Thirty years of clinical and behavioral studies indicate cesarean births cause considerable trauma to babies. Since C-sections are a medical necessity for many birth stories, this blog post discusses what happens to babies during the surgery and how best to treat them post-surgery so they have a healthy start. Regardless of the medical reasons or personal desire to choose a C-section, mothers should know that children born from a C-section need bodywork therapy to resolve birth trauma.
A completed birth canal journey is critical in activating the autonomic nervous system of the baby and kick-starting primitive reflexes that are essential in the proper development of neural pathways needed for autonomic behaviors. In layman’s terms, passage through the birth canal is the trigger switch for how baby’s start developing their brains from the primitive brain-stem to the higher functioning prefrontal cortex. When a baby is ripped out of its cocoon of security and abruptly exposed to the outside world, the primitive Moro reflex sends the baby into fight-or-flight, a threatened state of excitement that induces the stress hormone response. From this impactful moment, a cascade of negative events can occur that can include excessive crying, feeding difficulties, sleeping difficulties, colic, and tactile defensiveness.
The mechanics involved with a C-section include the depressurization effects when the amniotic sac is abruptly incised, compression effects from the baby being pulled out of the womb or in some cases the birth canal, physical effects of muscle trauma and stress, and psychological (short and long term) effects on the infant psyche that are subtle yet powerful.
Generally, unborn babies are not recognized as being aware, intelligent, or even human yet, so the stress they encounter while in the womb is disregarded. Research is now showing pre-and post-natal experiences can be remembered, even if only at the subconscious or somatic (cellular/tissue) level. Long-term psychological effects can ensue due to the phenomenon of “interactional trauma”. These effects include inferiority complexes, poor self-esteem, dysfunctional behavior, autism, eating disorders, and depression.
Interactional trauma is analogous to biomagnification in nature. Experiences in the womb or during birth can induce trauma that can be later reinforced through similar or repetitive trauma. Thus, traumas interact with each other to produce synergistic effects that no longer remain isolated, but now have a lifelong impact (Emerson, W., Birth Psychology). The key to growing up and becoming a balanced adult who can handle the stress of the world is to have a balanced, self-regulated autonomic nervous system.
The nervous system grows and learns through motor skills that stem from reflexes. It restores and calms itself through sleep, meditative states, and just quiet rest. If you have too much of one and not a balance of both, the whole system gets thrown off and dysfunction sets in. Stress takes over, and joyful, blissful lives are hard to obtain.
With a C-section, parents should consider how the Moro reflex is activated and for how long it is sustained. If the birth was violent, or prolonged, if more surgeries were necessary or if the mother had a stressful pregnancy with medical issues that had to be treated with medications, all of these factors contribute to how the baby is able to inhibit the Moro reflex and recover from the trauma. Some babies are more resilient than others. When traumas remain unresolved, bonding and attachment skills may be compromised. These skills develop into mutuality and empathy.
Mutuality is when two people share a simultaneous and similar response to an event or experience. When a mother and baby laugh together over a tickle or get excited when Dad walks in the door, they experience the mutuality process. Unresolved traumas impede this process can cause inconsistent or infrequent mutuality moments. Babies who can experience mutuality frequently and consistently are able to later experience empathy in childhood and adulthood, they can socially engage with their peers in a positive way.
Empathy is closely related to mutuality, but different in that it’s not experiencing something with another person, but the ability to compassionately experience the other person as the event. Trauma resolution enables a person to open up their heart and develop inner feelings of love and compassion toward oneself and toward others. Reflect upon this for a moment and you might feel that trauma is necessary to “grow”, or rather recovering from trauma is essential to growth. Resolution seems to be the key to human potential. Most craniosacral therapists and doctors who are researching prenatal and perinatal psychology are beginning to understand that the basic instincts for human potential are stored by the central nervous system in the same depths in the unconscious as unresolved traumas.
Understanding the theoretical framework for trauma resolution is like explaining love. Recognizing another human being’s suffering and connecting with it, allowing it to unfold and dissipate is how we help others reach the depths of their beings where they can access their basic impulses and instincts that guide their human potential. It’s how we show our love. More often than not in our culture, we believe babies are unconscious and unaware and that they are unaffected by their births. Have we become that numb ourselves?
My C-sections were no small picnics. My doctors encouraged me to go that route, and I thought why not? I know my babies were breech, and my second child almost died during the operation. I never thought, though, from the perspective of my child what that experience was like. I just toughed the situation out and lived off of adrenaline. I didn’t even allow myself to express my fear. After the second C-section and the trauma I endured, I remember the first 2 weeks I could hardly fall asleep, as soon as I lulled off to sleep, I would awake with a jerk and a brisk intake of air. My body was terrified of relaxing because it was so on edge. I didn’t even realize that I was functioning from a baseline of acute trauma loaded full of stress hormones, plus healing from my abdomen being sliced open, and caring for an infant all the while. I look back in hindsight and realize how tremendous the human body actually is. The feats it can overcome with willpower.
Lucky for me, I discovered CranioSacral therapy shortly after this horrific birth scene, and my son and I both reaped the benefits. I have poured over research in this field and have loved reading the findings of Dr. William Emerson, Dan Siegel, David Chamberlain, Franklyn Sills, and Thomas Bernie to name a few. Dr. Stanislov Grof concludes from his research that birth profoundly impacts general attitudes toward life, the ratio of optimism to pessimism, the ability to cope with stress and trauma as it plays out in life, and the skills to socially engage. Cesarean-born kids are more likely to suffer from low self-esteem, to have difficulties with task completion, to experience tactile defensiveness, and to develop rescue or co-dependent complexes.
The purpose of getting CranioSacral therapy for you and your child after a C-section is to resolve trauma and liberate your child so they can experience and express the love, happiness, compassion, and individuality that is their birthright.