Thursday, March 14, 2019

Colicky Baby? Nursing Problems? Consider Cranio-Sacral Therapy

When my first baby was born, she had a rough time. So did we. She spent hours screaming. She couldn't settle down to sleep for long until the middle of the night. She just wasn't a happy baby. I felt so bad for her, and I certainly felt like a bad mother.

She was like this for FOUR MONTHS, four verry longgggg months.

We tried everything we could think of but nothing worked. Going for walks often helps but not for this baby. Going for a drive helps many babies but just seemed to make this one worse. Jiggling and swaying sometimes helped but mostly it didn't. Vacuums and washing machines, no luck.

There were times I got so frustrated that I put her into her playpen, nice and safe, and let her scream while I went into the bathroom around the corner and pounded the walls with my fists and cried too. Better the wall than the baby, I reasoned. Afterwards I could return to her calmer and more able to respond lovingly. Sometimes I called up my husband at work and told him, "Get home NOW!!" because I couldn't stand it any longer. We would tag team parent to keep sane on the really tough days. There's no question, a colicky baby is extremely difficult at times.

My baby cried so much sometimes that even the neighbors heard. A neighbor who lived behind us diagonally suggested Craniosacral therapy. She had a child with cerebral palsy and said it worked wonders for him when he was a fussy newborn.

I was intrigued and tempted. But in the end it sounded way too "woo-woo" for me so I never tried it. I just couldn't trust my baby to it. She was my first baby and I just couldn't bear to try anything out of the ordinary. So we all suffered through together.

My daughter finally did outgrow the colic, but it was a loooooooooooong four months, let me tell you. While she was always a sensitive baby in many ways, after that she got a lot easier to deal with and she was definitely much happier.

My second baby was much more easy-going, thank goodness. As long as he got nursed on time and held plenty, he was a happy guy. He had his own challenges, as all babies do, but nothing like as his sister.

My third baby, though, was a lot like his sister. To this day, they follow each other's patterns in many ways. When he was born and started having troubles with crying and sleeping, I knew I was NOT going to go through Colic Hell again. So I decided to heed my neighbor's suggestion and try Craniosacral therapy.

Stresses from Birth

When a baby is born, there is a lot of twisting and turning to navigate the mother's pelvis. This can be stressful on the baby's head and neck areas. In addition, the baby's head is made of separate bones that can fold in on each other slightly like a vegetable steamer so it can fit through the pelvis more easily.

However, after the birth all the pressure and twisting and turning may not leave these bones moving freely. Craniosacral therapy aims to restore that freedom of movement and ease, as well as a free flow of cerebral spinal fluid.

Craniosacral therapy (CST) is a very light-touch, hands-on therapy. It uses the pressure of the weight of a nickel on the baby's skin to slowly and carefully address any misalignment in the baby's head, neck, sacrum, or soft palate. It aims to restore good nerve function so the baby's systems can operate optimally.

Some births are more stressful on the baby than others. Births that tend to benefit most from CST include:
  • Forceps/vacuum births
  • A very slow and/or difficult birth
  • A traumatic birth
  • A birth where the baby was malpositioned or got "stuck" 
  • An extremely fast birth
  • A cesarean birth
Some people might think that a cesarean would be easiest on the baby, but it's actually just a different kind of stress. Babies born by cesarean are pulled out sideways through a small incision; sometimes that happens easily and sometimes it doesn't. Thus some cesarean babies can also have a difficult time post-birth.

Some of the behaviors that CST might be able to help include:
  • Fussy babies who don't soothe easily
  • Babies who don't sleep well
  • Babies who have digestion or elimination problems
  • Babies with lots of spitting up or reflux
  • Babies with Colic
  • Breastfeeding problems
  • Difficult latching for baby; resulting sore nipples for moms
  • Babies who favor turning their heads to one side
  • Babies who favor one breast or position for nursing
  • Babies who seem overly sensitive
CST Controversy

Unfortunately, there is NO gold standard evidence on Craniosacral therapy. Like many alternative medicine fields, the research is mostly based on case studies, which basically amount to someone's story that it works. Anecdotal evidence is not irrelevant, but it is not science.

