When I was expecting, my mother suggested I visit a Craniosacral therapist. Not because there were any problems with my pregnancy -- on the contrary, I worked until a few days before delivery -- but simply "To make yourself feel even better."
I was rather skeptical about something which basically works on the bones in your head and the fluid in your spine. But the sessions made me feel so relaxed that soon after our daughter was born, I took her to the therapist so she could reassure me there were no post-delivery repercussions at a muscular-skeletal level.
I recently chatted to Julie Rimmington, one of Italy's top therapists. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin in radiotherapy and for the last 20 years has been dedicating herself to Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy -- with international certifications of the highest levels.
Here's what we touched upon:
JR: Craniosacral Therapy is a non-invasive method of working on the body started by American osteopath William Garner Sutherland in the early 1900s. He discovered the existence of a spontaneous movement of the cranial bones and noticed a subtle rhythmic impulse that is palpable throughout the body. A physiological system that is critical in the maintenance of health and vitality in the mind-body system, it's known as 'Primary Respiratory Mechanism'. Anatomically, it involves the muscular-skeletal system, cerebrospinal fluid, dural membrane, connective tissues, autonomic nervous system and fluids.
Q: How can babies benefit from craniosacral sessions right after birth?
JR: All babies can benefit from a few Craniosacral sessions. The birthing process is heavy physical labor for mother and child and also stressful. This can result in colic, restlessness, sleep problems. The little body is extremely flexible, and the different bones of the skull are like little islands that can move easily. In short, we are like a bag full of water, with a few bones here and there. As the baby is ready to pass through the birth canal, the strong compression and de-compression forces may move the little bones over each other during birth. If they get stuck, nerves or blood vessels can become blocked. The most vulnerable spot is the base of the skull, since nerves and blood vessels go in and out of the skull from here -- especially the vagus nerve, which regulates the function of almost all organs -- as well as breathing, digestion and the relaxation of the heart. By using gentle touch at the cranial base, the compression forces are released, and by working with the chest area breathing becomes easier and tensions will be released.
Restoring balance to the nervous system has a remarkable effect on the baby's well-being (and that of the parents!) In short, what we look for when working with babies are very subtle signs in their behavior, and response to the treatment, that will indicate what areas need to be addressed or what needs to be done. Signals such as baby's body language, reflexes and sensitivity to touch all give useful information. It is very clear when a baby doesn't want to be touched in a particular area -- he/she will usually turn away or push with his/her arms or legs -- and this is respected. Nothing is done without the baby's and parents' permission. As with all approaches with this work, it is the person who determines the speed and process of the work, not the practitioner.
Q: Craniosacral therapy is particularly important for C-section babies. Why?
JR: Cesarean births are of two types: elective (where the baby was not engaged in the birth canal) and emergency or engaged (in which the infant was engaged and may have been far into its birthing process). In the elective case, there is a rapid pressure change in the autonomic nervous system, where parasympathetic shock is common. These babies are the ones that sleep a lot and are said to be 'Good, Quiet Babies'. Later in life, though, these people may encounter low energy levels, chronic fatigue and low motivation. In this case, I try to gently orient the infant to the possibility of movement and pushing, in order to mobilize a more sympathetic nervous response via gentle contact and upward pressure on the soles of the feet. I also use a reassuring and encouraging voice.
Q: And in an emergency cesarean?
JR: In that case, the sympathetic nervous system is commonly engaged during the birthing process -- thereby encountering the forces and timing of a natural birth. A sudden change may cause unusual cranial patterns due to the forces of the pull, which are not forces that the system is naturally designed to meet.This may then result in poor orientation and sense of boundaries for the infant. When we begin to work with these infants, by helping them to settle down, we engage our contact at the sacrum to bring the nervous system to a balance. Since there is a type of 'fight or flight' cycle -- because the birth process was interrupted -- this type of baby will sometimes express anger by kicking or pushing away. With such infants, we take our time in approaching the child, in negotiating contact and we use short periods of hands-on clinical work.
Q: Can you describe briefly how you would get a C-section baby to 'experience' a natural birth?
JR: To 're-enact' a natural birth, I work on the treatment table with the infant or child. He or she will automatically start to move as if turning to come down and out of the pelvic canal. We need the gravitational force, it is our ally. By holding the baby and beginning to stretch the spine, the head will start to feel heavy, and it will look for and follow gravity. As the head starts to descend it may turn, and I hold it so it can push against my hand and arms.The mother usually sits on floor-level by the table and as my legs and thighs also become the "pelvic canal", the child will slowly slide right through and the mother will be there to 'catch' the baby -- and bond again after this birth.
Q: If a natural birth is not experienced, what can be the long-term effects?
JR: When an adult comes for a visit we always inquire about their birth process. The person may have suffered long term headaches or a hyperactive nervous system (or the opposite: a hypoactive nervous system). He or she may have bonding issues or dissociative processes, which we work with in the sessions.