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A Toddler Tells Her Birth Story

Did you know that babies and young children remember their birth?

I recall my son saying, when he was a toddler, “mum you punched me in the stomach when I was born”. Now, I don’t remember doing this, but I do remember the scramble to get him from the bottom of the birth pool, when I wrongly assumed the midwife would catch him. I went from being on my knees and leaning on the side of the pool to flipping over and grabbing him. Perhaps I did accidentally knock his stomach with my hands??!

My experiences as a craniosacral therapist have also shown me, that given the opportunity, a baby or toddler may suddenly start telling me their birth (or prenatal) story – through body language, somatic imprints or emotions. It is not uncommon for babies to take one look at me and start to memory cry!

Recently, a regular client had just had her second birthday party. It had been a while since I treated her. Now she could speak. Her mum had asked me to do a session because she had bumped her head. While this imprint did show up, she was not keen on any touch, but instead started to play with me… her play was very specific, and (if I am not completely deluded) the play was detailing her conception and birth journey.

Tunnels tend to feature stongly – both the birth canal and the fallopian tubes.

She was lucky enough to have a home birth without intervention, so not as tricky as some of the babies I treat, but still – she had a story to tell! She showed me an “egg” and a “tunnel” (many times repeating the word tunnel), and proceeded to show me the steps of how she got here, how she was “stuck” screwing up her face and tucking her self into a ball while pulling out bracelets from the folds of her plush red sofa. So creative! She would repeat the key themes for me for emphasis. She even appeared to reenact the emptying of the birth pool afterwards. Somehow she knew that I was able to hear her story – the story emerging without any intention on my part.

It is one of my favourite “craniosacral” sessions, and as I said, I didn’t touch her at all. More of an “Integrative Baby Therapy” session than cranio. This therapy is part of a movement to recognise that babies are sentient beings, having their own experience of birth, and that how we are born has a significant influence on us. Babies and young children are more than capable of communicating this in the presence of others who recognise this as truth. It still blows me away that somehow our bodies, and/or our consciousness can recognise when someone else is open to listening. So much communication happens beyond what is spoken. It remains one of lifes mysteries that science is yet to fully unravel.

Babies and children remember their birth and being in the womb! Though time, and our cultures lack of awareness, slowly erodes these experiences from our conscious memory, our bodies remember! Even adults hold imprints from birth.

I wish I had known this was possible when my children were young and could have explored it with them. Its a very special experience to witness. If you would like to explore your baby or childs prenatal or birth imprints please contact me to book a session.

Changes afoot

Next month it will be two years since I started Flow Cranio after graduating as a craniosacral therapist! Babies have taught me so much in this time. Each body reveals its unique patterns of experience in a session. I love being able to connect with babies through craniosacral therapy and help them to feel safe enough to express and let go of the difficult stories and tensions held in their systems.

The body is a gifted storyteller

Matthew Appleton

With this new business milestone, and due to changing personal circumstances (my partner and I are consciously uncoupling after 18 years together), I am putting my prices up slightly for new clients.

New rates from 1st July:

  • $90 initial baby/child treatment – subsequent sessions remain $70 (baby /child home visits – $100)
  • $150 mum and bub treatment
  • $100 per hour for combined lactation/cranio appts
  • Discounts available for a series of three sesssions (if prepaid)

I will continue to hold the low cost clinic monthly offering cranio by donation for babies.

Mirroring: body to body communication

“Children do not just mirror what they see and hear, but also what they feel in other people. As sensitive children … we contact the internal space of our parent’s body with the internal space of our body… we mirror constrictions and emotions that are held within the inner depths of our parents bodies”

Judith Blackstone – Trauma and the Unbound Body

Mums and babies systems are inextricably linked – more so than you might think! Humans protectively constrict (or contract) the body when we experience something overwhelming. These constrictions are bound up with memories and emotions from the event. These patterns of experience are held in our bodies and interestingly, mums and their babies often share each others patterns. For example, a mother with a sore neck may actually be mirroring her baby’s neck injury (from the birth) – when it is actually the baby with the sore neck! It can also go the other way, where a baby may mirror deeply held constrictions or imprints from the mum, from a tight jaw to an ingrained habit of the nervous system. This is one of the reasons that I suggest mum gets a session during the course of treating her baby – cranio releases the constriction in mum, but also in her baby too.

