Stress: An overlooked cause of unsettled babies

When our baby cries, we immediately feel they must be hungry, tired, overstimulated or gassy? If it becomes a pattern, we might consider colic – a term often used for babies who cry excessively for no apparent reason. What if there was a reason? And that reason is to communicate stress or repressed emotions from early life experiences? Those that may have been stressful, painful or overwhelming for them, including birth? Our culture tends to ignore or deny the fact that babies experience stress and have emotional experiences that are every bit as complex and real as the rest of us. In this article, I explain how to recognise stress in babies (it’s not just crying), what kind of things can be stressful for babies, how the nervous system works and how to best to support babies through their difficulties.

How can you tell if your baby is stressed?

Here are some signs and symptoms to look for:

  • Excessive or inconsolable crying*
  • Tense muscles; frowning, arms rigid and in front of the chest, shoulders held up around the ears, tight jaw
  • Feeding difficulties eg. fussy feeding, cannot latch at the breast
  • Sleep issues eg. does not transition in and out of sleep smoothly, difficulty getting baby to sleep, waking with an intense cry
  • Exaggerated startle reflex
  • Tremors or shakiness
  • Hypersensitive to touch
  • Desire not to be held or inability to put baby down for even a few moments
  • Avoidance of eye contact

*Babies who have stopped crying or don’t cry very much are not necessarily stress free. Studies on babies during sleep training, have shown that the stress hormone cortisol remains high in babies who have stopped calling out to parents. I can palpate/feel an activated nervous system in a sleeping or quiet baby during a cranio treatment (more about that below). 

It is becoming more widely accepted that babies are conscious in the womb and are affected by the emotions and stresses of their mother. We tend to overlook babies experience of birth. We recognise that birth is a huge experience for the mother, emotionally and physically, but it is also for the baby. Often, before they are able to integrate the experience of the birth; ideally placed directly on the mother’s chest and left alone to rest – they also may then be subject to medical interventions that are both unexpected and confusing. There are a myriad of circumstances that babies may find stressful. Not all babies react to these events in the same way but simply being aware of the potential for stress and trauma is supportive for the baby.

What kinds of things are stressful for babies?*

  • Induction of labour via drip
  • Premature birth
  • Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Nursery (SCN) experience
  • Difficult births: being stuck during labour; long or fast births; assisted births (vacuum, forceps, c-sections)
  • Near death experience or deprivation of oxygen (including babies with intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)
  • Medical procedures or hospitalisation e.g., circumcision, excessive oral exercises after tongue tie release
  • Abusive parental relationship
  • Prolonged maternal stress or depression.
  • Unintended pregnancy /ambivalence from either parent about the pregnancy / Being given up for adoption
  • Death in the family

*An Integrative Approach to Treating Babies and Children:  Multidisciplinary Guide by John Wilks

When I realised my son had unresolved stress in his nervous system from his early birth, this ignited my passion as a craniosacral therapist to help to ease unnecessary suffering in babies, and to raise consciousness of the existence of stress in babies. My first birth was highly medicalised and followed the typical cascade of intervention: induced (against my instincts) with a syntocinon drip….pethidine….epidural….episiotomy and he was pulled into the world via vacuum. He had a swelling on his head called a cephalohematoma. I was left traumatised from the birth, with lasting physical and emotional consequences but I did not fully consider the impact of the experience on the health and wellbeing of my son. Looking back, for months he would wake from sleep screaming as if he was being murdered. Plus he was a sickly child! Unbeknownst to me at that time, the birth had a lasting effect on his nervous system. When I finally discovered craniosacral therapy, he was ten years old and, according to the craniosacral therapist, his nervous system was in “global activation”, primed to fight or flight. Having now supported many infants with similar activated nervous systems and witnessing how quickly they resolve the stress during treatment, I wish he could have had the same release soon after his difficult birth. To say I wish I had known about it sooner would be an understatement!

Tuning in to the nervous system of babies

During a cranio treatment, I use my hands and body to tune into the nervous system. The nervous system will start to show me its patterns of experience.  An activated sympathetic nervous system can feel like an electrified buzz through the whole body, the heart can beat harder and faster than normal and the breath is either held, or rapid and shallow, and muscles and tissue are contracted. This is a survival strategy also known as fight or flight mode. The body cannot properly heal easily in a sympathetic “activated” state.

