with special guest blogger, Dr. Alyssa Shepherd
Chiropractic and Babies
For many, the notion of taking a baby to a chiropractor is inconceivable – after all, babies are resilient and impressive little beings! While the incredible resilience of babies is widely recognized, babies are just tiny humans with tiny human bodies. Their smaller size and lack of words for communication doesn’t mean they are immune to the tight muscles and mis-aligned joints that can accompany having a physical body, and the aches, discomfort and dysfunction that can result from these mis-alignments and increased tension. Chiropractic care, much like with adults, can help increase the quality of life for babies.
What could account for soreness and physical discomfort in one so small?
Time in Mummy’s Tummy
Although in many ways, the life of a baby seems blissful and luxurious, there are a surprising number of factors that contribute to physical stress. The first is the time spent in utero. As pregnancy comes closer to full-term, a baby is going through a period of rapid growth, and usually loses the room for free-style somersaults and back flips. Although very natural, losing this freedom to fully stretch and move as the ‘due date’ approaches can exact stresses on muscles and joints, and has the potential to create tightness and mis-alignments (also known as ‘subluxations’) before a baby is even born!
The next source of physical stress is birth. To be born vaginally, a baby must make their way through the pelvis, to enter and exit the relatively small birth canal (10 cm really isn’t that big!) while performing various turns to help ease the head, neck, shoulders and finally the torso into the external world. This is all happening while the uterus is contracting downward, literally pushing the baby forward, head first (hopefully!) through the birth canal. Any labour – long, short or in-between – has the potential to create stress and mis-align joints, particularly in the upper neck and skull. Indeed, published research has found that approximately 80-95% of babies display mis-alignments of joints after birth (1, 2, 3). Add in forceps, vacuum, pulling, a labour that’s really fast or one that’s really long, and the physical stresses start to multiply and compound (4).
Some assume that babies born via caesarean are immune to the musculoskeletal and nervous system stresses that can occur with a vaginal delivery, however the very opposite of this is true.
The vagina, particularly near term when relaxin levels are high, provides an elastic opening through which the baby can exit the birthing parent’s body. The small incision made in a c-section does not necessarily possess this same degree of elasticity, which can increase the pulling force required for caesarean birth, and thus increase the stresses on the baby’s cranium and spine.
Further, when born surgically by caesarean, the natural downward contractile motions of the uterus are not able to help the baby move downward and exit the vagina – instead, doctors often end up pulling the baby out through the incision, sometimes while twisting the baby as well, and other times employing instruments to increase the pulling force. Many birthing parents describe feeling their body being tugged upwards or even jostled during their c-section. Consider the level of force it requires to physically move an adult. This level of pulling and strain to help a baby out of the birthing parent’s abdomen can place a significant degree of stress on the baby’s body – their muscles, their joints, and their nervous system, contributing to potential subluxations and stress for the baby.
The world we know
Life outside the womb is different for a baby in every way – there are bright lights, loud noises and gravity – a force the baby never had to deal with in utero. Human infants have large (beautiful!) heads, situated on tiny relatively weak necks. Babies are also born with a lower muscle tone than you’d find in an adult or older child. The force of gravity acting on their large unstable head is one source for subluxations in the post-natal period. Additionally, baby positioning while being held, when feeding or sleeping, as well as the way that a baby is lifted can contribute to further spinal stress and subluxations. So can the numerous falls, head bumps, and tumbles that accompany progressing through milestones towards full mobility. Although babies are very resilient, they are only human, and subject to the same stresses we adults are.
So my baby has subluxations – so what?
There are numerous symptoms a baby may display that often show improvements, or completely resolve as the baby’s nervous system function is optimized with gentle chiropractic care.
Common symptoms include but are not limited to:
Constipation and difficulty passing gas
Reflux and vomiting
Postural alterations (including torticollis – where a baby’s head doesn’t face straight forward, but rather is tilted and turned)
Colic and fussiness (after all, crying is how babies communicate. If the stress doesn’t resolve, the crying will continue)
Positional fussiness (e.g. when in a car seat, lying on their back, tummy time)
Breastfeeding issues (inability to latch can stem from difficulty with turning the head. This becomes increasingly likely if a baby prefers one breast over the other)
Frequent infections (particularly of the ear, nose and / or throat)
Why wellness care?
Did you know that during the first year of life, the spine doubles in length?! At no other point during human life does the spine grow this rapidly this much. A baby is also progressing through many important motor milestones during this first year that help establish movement patterns for life. Some subluxations come with symptoms that an untrained eye may miss, or no obvious symptoms at all.
Keeping your baby’s spine optimally aligned can help create the best environment for growth, healthy movement patterns and optimal expression of health now, as well as in the future.
Okay, but is it safe?
Uncertainty about taking a baby to a chiropractor is common – usually because knowledge is lacking regarding what a session for a baby is like.
The session starts with discussion about how a baby is doing, followed by gentle hands-on assessment to determine what (if anything) needs to be addressed. Gentle massage techniques are then used on tight muscles and soft tissues.
Adjustments of mis-aligned joints are extremely gentle – the correction is delivered by using the level of force you would use to push on your eyeball.
Most babies are relaxed and content during treatments and respond well, showing rapid and steady improvements. Many babies enjoy snuggling with a parent or care giver while being adjusted. Additional stretches, massage techniques, positioning, or dietary advice is given on a case-by-case basis.
Questions are always welcomed, with parental involvement encouraged whenever possible and appropriate. Often times, sitting down in a complimentary meet and greet to discuss fears, anxieties and apprehension around an infant seeing a chiropractor provides significant mental relief for the worried parent.
How soon is too soon?
There is no such thing as ‘too young’ for an adjustment. Babies can safely be adjusted, by a qualified chiropractor, immediately after birth.
For most babies, an appointment within the first four weeks of life is optimal to unravel any uterine or birth related stresses before they become ingrained patterns, and to circumvent post-natal stresses before they have a chance to mount into long-standing patterns.
Dr. Alyssa Shepherd is a chiropractor in Guelph, Ontario with a focus on care for pregnant and pediatric individuals. She is a member of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association, and is certified in Webster Chiropractic Technique. Find her on Facebook or book a complimentary meet & greet or an appointment.
1. Gutmann G. Blocked Atlantal Nerve Syndrome in Babies and Infants. Manuelle Medizin. 1987; 25:5-10.
2. Fryman VM, Springall P. Effect of Osteopathic Medical Management on Neurologic Development in Children. JAOA. 1992; 92: 729.
3. Waddington et al 2015. Incidence of Somatic Dysfcuntion in Healthy Newborns. The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association. 115:11.
4. Gottlieb. Neglected spinal cord, brain stem and musculoskeletal injuries stemming from birth trauma. J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1993; 16(3):537-43. Accessed at – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8263433 on Feb 2 2019.