The wonderful thing about the Internet is that our website baby message, an inquiring parental email, and our subsequent conversation can go worldwide. Birth trauma casts a global footprint as a universal message.
As a backstory, mom related to me that she has had many health issues due to birth trauma and fascial tension. She has suffered from small jaws with eight adult teeth removed, a high palate, tongue-ties, tonsils removed for breathing, allergies, kyphosis, and TMJ dysfunction.
“The cost of trying to now remedy these issues would make your eyes water. The pain has been even worse. I fell through the cracks at birth and now know my health could have been so much better. That is what drives me to keep going because I don’t want my son to have my experience. I know what is down the road for him without therapy.”
A Mother’s Story
A mother from New South Wales, Australia recently sent me this story about her ten-month-old child:
“My son, a full-term baby (39 weeks + six days), was born with severe oral ties. My husband and I didn’t know at birth, as we had never heard of them before. We found this out after months of colic, gas, constipation, allergies, and screaming over 20 hours a day.
“Our son had issues with his cranial bones from in utero, labor, and delivery traumas. He was very jammed up in the womb, got stuck on the pelvic floor during labor, and had a ventouse/vacuum birth.
“He also had tightness issues with the left side of his body. His left ear was folded like his head had been stuck in one spot for a long period of time in the womb. He had very tight upper and lower buccal ties. His left side is still very tight, and he doesn’t like us to touch his cheeks at all. He has a severe Eiffel Tower type tongue-tie and a grade four lip-tie.
“He had torticollis at birth (left turn, right tilt) that did not show up on ultrasound but appeared as a true torticollis at five months of age. As a newborn, he held his right arm rigidly up in the air with a fisted hand but eventually stopped doing it. He often has a crooked smile/yawn, but his mouth looks normal at rest.
“He also favored the left side of his body and as a newborn could easily roll onto one side, almost over onto his tummy. He still has an intermittent lazy left eye. His left testicle was also undescended at birth.
“Since he was eight-weeks-old, he has had three unsuccessful surgical releases of his ties (upper buccals, lip, and tongue). The subject of oral ties is not well recognized here, and most practitioners do not perform complete releases.
“While we did not get a huge improvement with the incomplete releases, we had some small remission in symptoms. He still retains a lot of tension throughout his body, which is obvious even to us as lay individuals.
“After the third unsuccessful oral release at five months, his left testicle seemed to disappear completely. Up until that point, it had been descending normally since birth and was almost in the scrotum. Then it just disappeared.
“Doctors feel that the testicle has either died from torsion or has disappeared back up into his abdomen. He is having surgery for this in two months.
“His conditions have generally improved with time, although he still has a lot of tension. He is behind developmentally and has trouble with tummy time. Also when sitting, he has a noticeable weakness down his spine, which makes him slouch. He army crawls but struggles with elevating his head to look up.
“Even at this age, he has sleep apnea with a lot of coughing and some restricted breathing. As an overtired heightened baby, he is easily startled, cries a lot, has meltdowns, and overreacts to small things. All in all, he is a lovely boy with many great qualities but is clearly uncomfortable in his skin.”
My overall assessment: He appears to be painfully trapped in a tight body. Craniosacral fascial therapy (CFT) needs to loosen up his restricted and twisted body.
Everything in his story encompasses the Gillespie Approach. Since the full-body craniosacral fascial system becomes tight and distorted from birth trauma, ALL of the above conditions would be potentially correctable with therapy.
I have found that moms have an instinctive knowing because she used the words “tight” and “tension” at least three times each in the story. In my world he would have had assessment and treatment directly at birth in the hospital. But even now at ten months, I would still expect a positive result. But I would anticipate him to be considerably more fussy now requiring more therapy visits since the fascial strains are more ingrained in his compensated body.
We know he has many layers of birth trauma in his onion from fetal, labor, and delivery issues. You never know how much therapy would be needed, but I would expect at least ten hours, if not longer. The parents would need to take a deep breath and stay the course with the goal to be strain-free. I would expect that therapy will be a game changer for him, similar to the recent Kansas City baby.
My clinical approach would be to start treatment in his pelvis. I am thinking that his torticollis would start here with a pelvic twist. This same fascial strain would hopefully be causing his testicular issue along with the left-sided tightness. I would expect that he would have a zero-second brain cycle that would open nicely as his pelvis frees up. I would anticipate that his brain cycle would eventually reach 200 seconds resulting in the best opportunity for cognitive enhancement.
