Adjusting to a New Life
Parents often ask why a newborn baby should be checked by a chiropractor. Adjustments help alleviate spinal subluxations (misalignments of the vertebrae) caused by intrauterine constraint, abnormal positioning in the uterus, and spinal distress from the journey through the birth canal or during the delivery process itself. Ideally, babies should be checked and adjusted as soon as possible after birth.
Incidence of Need
M.S. Gottleib, a well-published researcher, reviewed the effects of the birth process and concluded, “The trauma from the birth process remains an under-publicized, and therefore significantly under-treated, problem.”
“Survival of the newborn is governed mainly by the integrity and function of the vital centers in the brain stem,” writes Andrew Towbin, a prominent researcher on birth trauma. “Yet paradoxically, the importance of injury at birth to the brain stem and spinal cord are matters which have generally escaped lasting attention.”
Another published researcher, G. Gutmann, documented a study of more than one thousand infants. He found that approximately 80 percent of all newborns had some form of nerve dysfunction. Gutmann concluded that many health problems can arise from misalignment of the first vertebrae in the neck, resulting in a greater incidence of conditions related to the ears, nose, and throat. He also noted, however, that even an adjustment using the lightest pressure of the index finger could normalize an infant’s clinical picture.
His colleague, V. Fryman, examined 1,250 babies five days after birth and found that 95 percent of this group were not only misaligned, but also had cervical strain. He also noted that the infants responded to specific spinal adjustments with immediate muscular relaxation and a greater ability to sleep. Another renowned researcher and practitioner, Heiner Biedermann, has done numerous clinical studies relating upper cervical misalignment in the newborn to prolonged labor and the use of extraction devices. He, too, has recorded significant improvements in the health of infants who receive specific adjustments after birth.
Nerve dysfunction associated with birth trauma may result in problems such as breathing weakness, mood irritability, digestive disorders, difficulty with feeding and attachment, sleeping problems, immunity deficits, and neurological impairment. Left uncorrected, subluxations and their resulting nerve system dysfunction may develop into numerous health issues for the baby.
Recently the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association published the preliminary results of its study in Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, in an article entitled, “The Safety and Effectiveness of Pediatric Chiropractic: A Survey of Chiropractors and Parents in a Practice-Based Research Network.” The preliminary data confirms what chiropractors have known for over 100 years: Chiropractic care for children is safe and effective.
On the issue of safety, out of 5,438 office visits, there were only three adverse events reported from the adjustments— a .00055 percent chance of negative reaction.
Demonstrating a risk factor well below 1 percent, this study shows that children have a greater than 99 percent chance of suffering no problems when receiving chiropractic care. Furthermore, the three adverse events reported in the study were minor discomfort following the adjustment. Each was readily resolved with continued adjustments.
In the study, over 90 percent of the chiropractors and parents reported an adjustment-related improvement with respect to the children’s presenting complaints. Even more interesting is the discovery of benefits unrelated to the initial problems. Both parents and doctors reported better sleeping patterns, improved behavior, and more robust immune system function while under chiropractic care. Increasingly, scientific research is supporting the clinical experience of chiropractors. Chiropractic care is growing in acceptance as a viable necessity for newborns.
A Crucial Difference
The following pages present three viewpoints of a newborn life-saving collaboration, offering us a vitalistic perspective of chiropractic in practice. In this story of home birth, the attending midwife is not only present throughout the entire labor and birth, she is also the provider who offers the first follow-up well baby visit. Additionally, a homebirth midwife’s understanding of biomechanics in birth is generally superior to her obstetric peers; therefore, her assessment of birth and her recognition of potential trauma to the infant are more acute as well.
When a woman gives birth in a hospital, she and her baby are usually released as healthy, at which point the obstetrician’s role is generally complete. If a problem with the baby’s health arises several days later, the birth team is not a part of the newborn examination. Rather, the mother goes to a pediatrician or an emergency room, and there is an inherent disconnect between the baby’s birth and the baby’s condition. An added disadvantage is that the treating doctors are seldom qualified to consider a potential neuro-musculo-skeletal cause resulting from birth, which is often an integral part of the health status. Such problems are often easily remedied with a trip to the chiropractor, if only the obstetrician were informed to make that call.
