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BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — When Sydney Winkler encountered one of the biggest adjustments of parenthood, she brought 2-month-old Lily to the chiropractor.
“She was really colicky, crying, fussy, we had a couple days there where she was screaming and not settled,” said the mother from Bloomington.
Dr. Anne Spicer, a pediatric chiropractor at the Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, specializes in pregnant women and babies.
“So, what I am noticing still too is she is still keeping her head turned left,” said Dr. Spicer, who first adjusted Lily at a few weeks old.
Winkler said the first visit soothed both parents and baby.
“She went home and slept that entire night,” said Winkler.
Dr. Spicer said fussy babies often have a misalignment at the top of the neck, which appears to the case for Lily. She said misalignments put pressure on the nerves that cause symptoms elsewhere. It can often be the result of trauma often during birth.
“If a delivery is fast, three hours or less, that is usually very forceful on a baby and on a mother and we tend to see more spinal misalignments and injury with a fast delivery,” said Dr. Spicer, who estimates about 20 percent of chiropractic care is focused on kids.
A 2007 government report said nearly three percent of children in the United States were treated with chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation in 2007, making it the second-most common form of alternative medicine for children, according to the National Health Interview Survey by the CDC.
The International Chiropractic Pediatric Association points to two studies that show estimates of growth in children visiting chiropractors.
The organization says a 2000 survey found around 30 million pediatric visits to chiropractors (by Lee et al. in the Archives of Diseases in Children). A study published in 2009 showed more than twice that, with around 68 million pediatric visits to chiropractors, according to Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing.
Most of the tiny patients Dr. Spicer sees have reflux and colic.
“It is a risk factor for abuse as well when babies cry inconsolably and over 90 percent get better with a simple spinal adjustment, so I feel an obligation. We need to treat those babies,” said Dr. Spicer.
Dr. Spicer said chiropractors work on the nervous system to improve overall body function, and can help babies with ear infections, colds, stomach pain and even breast feeding.
“Sometimes when there is a neck misalignment or injury, they are comfortable feeding on one side but not the other side because they can’t turn their head easily in both directions,” said Dr. Spicer.
But with any trouble, Dr. Emily Borman-Shoap, a Fairview Children’s Clinic pediatrician, says a child’s doctor should always be part of the equation too, as a medical home base.
“For younger patients, I think we just don’t know enough,” she said. “We do know that young newborns and infants don’t have very strong necks, and there could be a risk of injury, a tiny tiny risk, but it’s probably there, to the cervical spine or upper neck if firm or rapid adjustments are made.”
She points to the lack of study on the effectiveness of chiropractic care for infants and tells parents to talk to their chiropractor and ask questions.
“The studies that have been done are small. And so I think it would be a great thing to study more, if it’s a treatment that can be safe, we just need to understand it better so we know if it does have benefits,” said Dr. Borman-Shoap.
Back at Northwestern, it’s time for Lily’s adjustment. Dr. Spicer shows us gentle pressure, stressing the light touch is not the manipulation you often see with grown-ups, there’s no cracks or pops. She says some babies sleep through their adjustment.
“We don’t want to push babies, we want to let them guide us and tell us how far they want to go,” said Dr. Spicer.
She says the average first visit to a chiropractor is usually a woman in her late 20s to early 30s, but pediatric chiropractors see many problems that could have been helped early in life.
At the Uptown Wellness Center, Dr. Amberly Hoyer adjusts a woman in her 20s post-pregnancy, but says often helps adults with ailments like allergies, asthma and digestive problems.
“A lot of people who have headaches, allergies and asthma get a ton of relief when you adjust the upper cervical spine, and a lot of kids with allergies, asthma, ear infections are commonly misaligned at the C1 and C2 vertebrae,” said Dr. Hoyer. “What happens is our brain sends a message down the spinal cord and out to every organ, muscle, tissue and fiber from those nerves, so when your spine is misaligned it will put pressure on those nerves.”
Chiropractic care has taken the pressure off Winkler, who believes the benefits are only beginning.
“It was our original plan to bring her in but it was great to see the results after the crying fits as well,” she said.