Critics charge that the idea behind Craniosacral therapy is nonsensical, that there is "no plausible mechanism of action," that studies end up producing conflicting diagnoses from different practitioners instead of consistent results, and that what studies there are mostly come from the inventor of the technique, which could easily bias the results. These are all valid concerns.

When you watch or experience Craniosacral therapy, it certainly appears as very "woo-woo." It certainly fits many stereotypes of alternative medicine quackery, and there really isn't any good proof that it works. All it has going for it are people's testimonials about how helpful it can be in some cases, which could be caused by a placebo effect as much as anything. As one critic writes, "No one can deny that craniosacral therapy is relaxing. But, then again, so is a nap & a nap is cheaper."

So I can't say there's proof that CST works, but there are plenty of stories out there of its helpfulness. Take that as you will.  For some people, these stories are enough to at least give CST a try. For others, it's absolutely not. If you are willing to try it, go for it. If it all sounds far too woo-woo and quackery to you, don't try it. The decision is always yours.

All I can do is share my personal stories in which Craniosacral therapy was helpful to my family. I started out as a total skeptic on it, completely unwilling to buy into it. But I was so desperate to avoid the 4-month Colic Hell I'd experienced with my first that I was willing to suspend my disbelief and give it a try on the desperate hope that it might help. I fully expected it to fail -- but it didn't. I have since used it in enough situations that I think it's worth considering if you find a very skilled and experienced provider that has the specialized training needed.


The first time our family tried CST, it was on baby #3. He had trouble settling down and going to sleep, had trouble sleeping for more than a few minutes at a time, and was just generally fussy, crying, and unhappy. At 2 weeks old I took him in for some CST. I used a pediatric chiropractor trained in CST. I stood right beside them so I could snatch him away if needed.

When we started, his arms and his legs were tucked up tight against his body and his little hands were held tightly in fists. He was a tense little guy. When the therapist started, she put one hand on his head and one hand underneath his sacrum. He began crying and tensed up even further. As his crying intensified (it didn't last long), I was just about ready to grab him and give up. Just then he gave a loud cry, a HUGE sigh, and relaxed his whole body. His legs fell to his sides, his arms relaxed, and his little fists uncurled. He stopped crying and fell deeply asleep. He napped all through the appointment and then was bright and cheery later on. That night, he slept SO well!

We used CST several times with him as a baby and he seemed to really breathe into it and enjoy it each time. It did seem to help him resolve whatever had been causing his colic.

There is an interesting description of CST for young babies, along with many CST resources, here.

Nursing Issues

We used CST on my 4th baby too. Not because she had colic but just as a precaution and because it had helped my other babies. But then one night when she was several months old, my husband fell asleep while holding her. He inadvertently relaxed his grip on her and she rolled off his lap and fell onto the floor. She cried very loudly but didn't seem hurt at all. However, after that, nursing all of a sudden hurt. It had been fine before that fall, but suddenly nursing seemed to pain her, and I know it pained me. Her latch had changed and I was left very sore. She was fussy too.

So we got her into our same pediatric chiropractor as soon as we could. She had me nurse the baby just before the treatment, then did the treatment, and had me nurse her again just after it. It was like night and day, the difference! It no longer hurt, the baby was satisfied and not fussy after, and I had no pain from her latch afterwards. Obviously, something about the treatment itself had changed things for the baby, even though the treatment looked like nothing was being done. It obviously had some effect.

It makes logical sense to me that CST might be able to help nursing issues. Often the CST therapist will put on a medical glove and have the baby suck on an upside down finger. In this way they are evaluating the baby's suck and latch, and if anything is off, they can adjust the palate with a little light pressure from the inside. Works like a charm and did not seem rough at all.

There is a good article describing what a lactation consultant is looking for when treating a breastfeeding baby, which can be found here.


My eldest child went on to develop fibromyalgia as an adult. She's pretty functional most of the time but she does deal with a lot of pain, including headaches. We have found that Craniosacral therapy is the ONLY thing that really dials down her pain levels effectively. Because fibromyalgia is a chronic condition, she seems to do best if she goes for CST treatment about once a month. She has to pay for her own CST but it helps her so much she makes room for it in her limited budget. She's a real believer in it.