I am saying that his torticollis, testicular, and left-sided conditions would probably be rooted in the same cause, allowing therapy to result in authentic healing on many levels. That fascial strain in the web would probably be pulling superiorly causing his colic, gas, constipation, and oral ties.
The tightness from his head trauma may also be extending down through his neck into his trunk. We often find neck and fully-body fascial strain pulling into an intermittent lazy eye. The web is all connected in space through all the body systems.
I would also be checking if he was an archer, having a fascial strain pattern arching his body back into extension. Usually these babies are not comfortable on their backs and hate to be strapped into the car seat. With his torticollis condition I would check for twisting in his spine. In our infant research we thought this pattern could sow the seeds for later scoliosis. Mom did not mention circumcision, adding yet another layer of surgical trauma to his pelvic area.
My thought would be that the repeated oral revisions are a failure to recognize the power of the fascial web. As a former periodontist, I would love all dentists to realize that they are just looking at the tip of the iceberg. The below-water iceberg section, all of the fascial strains below the oral cavity, desperately need attention FIRST before performing the revisions. Every health provider needs to think that oral ties are connected to a fully-body restricted fascial web.
In this child’s case the oral techniques were probably sufficient, but the incomplete revisions probably resulted from an incredible amount of body fascial strain. If he had completed therapy directly at birth with still an oral issue, the revisions would have had a much greater chance for success.
Even now at ten months, he would need a lot of therapy to free up his full-body fascial web BEFORE the possibility of more revisions. In addition, the therapist now needs to work through the layers of scar tissue from the three previous oral surgeries.
With the torticollis and cranial birth trauma, I would expect some plagiocephaly that would probably correct in therapy. The raised right arm and hand fist may be a remembered in utero position, possibly being revisited in therapy. The crooked yawn, involving the cheek sensitivity of fascial strain, probably also denotes bilateral TMJ strain.
As per the allergies, I am wondering if he would have a dairy issue or would they primarily be due to fascial tightness? I have seen it both ways. If he is still breastfeeding, I would ask if mom eats dairy products because the milk protein can pass through the breast milk to baby.
Since infants are vulnerable, powerless, and voiceless, I try to advocate our conservative approach on their behalf. But I never tell parents what to do. Everyone sees the world differently, and I respect their childrearing wishes.
That being said, I would strongly suggest holding off on the testicular surgery. It is possible that the added layer of strain in the fascial web from the last oral surgery pulled the testicle into the abdominal cavity. This concept is nowhere on anyone’s medical radar screen, but the power of the fascial web can elicit a broad scope of seemingly unrelated issues.
My recommendation would be to let’s see how he does with this more conservative bodywork approach by getting him completely strain-free. We can always do testicular surgery, if needed. But like everything else I am presenting here, the parents would make the final decisions.
Strained muscles and bones encased in the fascial web would probably greatly contribute to his developmental issues. Many doctors go down a fruitless neurological route for a medical explanation. The real issue is probably birth trauma creating soft tissue tightness. Once their bodies are loosened, the infants can then develop normally.
I would expect him to gradually improve as his body frees up with therapy. As tight as he is, he would definitely not be happy with treatment in the early visits. Many providers in Philadelphia tend to back off painful areas like the pelvis to keep the parents happy.
In my world the deep fascial strain in his pelvis must be released. As the strain diminishes with therapy, he would become less reactive. The goal would be for the therapist to eventually hold his hips, feeling no strain as he is smiling.
The parents would have to realize that on the other side of the crying would be a potentially happy and healthy baby. Dads are usually OK with the crying, but the “mommy hormones” shoot in for many mothers, especially on the first visit. I keep saying to moms that it will get better. I always look beyond the uncomfortable short term of a few minutes to the quality of a potential 100-year lifetime.
My mission is to wake the world up to the fact that the fascial web can hold soft tissue birth trauma to create a lifetime of health issues. My preventative goal is for every baby to leave every hospital calm and relaxed, being able to breathe well, nurse well, digest well, poop well, and nap well. I believe a better world is possible.
