Is it time your baby saw a chiropractor?
Controversial practice ... Chiropractic treatment for babies.
For me, it started at the hospital. After a long, arduous labour requiring a suction cap to help my first-born out, among the torrent of advice received was one unusual tidbit:
“If he gets colicky, try taking him to a baby chiropractor,” said a midwife.
We’re hesitant to say that we can fix this or that. We prefer to say that we treat Irritable Baby Syndrome - an irritable baby that isn't medically sick
It seemed absurd. Not big on chiropractic treatments for ourselves, why would we take our little floppy baby?
But a couple of weeks later, when every procured colic remedy proved useless, we starting asking people about baby chiropractors.
Everyone, it seems, was doing it. All my more experienced mum-friends had one they could recommend. The child health nurse, my GP and even the paediatrician who treated my son’s severe reflux, gave them the thumbs up.
“I don’t know why, and I don’t even think they know how, but chiropractors do seem to help,” he says.
Treating infants is relatively new in chiropractic terms - around 15 years or so.
There are no bones cracked; instead, fingerpoint pressure is used to manipulate the spine. Dr Simon Floreani, of the Chiropractors Association of Australia, says it "coaches the nervous system to be coordinated and calm".
"In the last decade there has been a lot more instrumentation used in the birth process, so babies get sprained and strained,” he says. “Chiropractics can help reverse the structural or mechanical injury of birth, and also help the nervous system to develop and construct normally."
“In infants, the biggest part the nervous system [affects] is sleeping, eating and pooing. Colic is a digestive thing, so if we can help ease the movement of milk through the bowel, we can help colic.”
There's little doubt thousands of sleep-deprived parents are convinced that chiropractors helped their babies and their sanity.
Exactly what with is the question. The list of complaints that chiropractors claim they can help with is nebulous, ranging from the standard colic and sleeping problems through to ear infections and reflux - and even, at the wilder end, autism.
But Dr Floreani advises caution. “We’re hesitant to say that we can fix this or that. We prefer to say that we treat Irritable Baby Syndrome, so an irritable baby that isn't medically sick,” he says.
Others advise extreme scepticism. Dr Bruce Walker, from Murdoch University’s School of Sport and Chiropractic, says while chiropractors and parents genuinely believe that treatment helps, they're mistaking improvement for cure.
“There's no sound evidence that permits us to say with any surety that they can treat children with reflux, infantile colic or other non musculoskeletal conditions,” he says.
Dr Walker also disputes the idea that chiropractic work can help after “intervention births”.
“Babies in general have very flexible spines in order to travel through the birth canal. We know from our own research that spinal pain worsens with age, not the other way around," he says.
“Conditions like colic are generally self-limiting and get better by itself in 70 percent of cases in a fairly short time. So chiropractors and parents can be observing improvements and falsely believing that [chiropractic treatment] is the reason, when in reality they're getting better by themselves.”
Dr Walker points to some of the only research ever done into the chiropractic treatment of babies – two 10-year-old studies from Europe. In the first, babies were given either chiropractic treatment or a placebo. Parents knew which group their child was in, and were asked to record the amount of time their child spent crying. In this trial, the babies receiving chiropractic treatment showed a huge improvement.
The second trial was the same, except this time the parents didn't know if their child was getting the treatment or the placebo. In that trial, all the babies improved the same amount.
Chiropractic good health
- Every chiropractor is trained to treat babies as well as adults, but some chiropractors have post-graduate qualifications specialising in treating children.
- Australian chiropractors are trained to use either finger pressure or an activator, a stick that clicks. Pressure used on babies is very light, as much as you would use on an adult's eyeball.
- Get a recommendation from a friend.
- Make sure that the chiropractor will be able to tell you when the problem is “cured” and no more treatment is needed.
- The Chiropractic Association of Australia has a policy of “informed choice” around vaccination. Members formulate their own views, and many belong to anti-vaccination group the Australian Vaccination Network. Check beforehand that the chiropractor has no agenda that you take issue with.