Parents are increasingly taking babies to the chiropractor. Is it safe?

A baby lays on a chiropractor’s table, preparing for an adjustment. First on her belly, then on her back. The chiropractor speaks to the baby softly as she traces the baby’s spine. In the caption of the video on TikTok, Momma Chiro, a chiropractic practitioner located in Huntington Beach, California, says the mom reported the baby is “less fussy” after receiving their chiropractic care. The video is one of many on the chiropractic office’s page claiming chiropractic adjustments for the baby can help with issues like tongue tie, constipation, fussiness, colic and more. 

The Momma Chiro TikTok video is part of a bigger trend on social media: babies at the chiropractor.

A search a TikTok with the hashtag #babychiropractor yields a collection of videos with 26 million views, at the date of publication. Many videos are of clinics, like Momma Chiro, promoting their work. In one, a chiropractor in California adjusts a crying two-week-old’s neck whose mom says the baby hasn’t been breastfeeding. Other videos are of momfluencers promoting the so-called benefits of chiropractic care for newborns and infants. In one TikTok, a mom shares with her followers how she took her two-month-old to a chiropractor for torticollis, which is when a baby’s neck muscles cause its head to turn and rotate to one side. The baby, according to the mom, was also really “irritated,” and wasn’t eating or sleeping well. In the video, the chiropractor proceeds to grab the baby abruptly by his feet, and hang him upside down. While the mom admits she first “flipped out” when the chiropractor grabbed her baby by the feet, she also claims “it worked.” More videos show babies having their backs popped, similar to an adult.

So as social media posts continue to flood the digital sphere, let’s examine a question more new parents are wondering: Should I take my baby to a chiropractor, too?

Dr. Lena van der List, a community pediatrician at the University of California-Davis, told Salon she “absolutely” is seeing more parents ask about chiropractors in her practice when new parents are looking for fast solutions to colic, reflux, constipation, breastfeeding or tongue tie. “Being a parent to a newborn is really hard,” van der List said. “I see why families are going to throw that Hail Mary, to see if there’s anything that they can do to help.” But even as a doctor of osteopathic medicine, someone who is self-described as “more open to complementary practices,” van der List said she is “very hesitant” to use “chiropractic or any type of manipulation on newborns or infants.”

“Newborns and infants are not just little adults, they have a completely different body architecture, their bones are soft and malleable,” she said. “And so even with gentle techniques and gentle pressure, there could be an increased risk for injuries in this age group, in addition, I don’t think there’s any compelling evidence that I’ve seen that chiropractic manipulation can really aid in resolving a lot of these problems that they are advertising that they do.” 

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Indeed, the evidence is scant on whether or not chiropractor practice can help babies with things like colic, tongue tie or gassiness. While there are some studies that claim there are benefits, the Cochrane Collaboration said in a 2012 review that the studies “involved too few participants and were of insufficient quality to draw confident conclusions about the usefulness and safety of manipulative therapies. A separate study from 2007 found that “adverse events may be associated with pediatric spinal manipulation.” In 2017, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a report on alternative pediatric therapies noting that “serious complications can arise with chiropractic treatment of children.” 

The report also noted “a bias against childhood vaccinations has been shown to exist in chiropractic care.”

“Children 1 through 17 years of age in the care of a chiropractic practitioner were significantly less likely to receive recommended vaccinations, leading to higher risk of vaccine-preventable disease,” the report found, adding that people often take their children for reasons other than a back treatment. 

“There is no evidence of benefit, and there is evidence of harm for doing spinal manipulation.” 

“The AAP supports interventions to increase immunization awareness and recommends that primary care providers encourage and support families in fully immunizing children,” the report said. “High-quality evidence supporting the effectiveness of spinal manipulation for nonmusculoskeletal concerns is lacking, especially in infants and children, for whom the risks of adverse events may be the highest because of immature stability of the spine.

Still, parents who take their children to chiropractors claim to see results.

According to a 2019 article published in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 82 percent of the 2,000 mothers who took their infants to a chiropractic clinic reported an improvement in their child.

Dr. George Gantsoudes, a fellowship-trained pediatric orthopedic surgeon, told Salon he’s had parents of pediatric patients choose to see chiropractors only to have their children return with their conditions unchanged. “There is no evidence of benefit, and there is evidence of harm for doing spinal manipulation,”  Gantsoudes said. “There is no evidence that hip dysplasia can be fixed with chiropractic manipulations.” He added that “there are really good and ethical chiropractors out there” and that he believes they can “be a valuable part of a musculoskeletal team that work to provide care.” 

“However, there are some, like the TikTok infant manipulators, who do not follow any of available evidence and pollute the field,” Gantsoudes said.

Indeed, van der List said that is one of her biggest concerns, that a diagnosis could be delayed. 

“It’s really important that they [parents] first come and talk to their pediatrician, because there are some medical problems that may present like frequent spit up or constipation, or like an unusual headshake, that do require further evaluation and treatment from our end,” van der List said. “And that’s not something that we would want to miss or delay a diagnosis by them going to a chiropractor.”

So, what are parents to do? 

 Van der List added that much of what the TikTok chiropractors claim to fix are just normal issues for babies

“We just have to reassure families that most of these are normal developmental phases, and their kids will get through it on their own,” Van der List said. “And they don’t need to spend this exorbitant amount of money out of pocket with these complementary techniques that really have no evidence that they’re going to be helpful and may even be harmful.”

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