Science is only just beginning to explore these concepts, there has been some research on mirror neurons, which are thought to play a key role in empathy and social behaviour and may partly explain the phenomenon of mirroring. I was taken by surprise during my cranio training, when after months of training my hands to become more sensitive to subtle motion in others bodies, I realised that I was also mirroring some of the somatic imprints of my clients in my own body – which was helpful in guiding me to areas that needed support to release. This is not necessarily a special gift of mine but one that many other sensitive humans can learn to access.

This body to body communication may be one of the ways that trauma is passed down from one generation to the next!

It is never too late to heal though. Bodywork is key in shifting long held trauma from the body. Cranio brings awareness to these constrictions through body sensations (and often emotions or memories) which are then released from the body.

Contact me for an appt if you would like to experience what cranio can do for you or your baby.

Recommended reading Judith Blackstone’s book Trauma and The Unbound Body. She does a fantastic job of explaining a lot of somatic concepts that mirror my experience of giving and receiving cranio treatment.

Mirroring: body to body communication

“Children do not just mirror what they see and hear, but also what they feel in other people. As sensitive children … we contact the internal space of our parent’s body with the internal space of our body… we mirror constrictions and emotions that are held within the inner depths of our parents bodies”

Judith Blackstone – Trauma and the Unbound Body

Mums and babies systems are inextricably linked – more so than you might think! Humans protectively constrict (or contract) the body when we experience something overwhelming. These constrictions are bound up with memories and emotions from the event. These patterns of experience are held in our bodies and interestingly, mums and their babies often share each others patterns. For example, a mother with a sore neck may actually be mirroring her baby’s neck injury (from the birth) – when it is actually the baby with the sore neck! It can also go the other way, where a baby may mirror deeply held constrictions or imprints from the mum, from a tight jaw to an ingrained habit of the nervous system. This is one of the reasons that I suggest mum gets a session during the course of treating her baby – cranio releases the constriction in mum, but also in her baby too.

Science is only just beginning to explore these concepts, there has been some research on mirror neurons, which are thought to play a key role in empathy and social behaviour and may partly explain the phenomenon of mirroring. I was taken by surprise during my cranio training, when after months of training my hands to become more sensitive to subtle motion in others bodies, I realised that I was also mirroring some of the somatic imprints of my clients in my own body – which was helpful in guiding me to areas that needed support to release. This is not necessarily a special gift of mine but one that many other sensitive humans can learn to access.

This body to body communication may be one of the ways that trauma is passed down from one generation to the next!

It is never too late to heal though. Bodywork is key in shifting long held trauma from the body. Cranio brings awareness to these constrictions through body sensations (and often emotions or memories) which are then released from the body.

Contact me for an appt if you would like to experience what cranio can do for you or your baby.

Recommended reading Judith Blackstone’s book Trauma and The Unbound Body. She does a fantastic job of explaining a lot of somatic concepts that mirror my experience of giving and receiving cranio treatment.

Cranio for kids

School holidays are a good time to book your child in for a cranio treatment. Home visits are affordable and may suit those who don’t want to bring all the family to appointments.

It is a privilege to treat children, I love it as much as I love treating babies. Children are very much in tune with the rhythms of their body and during a treatment, can often feel all the shifts happening within, more so than most adults. They do have to consent to treatment, and are told that at anytime that they can speak up and stop the session, if desired – mostly, they don’t though, they can feel the benefits. By the end of the session, the nervous system feels calmer and balanced. All the energy that was holding the tensions at a subconscious level is freed up to optimise their vitality. They are then better able to self regulate their emotions.