Finally, within the usual obstetric paradigm of birth, a mother’s intuition is not often considered. This story, therefore, demonstrates the power of a holistic, integrative team of providers who recognize each other’s specialty and acknowledge the mother’s intuition, as well.
Chiropractic Adjustments for Babies
Chiropractic adjustments for newborns differ significantly from those performed on adults. Often the chiropractor will use light fingertip pressure on the baby’s back or neck. Chiropractors sometimes also lightly massage the muscles on either side of the baby’s spine and other relevant areas of the body. Infant adjustments are very gentle, and typically a baby will be soothed by an adjustment, or even sleep through the process!
It is important to note that 65 percent of neurological development (i.e., development of the brain and nervous system) occurs in your child’s first year. It is therefore imperative to ensure your baby has every opportunity to maximize his or her nerve function during this critical period.
Article contributions from a lay midwife, mother, attending chiropractor, and a chiropractic author.
A Chiropractor's Expertise
There is a remarkable story I’d like to share about one of my experiences as a chiropractor. I’m not seeking personal credit, nor do I believe this is a miracle above other miracles. It’s simply a demonstration of what is supposed to happen when neural interference is removed and connectivity is restored. This is a story about healing, and a reminder that miracles should be the natural state.
On June 4, I received a call from Ellen, the midwife who assisted me during both of my home births. She was calling from the house of another client, whom I had referred to her. The mother, Shakira, had birthed a son, Abdullah, 36 hours prior. According to Ellen, Abdullah had a very slow and irregular heart rate of about 76 beats per minute—well below the normal newborn range of 120 to 140 bpm. He was also yellow, which raised added concern, given that jaundice typically doesn’t set in so quickly after birth. He had nursed a few times, but was otherwise listless and unresponsive.
Ellen told me that during the birth, she had seen Abdullah’s head clear in one direction and his shoulders clear more than 90 degrees in the other. She had not held the head or restricted the baby’s movement in any way. During the postpartum visit, she felt intuitively that something was wrong, and that it was the odd presentation and potential neck trauma causing the problem. She asked if I could come to the home immediately, and I agreed.
When I arrived, I checked the baby’s spine and cranium. My exam indicated that his occiput and atlas (the lower cranial bone in front of the upper neck vertebrae) were significantly out of alignment. I adjusted the baby and let him lie there for about 15 minutes, periodically checking his heart rate. I then checked him again.
The occiput was holding, so I slightly adjusted the atlas one more time, having found no other cranial or spinal misalignments. We waited another 15 minutes. Suddenly, some red splotching began to appear over his previously yellow body. As we listened to his heart rate, we witnessed the activation of his body’s innate intelligence to re-regulate itself. Within minutes, his red splotching turned into an even, pink skin tone in front of our eyes. The yellow hue was gone! His rooting instinct kicked in and he nursed with a strong and healthy latch for ten minutes. I checked him once more to ensure the adjustments were holding. At this point, his reflexes seemed to come alive; he was alert and active. By the end of the hour, his heart rate had completely normalized to 120 to 130 bpm. Interestingly, his testicles had also descended within that hour. That may have been a coincidence, but it seems noteworthy given all the other healthy indicators we witnessed as a result of the adjustments.
Ellen and I left together. Once we were alone, she told me she believed Abdullah’s adjustment saved his life. In her experience, his failure to thrive had made him a likely candidate for SIDS. It was staggering to process the magnitude of what had happened. Being a part of Abdullah’s remarkable transformation has been one of the blessings and wonders of my life. And yet, what we had witnessed was no miracle; it was simply a reminder of how flawlessly the body responds when all its circuits are connected.
Abdullah continued to thrive and engage in all normal newborn activities. When I examined him during a follow-up visit, his heart rate remained in normal range, as did his skin tone and reflexes.
In retrospect, I realize none of this could have taken place had my midwife not recognized the need for chiropractic adjustments in the first place. How many other babies would benefit from having practitioners who understood the importance of chiropractic care?
