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Is it safe to take a baby to a chiropractor? Here’s what experts say.

Practitioners and parents say chiropractic treatment helps colic and constipation, but pediatricians say the “adjustments” aren’t backed by science

(Carmen Chan for The Washington Post)

On TikTok, chiropractors are stretching chubby legs, massaging infant tailbones and tracing the tiny vertebrae of baby spines, touting a range of unproven treatments for newborns, babies and toddlers.

Dustin Judd runs a family chiropractic clinic in Corsicana, Tex., that regularly posts videos on the app that get a few thousand views each. But in July, a video showed Judd holding a 6-day-old baby, who rested in his hand as he massaged the infant’s back with a vibrating handheld device. It went viral.

The baby “got his 1st adjustment and LOVED IT,” reads the caption. The video has been viewed more than 1.2 million times. (Judd later told The Washington Post he used the device, called a vibracussor, to soothe the colicky baby.)

@prohealthchiropractic Right at 6 days old, Carter got his 1st adjustment and LOVED IT🤩💚💙 #newborn #pediatricchiropractor #lovingit #babyadjustment ♬ Funny Song - Cavendish Music

Viewers flooded the comments with support and skepticism about chiropractic care for infants.

“It’s very dogmatic,” Judd said. “You get all kinds of hate from one way or another. But, I’m on a mission. I’ve seen what it does.”

More than five-dozen videos of infant and toddler chiropractic care have been posted in the past year by TikTok accounts advertising clinics across the country. Some of the videos have amassed thousands of views. A few, like Judd’s, have been viewed more than a million times. The videos often include hashtags such as “babyadjustment” and “backpop.”

The evidence that chiropractic care can soothe babies is scant. But clinicians on TikTok claim chiropractic care can offer relief to fussy babies suffering from a variety of ailments, including colic, constipation, reflux, musculoskeletal problems and even, some say, trauma babies experience in childbirth.

In Huntington Beach, Calif., videos show clinicians at Momma’s Chiro guiding babies through bicycle kicks to help them with constipation. In Dalton, Ga., chiropractor Danny DeReuter uses his fingers to press on an infant’s cervical spine as a treatment for reflux. In Weatherford, Tex., chiropractor Jason Roberts moves his hands up and down a wailing baby’s spine before holding him upside down. (The child apparently hasn’t pooped in a while.)

Chiropractors say treatments for infants and toddlers are safe and gentle — far from the explosive cracks and contortions generally associated with adult chiropractic care.

Some physicians say the proliferation of infant chiropractic care on social media is concerning because the treatments, particularly in the wrong hands, could be risky. Those physicians say one worry is that a baby’s bones are softer, making them more malleable under pressure, and joints are looser, making them prone to overstretching.

@kydkyronashville Babies have 3 main functions: 1️⃣ Eating 2️⃣ Sleeping 3️⃣ Pooping When one of those is off- you may have a difficult baby. Especially if they aren’t pooping! Chiropractic care for your baby is a non-invasive way to help with constipation. Doing a gentle adjustment to your baby’s hips and sacrum will help keep everything in alignment, which then helps alleviate the pain and symptoms of constipation! Adjustments should be done by a professional.Disclaimer: Please consult with your provider or licensed healthcare professional before attempting any activities related to the content in this platform! #fyp #constipation #chiropractor #baby #newborntips #babyhack ♬ TROPICAL UPLIFTING MOTIVATIONNAL SUMMER RUN - whitecedar

Sean Tabaie, an orthopedic surgeon at Children’s National Hospital in D.C., says his colleagues are shocked when he sends them Instagram or TikTok videos from chiropractic clinics treating infants.

“Ultimately, there is no way you’re going to get an improvement in a newborn from a manipulation,” Tabaie said. “The only thing that you might possibly cause is harm.”

Chiropractors are licensed health professionals who use stretching, pressure and joint manipulation, particularly on the spine. While chiropractic care is typically viewed as an “alternative” therapy, there are some data in adults that suggest these treatments may help certain conditions, including low back pain.

Anthony Stans, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic Children’s Center in Rochester, Minn., says he would caution parents against chiropractic treatment for babies.

“To my knowledge, there is little to no evidence that chiropractic care changes the natural history of any disease or condition,” Stans said.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said in an email that the organization does not have an “official policy” on chiropractic care for infants or toddlers. A 2017 AAP report on alternative therapies concluded that “high-quality evidence” is lacking for spinal manipulation in infants and children for problems not caused by muscle or skeletal issues.

Parents say part of the reason they are attracted to chiropractic care is that practitioners promise relief for problems traditional medicine often cannot solve, particularly colic, one of the most distressing and little understood conditions that affect newborns.

Colic is intense and prolonged crying in an otherwise healthy infant, but the crying episodes typically resolve over time, without treatment, according to the Mayo Clinic.

In a 2021 study, researchers in Denmark conducted a randomized, controlled trial of chiropractic care that studied 185 colicky babies. The chiropractors used light pressure treatments on the baby’s spine or neck, depending on where the child’s movement appeared to be restricted.

“You do a touch-and-hold technique where you actually put your finger on the joint and just leave it with a slight pressure,” said Lise Hestbaek, one of the study authors and a former chiropractor who is now a professor at the University of Southern Denmark. She said the level of light pressure is about the same as the “amount of pressure you can apply to your eyeball without pain.”

Although the researchers noted a trend in the data suggesting that the babies treated with chiropractic care seemed to cry less, the findings weren’t statistically meaningful, even after a follow-up analysis of just babies with musculosketal problems. “That was a surprise to us,” Hestbaek said.

A new study of 58 colicky babies in Spain found that babies given “light touch manual therapy” cried significantly less than those who received no treatment. But unlike in the Danish study, parents in the Spanish study weren’t “blinded,” meaning they were aware of the treatment, which can bias the results.

Hestbaek said she continues to advise parents to visit a chiropractor who specializes in treating small children. “You owe it to the baby to try,” she said.

Joy Weydert, the director of pediatric integrative medicine at the University of Arizona’s Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine, said it can be challenging “to get that level of evidence” for manual therapies such as chiropractic care. She said the treatments may help relieve the discomfort of colic or reflux, but it’s difficult to measure.

“Conventional medicine has to evolve to understand what chiropractic is all about,” Weydert said.

Parents who take their babies to chiropractors are believers. A 2019 article in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics reported on 2,000 mothers in the United Kingdom who took their infants to a chiropractic clinic for a range of problems, including feeding concerns, sleep issues and excessive crying. While the study didn’t measure whether the treatments worked, 82 percent of the mothers believed they did, reporting a “definite improvement” in their children.

Kassandra Borba, 33, a mortgage loan officer who lives in Chowchilla, Calif., went to a chiropractor as a child and began taking her older son when he was 2 weeks old because, she said, he was having trouble turning his head to the left side. Now she takes her second son, who is about 7 weeks old.

“I always knew that I wanted to start them young and introduce them,” Borba said. “And, of course, the adjustments for the newborns — they’re literally just a tap on the spine or a tap on the neck area. It’s nothing like adults.”

Judd, the Corsicana chiropractor, said his focus is to make sure babies have free, comfortable movement. He said insurance companies don’t cover his treatments for children, so parents pay out of pocket. If his treatments weren’t working, he said, people wouldn’t spend the money.

“I’m not people’s first stop. They’ve been to the pediatrician,” Judd said.

Michael Milobsky, a pediatrician with a primary care practice in Castle Rock, Colo., and a father of seven, said he understands why parents would “literally do anything” to alleviate their children’s colicky symptoms. Milobsky believes that part of the problem is pediatricians don’t have the time to answer the concerns of parents.

“Colic is a developmental phase in a normal kid,” Milobsky said. “But it’s been sold as something that can be treated or solved, as opposed to being understood that this is just a developmental period that has a wide spectrum of presentations.”

Milobsky, who has a TikTok account with more than 110,000 followers, said that despite his reservations about chiropractic care, he doesn’t try to talk parents out of it. “In the end, they’ve already decided,” he said.

The American Chiropractic Association says that while treatments for children are safe and effective, more research is needed to prove they work.

“We still haven’t been able to demonstrate in the research the effectiveness that we’ve seen clinically,” said Jennifer Brocker, the president of the ACA’s Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics and a practicing chiropractor in Portland, Ore.

“We can’t really say for sure what’s happening,” she said. “It’s sort of like a black box. But, what we do know is that, clinically, what we’re doing is effective because we see a change in the symptoms of the child.”

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