Babies are uniquely vulnerable, as they cannot run away or fight, so when the fight or flight response has not resulted in avoidance of the stressor, a baby may go into a freeze state. Freeze is a survival strategy activated by the parasympathetic nervous system, meaning the nervous system is shut down or dissociated. These babies can be floppy with low muscle tone or a ‘good baby” that cries very little and sleeps a lot. A baby whose nervous system is in freeze feels different in a cranio session – there is a fogginess or spaciness to the system at first until the body starts to attune with the therapist’s nervous system and remembers its healthy original blueprint. It can be common to feel subtle shuddering movements or muscles start to twitch as the nervous system unfreezes.

The ideal healing state is one of rest and relaxation. When the nervous system is in a parasympathetic state (not freeze), the breath is slower and deeper, the heart is in a coherent rhythm, and muscles and tissues soften. During a craniosacral session, this feels like a slow tidal rhythm of energy, expanding and contracting through the body and tissues. The body then starts to let go of physical and emotional restrictions.

What can we do to minimise stress/ trauma in babies?

Life is stressful! It’s impossible to avoid stress completely and it’s important to remember that not all stress is toxic – some stress is tolerable or even positive, fostering resilience and growth. Trauma is what happens when our nervous system becomes overwhelmed, often when something has happened too fast or for too long. Or because we simply felt alone or unsupported during an event. This story or imprint can remain cycling or unresolved in the nervous system. Understanding the nervous system and how to help it to integrate our stresses is important in order to avoid overwhelm.

A few ways to help your baby to minimise stress:

Stress in babies can be integrated healthily through responsive parenting – including communication, presence, listening, empathy, touch and communication.

  • Babies understand more than we know, they take great comfort in our tone of voice and understand the feelings behind our words. We can talk to them and differentiate our feelings from theirs eg. “I was really sad/stressed while you were growing inside me because (xyz) but this is my stress and it has nothing to do with you. Its not yours to carry. You can let it go. You are safe now”.
  • They can feel our grounded presence and calm nervous system. While we can’t always be in a calm state, we can take a few moments to feel into our body; feel our feet; feel our seat and be an embodied presence during their difficult moments.
  • Any medical procedures for babies need to be carried out with compassion – ideally with parents present or soon after. Choose your practitioners wisely.
  • Simply acknowledging that our babies might be expressing emotions rather than present moment needs (eg, hungry, dirty nappy), can support babies. They know if we “get it” as they are very much n tune with the feelings of the people around them. Naming the emotion can be helpful eg “I can see you are feeling angry right now – I hear you” “Is that how it was for you? Tell me, I’m here”.
  • Babies tend to need a slower pace, so slowing potentially stressful experiences down is supportive. Letting babies know what is coming up for them is an empathetic way to prepare babies for events. We can even talk to them inutero and let them know of an upcoming c-section or induction.
  • Can we be present to strong emotions in our child? Are we quick to shush them? We can notice our own triggers and tendencies and have compassion for ourselves. We too, may have unresolved early traumas, with many of us being left to cry it out as babies.
  • As mothers/primary caregivers we also need support for ourselves too. Eg. support through family and friends, or cranio support to calm our own nervous system. A doula is a great investment for your birth – supporting your process supports your baby inutero.
  • Touch and close contact increase oxytocin levels. Oxytocin (the love hormone) is the antidote to cortisol (the stress hormone). Things like skin to skin contact, baby wearing and safe co-sleeping are healing for babies. However, some babies may be tactile defensive, meaning that touch is a trigger for stress, maybe its just on certain parts of their body. You can still provide support by being physically present and using less tactile means to instill a sense of security. Or being careful to avoid touching any sensitive areas.
  • Oxytocin is also released during breastfeeding, in both mum and baby. Many babies regulate their nervous system by feeding frequently at the breast, so where possible allow unlimited access to the breast. Other babies will act out their stress at the breast – with fussy feeding or latching issues – these babies greatly benefit from a combined lactation/cranio consult.
  • As parents we would rather suffer than see our children suffer. It hurts us to know they may have suffered unnecessarily or without appropriate support at the time. It is never too late to heal though! Even adults can heal their early life trauma with the right support. Cranio is a great way to access and resolve these early imprints.