A few things cranio may help children with:

  • head injury
  • growing pains
  • musculoskeletal issues
  • adjusting to orthodontics
  • headaches
  • birth trauma (it’s never too late to address issues from the birth)

Click here for more info and prices or go to the contact me page to book in.

Food Sensitivities in Breastfed Babies

In my lactation practice I am seeing more and more babies with food sensitivities (allergy and intolerances). In Australia, ten percent of babies have food allergies 1, also these numbers don’t include intolerances (non IgE mediated reactions). Unfortunately, many mothers and their uncomfortable babies are dismissed by the medical system, especially if they are gaining weight (or “thriving” – not my definition of thriving!). What tends to get ignored, is the impact on both mum and baby’s wellbeing and enjoyment of breastfeeding.  

These are all signs and symptoms of food sensitivity that I have seen in babies:

  • hives
  • rash
  • nasal congestion
  • eczema
  • cradle cap
  • low weight gain
  • unusual bowel motions (excessive number of stools or mucus or blood in stools)
  • vomiting /reflux after feeding
  • excessive hiccups or gas
  • high-needs baby
  • constant sucking
  • difficulty getting baby to sleep
  • colic
  • grunting
  • attachment difficulty / shallow latch / twisting away from the breast
  • breast refusal

Food allergens cause irritation to the gut lining, causing inflammation and discomfort. This can lead to babies taking smaller feeds at the breast, fussing and sometimes refusing to feed much at all, leading to low weight gain. Low weight gain can also be caused by impaired nutrient absorption in the bowels. Other babies gain lots of weight because they have an increased need to feed for comfort.

Before trialling an elimination diet, it is a good idea to see a lactation consultant (IBCLC) or someone who is experienced in this area. An IBCLC will do a full assessment ruling out other possible causes of discomfort or breastfeeding problems (eg. lactose overload, supply issues, tongue tie). A doctor can do a thorough check to rule out medical issues such as UTI, GORD etc. Bodywork can play a role. As a craniosacral therapist I can treat unresolved physical and emotional tensions in the body that may be contributing to unsettled behaviour.

After other causes have been ruled out, the first step is to trial a dairy elimination diet for 2-3 weeks. Cow’s milk protein is the most common cause of food allergy and intolerance in babies. Some mums choose to eliminate soy as well, as many babies who are sensitive to cow’s milk protein are sensitive to soy too. If babies are sensitive to dairy, mothers should see improvement after 3-4 days of starting the elimination diet. Stools may take longer to return to a normal consistency. Parents will have to carefully read ingredient lists on packets of processed foods to ensure there is no hidden dairy. Removing cow’s milk from mother’s diet often makes a significant difference. For some mothers this is an easy venture, for others (myself included) it was near impossible. Accidental slip-ups can happen and often there are other foods causing reactions. In these cases I refer mums to a dietitian experienced with helping breastfeeding families. Mothers who need to continue any long-term elimination diet, including dairy-free, should also have their diet checked by a dietitian.

Other factors to keep in mind that can negatively impact bowel function in babies include maternal or infant antibiotics, and the oral rotavirus vaccine (that babies receive at 2 & 4 months). Discuss these medical treatments with your doctor if you have a food sensitive baby. Exclusively breastfed babies are protected from rotavirus through breastfeeding and the vaccine is non-compulsory.

As a mother of a breastfed baby who was sensitive to cow’s milk protein I know the impact food sensitivities can have on breastfeeding, emotional wellbeing and sleep. Parents may be tempted to switch to formula, but breastmilk is still the milk of choice for these babies, providing good bacteria (probiotics), a large range of prebiotics to develop a healthy microbiome, many protective factors, stem cells and gentle exposure to other potential allergens. Most formula is derived from cow’s milk protein, though there are specialised formulas for babies allergic to cow’s milk protein. These are often expensive and taste terrible. There may also be the temptation to enrol in sleep school or hire a sleep consultant, though food sensitive babies do tend to fail sleep school! This also doesn’t help remove the cause of the baby’s distress.

