How Craniosacral Can Make Breastfeeding Easier and More Productive
Here at our practice, we do a lot of work with newborns, infants and young children who have a tongue tie - an overly tight and restricted tongue - which can often create breastfeeding issues for mom and baby. But, something that’s often overlooked is that craniosacral therapy can have huge benefits for any newborn baby, especially when it comes to issues with breastfeeding, sleep, fussiness and colic.
I was recently chatting with a new mom who was having trouble with her little one getting a good latch - a common issue that so many people struggle with. When I mentioned coming in for craniosacral, she was genuinely confused and curious.
“How would craniosacral help with breastfeeding and latch problems?” she asked.
It’s a great question. When it comes to breastfeeding difficulties, the focus is often on the technique the mom is using - how she’s holding the baby, how she’s positioning her breast, whether or not the baby is opening wide enough, at the right angle, etc. But very often moms can be working their very hardest at this (at a time with very little sleep and stability!), and STILL be struggling to get their baby to feed. Often, a mom begins to blame herself - my body doesn’t work right, I can’t make enough milk, one side is lazy, etc.
Some of these babies might have a tongue tie. But probably most don’t. That doesn’t mean, however, that they don’t have some kind of underlying tension that’s affecting their ability to breastfeed well.
Why a Poor Latch Can Mean Bodywork is Needed
To best answer the mom’s question, I posed it to lactation consultant Shira Johnson, whom I often work closely with. Shira was very clear about the power of bodywork for breastfeeding issues.
“Latch problems almost always indicate a need for bodywork,” Shira said.
She said she always recommends bodywork, such as craniosacral therapy, to her clients experiencing latch problems, but also highly recommends it for other breastfeeding and newborn issues such as:
Body asymmetries - head turning preference, torticollis, commonly rolling, curling or twisting toward one side
Facial or Skull asymmetries - one side of the skull or face larger than the other, such as eye or nostril or limited tongue movement to one side
Visible Tension - shoulders up by the ears, tight jaw, always curves into a c shape or pulls away from the breast.
Digestive Troubles - not pooping three times a day, painful gas, etc.
Sleep Issues - short sleep sessions, unable to sleep without being held
Fussiness/colic - baby cries a lot, especially inconsolable crying.
How Tension in the Baby’s Body Affects the Ability To Breastfeed
To understand the connection between bodywork and breastfeeding troubles, it’s important to look at breastfeeding troubles as a symptom of the problem, rather than the problem itself. Of course, a caregiver is looking to resolve these symptoms as soon as possible and it might be the reason they come in in the first place. But as a provider, I’m looking to assess the baby’s entire physical presentation and make connections between how that might be affecting their ability to breastfeed successfully.
Too often, when breastfeeding isn’t going right, moms blame themselves and their body’s inability to do what it needs to do to support their baby. But often there are tension issues in the baby’s body that are preventing them from making progress, even when they’re improving their skills and getting outside expertise.
Think of a smooth piece of silk flowing in the breeze. Now imagine if you snagged the silk, pulling one thread tight and creating ripples through the entire fabric. The fabric will no longer flow the way it did before.
Very often, a baby’s body has a “snag” somewhere — a part of the body that is too tight or restricted so that no matter how they move, they can’t quite get comfortable. They can’t quite relax their jaw or open wide. To compensate for this snag, they’re working hard, so they often get more easily tired, grumpy or overwhelmed.
Sometimes, these sources of tension are a tightness of a specific tissue, such as a tongue tie. But often they can be more subtle. Just in the same way that you can sit one way for too long and then feel crunchy and creaky when you get up, a baby lying in the womb one way can create patterns of tension. Asymmetries within the mother’s body or her habits of posture or positioning can contribute too.
Think about waking up with a stiff neck after sleeping funny the night before. You can’t quite turn your head the one way without encountering some serious stiffness. Now imagine the only way you could get a drink was to turn your head that way and try drinking out of a glass over your shoulder. You can easily see how water would be spilling everywhere and it’d be difficult to get anything down. Plus, you’d feel frustrated, tired and thirsty!
Until we smooth that tension out and allow the baby’s body to relax, it just won’t quite function as it should. Knowledge, skill and perseverance might improve the symptoms, but bodywork acknowledges and addresses the source of the symptoms themselves.
What You Can Expect from a Craniosacral Therapy Session for Breastfeeding or other Newborn Issues
As a craniosacral therapist working with a lot of newborns and infants, I first spend time talking to the parents, learning about the current symptoms, birth history, what problems they are facing and what strategies they have tried. One thing so many parents find instantly therapeutic is just talking to someone who deeply understands how frustrating it can be and acknowledges their struggles! So many providers write off the needs of mothers, down play them or even discourage them from continuing breastfeeding, which can feel even worse.
Next, I take time to get to know your sweet little one. I take note of which way they like to lie, of any asymmetries or preferences they have. Then I start to gently touch their body, noting any restrictions and tension patterns I can feel with my hands and the pulse of their cerebrospinal fluid.
All of this is incredibly gentle - less than the weight of a nickel or 5 grams or pressure. It can be done while you’re breastfeeding or holding the baby, with the baby lying on the table, with me holding the baby. We can use toys, songs, bubbles or other engagements to keep the baby happy, but I also work hard to build trust and rapport with a baby so they feel relaxed and ready. If a baby fusses or seems upset, we back off and re-direct treatment, waiting for them to be ready for the bodywork.
If you’re experiencing breastfeeding issues or know someone who is, consider booking an appointment with me. I’d love to see you in my office and support you and your little one through this wonderful and important time. A productive and pain-free breastfeeding relationship is possible, and I’d love to be part of a team that helps you achieve your breastfeeding goals. Book an appointment today.