Alternate Therapies: Chiropractic and Cranial-Sacral Therapy

What is Pediatric Chiropractic and Cranio-Sacral Therapy?

A guest post by Aurelie Petitclerc, D.C., C.A.C.C.P.

“Why do you have so many babies coming in for adjustments?”

I hear this question every day, from patients in the waiting room of my practice. There are dozens of reasons why we might adjust a baby, but the most common one is due to challenges with breastfeeding. Pediatric chiropractors look closely to the individual patient to determine spine and cranium restrictions, as well as asymmetries, in order to determine why a baby may not be able to latch properly or be efficient at the breast.

Cranio-sacral work is a different yet complementary therapy. It has a few different names depending on the practitioner’s training background, including cranio-sacral therapy (CST), sacro-occipital technique (SOT), or cranial technique. This therapy is based on the motility of the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord, the dural membranes surrounding it, cranial bones and sutures, and the fluctuation of cerebro-spinal fluid (CSF). CSF is the fluid that bathes your brain, and then travels from there, spreading to the spinal cord to the sacrum. Balancing all the movements of the cranium and spinal system, along with the flow of the CSF, helps to optimize the body.

The cranial rhythm is incredibly subtle, and it can be manipulated and adjusted from anywhere in the body.

Some of the warning signs that can indicate a need for adjustment in a breastfed baby include:

  • Baby can’t latch with a good seal or sustain sucking
  • Baby can’t coordinate sucking, swallowing, and breathing
  • Baby can only feed in one position
  • Baby seems dissatisfied when nursing and seems distressed throughout the day
  • Baby chews and chomps mom’s nipple, causing damage
  • Baby has constant suckling needs

These symptoms can arise when baby has tightness or restriction in certain muscle groups. If the jaw is tight, then baby cannot open wide  enough to latch onto the breast properly. If there is a decreased range of motion in the neck (due to conditions such as torticollis or KISS syndrome), this can impede baby’s ability to position themselves properly at the breast, and can also result in asymmetrical growth and development, leading to further problems as baby grows up.

Sometimes these situations arise due to constraints in utero or during birth. A baby’s cranial bones (in their skull) are very soft and flexible, which can be observed by “coning” of the baby’s head or in less obvious ways, such as the hard palate on the roof of baby’s mouth. Sometimes, there are restrictions of spinal/cranial movement (called chiropractic subluxations) that can impinge on nerves that are essential for orchestrating the complex suck-swallow-breathe sequence that babies need in order to breastfeed.

When considering whether or not an infant might benefit from an adjustment, parents can consider the following scenarios. During pregnancy, a baby that seems to always be on one side of the uterus or is in a breech or other unusual position for an extended period of time may be at risk. Birth trauma and active labor that is too short or too long can also indicate a need for adjustments. Any atypical positions in the birth canal, difficulties such as shoulder dystocia, common interventions, and a myriad of other events can all leads to strains, which impact bones and nerves.

How Does Chiropractic and Cranio-Sacral Therapy Work?

There is always a conversation between parents and the practitioner, where the baby is given a full examination and a medical history is taken before the treatment begins.

There are many techniques that a practitioner can use to begin, but in my practice I always start by adjusting the spine. This helps to clear interferences between the vertebrae and the nervous system, setting a foundation for further adjustments. You may be familiar with chiropractic from television and movies, or perhaps you’ve seen or experienced a spinal adjustment for adults. Adjusting a baby is VERY different.

A baby’s vertebrae are not yet fused together. Babies are much more flexible than adults (as you may have noticed), and the ligaments are very lax. For newborns, I use about the same amount of pressure for an adjustment as you would use to test the ripeness of a tomato. Typically, if a newborn is sleeping when they arrive for treatment, they might not even wake up!

After the spinal adjustment, I use my hands to gently hold the sacrum and occiput, looking for an increase or decrease of the CSF pulse. This process is repeated over different parts of the body. I pay special attention to each bone of the skull and inside the mouth. The process is very soothing, sometimes even relaxing the parents! The baby’s natural movements are used in order to synchronize their body’s rhythm.

After both the chiropractic adjustment and the cranio-sacral therapy, the parents and I will discuss further treatment and possible exercises they can continue at home.  

Interested in seeing what a pediatric adjustment looks like? Watch the following video!


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Aurelie Petitclerc, D.C., C.A.C.C.P., is a certified chiropractor specializing in pregnancy and pediatric care. You can get in touch with her at West University Wellness at 

The opinions expressed belong to the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Bay Area Breastfeeding and Education.