Taking Your Baby to the Chiropractor for Colic: What to Expect

Parents are increasingly taking their babies and children to the chiropractor. They’re going in for a wide array of ailments, from colic to general wellness. (This is despite the medical community’s continuing research purporting that there is little to no benefit to chiropractic care for children, and possibly even some risk). Obviously moms are open to trying the treatments, often as alternatives to medications.

We were specifically interested in the use of a chiropractor for colic. Colic is a condition characterized by babies crying uncontrollably when they’re otherwise healthy. We got in touch with Dr. Jenny Brocker. She’s a board-certified Diplomate in Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics and president of the ACA Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics.  Dr. Brocker answered our questions about infants, colic, and chiropractors via email.

Dr. Jenny Brocker is a mom and chiropractor in Portland, OR. She has three children.

What if a mom suspects her baby has colic, is a joint manipulation or adjustment from a chiropractor for colic recommended?

Colic is really the term for a set of symptoms that are often clinically unexplained. The term colic refers specifically to a crying pattern that is seemingly unprovoked and not easily consoled. This really means that there is known cause of colic, so no single treatment will always improve the symptoms. A doctor of chiropractic, especially one specialized in pediatric care, has extensive knowledge of all the factors that can cause colic symptoms and the treatments that will be most effective in improving those symptoms for each individual patient.

At what age do babies benefit from seeing a chiropractor?

Babies and infants can benefit from chiropractic care at any age. Technique modifications enable babies to safely begin treatment at any age. Many begin treatment when they are a few weeks to a few months old, but I have had the privilege of treating babies who were just a few hours old. But this depends on the baby having a clinical problem to be addressed.

What can parents expect from a visit to the chiropractor with their baby, can you walk us through the diagnosis and treatment process? 

A chiropractic visit begins with a full history, including details of the current complaint, and following through with questions about the patient’s birth, their neonatal history, development, sleep habits, nutrition, bowel movements, current or past medical diagnoses or conditions, and family history. It then proceeds with a full physical examination. [This] includes measuring vital signs, inspection of the skin, facial, and cranial structures for any asymmetries or abnormalities, inspection of the eyes and mouth for any sign of abnormality, testing primitive reflexes when applicable, deep tendon reflexes, and assessing muscle strength and tone. The doctor of chiropractic then tests any applicable orthopedic tests, most commonly for infants this includes testing for signs of hip dysplasia, and assesses the baby’s range of motion.

The visit would then proceed with assessing the spinal joint motion. Feeling the joints consists of holding the infant in a comfortable position, usually sitting on the doctor’s lap or the parent’s lap, and gently moving the individual spinal segments from side to side and back to front feeling for any restricted motion. The treatment for a restricted segment involves a very quick, light force thrust applied into the direction of the restriction. There will often be a “popping” sound that is heard with an adjustment. [This sound] is created by little gas bubbles that are formed in the fluid inside the joint during an adjustment.

How do babies usually react to a joint adjustment? Are there any common reactions you can share?

Most of the time, babies have no reaction to an adjustment. Sometimes they will cry out for a moment because they are startled, but rarely do they cry for longer than a few seconds. After a treatment, babies are often very calm and relaxed, sometimes even falling asleep before the end of the visit.

Are there any risks to having a baby treated by a chiropractor?
There have been several studies published over the years concluding that indeed manual
therapies are safe for infants and children. The most recent review of the literature
published in 2015, which examined all published literature dating back 120 years to the
inception of the chiropractic profession, found a total of 15 reported serious adverse
events related to manual therapy, seven of which were attributed to chiropractors. In the
majority of these cases, a pre-existing underlying condition was present, leading the
authors to conclude that a thorough history and physical exam prior to administering
treatment may further reduce the incidence of adverse events.

How many visits do infants/babies usually require to see results?
Symptoms often resolve very quickly for infants. Usually, acute treatment is between 3-5 visits over the course of a few weeks. The more complicated the presenting complaint, the more treatment is often needed though rarely more than six to eight weeks.

When could a parent expect to see changes in their baby’s behavior as a result of an adjustment?
Often there will be some change in the baby’s behavior or presenting complaint right away. Either a colicky baby will be calmer and more relaxed, or a baby with difficulty latching will have a great latch right away. Other times such changes occur incrementally over a couple of visits. If baby’s symptoms are unchanged after several visits, the doctor of chiropractic will look more at what else might be going on with diet, supplements, stool testing, etc, to ensure that all possible contributing factors are being addressed.

Most pediatricians remain skeptical about the use of chiropractors for children. Read other opinions on whether you should take your baby to a chiropractor for colic here. 

I’m a married mom of two living in Seattle, WA. I have a seven-year-old little boy, a first grader! He’s a fairly reserved kid and all about Legos and building sets. I also have a little girl who turned three at the end of February. She’s a tiny thing but a big ham; we call her our clown. They’re a lot of work but also a ton of fun. I love to eat, cook, and run (in that order). But at the end of the day, give me a spot on the couch and a little bit of TV or a good book, I’m done!