Even with a normal, untroubled vaginal birth, all of that navigation through the pelvis and birth canal puts a lot of strain and pressure on a baby's spine and head. The act of extending their head and necks as they emerge from the birth canal can also compress the spine. Some babies also experience additional physical stress, such as unusual head positioning while moving through the pelvis, or an assisted delivery using forceps or vacuum.
All of this can take a toll on a baby. Sometimes, this shows up in subtle ways - maybe he seems to favor turning his head to the same side all the time, or she seems to be stiff. It might also show up as one colic, digestion issues, or breastfeeding struggles due to a neck that doesn't move in the that works best to get a good latch.
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So, what exactly can chiropractic treatment do for your newborn?
Dr. Adrienne McRuvie, is an ICPA-certified (International Chiropractic Pediatric Association) family wellness chiropractor who practices in Toronto, Ontario. She often treats babies in her practice. She explains that, when someone brings their baby in for treatment, her role isn't to address the issue that is presenting - like breastfeeding challenges, for example - but rather to facilitate the body healing itself.
"Although chiropractors pay attention to the symptoms, we're not treating them. " explains McRuvie. "When we do an adjustment of the spine, we're trying to get any interference out of the way of the body's natural healing abilities. The bony spine column is the access point to the nervous system, which is the spinal cord within the spinal column, and brain."
A chiropractic treatment for a newborn is gentle and safe. McRuvie explains that she starts by checking the newborns spine for any subluxations - fixations of the spine. Then, treatment consists of holding an area until it releases, reflex techniques or using small pulses to encourage the fixations or spinal segments to move.
"It's not like treating an adult," says McRuvie. "Babies have more cartilage than bone so they're much more malleable than adults. The amount of pressure of an adjustment is what you would put on your eyeball, so it's really gentle and a comfortable experience for the baby."
Related: Ask the Expert: How can Chiropractic Care Benefit Your Family?
Chiropractic for newborns can be more than addressing symptoms. Many parents bring their babies in for a wellness check-ups, to establish a baseline of their baby's patterns and teach, even an infant, that they have innate healing abilities. Parents also like the idea of getting in front of any potential symptomatic challenges such as ear infections, asthma or colds that are reoccurring.
Adjustments can help keep things on track. It's great to bring babies in for treatment during major milestones such as rolling, crawling and walking. Delayed milestones can be from retained infant reflexes so Dr. McRuvie checks for that and makes sure the those infant reflexes have disappeared so your brain can perform the more complex task such as movement control and social interactions.
Dr. McRuvie also likes to promote parents providing hands on care to build confidence to actively help facilitate their baby's healing. She teaches parents hands-on lessons in things like infant massage and reflexology, so they can use with their baby at home if their baby is experiencing gas or favoring looking in one direction.