How Can CranioSacral Therapy Improve Breastfeeding?


My little guy is 7 weeks old and suddenly won’t latch right.  It feels like his tongue is flicking my nipple instead of being underneath covering his gums.  He also won’t open his mouth very wide to get the whole nipple in.  It’s causing me a lot of pain.  What can I do to encourage proper latch?


Christina S.




Dear Christina,

While I am not sure why at 7 weeks your little one’s latch started to become uncomfortable, the symptoms you are describing sound like your son's jaw and tongue could use a little unwinding. This is when I often refer the baby to a CranioSacral Therapist.  Since breastfeeding requires that a baby has full range of motion with his tongue, jaw and neck, some babies may require a little extra assistance to relax these areas and their central nervous system. One technique is CranioSacral Therapy (CST).


What is CranioSacral Therapy?

Jennifer McIsaac, a Holistic Health Practitioner and CranioSacral Therapist describes CranioSacral Therapy (CST) as a system of techniques and diagnostic tools that focus on the soft tissue structures that surround the brain and the spinal cord, as well as the nerves.  This light-touch massage, using pressure up to the weight of a nickel, can relax the brain and the body immensely!  This soft pressure works well in infants, as their connective tissue is so soft and malleable.  (The Boob Group, Episode 13)


What typically takes place during a CranioSacral Therapy session?

Most sessions include an evaluation of the baby (head to toe) and soft-tissue manipulation in the baby’s mouth (if necessary) and on the head, spine, and pelvis.  There is very little movement during the manipulations, so it may look like the therapist is not actually doing much of anything.  This is because the therapist doesn’t have to use a lot of force to manipulate and relax the soft tissue. 


What are some examples of how CranioSacral Therapy can improve breastfeeding? 

  • Helps to bring the baby’s tongue out over the gum line (assuming that there is not a tongue-tie or another anatomical restriction)
  • Relaxes the baby’s jaw so that he/she can open his/her mouth more widely and comfortably
  • Reduces tension in the baby's neck, which may have been cuased by how he/she was resting in utero or as a result of something that took place during his/her birth (breech position, vacuum, long-stage pushing, etc.)
  • Relieves tightness in the baby’s neck and jaw, which may cause him/her to feed less comfortably, and even pinch the nipple, on one side only
  • Relieves tension inside the baby’s mouth, which may cause suction that is too strong, painful, or off-center or a suck that is too weak to be efficient
  • Increases the baby range of motion with his/her tongue and jaw after a frenotomy (tongue-clipping due to a tongue-tie) and relieves bunching of the tongue
  • Relaxes a baby’s sensitive gag reflex


Besides breastfeeding, how can CranioSacral Therapy help an infant?

  • All rights reserved by hollyloo (Flickr)Reduces and resolves plagiocephaly (misshapen head)
  • Relieves torticollis (muscle tissue that is tight on one side of the neck, causing a shortness in those neck muscles)
  • If used early on, it can reduce the baby’s need for a helmet, due to plagiocephaly and torticollis


Will CranioSacral Therapy hurt my baby?

Actually, it is quite the exact opposite.  Most parents describe watching their babies ‘melt like butter’ on the massage table while receiving a treatment and that their babies look completely relaxed.  Often times, babies who have tight jaws and necks may not be sleeping well at home, so after a CST treatment they may take a wonderfully long nap.  Many babies will actually sleep through the treatment.


How often should I expect to take my baby to CranioSacral Therapy?

This definitely depends on the baby and the issues he/she is presenting.  Most babies respond quickly to this treatment, as their bodies are so malleable and receptive to bodywork.  These babies may only need to be seen for 2-3 treatments and then their issues are resolved.  Others might need ongoing treatment and may be seen once or twice a month for several months.


How can parents find a CranioSacral Therapist?

The Upledger Institute has a search function where you can find a therapist in your area.  Most Doctors of Osteopathy are also trained in CranioSacral Therapy and may actually be covered under your insurance.  Before considering treatment from any practitioner, it would be wise for the parent to ask the practitioner about his/her experience working with infants and what type of training he/she received.


I hope that this helps answer your question, Christina!  




Additional resources:

La Leche League International: Considering CranioSacral Therapy in Difficult Situations

CranioSacral Therapy: When Can It Help, by Dee Kassing, BS, MLS, IBCLC 

JM Therapeutics: What is CranioSacral Therapy

Kellymom: CranioSacral Therapy and other gentle body work for breastfeeding problems