By Theresa L. Hohl, DC, CACCP

In the sacred dance of childbirth, the baby’s position is crucial, guiding its journey from the womb to the world. Knowing how the baby moves through the mother’s pelvis highlights the importance of proper positioning for smooth labor, affecting both the mother’s and baby’s nervous systems. It is why Webster certified chiropractic practitioners play a vital role in helping this dance.

Cardinal Movements: The Ballet of Birth

The journey begins with what is known as the “cardinal movements.” It is initiated with the baby’s head ideally positioned in the Left Occiput Anterior (LOA) position, aligning the widest part of the head with the widest diameter of the top of the pelvis. As the baby progresses, rotation occurs, the baby makes their way down the pelvis twisting so that the head and then the shoulders can make their way through the pelvic inlet (top of the pelvis) and then the pelvic outlet (bottom of pelvis). Throughout this dance, it is ideal for the baby’s head to be in flexion, meaning the chin is tucked. This allows for the crown of the head to emerge first, hence the term “crowning”. Once the baby’s head fully emerges, they will rotate again to create space for the shoulders to follow, allowing the baby to complete their passage through the canal.

The Squeeze Through the Birth Canal: A Crucial Transition

The journey through the birth canal is not just a passage; it’s a process that readies the baby for the outside world. The squeezing initiates a cascade of events, from expelling fluid from the lungs to creating pressure for the first breath. This transition triggers dramatic changes in the circulatory system, setting the stage for a new life and further relying on the nervous system to properly regulate.

However, what if this symphony encounters disruption? What if the baby does not start in the optimal position or if the mother cannot facilitate the movements her body craves? This scenario often results in a stalled or prolonged labor, with potential complications such as failure to progress, sometimes leading to a C-section.

Birth Challenges and the Nervous System

If the baby descends but is not in the optimal position, the birthing process becomes longer and more challenging for both the mother and baby. This has a direct impact on the baby’s nervous system, potentially contributing to issues such as tightness, colic, reflux, and difficulty feeding. If the baby doesn’t descend at all, the birth will result in a C-section. The baby will not experience the vital kickstart from the compression of the birth canal. Even though baby is very adaptive, this can lead to complications of various forms down the road.

The Unspoken Effects of Birth on Infants

While much attention is given to oral tethering due to its effect on feeding, other factors also need to be looked at. It’s crucial to acknowledge the impact of birth on the baby’s state. Trauma and perceived trauma during labor can manifest in various ways by the baby, including digestive issues, reflux, and feeding difficulties. The emotional state of the mother during labor also resonates with the baby, who internalizes any stress, insecurity, or lack of support.

Moving Forward with Awareness and Support

Moms and babies need to be wholly supported, as birth is a sacred passage for both. Calming the nervous system after birth with such things as immediate skin-to-skin contact is vital for the establishment of a calm integrated nervous system for the baby. But often that is not sufficient if baby is facing other challenges. Early bodywork by a certified pediatric Chiropractor can play a vital role in helping prevent feeding issues, colic, fussiness, acid reflux, and other possible neurodivergent issues down the road.

Journal reference:

Zheng, M., et al. (2020) Geometric renormalization unravels self-similarity of the multiscale human connectome. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Kasser, S., Hartley, C., Rickenbacher, H. et al. Birth experience in newborn infants is associated with changes in nociceptive sensitivity. Sci Rep 9, 4117 (2019).