It is a difficult road caring for and breastfeeding, these babies. There is a lot of self-doubt (feeling you are getting parenting or breastfeeding wrong) and an overriding feeling of helplessness. Parents need support and empathy, not to be dismissed or given advice to space feeds or switch to formula.

Here’s my tips to get through the day with a food sensitive baby:

  1. Keep on boobing!
  2. Don’t worry about routines, forming bad habits, or feeding too much.
  3. Do what ever is easiest for you in each moment.

Remember this too shall pass.

  1. *Article inspired by Robyn Noble’s webinar – Recognising Allergies in Breastfed Babies.  

Resources for mothers:

Memory crying in babies

Babies cry – some more than others! Most of the time it is to communicate a “present moment” need, they are hungry, cold, bored, tired etc, and once the need is met, the crying stops. My experiences as a craniosacral therapist have also shown me that babies also cry to tell their story of what happened to them in the womb or around their birth. Karlton Terry calls these crying bouts “memory crying”. This cry sounds different or more intense than a “present needs” cry and often babies resist their parents attempts to shush and calm them. Memory crying is when the baby is experiencing sensations and emotions that relate to an earlier overwhelming experience. Babies who are difficult to console are often brought for a cranio treatment although, interestingly, seemingly untroubled, happy babies may suddenly use the opportunity during a cranio session to communicate some strong emotions from their recent past.

Babies are aware and sensitive starting from the womb. There is plenty of research now to show that babies inutero share the same emotional experiences that their mother does and this has the capacity to shape them. Any part of their prenatal or post-natal journey can impact and leave an imprint on a baby’s system and become stored in the body. These body memories can be triggered by external stimuli –e.g.  a shirt being pulled over the head or being handled in a way that reminds them of their birth e.g. a c-section baby who is being placed into a car seat.  They can also arise during a cranio treatment where they feel safe and supported to fully express themselves to tell their story of pregnancy or birth.

Most babies find cranio to be calming and often settle off to a deep state during or afterwards. Cranio is permission based, during a treatment I carefully watch a baby’s body language, especially when I change holds. I ask “Is this ok for you? If not, I will move – you show me”. If they recoil in any subtle way from my touch, I pull back. Some of the “holds” may be triggering for them, eg a head hold for babies who have experienced a vacuum or forceps birth. Babies are in their bodies, not in their heads like most adults, and are great at knowing what they like and don’t like. They will let me know their preferences without resorting to crying. Saying that, there are times an emotional outburst is more likely, when I feel tension in the chest, diaphragm or throat shifting but interestingly it may or may not be accompanied by crying. As a new cranio graduate, I thought it was possible to avoid crying because the touch of a craniosacral therapist is so gentle and often when emotions arise during a session, they arise in subtle ways – fluttering sensations, sighs, or twitches and tremors as the accompanying muscle tension releases. Babies have shown me otherwise, using the cranio sessions to communicate their repressed emotions.

When I first started with this work, crying babies were a trigger for me. Crying babies reminded me of my experience with my second “colicky” son who cried for months. I felt so helpless and on high alert looking for a way to soothe him. While I know he has cows milk protein intolerance, I now wonder if he was also expressing emotions related to his time inutero. When I found out I was pregnant with him, my response was not a welcoming one. I felt too sleep deprived to have another baby. I found the pregnancy draining and unenjoyable. The field of pre and perinatal psychology acknowledges the impact these types of experiences have on babies. Knowing what I know now, I am now able to hold space for memory crying and to support parents to hold space too.

I recently worked with two babies who were clearly memory crying during their cranio session. These babies both surprised me when they suddenly and unexpectedly went from a happy “chatty” state to an intense emotional outburst. It can feel like it came out of nowhere and it can last for some time. The parents are often surprised that their baby has the capacity to hold such strong emotions under the surface, at such a young age! These emotions can range from anger, rage, sadness, grief, anxiety or fear. Body Psychotherapist, Thomas Harms in his “Emotional First Aid” approach talks of “assisted crying” where during these sudden outbursts we do not try to shush the baby (often babies refuse to be shushed anyway) but instead be fully present and centred in our bodies to hear the baby’s story. Sometimes naming the emotion may help – “I can see you are feeling angry right now” or empathising “Were you uncomfortable in the womb?”, “Was it a shock to be born that way?”. Babies understand more than we know, our tone of voice and calm presence is a comfort to them. The wave of emotion eventually passes and leads to a release of tension. The baby feels a sense of peace, of being fully seen and heard. The flow on effects may include deeper bonding, better sleep, reduced crying, greater communication skills or a developmental leap.

