The nature of your birth can be one of the most crucial factors in determining your whole future – whether for better or for worse, whether as a positive influence or a negative influence – not just your babyhood or your childhood, but the very nature of your whole life.

On the positive side, a fluent and easy birth may contribute to a healthy, happy baby, who subsequently enjoys a contented and comfortable childhood and consequently develops the skills and confidence which lead to a happy and successful life.

On the other hand, birth can be very traumatic. It can result in severe physical disabilities which significantly limit development and capability. It can result in psychological and emotional trauma which determines the whole psycho-emotional development of the individual.

There are of course many stages in between these two extremes, but ultimately each and every one of us is significantly affected by the nature of our birth to a greater or lesser extent.

In its most severe manifestations, a difficult birth may lead to brain damage, cerebral palsy (spasticity) or autism, or may contribute to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (cot death). In less severe cases, it may lead to dyslexia, dyspraxia, learning difficulties, hyperactivity, epilepsy, obsessional behaviour, personality disorders, and a wide range of developmental difficulties.

But in each and every one of us (supposedly “normal” individuals) the nature of our birth, in some form or other, may play an important fundamental role in determining every aspect of our nature – our physical constitution, our underlying level of health and strength, our mental ability, our emotional stability, our muscular co-ordination and consequently our sporting and other motor skills. Compression, tension and restriction around the base of the cranium may significantly restrict blood supply to the brain, with profound consequences on brain development, affecting our intelligence, our memory, our academic ability, or determining whether our left brain or right brain develops more fully – and consequently whether we are more artistic or mathematically minded.

Birth trauma may contribute to a susceptibility to allergies, asthma, migraine, squint, ear infections and a whole multitude of other disorders as well as influencing the development of all our body systems – the nervous system, the digestive system, the immune system, and consequently in so many ways may determine our very nature.

Birth can be a very beautiful experience

Birth can be a very beautiful experience – both for mother and baby. In the context of Cranio-Sacral Therapy we are inevitably concerned with resolving problems and repairing damage and we will therefore be exploring in depth the many problems and difficulties associated with birth, but amidst all of this, let us remember that birth can be a very beautiful experience. It is important to explore how we can contribute to this – and we will be examining later how we can assist this process through positive preparation for birth and appropriate care during pregnancy, and during the birth process itself.


The effects of Birth Trauma can be broadly divided into two main elements:

The physical forces exerted on the baby – intense compression, rotation, distortion, with consequent pressures and impingement on organs, blood vessels, nerves and on the brain itself
Shock effects. The shock effects are perhaps less widely recognised and perhaps less obviously visible or tangible, but are probably more fundamental and significant in the majority of cases.


Since the shock effects of birth trauma are probably more important, let us examine them first. How would you (an adult) respond to shock? How would your system react for example to a severe car accident, a mugging or some such traumatic experience?

Almost certainly your system would react in a multitude of ways:

  • Your solar plexus would become highly stimulated
  • Your heart would race
  • Your cardiac plexus or heart chakra might become tight or highly activated
  • Your breathing would probably become shallow and rapid
  • Your diaphragm might contract and be held tight
  • Your muscles would contract, tense and tighten
  • Your whole body would be likely to contract and tighten
  • The blood might drain from various parts of your body
  • Your mental faculties might feel stunned and unclear
  • In summary you would go into a state of shock
  • Your sympathetic nervous system would be highly stimulated – hence the agitation in your solar plexus and cardiac plexus

And what does the Sympathetic Nervous System influence or regulate? – a multitude of structures throughout your body – closing down your digestive system, increasing your heart rate, increasing breathing rate, constricting blood vessels, influencing almost every organ in the body in some way or another and stimulating your adrenal glands to secrete adrenalin to further stimulate and perpetuate the state of agitation.