Mom’s Email Response
I feel validated by your response, something I have not really experienced up to this point. Thank you.
A midwife at the hospital told me after giving birth, “You are going to get a lot of advice about babies and kids. Just listen to your instinct as his mother and you can’t go wrong. You know best.” Getting others to hear me and my son has been the hard part.
My husband and I have read your explanation, and we were amazed at how accurate some of your information was on things we had not disclosed. Reading your material makes so much sense.
We need your approach in our hospitals. If my son had been treated at birth with your method, I can only appreciate how much pain and suffering would have been alleviated for him and for us.
Note from Dr. Barry Gillespie: I am grateful for the parents for sharing their notes of changes they see in him. They had their first three-day intensive, two hours a day for three days, in Australia. They will continue to update us with upcoming intensives. Thank you so much for these notes, Mum and Dad. Changing the world, one baby at a time.
June 1, 2020
He has started to sometimes sleep on his tummy with his bum slightly elevated (normally will only sleep on his back or side—usually prefers his right side (always has). [He] refused the bottle several times today and is behaving quite similar to directly after his oral tie revisions. He wiggles his tongue around when we place the bottle in his mouth like the bottle causes sensitivity. We think [that] he is feeling more sensation with his tongue and in his mouth and [that] the bottle feels “weird.” Eventually, he took the bottle, and his suck is incredible. He used to take two hours to finish a bottle prior to his oral tie revisions. That was reduced down to 15–20 minutes after the releases and with age. He is now taking about 5–10 minutes to finish a bottle after having the first round of treatment with The Gillespie Approach. His suck is so strong that he keeps collapsing the teat of the bottle. We are delighted with this development and progress.
June 2, 2020[We are] looking at his right hand much more than we noticed before. [It is] easier for us to access his mouth for his oral neurological exercises and only a little crying or resistance, even when going under his tongue. Mostly no gagging when going under the tongue. Oral tissues seem more loose than prior to treatment (treatment has held). Crawling has improved. [He] only drags his left leg sometimes.
June 3, 2020
He seems to be more comfortable sitting upright—not slouching as much. Seems to hold an upright position for longer periods. He has more strength in his jaw (took a chunk out of me [Dad]–biting). Not as much grizzling during feeding times [and] seems calmer. Constantly trying to pull himself up on us in order to stand. At times, [he is] still dragging his left leg when crawling, but we have timber floors, and it can be slippery for him. Dad will put rugs down and then observe. He seems to be gagging less with solid foods and seems to be able to tolerate bigger chunks of puree without gagging and choking.
June 4, 2020[He is] much more determined to get upright and when near Mum and Dad. He is always trying to get onto his feet by using us to pull himself up. [It is] quite easy to access his mouth for his oral exercises with little resistance. However, his jaw is getting stronger, and now I (Dad) need to be careful or he will bite my fingers very hard. He was always biting prior to treatment but now seems to be trying to bite more (has bitten both Mum and Dad quite hard on various parts of our bodies—fingers, ears, nose, chest, shoulder, etc.). However, this is probably related to the greater strength and more freedom of movement in his mouth (tissues seem looser and not as tense) that he is feeling. He is happier on his tummy and for longer periods—easily doing several hours a day of tummy time—and moving around the whole time as well.
June 5, 2020[He has] more control in his gross motor movements and still taking long periods to get to sleep. [He] seems clingier than before but that could be coincidental. [He is] not currently teething (no new teeth coming in as yet), but still biting a lot. However, he seems happier with the reduction in the restriction of his mouth (tissue being freer, etc.). [He is] not grinding his teeth as much. [He] started grizzling more again, and sleeping has continued to be an issue. He has trouble falling asleep and still tries to lay face down on the mattress with his mouth open. He has trouble staying asleep and wakes up crying when Mum goes to the toilet or gets up and leaves the room. He never seems to be in or able to get a deep, restorative sleep, even though we keep distractions, noise, etc. to a minimum. He sleeps 8–10 hours overnight but has always woken up rubbing his eyes and crying and continues to decline as the day goes on. Although he still coughs a lot, particularly during sleep, this does seem to have reduced slightly.
