Massage bodywork for babies is one of the oldest forms of pediatric healthcare, originating in Ayurveda, a 3,000 year old natural system of medicine scholars consider to be the oldest healing science. Historically and today there are no predetermined guidelines of the minimum age of when a baby should receive massage bodywork. Birth trauma in varying degrees is commonplace and newborns in their first weeks of life receive massage bodywork in the form of craniosacral therapy in response to:
physical forces exerted on babies in birth and;
shock to a baby’s central nervous system in birth
So while it’s never too soon for a newborn to benefit from massage bodywork, many parents seem to wait until their baby is about 4 – 6 weeks old, a time when their daily routine is more settled and behavior a bit more predictable.
When a baby receives massage bodywork they’re experiencing stimulation of their central nervous systenm, sparking a chain reaction, wherein their brain produces more of the ‘feel-good’ chemical serotonin (important in regulating breathing) and less of the stress hormone cortisol. The natural physiological response to this coupling of more ‘feel good’ with less ‘stress’ results in a baby’s breathing and heart rate slowing down as the infant becomes more calm. As a result and as affirmed in a 2019 research study published in Children Magazine, massage bodywork for babies allows their body to calm, self-heal, and is shown to be effective in helping pre-term newborn with development, relieving pain, anxiety, allergy symptoms, and more.
For babies, massage bodywork can also enhance nutrient flow to cells, oxygenation and improve breathing patterns along with lung health (baby’s respiration). Massage bodywork can also help with the release of hormones, particularly growth hormones helpful in gaining weight gain, and can spark the growth and branching out of neurons in the brain to improve mental processing/skills (cognition). It’s important to know though all of the neurons or nerve cells in the brain (cortex) are produced prior to birth, they are poorly connected at birth. The cortex undergoes most of its synaptic connections of neurons after birth, in a burst of nerve cell formation called the exuberant period, something optimally supported with the massage bodywork called craniosacral therapy.
How Massage Bodywork is Effective for Newborns & Babies: the Autonomic Nervous System
A healthy functioning autonomic nervous system is critical in newborns for maintaining cardiovascular and respiratory balance and supporting higher cortical function development, the primary being motor, sensory and visual functions. For the newborn, the autonomic nervous system acts like the body’s autopilot, taking in information it needs to guide and ensure internal organs run steadily without willful action or in other words, automatically, such as ensuring the heart beats and eyelids blink at steady intervals. At birth a newborn’s autonomic nervous system is maturing and thus is vulnerable to ‘stressors’ like:
adverse physiologic influences like adrenaline, the stress hormone cortisol and;
environmental influences such aslight, heat, noise, toxins, and chemicals.
Babies are delicate, threats are everywhere, and any one stressor is capable of triggering an infant’s autonomic nervous system, plunging into a hormonal imbalance of high alert stress response. Research shows that stress can cause inflammation in the body which can be identified in babies by the following symptoms (signs of inflammation):
trouble using the area
The stress-inflammation link is best explained by first understanding that a baby’s autonomic nervous system is divided into two branches:
the parasympathetic nervous system: (Calm) controls the relaxation response, and
the sympathetic nervous system: (High Alert) controls the fight or flight response
Sustained stress onto a baby can cause the sympathetic nervous system to always be ‘on’, overriding the body’s ability to activate the parasympathetic nervous system to induce balance, calm, and relaxation. This in turn produces a flooding of stress hormones that hurls the baby’s central nervous system to high alert overdrive and the cascading of dysregulation of body systems begins. When a baby’s autonomic nervous system is out of homeostasis or balance, almost every organ in their body is affected, adrenal glands stimulated to secrete adrenaline which further stimulate and perpetuate a cycle of constant agitation.
This largely explains why so many babies endure colic, are restless, cry and scream, sleep poorly, have latching and feeding issues and more. Vomiting, gas, reflux, tongue-tie are also linked to central nervous system dysfunction as are learning difficulties, depression, attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyper disorder (ADHD). All of these afflictions are preceded by or accompanied with some form of inflammation, somewhere within the baby. For example, colic is linked to gut inflammation, resolve the gut inflammation and we can resolve the colic. A healthy autonomic nervous system will resolve the gut inflammation and this is why massage bodywork for a baby is needed to resolve colic.
A healthy autonomic nervous system in a baby should be flexible and resilient to the ever changing environment the baby experiences between calm and relaxed response states to manageable danger and stress response states. The health of the autonomic nervous system affects physical health, motor function, immune function, ability to learn, capacity to settle and more. The body naturally always seeks to self-heal and self-correct, and will with whatever afflicts the baby, if the central nervous system is robustly functioning. A flexible responsive autonomic nervous system responds with measure in the present moment — able to respond composed, relaxed, and engage in difficult activities, seek help when appropriate or engage in flight/fight response when necessary. And once danger or challenge has passed, a healthy autonomic nervous system returns back to a composed balanced state or homeostasis. This is the outcome of the massage bodywork treatment I offer newborns called craniosacral therapy.
How massage bodywork creates a turning point for babies:
Light rhythmic well targeted massage movements on the baby’s skin stimulate the lymphatic system without pressing hard on any blood vessel. Though the primary job of the lymphatic system is to move waste products out of the body, the lymphatic system does not have a pump, unlike blood which is pumped by the heart, so the lymphatic system needs assistance and gets it from massage bodywork. This massage bodywork for a baby will make the lymph fluid move easily through the nodes and tissues, making sure the fluid doesn’t get trapped anywhere and enhancing circulation (blood & oxygen) within the body.
An increase in oxygenation can increase a baby’s muscular energy, reduce muscular fatigue and keep muscles strong and healthy. Massage bodywork also promotes detoxification, enhances immune function, reduces swelling, supports circulation and healing and provides relaxation and stress reduction. All this is a result of how massage bodywork can ‘kickstart’ a baby’s parasympathetic nervous system (controlling relaxation and calm) activating it like a light switch “on” in the face of an overwhelming imbalance of ‘stressors’ keeping the baby in high alert mode. Well targeted massage bodywork can harmonize a baby’s autonomic nervous system returning it to homeostasis and allowing a now balanced and healthy autonomic nervous system initiate self-healing with all that afflicts the baby (sleeping troubles, latching, teething, digestion problems and more).
If the stressor(s) affecting the baby are not resolved the flooding of the stress hormone cortisol continues. Over time the flood of cortisol will disrupt healthy brain functioning as it interferes with neurotransmitters. Malfunctioning neurotransmitters in effect means the brain wave “lines are down” and this results in concentration and learning difficulties and general overall cognitive decline. Soon the cortisol flood leads to stomach problems, decreased immunity, sleep disorders and more. This all perpetuates the stress cycle and denies the baby of the repair and healing that takes place within the autonomic nervous system during sleep time (now that it’s being frequently disrupted).
In sum, massage bodywork helps to turn “off” the sympathetic nervous system and turn “on” the parasympathetic nervous system – all to achieve a composed balanced state of homeostasis, and allow the autonomic nervous system to operate optimally.
Craniosacral Therapy Massage Bodywork for Newborns & Babies
Craniosacral Therapy is a gentle and safe hands-on manual therapy that uses a very light touch, about the same amount of pressure used to check the ripeness of a tomato or avocado, to ease areas of restriction or tightness in the connective tissue of the body. Craniosacral therapy for infants is “baby-led”, never forced, and doesn’t hurt while allowing for release and relaxation for improved health. Specific infant issues treated include:
Asymmetrical head shapes or face/jaw
Medically-assisted birth (forceps, vacuum) or birth trauma/injury
Unhappy disposition (angry, irritated, scared, startled easy, not comfortable in body)
Before/after procedures (tongue-tie clipping, other medical procedures)
Immune & lymph system boost
Congenital or neurological problems
Congestion & colds
As it’s both gentle and holistic, craniosacral therapy is a type of neurological massage that releases compression and tension in the head’s cranial bones and the sacrum bone in the lower back. Craniosacral therapy also helps me identify restrictions in the baby’s cranial system (including the autonomic nervous system) as well as misaligned cranial bones.Because of its ability to identify and engage specific tissues, craniosacral therapy enables me to map precisely which tissues of the baby are inflamed. When inflamed tissue in the body is massaged, blood and lymph circulation is increased and the now fortified central nervous system can send vital resources (nutrients, white blood cells, additional blood) to the location of inflammation so the healing process can begin.
As a CranioSacral Therapist, I focus on the cerebrospinal fluid flow of a baby’s nervous system palpating subtle rhythms in the body that are akin to and just as vital as the heart beat. Increased cerebrospinal fluid circulation can reinvigorate and normalize the functioning of a baby’s central nervous system. This in turn enhances the baby’s own ability to heal itself with a fortified and healthy functioning autonomic nervous system. Craniosacral therapy innervates a baby’s parasympathetic system, the network of nerves that calms and relaxes the body, getting the baby unstuck from the stress driven fight or flight response mode. This allows the central nervous system to calm and function in a state of equilibrium wherein all body systems and organ functions can operate optimally.
A Craniosacral therapy session is a gentle baby massage targeting specific areas and bones in the (the skull, jaw, temples, and lower back) and can even be performed while the baby is held in the parent’s lap. Many parents have recognized their babies experience deep relaxation, often to the point of falling asleep after treatment while others have described infants having a burst of energy afterwards. Research has shown and supports using craniosacral therapy in preterm infants as safe.
While I don’t want to overwhelm or overly alarm any parent, it’s important that you understand the complete role and influence of the autonomic nervous system on your child’s health. As every baby’s circumstances are unique, if you’re concerned about your child, call me – let’s have a conversation and I’ll be happy to share with you more insights on massage bodywork for babies safely and naturally with craniosacral therapy.
About Dr. Kaminsky & Craniosacral Therapy
Having a Chiropractic background since the year 2000, Dr. Kaminsky offers many methods of treatment with an emphasis on Craniosacral Therapy in NYC.
Craniosacral Therapy (CST) is a method focusing on the link between the cranium (head) and sacrum (the second to last bone at the base of your spine), scientifically proven to work in unison to pump fluid throughout the body, an unknown disruption of which can cause many health issues. The craniosacral mechanism pumps vital fluid called cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF) through the body and in a sense energetically lubricates the joints, tissues, organs; basically all cells of the body. It is the driving force of all your body’s systems of function; including maintaining the tone of your muscles.
The Central Nervous System (brain and spinal cord) are surrounded with CSF generating energetic rhythmic impulses of fluid delicately pumping throughout your body’s parts “breathing” the movement of life. This measurable rhythm of moving fluid, like the heart rhythm, pulse rhythm, breathing rhythm is the foundational “blueprint” and primary principle of our real-time state of our health.
Compromises of our rhythmic movements of fluid flow correlates to the impulse restrictions in the system which the body is unable to overcome or self-correct. This is the reason why we have “dis-ease”, symptoms, conditions, basically all ailments. This is where the skill of an experienced craniosacral therapist becomes valuable. By placing his or her hands on your body the practitioner can feel, detect, evaluate, and facilitate correction of these restrictive arrhythmic impulses.
The craniosacral therapist helps your rhythm restore and renew in compromised areas allowing for healing to take place of sensory, motor, musculoskeletal, neurological disorders, symptoms, conditions and pain. To learn more, visit the other pages on this website. Call to schedule your healing treatment with Dr. Kaminsky.