So how do you think a baby responds when subjected to the traumatic experience of being compressed extremely forcefully (any mother can tell you how much force goes into pushing a baby out), twisted and turned and pushed through a birth canal far too narrow for an easy passage, generally taking several hours, sometimes 24 hours or more, often becoming stuck, the baby’s heart beat varying from extremely rapid to almost stopping under the force of pressure, and perhaps even finding itself being grabbed around the head with a pair of forceps or a suction cap to be pulled out into the noisy glare of life – and all this after nine months of peaceful, warm cosy existence cocooned within its mother’s womb. Not surprisingly, the baby reacts with much the same effects as anyone subjected to shock and trauma – with agitation, over stimulation, tension, sympathetic stimulation, a tight agitated solar plexus, tense agitated cardiac plexus, breathing difficulty, a tight diaphragm, muscular contraction, digestive shutdown, adrenalin secretion – agitation, tension and shock.

The consequences of shock

Is it surprising then that so many babies suffer colic, cry and scream, are restless and agitated, and sleep poorly? And is it surprising that, if these shock effects are not dealt with, then these babies may grow into restless hyperactive children who may have difficulty concentrating and keeping still, and as a result may suffer educationally. And if their needs are still not met, then perhaps they may develop into restless, irritable, overactive, stressed adults. Or in some cases if they can’t settle into school and education, then perhaps they may develop into restless, disruptive teenagers, perhaps tending towards delinquency, and in some cases perhaps gravitating towards criminality or psychological break-down.

Once the system is in shock, it has difficulty coping with life. It has to work harder to respond to every eventuality. It has to struggle just to deal with ordinary everyday activities, and subsequent shocks will affect it more readily, activating the already shocked predisposition, adding layer upon layer of shock – and consequent reaction – to the original fundamental patterns.

An adult who is free of ingrained shock, who is fortunate enough to be robust and healthy, and who therefore has developed strong and positive patterns of response to their environment, may be able to deal with all manner of difficulties, accidents, shocks and traumas – because they have the underlying resources and abilities to cope with them – although even in a robust adult, severe traumas can of course overwhelm them and undermine their physical and mental wellbeing.

An adult with shock ingrained in their system from Birth Trauma (or other childhood traumas) will not only be struggling harder physically and mentally with every day life, but will also be more powerfully affected by subsequent shocks – which will all the more readily add layer upon layer of further shock to their already predisposed system. Their system will be more readily activated, and they will therefore react more readily to every incident, accident or trauma, each of which will wear them down further and leave them more exhausted.

Birth trauma ingrained into the system at such an early age therefore not only creates many direct symptoms and effects as previously described, but also makes everything in life more of a struggle, makes it harder for the individual to cope with all aspects of life, and conditions the individual to react more strongly.

The shock of birth trauma is a profound and fundamental effect, with far reaching consequences affecting so many of us, to a greater or lesser extent. It can affect everything about our lives and is consequently a fundamental theme in the whole understanding and treatment of birth, babies, children – and the adults who develop from those babies and children.

Deeply Ingrained

If shock is not released from the system then it stays in the system; and the longer it is there, the more ingrained it becomes, setting our habit patterns for the rest of our lives – habit patterns that become increasingly difficult to change as each year goes by.

The effects will of course vary from person to person, depending on many other factors.

  • Some people may become more active, some may freeze with shock.
  • Some may be perpetually overstimulated, busy, hyperactive, restless, unable to keep still.
  • Others may feel agitated, nervy, over-reactive, irritable, angry.
  • Others may feel over-sensitive – to noise, to light, to other people, to ordinary everyday life, to foods.
  • Some may respond to their over-sensitivity by becoming shy, withdrawn, tearful, delicate, fragile.

You will inevitably find shock to be a fundamental element in a great many people – arising not only from birth trauma, but also from other traumatic incidents – car accidents, severe injuries, falls, emotional shocks, bereavements. The earlier the shock is experienced the more deeply ingrained it becomes and the more deeply it influences behavioural patterns for the rest of life – hence the fundamental importance of Birth Trauma.

If the shock is not cleared from the system, then it sets all of our patterns for the future. For the most part it is not addressed, released or dealt with – and hence the widespread consequences of Birth Trauma that we see all around us.

Fortunately, in Cranio-Sacral Therapy we have what is probably the most effective means of treating shock and releasing it from the system, and therefore the potential to transform the lives, not only of so many individuals, but ultimately contributing to a significant transformation of a society populated and therefore moulded by those individuals.

