Hot Topic Blog - Breastfeeding
CRANIOSACRAL FASCIAL THERAPY (CFT) FOR NEWBORNS WITH BREASTFEEDING ISSUESBy Lauren Brim, Ph.D, Craniosacral Fascial Therapist, in Los Angeles, CA, USA
In 2010, I attended a birth that would forever change my life. The baby was trapped in the birth canal, and it took a team of doctors pulling very hard on a set of forceps to get the baby out. In the midst of pulling, the forceps slipped off and were reapplied. The baby emerged with a giant indentation in the parietal bone, and the doctors talked about doing surgery. I was devastated and very much wanted to help this baby and her family. I had heard about Dr. Barry Gillespie and his Craniosacral Fascial Therapy (CFT) for babies and toddlers, but this time I was determined to learn his approach and help this baby! As serendipity would have it, there was a course in Pennsylvania a few days later. I made the journey from California and then immediately returned home to begin working with this baby. She never needed surgery.
I quickly discovered this wasn't the only baby who needed help for her cranial and fascial systems. I saw babies with breastfeeding issues, colic, torticollis, plagiocephaly, constipation, and a myriad of other conditions that quickly improved with CFT. Even one treatment made a huge difference! Unfortunately, most babies don't receive any body work at birth despite the very obvious benefits. A study by osteopathic doctor Viola Frymann in 1966 found ninety percent of the 1250 newborns she studied had abnormal craniosacral strain patterns at birth. We, as CFT practitioners, like to treat children at birth or soon after to address any strain from fetal life or birth trauma, so babies can breastfeed well and thrive from the very beginning. Although, treatment at any stage is beneficial! The cranial bones don't take on a restrictive, serrated aspect until around age five or six years, so there is still a great window for change until then. And, of course, adults can still benefit even if the bones have hardened into place.
If you've never seen a CFT session, it’s important to know we do not manipulate, push, or stretch anything in the body. We engage the bones and connective tissue (fascia) and feel for flexion or extension which indicates the direction of the fascial strain. We allow our hands to move in the direction the body takes us, supporting the body and its wisdom to facilitate an unwinding of restriction in the body that is interfering with its innate function. This is why CFT is so safe for newborn babies, and we can reassure anxious parents watching their babies twist around, sometimes into upside down positions during treatments! When the bones and fascia are unrestricted and aligned, breastfeeding is easy. The mouth opens readily, the cranial nerves can appropriately innervate the tongue and lips, and the baby can breathe easily through the nose. The baby’s body is comfortable and has the range of motion it needs to move into suitable positions for feeding.
The first three techniques we do with newborns and infants involve the occiput, sacrum, and frontal bones. These large bones can shift dramatically allowing more space for cranial nerves to adequately innervate the body. This process also allows for better blood flow, supports the movement and range of motion necessary for breastfeeding and healthy development, and allows for the freedom and movement of the bones of the face that depend on an unrestricted frontal bone. We then work with the fascia of the upper and lower body, including the limbs, the throat and face, and finally, the dural tube and spinal cord. It is a truly comprehensive approach that addresses the many problems a baby with restrictions may encounter. These can include an asymmetrical head and face, an imbalanced digestive system, a highly stressed nervous system, or an injury to a shoulder or foot.
Many babies enjoy the entire treatment. They feel their bodies becoming more and more comfortable, and they enjoy the touch and engagement. Other babies are very tight and in pain, so as they feel the fascia releasing, they cry. Older babies may attempt to push away the therapist's hands because they are unaccustomed to the treatment. It’s important that you, as a practitioner, don't allow babies to cry for too long without responding to them with soothing. I like to take frequent breaks to allow the mother to soothe the baby. Additionally, I continue my work while the baby is breastfeeding. This is a great opportunity for the mother to see how quickly the baby’s latch has improved with CFT and to develop confidence in herself and her ability as a mother. Often, the mothers of the babies with whom I work notice the baby's latch is quiet, without pain, and immediately more productive in transferring milk. However, some conditions require many sessions to improve breastfeeding. Often a revision of lip and/or tongue tie is needed.
I don't believe in adding any unnecessary suffering to a baby's life, so I like to use toys if a baby is old enough to be stimulated by them, or I will work with the baby vertically on my lap while bouncing on a therapy ball. Sometimes, taking babies for a quick walk to an open window or in front of a mirror can help orient them to the present moment and bring relief from any unpleasant sensations/body memories that may have occurred during treatment. Some babies I see have had traumatic births, have not received enough breastmilk, have been separated from their mothers, have been circumcised, or had tongues and/or lips revised all in a short period of time. These babies often present with flailed arms and legs and a high state of stress. I never remove these babies from their mother's arms and lap for treatment. In addition to CFT, these babies need a lot of skin-to-skin contact with their attachment figures (e.g., parents), as well as plenty of milk to process their trauma and return to a calm state in the nervous system where they can truly thrive.
If you ever have the opportunity to witness CFT with a newborn baby, you will stand in awe and amazement of what is possible. It is truly beautiful to witness babies revisiting their fetal positons in utero and work through emotions they encountered in pregnancy and birth in order to find peace and symmetry in an unrestricted body. The only thing better is to watch the mother's face as her baby comes to her breast without pain and drinks her milk. The mother’s confidence soars. Her relationship with herself and her baby grows stronger with every surge of oxytocin from pain-free breastfeeding. There is no greater reward for a CFT practitioner than to know mom and baby are on a road to a happy and healthy life together.
About the Author
Lauren Brim, Ph.D has been working in the healing arts for almost twenty years. She practices as a Craniosacral Fascial Therapist (CFT) in Los Angeles, CA, USA. Lauren specializes in the treatment of newborns with feeding issues, as well as children and adults pre- and post- lip or tongue revision. She sees the profound effect of CFT on newborns, infants, and children on their overall wellness. This includes everything from improving the breastfeeding latch or decreasing colic in newborns to helping children who are missing developmental milestones or struggling with health issues. Her work is gentle, effective, and holistic. Lauren communicates every step of treatment to the parents or caregivers. As a mother, as well as a former doula and midwife's assistant, she has many techniques for calming babies. Additionally Lauren supports women who are becoming mothers and the babies for whom they birth and care. Learn more about CFT at www.gillespieapproach.com.
To schedule a CFT session with Lauren, contact her at:
Frymann, V. (1966). Relation of disturbances of craniosacral mechanisms to symptomatology of the newborn: Study of 1,250 infants. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association, 65(10), 1059-1075.