As a culture we have a history of overlooking infant stress, forgetting that babies are sensitive beings that are having their own experience of their environment. On an unconscious level, the nervous system just wants a feeling of safety to be restored; to rest, to slow down, to feel supported. Our calm “parasympathetic” nervous system then assists the intelligence of our body to heal itself. Studies have shown the long-term impact of early life stress can lead to increased risk of anxiety disorders, cancer, substance use, heart disease, immune disorders, social struggles and relationship problems. Acknowledging and resolving stress in early life has the potential to change this trajectory.

Babies who have not been able to integrate their stress may greatly benefit from cranio treatment.   Having cranio sessions in the first few months of life can make a significant and positive impact to both their present and future wellbeing.

Get in touch if you feel your baby needs more support.


For a more in depth look at this topic, I highly recommend Mia Kalef’s book It’s Never Too Late : Healing Prebirth And Birth At Any Age and The Secret Life of Babies : How Our Prebirth and Birth Experiences Shape Our World


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.

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, and 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
  • tight jaw muscles

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! As it doesn’t help to 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.

Falling asleep during a session

Its quite common for babies to fall asleep during a cranio session. Occasionally an exhausted adult will also drop into sleep. Recently, I had a couple of kids fall asleep during the treatment – which is pretty special.

Cranio helps the body to shift out of a “fight or flight” state into “rest and repair”, sometimes this looks like sleep. Both my boys ask for cranio when they have difficulty getting to sleep and I have occasionally helped my friend’s kids get to sleep at night, while I am at their place. Once, my skeptical partner (who still doesn’t understand cranio) allowed me to do cranio while he lay on the beach as he drifted off into a blissful sleep (he put it down to the gentle lapping of the waves, not the touch!).

It really is a privilege to support any body to shift out of a busy state; to find a sense of stillness and calm (that continues beyond the confines of the treatment room).

Perhaps you need this at the end of a difficult year? Would you like to find a calm centre during the silly season?

Contact me to make an appt – your body will thank you!

Low-cost baby cranio clinic

Here are the new dates for the next three months.

I am offering a monthly clinic for babies to receive biodynamic craniosacral therapy – by donation. All babies should have the opportunity to receive cranio, regardless of their parents’ financial situation. This is a great opportunity for your baby to experience this gentle therapy. Read below for more details….

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Who:

Pre-crawling babies (babies who have not received cranio before will be prioritised)

What:

Cranio is a light touch form of bodywork that is non-manipulative. Jenny uses a listening touch to calm babies nervous system, sparking a biological process, unique to each individual, to release held tensions, stresses and trauma from the body. Babies often find it to be deeply relaxing. Parents often report that baby is calmer, easier to settle and more comfortable in their body.

Why:

Cranio may help:

  • breastfeeding difficulties
  • fussy, hard to soothe, irritable babies
  • babies who have had an assisted birth (vaccuum /forceps/ C-section)
  • babies who experienced a fast birth or excessively long birth
  • babies who vomit frequently
  • newborns who do not wake for feeds
  • babies with digestive or sleep issues
  • premature babies or babies who have been separated from their mother.

When:

  • Thursday 22nd October – 9.30 – 2.30
  • Thursday 26th November – 9.30 -2.30
  • Thursday 17th December – 9.30 – 2.30

Where:

Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Clinic – 74 Nollamara Ave, Nollamara.

Cost:

Donation based – suggestion at least $10. (*usual cost $60). If you find the treatment to be helpful for your baby, I would appreciate a facebook review.


Places are limited and by appointment only. So book early through the website or phone 0435 309 397.

Breastfeeding a baby with cows milk protein intolerance (CMPI) without giving up dairy

My second son was super unsettled. I remember it being one of the most difficult seasons of my life; looking after a screaming, unhappy baby and a toddler. I became suspicious that something I was eating was causing his discomfort. Apart from the constant crying, the only other symptom he had was constant nasal congestion (and significant cradle cap) – no blood in the stools, no rashes. I was quickly dismissed by doctors; told its normal for babies to cry.