Dr. Kathy, Chiropractor
A Midwife's Insight
It was June 2; I was called to attend the home birth of a 32-year-old woman. It was her second planned home birth. I arrived at 11:30 p.m. Her first assessment showed her at 6 centimeters dilated and 85 percent effaced, with the baby at 0 station. The baby’s position was ROT (Right Occiput Anterior) with good heart tones at 144 beats per minute. Her membranes spontaneously ruptured at 1:32 a.m. with clear fluids.
The baby’s head came out facedown, showing a rotation to the mother’s right thigh. But as the anterior shoulder was presenting, I realized it was the left shoulder! I quickly encouraged him to rotate to the mother’s left leg, and he was born at 1:46 a.m. He cried immediately and was placed onto his mother’s belly. At 2:17, he nursed successfully. Everyone looked healthy and I left at 3:30 that morning.
I returned for a postpartum visit on June 4 to find the baby very lethargic. He showed slight jaundice, had an irregular heartbeat of about 76 bpm, and his testicles were undescended. He had passed meconium three times. He had a newborn rash, was passing gas, and had a good Moro reflex. The mother said he had could latch successfully, but would not nurse for a long time. When he showed interest in nursing, his heart rate went to 108 bpm, but then settled back to a range of 60 to 84 bpm. The family said he was very quiet and didn’t cry much.
I called Dr. Kathy, the chiropractor I work closely with, to come and check him, because I suspected something had happened in the upper neck during his uncustomary descent in the birth canal. She adjusted him twice, with one last follow-up to make sure he held the adjustment. She said there were definite, severe misalignments in the atlanto-occipital area of the spine, which she had corrected with the adjustments.
I reevaluated the baby after the second adjustment. His jaundice had cleared, his heart rate had increased to 120 to 132 bpm, and even his testicles had descended! When I talked to the mother the next day, she said he had a vigorous cry, was alert, and maintained good color.
I personally feel that we may have prevented a SIDS episode by having rechecked the baby’s heart on the postpartum visit and getting him adjusted by a chiropractor to restore normal nerve function in the upper neck.
A Mother's Intuition
I listened to the midwife’s words as she performed the postpartum checkup for my newborn son. “He’s jaundiced already,” she said, “and he’s lost a full half pound.”
I feared something was wrong.
My baby boy, only 36 hours old, was pale and relatively unresponsive. She told me his heartbeat was too slow. It was 76 beats per minute, and irregular. “Here, listen,” she said, putting the stethoscope to my ear. I heard a very slow heartbeat with an unusual pause. She looked at me and said, “It’s too slow. He needs a chiropractic adjustment—now.”
Fortunately, our chiropractor friend was available to come immediately and check on him. For my midwife and me, time seemed to stand still. My four older children looked on, bewildered and concerned.
The chiropractor performed an assessment of heart tones, an exam of the spine and cranium, and a gentle and specific adjustment on his little body. We laid him down to see if his body would hold the adjustment; what we saw was nothing short of amazing. His near-lifeless body started to change. His pale white skin began to redden and my midwife scooped him up and rushed him to the window. “Look at him,” she said. “The jaundice is gone!”
His reflexes awakened and my baby rooted to nurse as I held him to my breast. I nearly cried as he suckled like a normal, healthy baby. His heart rate came within normal range, and we all sighed with relief.
The next day I spoke with my midwife and I told her that my baby boy was completely red. She said, “It’s called blood flow!” and we laughed. Then her tone changed. “Had we not gotten him adjusted, I fear that in a few days you would have lost him,” she said. The gravity of her statement made me feel very, very grateful.
We saw our dear chiropractor for a follow-up, and we said to each other, “Thank God! It’s truly just amazing!” She told me that in her ten years of practice, she had never seen such a severe upper-neck misalignment in a newborn.
Throughout my entire pregnancy, I had expressed to my midwife and others that something was different, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. It wasn’t necessarily anything bad, but maybe something I wasn’t prepared for. We are all blessed with intuition. My midwife said that perhaps what I sensed may have been a heads-up, so to speak. I am eternally grateful I had people around me who were blessed with the foresight to recognize the real problem and the skill to correct it. Now my baby boy is thriving. My other children have, in my chiropractor friend’s words, their new, new baby brother.
Sharika, Mother of Abdullah
This article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine,
Issues #24 & #69.
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