Birth Trauma and Developmental Delays

In at least 80% of children with developmental delays, including attention deficits, Sensory Processing Disorder and autism, there is a history of birth trauma. In each diagnosis, there are manifestations of various aspects of cerebral dysfunction, which in simple terms means that the brain is not functioning as efficiently as it should.

The brain is contained within the bony skull, which, at the time of birth, is designed to accept the temporary compression of the birth canal, and expand fully when the baby cries immediately after birth. The lower end of the central nervous system is located within the sacrum, the large bone forming the back of the pelvis. This, too, is designed to absorb the compressing forces of the contracting uterus, and then be restored by bodily movements after birth. The vertebral column protects the spinal cord connecting the head and the pelvis.

Labor and Delivery Problems

Problems of labor and delivery may compromise these structural areas and thus disturb the nervous system within, thus interfering with its physiological development. Any of the following could be problematic and lead to birth trauma:

  • False labor before real labor begins
  • Premature rupture or leakage of membranes
  • Induction or acceleration of labor by use of medication
  • Presentation of baby in other position than face down
  • Very long (> 18 hours) or very rapid (< 3 hours) labor
  • Epidural anesthetic
  • Forceps or vacuum extraction
  • Cord around the baby’s neck one or more times
  • Severe slowing of baby’s heart
  • Period of uterine inertia, i.e., contractions stop or slow
  • Cesarean section delivery because of lack of progress

Birth Trauma Signs

The condition of the newborn baby or infant can also provide evidence of the health of its nervous system. Signs of potential difficulty:

  • Delay in sucking of more than 24-48 hours
  • Vomiting or spitting up after feeding
  • Arched back or throwing head back when held on shoulder or side
  • Asymmetrical motion of arms or legs
  • Spells of inconsolable crying
  • Lack of sequence or missing stages in motor development going from:
    • Rolling over
    • Crawling flat on floor
    • Creeping on hands and knees
    • Cruising around furniture
    • Walking at approximately one year

Any of these signs in the baby suggest that some areas of the central nervous system have been compromised and that birth trauma may have happened.

It is true that sucking may be established in a day or two or more, and that vomiting may stop in a month or two. The arching of the back and extension of the head may be less obvious when progression is made to standing and walking, but then toe-walking may be apparent.

Children of school age who manifest problems may already have been subject to a variety of medicinal interventions. They may also have perceptual dysfunctions that interfere with visual and auditory skills.

The Need for Osteopathy

These children are in dire need of structural treatment to restore the musculoskeletal integrity of the whole body. A comprehensive osteopathic approach with precise, gentle, restorative manipulative treatment can help these children immeasurably.

The general level of well-being, as well as neurological function, will significantly improve. Adjunct therapies, such as vision and auditory training, tutoring and a well-balanced diet of whole, natural foods with carefully selected supplements will then be far more effective.

Structural dysfunction resulting from birth trauma can be corrected early so that neurological development progresses satisfactorily. Then academic, behavioral and developmental problems can be averted by establishing or restoring optimal anatomic-physiologic integrity. Therapeutic measures can then teach a child how to use the body efficiently.

When you have your next baby, have an osteopathic physician provide a thorough evaluation during the newborn period. This is the essence of prevention.

by Viola M. Frymann, DO, FAAO, FCA, Director, Osteopathic Center for Children, La Jolla, California

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