Now I know that it was cows’ milk protein that was the issue! I want to share my story as someone who tried and failed to cut dairy from my diet (as a breastfeeding mother) and continued to breastfeed my son for over 2 years. Also to share what worked to lessen symptoms for my son (who is now ten years old, still eats dairy and no longer suffers from chronic nasal congestion). I know this information is helpful to all the breastfeeding mothers and babies that I frequently work with who are navigating this path. There can be a temptation to wean to formula, but formula itself is derived from cows’ milk protein and special formulas are often expensive, taste terrible and may be hard to access.

My sister and I with Chester
Top: My sister and her unhappy nephew. Bottom: Me, my toddler and a new unhappy baby

Cows’ milk allergy (CMA) is taken more seriously by doctors, than cows’ milk protein intolerance (CMPI). CMPI causes discomfort and often the baby is reported to be “thriving” because they are gaining weight. Whereas, CMA has more serious consequences (eg low infant weight gain, skin rashes, hives). And what about lactose intolerance? Is that an issue in babies? Lactose is the sugar component of milk. It is plentiful in human milk too. Eliminating lactose from the diet will not eliminate lactose from breastmilk. It is very rare for babies to have primary lactose intolerance, it’s often not the lactose that’s the problem, but the protein (casein, whey).

There is a lot of misinformation and confusion, even among health professionals. Amidst this confusion, parents of babies with CMPI are unsupported by the medical system. The burden lies with the mother who suffers through those precious early days, her heart breaking over not being able to help her unhappy baby and often no one in the family getting much sleep. In my case, health professionals were quick to offer me treatment in the form of antidepressants, which I refused. With a background in mental health nursing, I knew it was a situational crisis – the answer lay in finding the root cause of my son’s discomfort (and now it’s a passion of mine to encourage all mothers to do this!).

When he was a few weeks old, I decided to trial cutting out dairy from my diet and failed miserably! I normally eat like a bird, so reducing a major food group left me feeling more tired, stressed and miserable than I was already (and hungry!). I would do fine for days then demolish a large bar of chocolate – feeling really guilty. I really craved my morning cup of tea (with milk). I do feel I am strong willed by nature, but not in this department. Joy Anderson* (Dietitian and IBCLC) who specialised in this area, makes mention that the more addicted you are to a food, the more likely it is to be the offending substance.

Time passed and the intensity of those first few months faded as his attention was directed more at the outside world and less on internal sensations. Still the nasal congestion didn’t go – he was a really snotty kid with frequent ear infections (often babies will grow out of their food sensitivities, but my sons stuck around). I was told by another doctor that he had hayfever. It wasn’t an environmental sensitivity, it was food. My maternal gut instincts were confirmed, when at the age of six he told me “Mummy every time I drink milk, I get snotty”.

I am now reflecting on what has worked to reduce nasal congestion for my son over the years (he also found it unrealistic to give up dairy) as I currently implement this strategy in order to treat my dermatitis. If you are finding that dairy is contributing to your baby’s symptoms and are freaking out at the thought of giving it up. Here’s what I found in our case:

  • A2 milk is a lifesaver! My son may get a little bit snotty but he is able to clear it. I feel regular milk causes inflammation (aswell as mucus) that makes nasal passages difficult to clear. A2 milk has a protein that is better tolerated by those who are sensitive to A1 protein (found in most milk products).
  • Butter and cream are mostly fat, with a little bit of milk protein and may be tolerated.
  • Avoid processed foods with milk products in them (e.g. milk solids, skim milk powder).
  • Eat chocolate that is dairy free (e.g.dark chocolate or raw chocolate).
  • Cheese and yoghurt can be less troublesome for sensitive folk (with my son its hit and miss). The addition of enzymes (in cheese) and the fermentation process (in yoghurt) change the structure of the protein making it easier to digest for some.

Cutting out dairy for 2-3 weeks is often first line strategy for suspected cows milk sensitivity. For some mothers it is easy, for others its impossible. Some mothers may be able to get away with a low dairy intake.

*This is my story of my journey and what I have learnt along the way but it may not work for everyone. For more support there are dietitians who work with breastfeeding dyads who can provide individualised advice.


Please contact me if you suspect your baby has a cows milk sensitivity. As someone who has walked the path personally, and worked with lots of breastfeeding mothers with sensitive, unsettled babies, I can support you in working out the cause of your baby’s discomfort. Phone consults, clinic and home visits available.

Other resources: