What is Craniosacral Therapy for Infants?

Allyson Wessells, PT, MPT, IBCLC

What is Craniosacral Therapy (CST)?

Craniosacral Therapy (CST) is a gentle, hands-on on therapy guided by touch and intention. CST can optimize space and cerebrospinal fluid circulation within the cranium and throughout our spine where our nervous system is originating and directing our bodies to move. It has origins in osteopathic medicine which values respecting the body as a whole but with intricate structure and function relationships. It is a treatment that can be helpful throughout the lifespan but especially in infancy when bones and ligaments are continuing to form with direction from muscles and the nerves that guide them. Sensory or touch input can create a better motor or response output. Parents are doing this inherently all day long as they caress their new babies! Those trained in craniosacral therapy will often provide additional exercises and methods of touching to promote comfortable movement.

Why consider CST for your infant?

Movement is essential to function but can become restricted due to prenatal fetal constraint, birthing challenges, and limited postnatal movement opportunities often associated with excessive time in swaddles and containers. Any or all of these situations can cause strain and compression on the 12 cranial nerves exiting the base of our skull and guiding our initial purposeful movements. CST can decompress these important nerve outlets to improve and restore mobility and help a baby feel comfortable in their body. CST can help babies who:

  • Engaged early into the pelvis during pregnancy and therefore had less room to move and refine reflexes essential to birthing and functional feeding
  • Experienced birth trauma or excessively short or long births
  • Struggle to initiate and sustain a comfortable and functional latch at breast or bottle
  • Demonstrate asymmetry at head, neck, or jaw which may include torticollis, plagiocephaly, brachycephaly or dolicocephaly
  • Have oral restrictions such as ankyloglossia, also known as tongue tie

How is CST provided?

CST is very much an in the moment treatment. Family descriptions, observations and hands on assessment to detect imbalance in what is known as the Craniosacral Rhythm (CSR), inform the person trained in CST to proceed with intentional, light touch that can optimize movement. CST can proceed in any setting and position that feels comfortable to infant and parent, whether during a feeding, during floor time, or while being held. Signs of release and better movement can be widely variable but include: yawning, deep breath, sneeze, burp, gas, calmness, crying. Ultimately, for the purposes of infant CST, maternal reports of improved feeding function and comfort can result.

When is a good time for CST?

At Nurture, CST can be provided anytime from birth and beyond during a visit with a trained lactation consultant or therapist. Allyson is our resident CST provider having trained at the Carol Gray Center for CST Studies in Portland, Oregon. With a background in physical therapy as well as being a lactation consultant, she combines expertise in biological infant feeding as well as early human movement to help optimize function. A CST session with her will look different every time as every baby is unique and every day is a new day of growth for them! While always thinking about the exquisite neuroanatomy and cranial nerve function of the infant, her ultimate goal is to listen to your goals and help you find comfort and connection as you adjust to a new life with your little one.

Further reading:

Hawk C, Minkalis A, Webb C, Hogan O, Vallone S. Manual Interventions for Musculoskeletal Factors in Infants With Suboptimal Breastfeeding: A Scoping Review. J Evid Based Integr Med. 2018 Dec 12;23:2515690X18816971. doi: 10.1177/2515690X18816971. PMCID: PMC6299335.

Genna CW. The influence of anatomical and structural issues on sucking skills In: Genna CW, ed. Supporting Sucking Skills in Breastfeeding Infants. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett; 2022.

About the author: Allyson Wessells is a physical therapist and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) with Nurture Columbus, in Columbus, Ohio.  As a PT and IBCLC, she focuses on optimizing nourishment and growth for lifelong health. Other services include presentations emphasizing the importance of breastfeeding and infant neurodevelopment as foundations for preventative healthcare.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: