Special Considerations for the C-Section Baby

By Sharon Desjarlais, CC
November 14, 2011

Special Considerations for the C-Section Baby

By Sharon Desjarlais, CC
November 14, 2011

It was the morning of March 14, 1996. An anesthesiologist was looking down at me. "You have a beautiful baby," she said. I was flooded with relief. Nicole, delivered by Caesarian, had been whisked away for evaluation the moment she entered the world. It would be another hour or two before I'd see her face for the first time.

As it turns out, skin-to-skin bonding right after delivery is one of many things that typically don't happen with C-section babies and that makes them prime candidates for CranioSacral Therapy. Missing out on a trip through the birth canal can set up a domino effect of challenges down the road unless they're addressed early.

"The ideal is for the newborn to be placed on mom's belly immediately after birth," says Michael Shea, PhD. "But because of anesthesia issues, C-section babies are usually evaluated first, depriving both mother and child of a critical phase in attachment and bonding that often affects things like breastfeeding."

Even before delivery, going through the birth canal squeezes fluid out of the baby's lungs to kick-start pulmonary respiration, which is critical for the suck-swallow-breathe reflex. "A baby has about five minutes to go from nine months of aquatic breathing to air breathing," Shea said. "Without that squeezing process, you see a lot of issues like colic and even breathing problems and asthma later on."

Roy Desjarlais, LMT, CST-D, sees other potential complications as well. "If the baby was engaged in the birth canal before the C-section, especially if the mother received Pitocin to speed up labor, the baby's cervical spine tends to be compressed. This, too, can cause difficulties with the suck-swallow-breathe reflex later on, because of how the hard palate plays off the cranial base structurally and neurologically." (Editor's Note: In telling her story, the author quotes her former husband, Roy Desjarlais, extensively.)

And in planned C-sections, with no labor involved, babies tend to come out with beautifully round heads, but they miss the natural mobilization of their spinal segments that they would have gotten with a vaginal delivery. "Mother Nature designed the birth process to be a tight squeeze for a reason," Desjarlais said. "To engage and prime the nervous system, and all the other systems in the body, to operate independently from the umbilical cord."

Early Hands-on Help Is Key

"The sooner I see a newborn the better, because it's less time they have to deal with any birth trauma issues," Desjarlais said. "I just finished working with a 10-week old whose mom ended up having Pitocin, so the little guy had been jammed in her pelvis for hours." The result? He spent ten weeks "screaming and crying" and unable to breastfeed.

"In his first session, he turned into a whole different baby," said Desjarlais. "His spine decompressed, his cranial base decompressed, and his suck reflex was suddenly free and engaged. I saw him a week later for a follow-up. He was resting easily, and feeding and eliminating regularly."

Shea thinks it's also critical to include the mom in the first few CranioSacral sessions. "I run into a lot of mothers who feel depressed or upset that the birth didn't go the way they wanted it to, and that can thwart attachment. Children and birth processes are liberal in their ability to repair, so all is not lost. But it's a lot to overcome, so you want to address these issues quickly."

He likes to assess the relationship between mother and child in the baby's first CranioSacral session. "I place one hand on her back and another on her hand as she holds her baby. Gradually I feel a settling, where they just drop into this beautiful stillness that I call the 'bubble of love.' You can actually feel this fluid container around them, like the aquatic environment the baby came out of, with all these love hormones piercing through. It just needs to be settled, so I visualize this container and help it settle by feeling it breathing at the rate of the long tide."

Completing the Biological Process

According to Desjarlais, compounding the psychological effects on the mom are those you might see in a child who didn't have the early experience of making it through a difficult space. "Sometimes that shows up down the road as someone who has a tough time facing challenges and persevering through. It's like they're looking for the easy way out because that was their first experience."

That's why he thinks it's important to give the infant a simulated experience of working through a birth canal to complete the biological process. He does that in a CranioSacral session by tuning into the baby's birth trauma and using an unwinding process. "You create a cocoon and a way out through your hands, which mimics a cervix in the birth canal. Then you allow the baby to gently push their way out. You can feel their whole nervous system release just by having the stimulus of making it through."

And make it through they do. Nicole had the good fortune to receive plenty of CranioSacral Therapy the day she was born. Now a healthy teenager, she's moved through a load of big transitions in her life with relative ease. It's the best kind of adjustment a mother could hope for.