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Cranial Work For Infants

One of the aspects of my clinical practice I am asked about most is the cranial work I do with infants. Parents are referred to me for this work by their doulas, midwives, obstetricians, lactation consultants, pediatric dentists or friends who have experienced the benefits of cranial work with their own babies.  

In this article, I will explain the reasons babies need cranial work, how it is performed, The results we achieve and the lasting benefits of this work.

I first became interested in infant cranial work when I was mid way through my chiropractic training. I was studying pediatric chiropractic, and heard a lecture that I will never forget. The light bulb went on! My daughter had been posterior during my labor with her. We had no interventions until my obstetrician broke my water. That was five hours before she was born. With a posterior positioning, undetected at that point, labor was very challenging. As she was crowning, he noticed the posteriority, and we turned her as she was crowning. No easy trick. This took 45 minutes of turning her from the crown of her head. All was fine, and she desperately needed cranial work, which I knew nothing about at that time. I had her treated about a half dozen times by my chiropractor, who had only heard of cranial work. The standard chiropractic treatments did not clear her symptoms. It wasn’t until I was sitting in the peds class that I realized what it was she had needed.

Which brings me to the signs and symptoms of babies who need cranial work. The first sign many parents notice is bumps, ridges or asymmetrical features on their baby’s heads. When babies are passing through the birth canal, their heads contract along the sutures on the skull. The sutures can actually overlap so as to allow them to pass through the birth canal more easily. After the birth, the cranium expands again. Due to the compression to the skull, sometimes the cranium doesn’t expand evenly. This can lead to features such as uneven ear height, an ear that fans out more widely than the other ear, uneven eyebrows, etc. It can also lead to less comfort for the baby in their head, discomfort with nursing, or colic symptoms.

Cranial treatment allows your baby’s head to expand more evenly, therefore alleviating many potential problems. A most noticeable symptom are lactation issues such as: tongue thrust, a poor latch, baby seeming more comfortable on one breast than the other, too loose a latch, a non-productive suck, baby being fussy at the breast. It can also be the reason for sore or torn nipples, due to poor latch or jaw coordination or tightness.

The cranial nerves which innervate the tongue and mouth pass through the skull at the level of the occiput, or base of the skull. Often times when there are issues with nursing, the baby needs not only general cranial work, but specific work at the level of the occiput. This frees up the area, creates more symmetrical movement of the skull, and increases coordination of the tongue and mouth. It leads to a much more relaxed and enjoyable nursing experience for both mom and baby.

Colic symptoms can also be a result of cranial compression. These include gas, fussiness, general stomach discomfort, inconsolable crying, crying for extended periods of time, baby scrunching their legs toward their chest to relieve pressure in the abdominal area, etc. In the case of colic, I often do more general cranial work along with releasing any pressure in the diaphragm area. The same goes for what is being termed “reflux”, or too much spitting up. I advise parents, before putting their baby on a prescription for a diagnosed reflux, to try cranial work. It can be very effective in many cases.

So, how is cranial work performed with infants? 

I first do a thorough evaluation of signs and symptoms, take a pregnancy and birth history, talk with the parents at length re: their experience with their baby, what they’ve tried so far, baby’s sleeping and eating patterns, etc. I examine the baby, including a cranial exam. I am looking for the above mentioned signs and symptoms.

Next, I evaluate motion in the baby’s head, usually while they are nursing or sucking on a pinkie finger. I feel for restrictions in the cranium, which are more prominent when their palate is moving. I explain to the parents what I am finding, and answer any questions they have. I show them my findings, explain the treatment and make sure they are comfortable with it. Assuming this is the case, I apply gentle pressure to the baby’s head, again while they are sucking to gain the benefit of the palatal movement. This is usually extremely relaxing for the infant, and often we have to do a little work to keep them awake for their treatment. I also perform a head to toe check for tightness or restrictions in any area, and will do gentle treatment to optimize mobility. 

It is a wonderful time to treat, just post partum, as the baby will develop more comfortably, have less symptoms of any kind in their infancy, and often sleep more comfortably as well. Often, after a treatment, a baby will nap more readily that day. My own son had his first chiropractic treatment at 5 months old. That day he slept through the night for the first time! It was heaven!

As a new parent, it is important that any practitioner or any treatment you seek for your baby feels completely comfortable for you. I encourage you to contact me with any questions re: cranial treatment, specific symptoms or behaviors your baby may be experiencing, or general questions re: my work with infants. If you are a new parent, congratulations!!! And welcome to the grandest adventure of all!

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