June 6, 2020[He is] back to being tired at waking, irritable and impatient when feeding or doing tummy time. [He] started the grizzling again and does not seem as comfortable as he has been the previous days. [There is] still good movement and access to his mouth and no gagging or over-the-top reactions when doing his oral exercises. [He] has become slightly slower at feeding again on the bottle and has dropped a little milk from the left side of his mouth. [He is] still allowing us to touch and stroke him more when he is upset—not as sensitive sensorywise.
Dr. Barry Gillespie’s comments: The deeper layers of his onion are appearing, thus the partial regression. The parents are committed to see him strain-free. 🙂
1. [He is] more comfortable traveling in the car. [He] used to get very agitated after the initial trip and hated repeated instances of having to get into the car seat, for instance, if we made multiple stops. [He] mostly sings and babbles rather than screaming and crying. [It] takes longer [for him] to become agitated by the whole experience.
2. [He has] better mobility and movement whilst on his tummy but still struggles a little with maintaining neck elevation (looking up, especially for longer periods and tends to tilt his head to the side when trying to maintain this pose).
3. [He is] looking around and holding his head a lot better.
4. [He is] becoming more aware of his right hand and looking in the opposite direction more.
5. [He is] feeding with the bottle far more efficiently.
6. [He is] stronger in his entire jaw and mouth movements and eating more textured foods.
7. [He is] crawling better but still dragging the left leg (could be the timber flooring).
Dr. Barry Gillespie’s comments: Probably still strain in the left side.
8. Overall, [he] seems slightly more comfortable and content. Although we have had some regression, [he] still hates being left alone—he seems afraid of abandonment even though we continue to meet his needs and seems afraid of starvation and becomes agitated at meal times even though this need is met quickly and he is given the option of plenty of food and drink. [He] still seems overtired, gets worn out and overwhelmed easily, and just as before, is very Jekyll and Hyde in behaviour. Also, [he] sometimes [is] still sweating particularly at night but has cold extremities.
9. [He is] pulling himself up onto us (has not tried it with any furniture yet) in order to try to stand with assistance and seeking to move around more. He is very excited to have learnt this new skill of pulling to stand and loves praise from Mum and Dad.
10. [He] seems stronger in general.
June 26, 2020
Parental observations after his second round of three days of six more hours of treatment.
During this second treatment session and straight afterwards, our son started saying more words. He was only able to say ‘Dad’ or ‘Da’ or ‘Mmmmm’ prior to treatment. A speech therapist told us that due to his oral tie restrictions, he was limited in what sounds he could make. Now he is making more sounds and is able to clearly say Mum, Nup (Australian slang for No) and Nan (Australian/British for Grandmother) My Mum, the baby’s grandmother, has been working hard with him for months!
His gross motor skills have strengthened with more fluidness, flexibility, and mobility. His movements used to appear more robotic and sharp, requiring more effort than they do now.
He has a mixture of hypotonic and rigid muscles, which are resolving with each treatment. He is increasing in tone and strength, and now has great head control. His forward head posture seems to be reducing with each treatment.
He commando crawls with ease now; he is very fast and slithers around the floor like a snake. He is now able to get up and down a step in our split level house.
The two sides of his body seem to work in unison now when crawling. He pulls himself up with the help of some objects around the home to creep on his hands and knees, particularly when on a soft surfaces such as carpet or a bed. His hips appear so free now by witnessing this everyday in his increased movement.
Tummy time is now done with little effort or complaining. He cries when tired or bored, but happily keeps his neck extended whilst playing with objects and freely uses both hands.
He is now able to sit unaided in a shopping cart and supports his own body weight. He does sometimes lean to one side, but his core is getting stronger as the tension is reducing. As a result, he can also do more tone exercises at home. So we have a positive and progressive cycle now, rather than the vicious cycle we had before treatment.
He has moved through several of his retained reflexes, and seems to be settling down slightly in behavior. There is still work to do here, but he no longer seems so heightened and agitated. He is more patient, slightly easier to settle at different points, and is not so triggered in his temper. The meltdowns have reduced.
He continues to bite, and sometimes breaks the skin now that he has a lot more strength in his mouth and jaw after the last two treatments. The biting behavior has definitely reduced though, and his teeth grinding seems to have stopped. He was grinding his teeth a lot before and after the first treatment.
