sleeping.
I use the benchmark that a six-week-old baby should be sleeping in blocks of six hours at least once a day. Any less than that I would regard that baby has a sleep issue.
Let us look at the reasons why babies don’t sleep. Almost all babies with sleep issues will fall into one or more of these categories. For the purpose of this article, I am assuming that the baby with sleep issues has no medical problem that is interfering with the natural sleep process.
When an adult is unable to sleep, we just lie in bed, tossing and turning, feeling frustrated that we can’t dose off into a deep slumber. Babies on the other hand will vent their frustration by crying. The cause of the crying or non-sleeping baby, will fall into one or several of the following categories:
- Those babies who have a degree of separational anxiety. These babies will settle quicker when sleeping on or with a parent, usually their mother. When placed back in their basket or cot they will feel threatened and soon awaken and start the crying process which has been leaned to result in parent sleeping again. There are various reasons for separational anxiety, the main one being linked to early clamping of the cord at birth.
- Those babies who can drift off to sleep, but don’t drift off into a deep slumber. The babies in this group will often waken after a short period of time. The quality of the cry can be more of a whine than a cry, but not always. Very often I find the cause of this is that there is some retained tension in the baby’s body, usually from the birth process, which is not allowing the deep sleep process. This retained tension can be felt by the experienced paediatric osteopath. In this group it is not causing the baby immediate distress, but just interfering with the sleep process. ‘Light sleepers’ may also fall into this process.
- The babies in this next group are unsettled throughout most of the day and night. They are often described as ‘the crying baby’. These babies have tension, usually felt in the base of the skull which is causing the baby distress all day and night. It can only be described as giving the baby a low-grade headache. Some of the babies which have had particularly difficult birth, resulting in ventoux extraction by forceps can cause this. The experienced paediatric cranial osteopath can feel this in the baby’s head and can treat it. Please understand that the use of forceps probably saved your baby’s life and should not dismissed.
- Babies that become distressed during or shortly after food may well have an intolerance to milk. These babies will be uncomfortable throughout the day after feeds as well as at night when being fed. Obviously your doctor or health visitor can advise you.
- Some babies are just not comfortable lying on their back. Every baby has a bulge at the back of their head called an ‘occiput’. There is nowhere for this bulge to go without twisting the head to the side. Many babies don’t like this and it increases the risk of them developing a flat head on the side closest to the mattress. This is why I designed the SleepCurve range of mattresses. Whilst keeping the airways more patent and conforming to the curves of a baby’s body, babies generally find this more comforting.
Philip Owen D.O., B.Sc. (Hons), is a leading Paediatric Cranial Osteopath who has spent 20 years studying and treating tension in babies’ skull bones.
His pioneering research has significantly advanced our understanding of both babies’ and children’s sleep problems, arising from tension in the bones of the skull.
Parents come from all over the country to his Manchester clinic and he is considered one of the leading practitioners in the UK. He lectures for the British School of Osteopathy Society and was the BSO’s leading external examiner.
Philip Owen is the inventor or the SleepCurve range of baby mattresses, clinically proven to prevent and treat Flat Head Syndrome.