Note from Katie Madden, RN, IBCLC:

Today’s guest blog comes from Colleen McLaughlin, LMT, RN, a friend and colleague who shares my passion for working with babies and their families. Below, Colleen describes how her work with babies can help loosen up any tightness created during pregnancy or birth. This tightness, left untreated, may eventually resolve on its own, but it can cause difficulties throughout baby’s entire body that leave baby uncomfortable and parents searching for solutions to what are some common fussy baby problems. Colleen’s work takes a holistic approach, looking at a baby’s entire body to address problems in one area. For example, if your baby is re-learning how to use his tongue after a tongue tie revision, Colleen can work on tightness in a related part of the body that frees up baby’s ability to move his tongue properly. Read on to see how Colleen’s transformative work can be part of a multi-layered approach to treating breastfeeding difficulties. Colleen offers services at The Birth Center. 

Baby Bodywork

by Colleen McLaughlin, LMT, RN

I’m honored that The Birth Center has asked me to share with you a little about the work that I do with infants, particularly when it comes to breastfeeding difficulties and oral ties. I am a Licensed Massage Therapist (and former Birth Center RN) who practices Craniosacral Fascial Therapy, or CFT for short.

CFT (The Gillespie Approach™) is a merging of the foundations of Craniosacral Therapy and Fascial release work developed by Dr. Barry Gillespie. Okay, I’m about to get a little technical, but stay with me because it’s important to understand.

Fascia is a general term for the connective tissue found in every layer of the body and the body’s organs down to the cellular level. It exists in various degrees of strength or flexibility depending upon its location and function. It exists as one continuous web, which is why it’s called connective tissue. When we experience physical or emotional trauma, it creates tightness in the body, developing what is known as a strain pattern. Over time, strain patterns will overlap and eventually restrict soft tissue. The effect a strain pattern has on an individual is dependent upon the location of the strain. The craniosacral system refers to the structures that contain, support, and protect the central nervous system. It consists of the brain, spinal cord, cerebrospinal fluid, and the bones of the head, spine and pelvis. Tightness in the fascial system can restrict the function of the craniosacral system.

CFT is a very gentle, non-invasive therapy. The techniques are intended to address strain patterns in the body but more importantly, they address the effect a strain pattern has on the craniosacral system. Once the craniosacral system is free from restriction and the cerebrospinal fluid achieves an optimal flow, the body is better able to heal and balance itself.

How does this apply to difficulties in the breastfeeding newborn or infant? Well, it’s not necessarily a straightforward answer because every baby is unique. As I said earlier, the fascia is a continuous web so strain or tightness in one area can pull into another area, causing structural misalignment or tightness. Dr. Gillespie’s research has shown that strain in the pelvis, for example, can pull into the oral area, creating tightness, which can cause difficulty with baby’s latch. Releasing this strain through CFT techniques can loosen up the jaw or other oral structures that are tight. Another example of a situation I’ve seen involves a baby whose umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck at birth. With each contraction or push, the cord pulled tight around the structures of the neck. This can cause fascial strain in that area, and this type of strain may affect the function or alignment of the oral structures, potentially contributing to breastfeeding difficulties. These are just two examples, but there are many scenarios that can play out. The bottom line is that loosening up the fascia in the body can and will help the oral function of a baby.

When it comes to oral ties in an infant (lip ties and tongue ties), it gets a little more complicated. Once an oral tie is identified by a professional, CFT is a wonderful adjunctive therapy to consider both before and after a revision procedure. Our specialized oral and throat techniques can help to keep the oral tissue loose and potentially prevent the regrowth of the oral tie. Sometimes when a revision is performed and is well healed, there are still concerns with latch. This is when I would consider tight fascia in other oral structures, like the jaw, roof of the mouth, floor of the mouth, and tongue. I would, at this time, also consider that there may a strain pattern originating from a different area of the body. Imagine you have a twist in your stockings around your ankle. To fully fix the issue of the twisted stocking, you likely need to smooth and straighten out the entire length of the leg of your stocking. That ankle twisting might actually be happening because the top of the stockings are twisting.  When I’m working with your baby, I’m looking at the entirety of baby’s body and life experiences. I’m connecting the dots and following the pattern.

While this post is intended to address how CFT can benefit difficulties with nursing, I believe that every infant should have this therapy as soon after birth as possible. Birth is a miraculous event, but physical and emotional traumas can occur to an infant during the pregnancy period or during the labor and delivery process. In addition to breastfeeding difficulties, tightness in an infant can manifest as colic, reflux, torticollis, or chronic ear infections, among other things. I believe that CFT can safely and gently diminish these effects, therefore preventing many diseases as well as optimizing brain function.

Dr. Gillespie’s research has shown that babies who receive CFT are happier and healthier. That’s why we call ourselves The Happy Baby People!

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