Is Chiropractic Care for Babies a good idea?
Baby got back (pain)
After the birth of my youngest, my back was a bit of a mess. It was after my first baby, too, but the second one really took the biscuit. I had trouble with it early on in the pregnancy, with ligament pain. It escalated from there. By the time I hit the 41 week mark, I was in real trouble with pelvic girdle problems that meant even getting out of bed was a nightmare.
During check ups, my midwives told my my baby was posterior, meaning facing the front. “Sunny-side up” was how my eldest presented too, and I knew what that meant- hideous back labour. One of the worst things I’ve ever felt, personally.
Webster’s: Why I tried chiropractic care
I started looking up ways to turn her. One thing I came across, on a parenting forum, was a chiropractic treatment called Webster’s technique. I booked in to see a local chiropractor, who explained that I’d left it far too late but it wouldn’t hurt to try. It was a very gentle treatment; no cracking or popping or anything like that. And when I left, I felt relaxed. The ligaments around my belly felt less tight. I had a couple more treatments and at my next midwife clinic check, you know what? The baby had turned. Coincidence? I don’t know, but probably. By the time labour had started, though, she’d flipped again and I felt like someone was grinding the corner of a brick into my tailbone. Fun. Oh, so much fun.
Post-Baby Back Crack
Either way, no harm was done. I figured it might not have worked because I only had a handful of sessions. The chiropractor encouraged me to come back for post-natal care, so I gave it a shot.
To put it mildly, my post-partum lower back was trashed. But my chiropractor was absolutely lovely, a Mum herself, super well intentioned and kind. My back, though, was not getting better. I was coming out feeling okay, then experiencing headaches, stiffness and pain within half an hour. Like I’d never even been for treatment.
After a few weeks, I started looking into the evidence. Can I stress here that I should have done this first?
It’s just another pseudoscience
Chiropractic treatment is not well supported by evidence. There is some evidence that it can be useful for some types of “low back pain” (though no more useful than conventional therapies), which is pretty non-specific, but that’s kind of it.
Chiropractic is based on the (unproven) idea that illness stems from misalignment of the spine; our skeletons get all out of whack and we get “subluxations” or slight misalignments that need to be snapped, crackled and popped back into place. This idea is not evidence based and your back isn’t a bowl of rice bubbles, but, I digress.
I stopped going to my lovely chiropractor and instead saw a physio, who was just as lovely and helped me immensely. I had a suspected bulging disc, sciatica and sacro-iliac joint dysfunction. My muscles were in bunchy, inflamed knots and the whole thing was a hideous hot mess that took a long time to fix. During initial treatments, I was crying in pain just trying to demonstrate my range of motion. By going to a chiropractor, I had unwittingly extended the time I spent in debilitating pain. I had delayed the process my body needed to heal. And I may have even made things worse by paying someone to crack my back.
Chiropractic Care for Babies?
Chiropractic treatment has been associated with some seriously poor outcomes, including strokes and further injury. To put that in perspective, that’s the risk we take when seeking out a therapy with very little evidence of a benefit.
However, as an adult, you and I can choose what therapies we pay for, regardless of the potential benefits or drawbacks. But you know who can’t choose? Babies!
Last week, yet another video of a baby being given a chiropractic adjustment surfaced in the media. I watched the since-removed video. At first, it seemed milder than some of the spine-cracking ones I have seen on YouTube. Until he picked up the 2 week old baby by the ankles and dangled them there for some reason. The infant was then “adjusted” with a device called an activator that is used to deliver a quick push against a joint. Their head was tapped repeatedly and their joints manipulated.
The chiropractor in the video has now been banned from treating children under 12 years of age
Why would anyone seek chiropractic care for babies?
Some chiropractors believe that birth is a physically traumatic event for babies and it is for some, but there’s no evidence that a normal, healthy baby will benefit from being dangled upside down or having all their joints manipulated, cracked or otherwise “adjusted”. Likewise, babies with actual injuries or problems stemming from birth need proper, evidence-based medical care.
A basic risk assessment tells us to measure the benefit against the potential for harm. In this instance, we’re talking no proven benefit versus a risk of serious harm. Parents take babies to chiropractors for general health. Others go to seek treatment for conditions such as torticollis, colic and even reflux. Some see that their child remains healthy, and credit chiropractic treatment. Some see improvement in health issues, but often these are self-limiting conditions that go away on their own. They still credit chiropractic for the “cure” though.
This can be problematic when the problems are more severe or serious. Severe reflux, for example, can require special diets and prescription medication. Chronic ear infections (another complaint some chiropractors claim to treat) can need antibiotics and further medical investigation and treatment.
Seeking a chiropractor’s help instead of a doctor or pediatrician means that actual treatment can be delayed.
This is what I unwittingly put myself through.
Is it worth putting a baby through, when you consider the risk of harm? There have been cases of chiropractic treatments causing severe injuries and even paraplegia when performed on babies and kids. And, to date, no evidence of it being beneficial. Even the President of the AMA Victoria has said chiropractic care for babies is “all risk and no benefit”.
I don’t know about you, but I have to agree.
*Don’t take my word for it, though. As always, speak to your actual doctor if you are considering this (or any) type of alternative therapy.*