Chiropractics for Babies

06Oct11

Going to to the chiropractor seems to be a common thing in Alberta. Almost everyone I know has uttered those words at one time or another. It’s one of those things that seems ubiquitous and I had never really thought about it until I became interested in the skeptical movement. At first, once learning about the basis of chiropractic history and theory, I dismissed it as complete nonsense. Now, after reading more information about it, and seeing some of the research, I believe it’s mostly nonsense.

Every time I think about chiropractics, I remember some family members discussing X-rays they saw at their chiropractor. “They’re exactly the same as 10 years ago!” they cried. While they thought this was great evidence of how effective the chiropractor was, I thought to myself, doesn’t that mean it hasn’t done anything?

However, that being said, there is some evidence that spinal manipulation is about as effective as any other therapy for back pain. Of course, none of the treatments are terribly effective, but some relief is better than none. So, I will agree with you: if you have an aching back, and you went to a chiropractor, and you felt better afterwards, wonderful. It helped. I’m happy that you are feeling better.

It’s just when chiropractors start to move outside the science that I start to get worried.

Here is what happened. At a mother’s group, one mother asked to speak. She very passionately described her poor boy’s troubles with colic and acid reflux. She then described how after taking him to the chiropractor, he was miraculously cured. This mom recommended that we all take our babies to the chiropractor to cure what ails them. I felt the horror well up inside me. I felt sick at the thought of letting someone crack my baby’s back, or neck. I, not wanting to rock the boat, managed to contain myself with a warning to the other moms not to let a chiropractor touch anyone’s neck, due to fear of injury or stroke.

Personal feelings aside, what about the science?

Colic is a terrible thing. My baby had evening colic, and there was nothing my husband or I could do but bounce him on our shoulder, hoping that he would eventually fall asleep. Those were dark days, as I was struggling with the baby blues, and he was exhausted from working and parenting. I felt helpless, and useless, and I wanted nothing more than to soothe my poor baby and take away all his problems. I can completely understand how any parent would want to try anything in order to cure it. .

However, no one really knows what causes colic; if there’s even just one cause. The wikipedia page is decent – at least until the “4th trimester” section, which is a blatant advertisement for a book (I read the book, the ideas have merit, although he didn’t present any research to back up his findings). Theories range from stomach trouble, to sensory overload. All we know is that it can start from 1 month after birth, and ends usually at 3 months. This is why I doubt this woman’s story that the chiropractor cured her son’s colic. At the time of the testimonial, her son was at least 6 months old; way beyond the threshold for colic. I can’t be sure she didn’t take him to the chiropractor during the 3 month colic period though.

None of the mainstream theories regarding colic have anything to do with the back. The only theory that does, is the one perpetuated by chiropractors themselves – something about birth trauma to the spine. Trauma that no one else can see. I can imagine that this mother tried remedy after remedy in order to help her baby, just as I had done. I can also imagine that the last thing she tried – seeing the chiropractor – before the colic resolved on its own, was attributed as a cure.

The logic behind chiropractics curing acid reflux is even thinner. The spine is not connected in any way to your digestive system. For a brief review, check out this you tube video. Acid reflux occurs when the stomach ( which could be producing too much acid) acid leaks up through the sphincter into the esophagus and creates that burning sensation. This would be terrible for a baby. He or she would be in pain and not be able to understand why. It would make nursing difficult and perhaps even intensify the pain. There are medications to help with this, and as far as I know, this condition is relatively rare.

Again, I can understand why you would want to do anything to help your baby, I hate seeing my baby in any sort of pain or discomfort. I also know how scary it is to have to give a baby any sort of medication, and how reluctant I would be to do so. This would be increased if you have any sort of doubts about “chemicals” or doctors. However, there’s absolutely no reason to believe that a baby’s (or your) digestive system is connected to the spine. They are separate systems, and there is no physiological connection. The spine is a series of bones that protect and support your spinal chord. Yes, nerves do run out from it, however they are related to sensation and movement within your limbs. Not pain within your esophagus.

If you, as an adult, wish to see a chiropractor for your back problems, or even anything else, that’s fine. You are responsible, and able to make your own decisions and conclusions about the health care you wish to receive. However, don’t extend that to a baby or a child. Infants and young children cannot speak for themselves, and as such you owe it to them to give them the best, science-based care that you possibly can.

For a bit more detailed account of chiropractic pediatric care, check out this post at Science Based Medicine.

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