Pediatric Craniosacral Work

As the Twig Is Bent So Grows the Tree

Regina Callahan LMT

Poor Mary! She pushed for 3 hours and delivered a 9-pound-8-ounce baby! And Susie had a 48-hour labor, ending in a c-section. Sound familiar? Most of us know someone who ran the marathon of birthing a child.

Childbirth can be a challenge for mom, but have you considered the effects on baby? The compressive forces of coming through the birth canal or the abrupt change in pressure when being pulled from the womb by caesarian section can cause strain and torsion in baby’s tissues and potential long-term effects. Fortunately, there is a way to soothe your baby’s transition into this world. It’s a gentle form of compassionate touch called Craniosacral Therapy (CST). Beyond easing the effects of birth, it can foster a lifetime of good health.

CST is a holistic healing approach using sensitive hands-on-bodywork to enhance the body’s natural healing capabilities based in the craniosacral system. The craniosacral system extends from the bones of the skull and face (cranium) to the tailbone (sacrum). It consists of membranes and cerebrospinal fluid that surround and protect the brain and spinal cord. Like the cardiovascular system, the craniosacral system has an inherent rhythm or wave that can be felt throughout the body. The quality, amplitude, and symmetry of the rhythm reflect the level of health and fluidity in the craniosacral system. CST is an assessment tool as well as a treatment.

The craniosacral system maintains the environment in which the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) functions. The central nervous system controls or influences our key bodily functions. The role of the craniosacral system in the development and performance of the brain and spinal cord is so fundamental that an imbalance or dysfunction in it can cause sensory, motor, or neurological disabilities.

Research performed by Viola Fryman, D.O., “The Trauma of Birth”(Osteopathic Annals, May 1976), examined 1,200 “normal”babies just after birth to evaluate the affects of the birth process. It was determined that 88% manifested some form of cranial fault. A cranial fault is when the bones of the head are not in their normal position or the expected motion of the bones is hampered. Symptoms ranged from nervousness, difficulty feeding, vomiting, excessive crying, spasticity and sleeplessness-all of which many people consider “normal”infant behavior.

“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree.”William Sutherland, founder of Cranial Osteopathy, believed that uncorrected cranial faults in the newborn lead to gross physiological issues in the adult. Migraines, scoliosis, temporomandibular joint dysfunction, and attention deficit disorder are examples of syndromes that could be traced to birth trauma.

In an adult cranium, there are 21 bones–7 of which house the brain. In a newborn, these 7 bones are in 17 pieces surrounded by spacers called fontanels or soft spots. This is a great design given the fact that this head (which makes up 25% of the newborn’s total body length) needs to negotiate through the narrow birth canal. During birth the cranial bones overlap so the baby can fit through the birth canal.

Many babies are born with a “cone-shaped head”or bruising because of the compressive forces. Within a few days after birth, the bones are supposed to migrate to their normal position. The action of sucking at the breast or bottle assists this migration. But sometimes the bones need gentle help from the hands of a skilled practitioner to move back where they should be.

When the bones in the head are not in the right place, craniosacral motion will be disturbed. Craniosacral motion helps to circulate cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF circulates around the brain and spinal cord, protecting and nourishing them. Imbalances in cranial motion will decrease the CSF flow, diminishing both its protection and its nourishing functions. When the flow of CSF is completely halted, hydrocephalus (enlarged head due to the accumulation of CSF) will result.

The 12 cranial nerves exit the cranial bones through holes called foramen. The nerves deliver sight, hearing, balance, smell, digestion, taste, swallowing, and the function of the tongue and neck muscles. Even the slightest distortion in a cranial bone can irritate the nerves (or worse) and affect optimal nerve conductivity.

The twisting of the neck and spine as baby is born can alter the flexibility of the spinal segments. The nerves are vulnerable to stretching, twisting, and pinching motions. Nerve irritation can make baby uncomfortable and fussy. If left untreated, it can alter spinal growth patterns. Viola Fryman states, “Musculoskeletal strains on the newborn during delivery can cause problems throughout life. Recognizing and treating these dysfunctions in the immediate post-partum period is one of the most important phases of preventive medicine.”

Raymond Castellino, D.C., co-founder of Birthing Evolution-Birthing Awareness (BEBA), estimated that 85-95% of the population experience some degree of prenatal and birth trauma. Dr. Castellino, who has dedicated his life to working with children, goes on to say that it is rare to find a parent or health professional who has the ability to relate baby’s behavior and struggles to events that happened at birth.

Research suggests that the birth process is responsible for many brain dysfunctions and central nervous system problems. CST can reduce a wide variety of difficulties, many of which might not become apparent until a child is older.

Dr. Castellino states, “We have found prenatal and birth trauma to primarily impact the primary goal structures, life assumptions, self identity, self esteem, personality structure, and behavior of the emerging person.”The optimal result of CST is a central nervous system free of restrictions and a body that is able to achieve its greatest level of performance.

One of my teachers, John E. Upledger, DO, OMM, developer of Craniosacral Therapy states, “I am thoroughly convinced that one of the best things we can do for our children is to have them begin life with smoothly functioning craniosacral systems, a removal of physical restrictions so their body issues aren’t burdened by destructive or traumatic memories, and clean energy fields. This can all be accomplished in a very short time within the first few days of life.”

CST is recommended therapy for infants and children because it uses extremely light touch. Because of the pliancy of their young system, babies usually respond to treatment quickly, often in one to six sessions. Some of the bones of the cranium begin to fuse together within the first year of life; the earlier the treatment, the more rapid the outcomes.

A CST session can last from 15 minutes to an hour. Rapport-building is an important aspect of a session. The infant or child should feel respected and comfortable. A child rests fully clothed on a massage table or in the therapist’s or parent’s lap. Sometimes the session takes place at the child’s home, sometimes even when the child is sleeping. The therapist monitors the craniosacral rhythm with her hands to detect potential restrictions and imbalances. She conducts other gentle assessments and corrects the sources of pain and dysfunction using gentle guiding and mobilizing techniques. Seldom does the pressure exceed five grams (the weight of a nickel). During a session the therapist adapts her technique to the needs and attention span of the child.

If you are wondering if your baby could benefit from Craniosacral Therapy, here are a few observations to make of your baby:
Did Mom have a prolonged labor? Caesarian Section? Were forceps or vacuum suction used to assist baby’s entry into the world?
Is baby excessively crying? Does she have colic?
Does baby’s head appear asymmetrical? Cone-shaped? Are there flat spots or ridges? Does one eye socket appear wider than the other?
Does baby prefer to consistently turn his head to one side? Does she seem reluctant to look straight ahead when flat her back? Can he turn his head equally to both sides?
When baby is flat on his back is he shaped like a crescent moon? Does one foot turn out or in?
How is she feeding? Does her face appear scrunched or tense? Does her tongue look very pointy when it is extended?