If you’ve seen the shocking footage this week of a chiropractor manipulating a two-week-old baby’s spine, you might be wondering what therapies are safe and effective for infants and young children.
According to Professor Paul Colditz, the most important thing is choosing treatment that is evidence-based.
“There’s certainly no evidence that the sorts of manipulations and movements that were being undertaken could confer any benefit for the baby,” the spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of Paediatricians told The New Daily.
“Someone should have a look at the baby [and] come up with a diagnosis. It’s most likely – but not necessarily – the case that the baby is normal. Most newborn babies are unsettled at some stage.”
Nicole Haynes, chair of the Australian Physiotherapy Association’s Paediatric group, agrees that parents should look to proven treatments.
“If they’re going to seek treatment from a therapist, they need to know what sort of treatment that therapist may be able to provide,” she tells The New Daily.
“Some of those alternative and unproven therapies could put children at risk of harm. Some of those risks can be quite significant, life-disabling and life-threatening.”
Where to go for help
If parents have concerns about their infant’s health, Professor Colditz says a general practitioner or child-health nurse has the training and expertise to help.
He explains that while serious problems are rare, these practitioners can set you on the right path if needed. This could include going into hospital or getting referred to a paediatrician.
Many larger medical practices will have a doctor with an interest in children’s health, he says. Online forums can be a good place to seek recommendations.
All babies cry
Crying commonly causes distress for new parents, but Professor Colditz emphasises that all babies cry, and it peaks at six to eight weeks post-birth.
“Some babies cry more than others and there’s a tiny group who spend most of their time crying,” he explains. “It’s extremely distressing for everyone.”
These babies may require testing to work out what’s going on, but often grow to be normal, healthy children. In the meantime, the family might need extra support to cope.
He adds that the same period is the peak for sleep deprivation, so “any irritant is likely to be magnified”.
Get the support you need
The combination of disturbed sleep and a crying baby can place significant stress on parents.
“Everyone has different needs, and this can be a very challenging time after the birth of a baby,” Professor Colditz says.
Other needs include problems with breastfeeding, the mental health of both parents and relationship stresses, he adds.
Rather than seeking a quick-fix remedy, Professor Colditz recommends getting the support you need. Often, this will come from the GP or child health nurse, who will discuss your situation and help find appropriate services.
Occasionally a residential care environment – with 24/7 access to nursing support – can be the best option. Ms Haynes adds that if parents have concerns about their child’s physical development or musculoskeletal health, a paediatric physiotherapist can help.
“As a paediatric physio, we do hear of people seeking treatment from chiropractors quite frequently, which is concerning where there is no evidence for it,” she says.
She notes that while the GP is the best person to see regarding crying, there is evidence for physiotherapy treatment of some musculoskeletal conditions in infants.
For anyone wanting to delve deeper into the evidence, Professor Colditz advises looking online at the Cochrane database.
It contains quality data about thousands of therapies and has been made freely available by the Australian government. It is scientific, but also has consumer summaries.
If you need help
PANDA – Perinatal Anxiety & Depression Australia supports women, men and families across Australia affected by anxiety and depression during pregnancy and in the first year of parenthood. Call 1300 726 306.
Beyondblue – Support for anxiety, depression and suicide prevention. Call 1300 22 4636.