I truly believe that every single baby (and mama) should get at least 1-3 craniosacral therapy treatment(s) after birth. The ideal time is within the first few days and weeks, but really it is never too late. Bodywork, and specifically craniosacral therapy is now the one thing that I ask about and recommend to every single family I work with, whether we are addressing sleep, reflux, or even sensory processing differences. I truly believe in the magic of craniosacral therapy, not just for babies and mamas, but for everyone. Let’s find out why.
When I had my eldest child, Kristjan was born, I was living in NYC and had recently become interested in all sorts of alternative and complementary therapies. I had gone to acupuncture for the first time while we were trying to get pregnant and then throughout my entire pregnancy. I was doing yoga, meditation, and had started to explore the magical word of energy healing.
When my son was born via C-section, I knew, from my years of experience as a pediatric occupational therapist, that this type of birth meant he missed out on a lot of sensory input, stimulation of primitive reflexes, and might lead to various things in development. Luckily I asked my mentor, Ellynne Skove, a movement and perinatal bonding/attachment therapist for some recommendations and she mentioned craniosacral therapy, and specifically a pediatric OT that was trained in this approach who lived near me in Brooklyn, NYC. That first session on our bed in our little tiny NYC apartment was the start of my love affair with craniosacral therapy and osteopathy. I knew it was magical (even though my son cried throughout almost the entire treatment, which I was told was normal as he re-lived his birth experience and the shock of being born). Since then I have taken both of my children on a regular basis to an osteopath who uses primarily craniosacral therapy with kids. It has changed my life, and now my career trajectory, as a certified infant craniosacral therapist.
What is CranioSacral Therapy?
Craniosacral therapy is a noninvasive, hands-on technique that uses a very light touch, 5gms of pressure to be exact. It can be used as a stand-alone therapy or in combination with other methods. In my case, I blend craniosacral therapy with my expertise in infant/child development, sleep, reflux, and even sensory processing.
The term craniosacral is a combination of cranium (the head) and sacrum (the base of the spine). This treatment is like a light touch massage, where the body is touched just barely to feel where the energy is blocked. The focus is on releasing fascial restrictions and bringing space to compressed cranial bones or nerves, all of which may impede the optimal flow of craniosacral (or cerebrospinal) fluid (CSF) throughout the body. Once the restrictions have been eased and the flow as been improved, the craniosacral rhythm is once again in harmony, allowing the body to self-regulate and self-heal as it was meant to do.
Now, before you start thinking “this is too woo woo for me” and stop reading, I want you take a breath, be conscious of your mindset and intentionally become curious and keep an open mind. I promise, it will be worth it.
The History of Craniosacral Therapy
Craniosacral therapy is not new. In fact, its origins date back to the 18th century, when the concept that the cranial (aka head/skull) bones move was first introduced. Then in the 1820s, Andrew Taylor Still, also known as the “Father of Osteopath” studied the functional mechanics of the entire human body. Next came Dr. William Sutherland, D.O. in the 1920s who developed cranial osteopathy, and then John Upledger in late 1970s, who developed craniosacral therapy as it is known today. The concepts of craniosacral therapy are not new and have been proven to be so effective over the last 100 or so years that they have been taught worldwide and practiced by a variety of professionals.
How Does Craniosacral Therapy Work?
The human body is a pretty amazing and complex system, and it is actually really good at self-healing and self-regulating. In the morning we wake up and are ready to start the day and live our lives, learning, growing, and being. At night we sleep, and this is when our bodies regenerate, because let’s be honest, living life can be exhausting at times (especially if you have little ones). Stress, including things like birth (yes, birth is a stress for both baby and mama’s bodies) can put a little wrench in this repair system and the body may start to work less effectively. This is where craniosacral therapy can come into play. Those places where the energy is blocked, or the muscles are tight, or perhaps there is a mis-alignment or asymmetry in place, are the places that have been influenced by stress.
There is also something called the craniosacral (CS) rhythm that runs in the midline (or middle) of our bodies from the brain through the spinal cord, all the way down the sacrum (aka. tailbone area). This CS rhythm is a strong pumping system for cerebrospinal fluid within the brain and spinal cord1. If there is any compression of this space within the brain and spinal cord, through fascial tightness, or compressed bones or nerves, then this fluid cannot flow properly. The more space available in the skull, the better the flow of this cerebrospinal fluid, the stronger the craniosacral rhythm and the more life energy that can fill this space, allowing the brain to grow and do its job. The task of the craniosacral therapist is to give back all the space that is possible.