Just like adults, babies have a range of difficult experiences that need to be integrated and shared. We feel better if we have a good cry to a friend, one who listens without trying to distract from feelings or to try to fix things. I advocate for mothers to respond promptly to their baby’s present needs cry while at the same time to hold an awareness of the potential for the memory cry. Babies appreciate the opportunity for empathy and feel a sense of relief to get these pent up feeling out of their system or “off their chest”. Once the experience is brought to the surface then there is no longer a need to hold this in the body. The benefits of the experience can shape who they are and how they handle future difficult experiences.

If you feel your baby or child has not fully integrated some difficult perinatal experiences, then contact me to make an appt.

Tongue-tie and Breastfeeding

A tongue-tie (ankyloglossia) occurs when the connective tissue (frenum) under the tongue causes restriction in the tongue movement or function. It occurs in 2.8 – 10.7% babies, more often in boys and can be hereditary.

Anterior tongue-tie occurs when the frenum is attached at the front of the tongue, close to the tip. When the frenum is attached further back, or behind the mucosa, the term posterior tongue-tie is used. This term does not have consensus and the topic of posterior tongue tie (and lip tie) is a controversial one. Research is limited and opinions are divided.

Photo courtesy of Monica Hogan & David Todd

Signs & Symptoms

A baby with tongue-tie may not be able to poke the tongue out beyond the gum line / lips;  and /or may not be able to lift the tongue, or move it side to side. The tongue tip may look notched or heart shaped. This may interfere with correct attachment at the breast, leading to some of these problems:

Mother:

  • Nipple pain and damage
  • Low milk supply
  • Blocked ducts / mastitis
  • Early weaning
  • Frustration, disappointment and discouragement with breastfeeding

Infant:

  • Baby can’t latch or stay latched
  • Fussiness and frequent arching away from the breast
  • Clicking sound while feeding or spilling (poor suction)
  • Poor milk transfer – frequent small feeds or long inefficient feeds
  • Low weight gain
  • Chewing or chomping at the breast

How to treat:

Frenotomy is a minor surgical procedure performed using scissors. It is quick and the baby will often settle soon after. It can be performed without anaesthesia. Scissors are often used when the frenum is thin and anterior and unlikely to bleed much.

Laser frenectomy is an effective method for “posterior” tongue-tie / submucosal tongue-tie and lip tie that controls bleeding well. This is generally performed by a paediatric dentist or surgeon. Different lasers are used: water-lase is commonly used with infants.

Risks:

Infection is rare. Some babies may become fussy at the breast for a period of time afterwards. Bleeding is common – sucking/feeding straight after the procedure usually resolves this. There is a small risk of reattachment and scarring that may require a repeat procedure. Wound stretches and other oral exercises are often advised for this reason but may distress the baby and lead to oral aversion.

My approach as an IBCLC/bodyworker:

Sadly, I have seen many parents (and babies) whose breastfeeding journeys have been negatively affected due to missed tongue-ties. Babies with feeding challenges need to have an individualised, comprehensive feeding and oral function assessment. An IBCLC can rule out nipple infections and positioning and attachment issues which may potentially avoid surgery. Since becoming a craniosacral therapist, I further understand how cranial nerve compression and tension in the body can also cause similar symptoms to tongue tie. The tongue may be restricted, but not specifically due to the presence of a tight frenum. A couple of sessions of cranio/bodywork beforehand may address these issues and have a positive impact on breastfeeding. A procedure may be avoided or it may become clearer that a release is necessary. Cranio after the procedure can help to resolve any stress and to optimise function.

