On this page:
1. Article I wrote for the National Childbirth Trust magazine
2. Freedom for birth video.
1.Craniosacral Therapy with Mothers, Babies and Children
Craniosacral Therapy (CST) is increasingly known as a gentle yet effective therapy, which works directly with the body’s capacity for self healing to treat a wide variety of conditions. In this article I will focus on one of its most appreciated qualities, the effective treatment of mothers and babies.
A session involves a very light touch of the therapist’s hands to precise places on the head, the chest or tailbone to feel restrictions in tissues and bones. In my clinic I have seen mothers throughout their pregnancy and afterwards. Some were referred to me by their midwife during the early stages of labour in order to relax and help them focus to deliver the baby more easily.
CST is of particular interest in cases of birth trauma, which is usually due to a mechanical injury during labour. This is now common because of the increased use of obstetrical interventions (induced labour, caesarean, ventouse suction, forceps delivery). But trauma does not necessarily have to be physical. Emotional trauma to mother or baby can occur because labour was simply long and difficult or had been badly managed, i.e. the mother to be did not feel supported.
What is more, there is much evidence linking birth trauma to Developmental Delays, Dyslexia as well as Attention Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) later on in life (Fryman 1966: 1064; Castellanos 2002).
For example, a Forceps or Ventouse delivery can potentially cause micro bleedings in the delicate cranial structures. Even during a natural birth, as a result of contractions and the passage through the pelvis, babies’ heads are under extreme pressure. Though the bones of the head are relatively pliable due to the membranous areas, the fontanels, between them, they do not always return to their optimal position. After delivery, once the fontanels fuse, these turn into permanent restrictions, which may impair circulation to certain areas of the brain.
Muscles may also contract during birth and remain so for protection. Strained neck muscles, for example, can restrict blood supply to the brain or put pressure on cranial nerves at the base of the skull (Upledger 1996: 220, 281). In particular the Vagus Nerve may be compromised, which is responsible for the most vital functions of breathing, digestion and the heart.
Immediate symptoms to look out for are colic, sucking problems, excessive crying, breathing difficulties, restlessness and irritability or inability to sleep. But often symptoms do not develop until later on and we do not make the connection to the birth anymore.
What are considered standard procedures these days can be very traumatic for mother and baby, and this is rarely recognised. Natural contractions slowly build up in intensity whereas hormonally-induced contractions, in an Induced Labour, are much stronger and faster. When the cervix is not yet fully dilated, the baby’s head is pushed with every contraction against it while unable to descend into the birth canal. This means there is a huge amount of strain to the neck, which may cause problems later on.
A Forceps delivery compresses the sides of the head, the temporal bones. I remember a little baby girl who was delivered by forceps. She was very irritable and for the first few treatments whenever my hands would come within a few inches of her head she would start to scream. After a few sessions she was happy in herself and perfectly happy for me to touch her head.
A Ventouse birth may deform the head where the suction is applied and the bones may need a little help to recoil to their optimal position. Imagine a newborn baby feeling constant discomfort, pain or pressure in their head. The only way of telling us is by constant crying and irritability.
Quick incisions made during an Emergency Caesarean can dramatically reduce intrauterine pressure, subjecting the baby’s head to decompressive forces similar to a diver rising too quickly to the surface (Upledger 1996: 259). This potentially can cause tiny bleedings in the brain. Also, the quick transition from a warm, dark womb into the cold, bright environment of an operation theatre can be very stressful for some newborns.
Please do not feel alarmed, though. My experience has shown that the response to stress is very individual and what is experienced as traumatic by one person does not necessarily affect another. I personally was geared up for a natural home birth but ended up with a totally managed emergency caesarean, which left me being depressed and taking months to recover afterwards. Other women are not negatively affected by a c-section at all.
The gentle approach of CST has proven very effective in releasing not only physical but also emotional stresses. These stresses are often lodged in contracted tissues – this phenomenon is known as “Tissue Memory”. What happens is that in an emotionally charged situation, when we are struggling to cope with the trauma and stress, our body contracts and ends up holding the feelings in, as a protective measure. This can be helped to release by the touch of an experienced therapist.
CST can be beneficial to all babies as a general prophylactic check up after birth, even when there are no apparent symptoms. A midwife I used to work with once suggested that every baby ought to be given a CST session after birth as part of the post-natal NHS care. In her view, these would result in fewer complications later on.
I have looked mainly at the possible effects of a difficult birth on the baby, but mothers may be affected as well. My advice to new mothers is if you feel exhausted, depressed or in pain after your labour, allow yourself to be looked after and perhaps consider a CST session to help you rebalance.
Castellanos FX (2002) Developmental Trajectories of Brain Volume Abnormalities in Children and Adolescents with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of the American Medical Association 288.1740-48)
Frymann VM (1966) Relation of Disturbances of Craniosacral Mechanisms to Symptomatology of the Newborn, Study of 1250 Infants. Journal of the American Osteopathic Association 65. 1059-75)
Upledger JE (2000) A Brain is Born. California. North Atlantic Books
2. Freedom For birth video: