A common challenge that most new parents struggle with is that their baby is unsettled. It is hard enough to adapt and care for a tiny human but it takes an immense amount of energy and patience when they are uncomfortable and unwell. As a Chiropractor I know that we can go a far way in helping with this process, but how does it work?
A new born baby grows at a rapid rate; this means that all focus is directed towards feeding, digesting and sleeping; when this goes wrong, havoc ensues and your once angelic human is now red-faced, screaming and immensely uncomfortable.
The Brain/Body Connection:
You know the feeling you have when you have just eaten a big Christmas lunch? You might notice that more saliva and digestive enzymes are produced; your heart rate lowers and you feel slow and sleepy. Humans rely on a part of the nervous system called the ‘Parasympathetic Nervous System’ to be able to change their body into a ‘Rest and Digest’ state. You can imagine that when the main purpose of your body is to grow and adapt; you really need your Parasympathetic Nervous system to work properly! When there is interference to this part of the nervous system, the infant will be in a state of ‘fight and flight’ instead; which means that its nervous system will believe that it is in a constant state of danger… not an ideal time for digesting and sleeping!
Infants that struggle to access the Parasympathetic Nervous system will only be able to sleep for short periods of time and even then, their sleep will not be very deep. They might have an overactive fright response and their digestion will be altered and inefficient. This might lead to the following symptoms:
• Inconsolably crying for hours per day, particularly in the late afternoon and evening
• A distended abdomen
• Legs are flexed up and hands held in tight fists because of pain
• The infant may seek pain relief through frequent feeding and for longer periods
• They may arch their back and pull away from the breast
• Reflux may be excessive or even sometimes projectile
• Short term relief is gained by being held, rocked or using a dummy
• You may notice an uneven head shape beginning to develop
How Chiropractic can help:
Chiropractors asses the intricate functioning of the skull and spine and its relation to the central nervous system. When there is an interference to the movement of the skull or vertebrae at very specific points, it causes an interference to the nervous system and will inhibit the function thereof. We call these restrictions Vertebral Subluxations. The Parasympathetic nervous system is mostly housed in the skull, upper neck and pelvis. It is very common to find subluxations in these parts of the body and will lead to an increased 'fight and flight' response and thus an unsettled baby. These subluxations are often due to intra-uterine constraint or physical stress during the birth process.
We use light, finger- tip pressure to remove these interferences; allowing the body to function as it should be. Even after years of practice, I am still constantly surprised about the small amount of input it requires to change a screaming and unhappy infant into a relaxed and happy one! Just to clarify... I am not pressing on special sleeping and eating ‘buttons’ but instead removing the interference inhibiting the baby to do those natural and normal things!
A number of studies have been done about the effect and effectiveness of chiropractic adjustments on irritable infants; the beauty is that Chiropractic care is natural and drug free and a settled child will be able to grow and evolve in a much more natural fashion. One of my favourite studies is a long term study showing that children that were under Chiropractic care as infants tend to have less temper tantrums and decreased frequency of waking at night 2 to 3 years later... as sure sign of a happy nervous system!
The most important part:
The longer we live with these restrictions in our nervous systems and bodies; the more we will create compensatory patterns for them. The child might become used to abnormal sleeping patterns and because of the inefficient digestion, the GUT microflora might change. It usually takes and adult a lot longer to get better because their nervous systems are so ingrained with compensatory patterns, that is part of the reason we really enjoy taking care of children because we know how much better their life will be because of it! The sooner we can help these infants towards normal health, the better it is for them in the long term.
Klougart N, Nilsson N and Jacobsen J (1989) J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1989 (Aug);12 (4): 281-288
Wiberg JMM, Nordsteen J, Nilsson N J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 1999 (Oct);22 (8): 517-522