By Dr. Emily Smith Nguyen, Smith & Prissel Chiropractic and Massage
Photo by Renée Barth Photography
Though my practice is full of patients of all ages, as a Chiropractic Pediatric Specialist, I am often asked why a baby would need to be adjusted. The answer is simple: they have a spine!
Though we all have spines, the spine of a baby when it’s born is mostly cartilage. It will take about seven years for the very top bone of the spine, the atlas, to fully transform into bone and this process of permanently shaping the spine occurs in sequential order from the top to the bottom of the spine for the next 20+ years. Because of this, any altered positions of the spine can become permanent if not corrected when young, giving rise to the saying, “as the twig is bent, so grows the tree.” Just like the rest of us, babies also need chiropractic care.
Babies may not spend hours looking down at a phone or shovel the end of the driveway after the plow has gone through, but they often have other causes for their spinal misalignments. First of all: birth. Even the most natural birth is still quite a process for mom and baby. A slow and drawn out labor and delivery could be hard on the baby’s tiny, developing spine as it emerges, but a quick birth can also be traumatic as the baby doesn’t have a chance to change position to avoid jamming the spine.
Once the baby is on the outside, there are a variety of spinal injuries that can occur. Balancing a heavy head atop a weak neck can lead to preferences of holding the head or turning the head to only one direction. If not corrected, this can lead to fussiness, facial asymmetries, delayed developmental milestones, and possible spinal issues down the road.
When evaluating a baby for chiropractic care, I look for any signs of asymmetry in the movement of the baby’s arms, legs or spine. Everything should be moving symmetrically and if it is not, it is addressed. These differences from right to left are subtle and may not initially be noticed by attentive parents or well-meaning Pediatricians. Chiropractors are trained to identify these asymmetries and correct them, even in the smallest of spines.
It is important for parents and caregivers to minimize the likelihood of a baby developing a “side preference.” This can be accomplished by changing the way a baby is held when being fed, or switching their position in the crib or which way they look when watching an older sibling play. Supporting the head while traveling in a car seat can also help so it does not fall to one side, which can cause the spine to bounce out of alignment. It’s no wonder that some babies hate their car seat!
Other common reasons I see babies in my office are for issues associated with their latch/eating, difficulty with bowel movements, and overall fussiness. Having older siblings can also contribute to spinal complications within the baby, whether you saw something happen or heard the cry and think the worst. Luckily, a well-trained chiropractor can assess and correct these little problems before they become big.