There is one small study that supports the use of CST for fibromyalgia. The details can be found here.


In my fourth pregnancy I began to experience a lot of headaches. There was a lot of stress in my life at that point as I was a caregiver to a dying parent, but these felt like more than just stress headaches. None of my usual headache fixes were working very well, so when I was a few months' pregnant I decided to try CST.

Some people feel immense emotional releases during CST but I felt a weird physical release during my first session. The therapist was working on my sacrum, an area that has given me lots of trouble. All of a sudden my low back got really really warm. I asked her if she had turned on a heating pad or anything, but she swore she hadn't. The heat kept increasing until finally it peaked and went away suddenly. That was the only time that I have ever experienced anything like that during CST so it's not routine, but it was powerful and it was real. I don't see how it could have been faked. I wasn't expecting anything like that so it wasn't my expectations setting up a physical reaction. It was strange but I have to say the headaches disappeared afterwards.

Some years later, I was in a bad car accident. I was waiting to turn left on a country road when the car behind me struck me at full speed, 55+ MPH. He was on his cell phone and didn't notice that I had stopped. The impact shattered my car windows and totaled my van and changed my life.

I reminded myself it could have been much worse. There was no blood and no bones broken, so I counted myself lucky. I went home to my children that night. However, I didn't realize how much trauma my soft tissues, shoulders, neck, head, back, and knees took until later. It took me a long time to recover from the worst of it and I still have lingering problems from it even now.

One of the more difficult effects I had was headaches -- sudden, blinding headaches that felt like someone was suddenly stabbing me in the eye with an ice pick. This was different than any headache I'd ever had before. I tried chiropractic care and acupuncture; they were very helpful for the rest of my symptoms but didn't begin to touch my headaches, which were very debilitating.

Finally I decided to try Craniosacral therapy. I found someone who did CST for people with traumatic brain injuries, concussions, and veterans returning from war. She worked on me multiple times and slowly the blinding ice-pick headaches went away. It was effective for my headaches when nothing else was.

So that's my experience with Craniosacral Therapy. I've found it useful in several different scenarios, and I know a number of other women who have found it useful for colic, nursing problems, and head injuries.

CST still makes me cringe every time I watch it because it seems so woo-woo and unbelievable.  I would point out again that it's not been proven. It's possible the good results I and others have gotten have simply been due to the healing effect of hands-on touch and a desire to believe that it's helpful, but honestly I don't think a placebo effect is enough to explain it all.

I don't believe every claim that's made for CST, but I know it was helpful for me and my kids. I certainly believe it's worth considering for certain things like colic, nursing problems, headaches, and fibromyalgia.


Craniosacral therapy is light, hands-on therapy that many people report being helpful. I first got to know it as a treatment for colic and nursing problems but it may be helpful for other indications as well. It is very woo-woo in nature and hard to justify scientifically, yet the favorable anecdotal experiences of many should not be dismissed either.

Currently, there is no good-quality proof that Craniosacral therapy is effective. However, most of the material critical of CST is based on a few limited reviews from 2006 and 2011. It's time for higher quality protocols and less dismissive research.

Until we have that research, it is up to each family whether or not to try Craniosacral therapy. If you do try it, choose a practitioner who is very experienced and has several levels of training in it. Some will be massage therapists with advanced training, while others will be pediatric chiropractors who have additional CST training. If you use it for colic or nursing problems, you want someone trained in newborn issues.

You can find a directory of some Craniosacral therapy practitioners with training in babies and breastfeeding here.


Neonatal Netw. 2016;35(2):105-7. doi: 10.1891/0730-0832.35.2.105. Feeding in the NICU: A  Perspective from a Craniosacral Therapist. Quraishy K. PMID: 27052985
Completing full feedings is a requirement for discharge for babies in the NICU. interaction between the nerves and the muscles of the jaw, tongue, and the soft palate is required for functional sucking and swallowing. Jaw misalignment, compressed nerves, and misshapen heads can interfere with these interactions and create feeding difficulties. craniosacral therapy (CST) is a noninvasive manual therapy that is perfect for the fragile population in the NICU. CST can be used as a treatment modality to release fascial restrictions that are affecting the structures involved in feeding, thereby improving feeding outcomes.