There is so much controversy, and limited research, around tongue ties, that it can be difficult for parents to know whether to go ahead with a procedure to release a tie – especially with posterior tongue-ties and lip ties. Where there is doubt about the presence of a tongue-tie, cranio is a gentle, less invasive approach than laser frenectomy. But ultimately, treating the tongue-tie can make all the difference to breastfeeding success.

Contact me for a lactation consultation, tongue-tie assessment or cranio pre or post tongue-tie release.

Four reasons why cranio supports infant sleep

I spent 4 years in the midst of sleep deprivation when my kids were babies.

My first son had difficulty with transitioning in and out of sleep. In hindsight I know this was related to our difficult birth and an activated nervous system. I didn’t know about cranio at the time. I took him to a chiro, a couple of times, and he slept well for the night of the treatments, but that was it.

My second son had food sensitivities. Safe co-sleeping was our survival strategy.

Both my kids didn’t sleep through the night until they were over two.

Image courtsey of Verity Worthington (Baby Sleep Information Source)

I understand the desperation parents feel when sleep deprived, the brain does not work well and life can feel overwhelming. Mainstream advice seems to consist of various ways of leaving the baby to cry, which goes against babies biological expectations to be comforted by, and to be in close proximity to caregivers.

I’m not here to say your baby should be sleeping through the night or self-settling. But if they are hard to settle to sleep, or cannot be put down at all, then cranio may help resolve any underlying issues. Babies tend to sleep better after cranio, not just the night of the session, but better sleep in general.

Here are some quotes from parents I have worked with recently:

“he is sleeping longer stretches in his bassinet”

“he slept 5 hours in a row last night”

“she is calmer and easier to settle”

“he is going down for more sleeps and they are longer”

“she will now fall asleep on the breast”

How does cranio help?

1. Babies nervous system may be stuck in a fight or flight state.

Birth, or events afterwards, may trigger a survival response in the nervous system. An activated nervous system is not a recipe for good sleep. Cranio works with the nervous system, the listening touch helps the body to switch out of a “fight or flight” state into “rest and repair”.

2. Compression of the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is an important nerve that regulates the autonomic nervous system. It winds its way from the brainstem, between the cranial bones down to the heart, lungs and digestive organs. If, after birth, the cranial bones are not optimally aligned the functioning of this nerve may be impacted. Cranio helps the body to self-shift these bones into a position that maximises function – breathing and heart rate is more regulated and feeding, digestion and sleep improves.

3. Musculo-skeletal issues

I have treated babies who have had back and neck injuries from inutero positioning or the birth process. If babies are uncomfortable or in pain they will not sleep well. Cranio helps the body to let go of any constrictions – to soften and relax – and this has a ripple effect on sleep and feeding.

4. Birth imprints

The experience of birth leaves an imprint on our bodies, especially when there have been strong emotions involved e.g. fear, stress or sadness. If baby has a story that is unresolved or cycling in their system, then they will be driven to try to tell this story through their behaviour, this can impact sleep and feeding. When babies bodies are listened to during a cranio treatment, then the baby feels heard and at peace. They often sleep (and feed) better when they have gotten the story off their chest.

Disclaimer!

Cranio is not necessarily the panacea. Some babies I have worked with do not improve with sleep, often for the following reasons:

  • Developmental leaps – cranio will often trigger a developmental leap and when babies are practicing rolling or crawling they are more likely to wake more frequently for a while.
  • Food sensitivities – babies who are uncomfortable due to cows milk protein intolerance (CMPI) or other food sensitivities will continue to be uncomfortable until the offending food is removed from their diet.
  • Temperament – some babies do tend to wake frequently even after emotional, physical and nervous system issues are ruled out or resolved. This may just be part of their temperament.

Sleep is not a learned behaviour but the result of a settled nervous system and a body free from physical restrictions and difficult emotions. Cranio is a gentle and often effective way to resolve the underlying issues that get in the way of sleep.  

Get in touch if you would like to try cranio for your little one.