Chiropractic care, also referred to as spinal manipulation, is a type of complementary medicine that involves hands-on treatment performed by a trained professional. The goal of treatment is to help improve joint function and motion of the body for overall wellness, emphasizing that in some cases, the body can heal itself when properly aligned.
This form of care focuses primarily on the spine, but can also incorporate other parts of the body depending on a patient’s particular issue with pain affecting the bones, cartilage, connective tissue, joints, and muscles.
While evidence of the benefit of chiropractic care for postpartum moms and children is still up for debate, studies have shown that patients are often highly satisfied with the care they receive and report improvements in their pain.
It might surprise you to know that chiropractors in the U.S. have become the third largest group of health care professionals, following physicians and dentists, and that the demand for alternative medicine is increasing. Whether you’ve previously seen a chiropractor or not, it may be worth considering this type of care after baby arrives. (The more TLC, the better, right?)
For first-hand insight on spinal manipulation treatment, we connected with Dr. Randi Jaffe, DC, a board-certified chiropractor practicing in New York, New York. Read on as she explains how chiropractic care is used during the postpartum period for mothers and their new babies.
Q: What are the benefits of postnatal chiropractic work?
A: Postnatal chiropractic care can be very beneficial for a wide variety of reasons.
The journey of pregnancy and giving birth, whether vaginally or via C-section can be very hard on the body. It is very important to check the lower back and pelvis to correct any misalignments and imbalances that are a result of the pregnancy or the delivery process.
In some cases, there can be lingering issues from the pregnancy, while in other cases, a new problem can occur due to the birth itself. There are also potential issues that occur weeks or even months after giving birth, especially as a woman increases her daily activity, whether it’s doing household chores, walking, or returning to more formal exercise.
It is important to note that some women have symptoms of pain and discomfort while others have no symptoms at all, so it is helpful for every new mother to be checked during the postpartum period. Certain postpartum conditions are related to elevated levels of relaxin, the hormone that creates a looseness in the joints of the body, as well as postural alterations that are the result of the rapid changes that a woman’s body goes through after giving birth.
In addition to focusing on the pelvis and lower back, a chiropractor will also spend time evaluating and treating the muscles, ligaments, and joints of the upper back, shoulders, and neck, which are under a significant amount of strain with feedings, holding, changing, bathing, and soothing a newborn.
Q: When can a mom begin treatment after birth?
A: Postpartum moms who deliver vaginally can come in any time after birth and do not need to wait until the six-week postpartum examination from a doctor or midwife to see a chiropractor. The treatments are safe and very gentle. (Of course, if a woman would like to discuss seeing a chiropractor during the postpartum period with her birth provider, she is welcome to, but it is not a prerequisite for treatment.)
I recommend that a new mother come in as soon as she is ready, ideally within the first four weeks after delivery. That being said, if a mom comes in at a later point, there is still great benefit to getting checked.
For a mother who has had a cesarean section, I recommend coming in anytime after the first three weeks following delivery. We are very cautious with the incision and use special pillows to cushion both the breasts and the abdomen during these early weeks post-birth.
A chiropractic visit, like any other appointment in the early weeks or months of motherhood can be a bit of an outing, so plan ahead. Leave plenty of time, bring the baby with you (this is often less stressful than having your infant stay at home and feeling worried throughout your session), and bring someone with you (your partner, a family member, caregiver, or friend) to assist with the baby once you are at the appointment. The number one thing I hear after new moms leave the office is, “I feel so much better and should have come in sooner!”
Q: How early can an infant receive an adjustment?
A: Newborns can be safely checked for alignment and treated (if needed) within days of their birth. (Many chiropractors check their own babies within hours after the baby is born.) This may sound a little “out there” if you have not yet heard about chiropractic care for newborns, but remember that birth can be quite challenging not just for the mother, but the baby as well.
Long- or rapid-labors, long pushing periods, vacuum extraction, forceps, manual traction to the baby’s head and neck, and previous in-utero positions can all lead to stress and strain on the baby’s spine and nervous system. Even in scheduled C-section births, there can be tension and pressure to the body as the baby is maneuvered during the surgery. The good news is that gentle chiropractic adjustments can aid in the imbalances and dysfunction that can occur.
Q: Adjusting a newborn sounds intimidating. What should a new mom know?
A: Chiropractic for newborns is not only gentle and safe, but it is actually extremely beneficial to improving overall function.
There is absolutely no popping, cracking, or twisting of the spine. Techniques are very, very light in nature and gentle pressure (similar to the amount of pressure one would use to insert a contact lense into the eye) is utilized. Sometimes light massage and stretching techniques are incorporated as well.
The goal of chiropractic treatment in infants and older children is to correct any misalignments found in the spine, creating more balance and symmetry. We can often impact many systems of the body by improving function in the nervous system. Many parents bring their baby to a chiropractor for a general check after birth. but some bring their babies with different symptoms like colic, reflux, difficulties with breastfeeding, excessive gas and discomfort, constipation, sleep, and many other issues. Although these symptoms or conditions are not directly treated, there is often improvement in many newborn challenges with gentle chiropractic care.
Q: What should a parent consider in choosing a provider for their child?
A: It is very important to find a chiropractor who is trained extensively in pediatric chiropractic care. A great resource is an organization called the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA). It is also highly recommended to cross-reference this list with your local Facebook mom-group, as well as asking local parents for feedback on their experience in seeking out pediatric chiropractic care.
There are very few contraindications to chiropractic treatment for babies. A chiropractor who specializes in treating infants and children will have extensive training on when it is appropriate to refer the patient and their parents to their pediatrician or a specialist like a neurologist, orthopedist or other medical professional.
Before making an appointment, consider scheduling a phone call or in-person consultation with the doctor to discuss any concerns or specific challenges with your child. Because many parents come in a bit nervous or apprehensive, most pediatric chiropractors take the time to explain what they do. In a two-parent home, it is very beneficial for both parents to attend the initial session to meet the doctor, hear the examination findings, and learn about the treatment techniques being utilized. This can alleviate some of the possible anxiety, concern, or simple curiosity about pediatric chiropractic care.
Lastly, ask your chiropractor if there are any gentle stretches or infant massages to do at home with your baby, as well as about specific home instructions and products they prefer or don’t recommend you use. For example, many pediatric chiropractors will review helpful diaper changing techniques, recommend preferred baby wraps and carriers, discuss ideal posture for babies while they are nursing or at rest for optimal spinal and nervous system health.