How Can Craniosacral Therapy Help My Baby?
Babies do all sorts of funny things while they are growing in utero, and sometimes they can become twisted in sub-optimal positioning, stuck in a specific place (ahem, like under your ribs - ouch!), or squished due to lack of space (as is the case with multiples and conditions like low amniotic fluid). And then of course, they twist and rotate and twist some more as they make their way down and through the birth canal, sometimes getting stuck on the way out and needing assistance from forceps, vacuum, hands, or even a c-section.
All the twisting and rotating and general stuckness can lead to straining and tightening of the fascia, which is a thin but strong layer that lies on top of (superficial) to the muscles and protects our entire body - from the muscles to all the nerves and organs below them. And this fascia is really good at its job of protecting and will tighten quite easily, but is not so great at releasing. When the fascia is tight, it pulls on everything below it and can cause things like tightness in the tongue (ie. tongue ties, poor latch), tightness in the neck (ie. torticollis), and really tightness in any muscles of the body. Tightness of muscles can pull bones out of alignment and compress nerves, which can lead to other complications like pain, stiffness, discomfort and more.
During birth, there is also a certain amount of moulding of the cranial bones as they move over top of each other to make the fetus’ head capable of fitting through the tight path of the birth canal and while this moulding is very normal and often resolves on its own, sometimes it doesn’t. Extended sub-optimal positioning and use of birth interventions can also cause excessive moulding and compressions of the cranial bones and also the cranial nerves which can lead to difficulties like a weak suck, constipation, digestive difficulties, reflux, gas, flathead syndrome (plagio and brachycephaly), and overall fussiness due to pain and discomfort, to name a few.
The beautiful thing is, and why I refer to craniosacral therapy as magic, is that it can help release the tension of the fascia, gently move the cranial bones back into place while relieving the compression of the cranial nerves, make more space within the cranium, and ultimately restore the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid and craniosacral rhythm. Movement in the body and throughout the whole system of the human body functions in harmony when the cerebrospinal fluid is moving with ease.
What Can You Expect In a CranioSacral Therapy Treatment?
During an appointment, the craniosacral practitioner will ask about conception, pregnancy, birth and the immediate postpartum period. Then they will use their hands to “listen,”and gentle touch or palpate the patient’s tissues and membranes to determine if the cerebrospinal fluid is experiencing restrictions.
A typical session for a baby may last anywhere from 30-75 minutes and the number of treatments for a specific issue may vary depending on the depth of the restriction, but generally anywhere from 2-6 sessions is all that is needed to see significant changes. This technique is a holistic whole body treatment that works slowly, gently and deeply and therefore may take a few hours or days to settle in. The day after your treatment, you might find your baby more fussy or clingy than usual, where it seems that nothing will soothe them. This is very normal and happens when a good emotional release has occurred. And there may be progress seen in the next 1-2 days and then a regression a few days later. This is also normal and is why a follow-up treatment is always recommended. Babies are fully clothed for their sessions and are often treated in the parent’s arms (and yes, sometimes even while baby is nursing or feeding), in the therapist’s arms (if baby allows), or lying on the table in various positions (back, tummy, and side).
Remember I mentioned that the craniosacral therapy practitioner uses only 5gms of pressure, which if you have ever felt, literally is just the fingers almost hovering the skin. So this gentle touch is very safe for babies and will not cause any harm. Sometimes there are techniques that look somewhat strange, as is the case when a CS practitioner is guiding the baby through an unwinding process, but the therapist is doing just that - guiding and supporting the baby while the baby does those movements. The therapist is supporting the baby rather than forcing or manipulating those movements.
Craniosacral is a safe and often very effective treatment that can be used right from birth. If you notice your baby is in discomfort or has one of the issues listed above, I highly recommend trialing this magical treatment.
To help you find a skilled craniosacral therapist, I’ve listed some resources below.
Kaili Ets, OT/CST (myself) or Andrea T. at The WOMB - https://thewomb.janeapp.com/locations/the-womb-burlington/book#/staff_member/139
Kaili Ets, OT/CST (myself) at Well Moms & Co - https://wellmomsandco.janeapp.com/#/staff_member/9
Gillian - Home Visits in GTA - firstname.lastname@example.org
Leah Henderson, Body Co Toronto - https://bodyco.janeapp.com/#/staff_member/8
Meaghan Beames, My Baby CST - https://mybabycst.janeapp.com/
Sophie - Flourish - http://flourishyourhealth.com/
Pauline, The WOMB Vaughan - https://thewombvaughan.janeapp.com/#/staff_member/33