Will Craniosacral Therapy (CST) Help My Baby Nurse?

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This post is written by pediatrician, Dr. Julie Ehly. Dr. Ehly is my "next door neighbor" at Pediatric Associates, where she has a thriving general practice. I value Dr. Ehly's experience and guidance inside the clinic where she has a passion for all things pediatric, including early infant development and family education. Her mentorship extends outside the clinic, as I am privileged to know her as a friend and role-model. I'm excited to share Dr. Ehly's first guest post on KCKidsDoc. Enjoy! 

 

Everyday in clinic, parents ask about ways to optimize their breastfeeding experience. These families want their babies to gain all the breastfeeding benefits that we know breastfeeding holds. When breastfeeding is a struggle, however, parents look for every possible solution to improve their baby's ability to nurse. 

Recently, we have been hearing more parents ask if craniosacral therapy (CST) will improve breastfeeding. 

What is CST?

The premise of CST for breastfeeding difficulty is to use physical touch to optimize the alignment of baby’s palate and skull bones that have slid out of place during the birth process. The technique centers on the belief that this birth “trauma” contributes to latch or suck difficulty. By massaging the bones of the skull and spine into neutral position, CST claims to enhance tongue thrusting, sucking reflex, and latch.

Does CST help nursing?

Simply, we don't know. 

While use of CST may be increasingly commonplace, there is limited scientific evidence supporting its use. The vast majority of the research surrounding CST for breastfeeding is published solely by the developer of the technique, clearly leading to biased reporting of outcome. To date, there have been no independent studies holding CST to the scientific rigor of which other breastfeeding recommendations are held; and it is challenging to find supporting research that these techniques are reproducibly helpful. In addition, there is a limited understanding risk of CST , especially in children and newborns. 

So, should I try CST with my baby?

Without evidence supporting improved breastfeeding outcomes or data supporting safe use in infants, we cannot recommend CST to our patients. 

As partners in your newborn’s care, we want mothers to succeed at breastfeeding. 

One of our many practice goals is to help patients make health decisions supported by well designed scientific research, or evidence-based medicine. We can lean into evidence to help us make a care plan that will have a greater chance of success for all our patients. Supporting therapies and procedures that have not passed scientific rigor are challenging for many of us to fully support or promote. Simply, alternative therapies such as CST are inherently unable to be studied in the scientific placebo controlled manner we value as physicians. 

CST may be practiced by a variety of providers from massage therapists to chiropractors. It is not a regulated practice in the US, and training and implementation is variable. If you choose to pursue CST for your infant, ensure that the practitioner is accredited in pediatric care. Be sure to ask questions of the provider about the techniques used, understand the goal of treatment, and observe the bodywork that is being performed. 

Early breastfeeding problems in infants can be attributed to multiple causes, many that can be supported by lactation specialists and a baby's pediatric doctor. If you are experiencing breastfeeding problems, please talk to your baby's doctor early to be connected to a trusted support team. We meet breastfeeding difficulties with compassion. We want success, with safety.

Until you connect with someone to help, there is a ton of breastfeeding advice available at healthychildren.org.