He is a noticeably happier baby, since he laughs much more and cries less. He is also a lot more observant of the world around him now. It makes us sad to know that he missed so much of his first year due to the pain he was in and the stress his body was under. Anyone who has had a bad bout of reflux, headaches, or a bad night’s sleep knows this discomfort. He has had a full year of this and more. It is so great for us to see improvements for him.
Even though he remains tied, he has lifted his tongue up to the centre of his oral cavity a few times. The tongue also seems fuller, whereas before treatment, it seemed quite flat like a pancake with no real tone.
His tongue movements have increased in all directions within his oral cavity. His tongue is now making movements that it was never able to make before- up and down, side to side, back and forth- but the movements are basic and limited. He does not poke his tongue out, which has not changed since treatment.
The tongue also folds in the centre like a book now rather curling into a spoon shape like it used to. We are sure this is still not normal, but it is progress and movement he never had before. It is exciting for us to witness. Interestingly, his tongue had white blanching a few times during the last treatment. This says to me there is more tension and more improvements to be made, which eventually means more movement!
He is now able to drink juices with pulp and smoothies. He is also gagging less and is able to eat small chunks of food. Previously, he could only have watery fluids and stage one purees. There is still work to be done, but he is improving.
Sleep and breathing continue to be an issue and there is not a huge improvement here as yet. We think he still gets some silent reflux. He rubs his nose and pulls his ears a lot, but has no infections. We think this behaviour is down to a combination of reflux, breathing issues, pressure in his ears and nose from the oral restrictions.
At various points during the last treatment, we could see into the back of his nasal passages and other times we could not, like the tissue was opening and closing. He continues to wake up at night and can be difficult to settle, but he allows us to touch him now. He used to hate being rocked or touched before treatment, almost like it was making him feel more heightened and stimulated. Now he will allow us to whisper to him and rub his back as he falls back to sleep.
He sometimes has night terrors and does not like to be alone. He mouth breaths at different points during his sleep and often sleeps in odd positions and is very restless. He is also sweaty during sleep and has cold hands and feet. He has never had one night of restorative sleep.
We believe he has sleep apnea. His CFT bodyworker has said he continues to hold tension through his thoracic area, which to us fits with why these issues continue. The CFT bodyworker also kept asking us if his arms were jammed in any way during his birth, which is very interesting. As far as we knew they were not. But, as a newborn, he did use to hold his right arm rigidly in the air in a fist at times. Who knows what was happening to him in utero, and the fascia surely does not lie. The CFT bodyworker also indicated that we have reached a point in our treatment where he seems stuck.
His left eye continues to have some esotropia (lazy eye; turning slightly inward) at different times, which again fits with the deep fascial tension he has on his left side. A friend pointed out that she also thinks his sphenoid bones are out of alignment. The sphenoid forms part of the eye sockets, which would also point to fascial tension and a tilt somewhere. It is interesting- we are learning so much during this process. We are looking forward to treatment number three.
As a note, my husband is now a big convert and is very impressed with these methods, and nothing and I mean NOTHING, has impressed him since we started this whole process from when our son was born. He helps keep the treatment notes and does so without me prompting (nagging) him. He not really the type to keep records, so this is a big thing for him. This experience has been a real positive.
Dr. Barry Gillespie’s comments: My thanks go to mom and dad for their fastidious commentary. Their child is making beautiful progress after twelve hours of CFT.
The major point of this extremely difficult case is that no one knows how much therapy will be needed to become strain-free. You cannot “fix” fascia and rush the body’s healing process. In Gillespie Approach CFT you just listen to the body and allow it to authentically heal in its own space and time, whatever that is. No one can control fascia. No one can heal fascia. Thankfully the parents are onboard with staying the course.
Did you notice how he stopped grinding his teeth after this round? How many children and adults grind their teeth because they had untreated birth trauma? How much fruitless dental therapy is done now when the problem originated at birth? How does the dental profession buy into that concept?
Please also note “sleeping in odd positions and is restless”, which is discussed in this essay.
The therapist may feel that he may be stuck because he could be at the core of his soft tissue birth trauma. The trunk fascia still appears to be pulling into the deeper neck, tongue, and eye structures. So some conditions are better but others still remain.
If we are at core, I would expect him to be very unsettled with emotional release at the next intensive weekend. We must remember that he is directing the healing; we are allowing him to do whatever he needs to do to heal. We honor his journey.