Amy was brought to me at the age of 6 months. She had apparently screamed non-stop, day and night for all of those six months, from the day that she was born until that moment. Her parents were not only totally exhausted through endless sleepless nights and no rest or respite at any time during the day; they were under enormous strain, unable to take their daughter anywhere, unable to put her down for a moment, unable to see friends due to the incessant screaming. They were driven to distraction, they were in a state of desperation. They were on the point of breaking up.

As I rested my hands lightly on Amy’s solar plexus, her system started to soften. Her body relaxed. She settled down. Within seconds she stopped screaming – for the first time in her life. Within minutes she was asleep. From that moment on she was a happy contented little girl who subsequently grew up ‘normally’ and her parents’ marriage was saved.

Several lives were transformed in those few minutes.

The physical forces of Birth Trauma

The shock element is clearly a most fundamental element in Birth Trauma. But the physical forces imposed on the body during birth not only contribute to the shock, but also have profound influences on the system from a direct physical level.

Consider the birth process: the baby is squeezed head first down a canal too narrow to allow an easy passage, and the infant’s head is compressed and forced through this narrow canal during a process which generally lasts several hours, and which may last twenty-four hours or more.

Consider also the cranium of a new born baby: not a solid bony structure (otherwise it wouldn’t pass through the canal at all) but a delicate membranous balloon, the cranial vault consisting of plates of soft incomplete bone connected by membrane, and the cranial base being pliable, partly formed bone connected by areas of malleable growth cartilage.

Intense compression of this delicate structure over many hours (as is the case with most births) pushes the bones of the cranium up against each other and distorts the shape of the head considerably. This is normal and inevitable; but if the cranial bones remain in this state, or if they fail to release completely, then these distortions may prevent the proper formation of the skull, and thereby restrict development of the brain.

This is aggravated by the fact that humans, having developed larger brains and therefore larger heads, therefore have greater difficulty passing such a large head through the birth canal.

Fortunately the body’s inherent self-healing and self-correcting mechanisms are also powerful; and on emerging from the birth canal these self-corrective forces are able to remould the compressed cranium back into roughly the shape and formation for which it was designed. However, this innate remoulding is seldom completely successful, and the degree to which the restrictions and compressions are resolved varies considerably from individual to individual, depending primarily on the nature of the birth process.

For most of us the resultant cranial restrictions (and consequent effects on our health and brain development) will be relatively minor. But with a difficult birth or protracted labour, where compression of the baby’s cranium has been prolonged and forceful, or aggravated by malpositioning, or perhaps by over-zealous use of forceps, then the bones of the cranium may become so firmly compressed against each other or distorted to such an extent that the body’s inherent healing forces are not able to resolve the asymmetry. And this, depending on the degree of distortion involved, is when the more severe symptoms described earlier may arise.

The bones of the cranium should, in a normal healthy state, be able to move freely in relation to each other, articulating at the sutures (or joint lines) where the bones meet. This movement is particularly free in the newborn skull, continuing to a lesser extent well into adulthood as the bones gradually fuse together.

All parts of the cranium, external or deep within the skull, may be subject to displacement and any of the sutures between the bones may be liable to reduced freedom of movement as a result of such compression. Restrictions in any part of the cranium may in turn inhibit brain development, the individual effects varying according to the site of restriction. Reduced mobility in any one part of the cranium is likely to influence the cranium as a whole, and therefore may affect brain development in many different ways.

The occipital bone is particularly susceptible for two reasons: firstly, by virtue of its position at the base of the cranium it is liable to experience a particularly high degree of force and consequent disruption. Secondly, the four portions of the occipital bone surround the foramen magnum and positional disturbances are therefore liable to put pressure on the spinal cord or the medulla with potentially devastating consequences.

Since the occiput at birth is still in four separate portions linked by cartilage it is easy for these separate portions to be displaced from their relative positions, for the cartilaginous growth areas to be compressed, and for all subsequent growth of the occipital bone (and therefore the whole cranium) to be distorted in accordance with this fundamentally asymmetrical pattern.

In the milder patterns which affect all of us to some extent the various symptoms of cranial restriction will emerge gradually as time goes on. In these milder cases the symptoms are likely to be dismissed as a normal’ level of ill health, a ‘normal’ level of limited ability, or simply as personality traits.

Even in relatively severe cases, obvious symptoms such as learning difficulties or problems with motor co-ordination may not manifest for several years. This is partly because the distorted cranium may not initially cause any inhibitory effect on brain development, until the brain attempts to grow and develop more fully, and thereby encounters the limiting effects of the bony restriction. And also because major deficiencies in a child’s behaviour may not be apparent until the child reaches an age where more complex patterns of behaviour are expected. In these cases also, the effects such as learning difficulties may he attributed merely to limited ability, to genetic factors, to psychiatric disorders, or to a variety of unknown causes.

In the most severe cases the symptoms may be immediately obvious from the moment of birth, with clearly apparent spasticity, respiratory problems, or cranial distortions. But even in the most severe cases, such as cerebral palsy, the symptoms are more likely to be diagnosed (by the medical orthodoxy) as brain damage, when in fact the brain is merely being inhibited and restricted by severe distortion of the cranium. This is well illustrated by a case history reported by Beryl Arbuckle:

“I would like to cite the case of one newborn. The mother had been in labour twelve hours with the baby in face presentation. At this time caesarean section was performed, but the baby had already sustained its injury. The symptoms were cyanosis, weak cry, tremors, and projectile vomiting. Besides the malalignment of the portions of the occiput around the foramen magnum and bilateral buckling of the mastoid portions of the temporals, the anterior fontanel was obliterated, the frontal bones were fairly flat, and the nasion so depressed that its angulation seemed almost acute.

“Before cranial therapy was requested for this case, the parents had been told that the baby’s brain had been damaged. Let us remember that at birth the cerebrospinal system is that system which is least developed and the brain is, therefore, at this time of life, far from complete.

“Projectile vomiting ceased after the first cranial treatment and the cyanosis gradually disappeared, the further administration of oxygen being unnecessary. After the second treatment the baby was able to suck and swallow its maintenance amount. The next two days the baby was left undisturbed by further treatment. The clinical symptoms were entirely eliminated, the forehead was round, there was a good, even anterior fontanel, and the other five fontanels were present, but there still existed the severe angulation at the nasion. With the index finger in the mouth this was corrected easily with the baby’s aid in vigorous sucking. This child, now well into her second year, is normal, which we feel justified in attributing to the fact that she was given the benefit of cranial therapy.”

So whatever the severity or otherwise of the case, cranial symptoms are unlikely to be recongized by the orthodox medical profession as having an origin in the cranio-sacral system or in the birth process, and so the opportunity for immediate and early treatment is missed. Early treatment is extremely important in order to ensure complete resolution and recovery. The separate portions of the temporal and sphenoid bones fuse together during the first year of life; the four portions of the occiput are fused between the ages of three and six years. If distorted growth patterns have become consolidated into the cranial structure by this time then all subsequent growth will be affected to some extent. Even after these ages, and in fact into adulthood and old age, the cranium remains malleable and adaptable. But the longer a distortion pattern is left in the cranium, the longer it will take to treat, and the less complete will be the resolution. Here again a case history from Beryl Arbuckle illustrates the potential:

“A girl aged eleven years was attending a special school, supposedly because she had a very low IQ. She wore snow shoes while walking during the day in order to keep her feet apart. There was slow response and poor co-ordination of the hands. After about a year of cranial treatment, because of physical improvement, the girl was able to enter a state school, and in the first six months two of her stories were printed in a school publication. Did she ever have a low IQ? Now at the age of fourteen she is quick and bright in her mental response, plays the piano well, has a pleasing voice, and her only handicap is an atrophied leg that had been subjected to tenotomy; the other leg developed normally. Now there is a limp, not of the spastic type, but such as we see in a polio victim.”

There are of course many other problems (other than cranial compression) associated with birth, intra-uterine life, and immediate aftercare; and these may be severe or mild, gross or subtle, physical or psycho-emotional. All of these problems will be reflected in the cranio-sacral system, and many of them can be helped by the gentle integrative treatment of cranio-sacral therapy.

Reproduced by kind permission of Caduceus Magazine
38 Russell Terrace
Leamington Spa
CV31 1HE
Tel 01926 451897.

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