Moms of non-sleeping babies will try anything

They’ll pace, swing, rock and jiggle them until they (moms and babes) are exhausted or put them in the car and drive around the neighbourhood. But most of these baby sleep solutions are just short-term.

It’s not always obvious what’s causing your baby’s poor sleeping. Is she fussing a lot, does she seem to be in pain, is she very sensitive to stimulation, is she feeding well? Or has she just developed sleeping habits?

Experts like GPs, paediatricians, or sleep therapists are consulted when it comes to baby sleep problems, but in recent years, chiropractors have become another option. Chiropractors use gentle adjustment is used to restore normal mobility and optimize nervous system function to minimise pain and stiffness.

But does it work?

Chiropractors don’t promise a miracle cure for sleep problems. In fact, they tend to view sleep problems as part of a more general condition of irritable, niggly and colicky babies.
Pietermaritzburg chiropractor Caroline van Lingen says that while she has helped many babies, sleep is a complex issue: “Each age group presents with its own set of challenges and problems, which require a slightly different protocol. Although a formula can be applied to the process, children are different and will respond in their own way.”

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She doesn’t claim that her approach works in isolation. She encourages good sleep routines, consulting sleep experts, and occupational therapists to help with the problem.

“Successfully solving sleep dilemmas in infants requires a multidisciplinary approach, with professions working together during a process of elimination.

“A GP or paediatrician will check weight gain, overall health, and make sure that your baby isn’t suffering from an illness that might affect sleep like a urinary tract infection, sore throat, ear infection, reflux, or allergy.

“A clinic sister can be very helpful when it comes to feeding-related issues. A baby who isn’t eating, won’t sleep well.”

Signs that your baby might be in pain

Chiropractors can help when your baby is in pain. Van Lingen explains:

“At the end of the pregnancy, there’s not a lot of space left for infants to move around and they spend a few weeks lying in the perfect position for birth, which is head down and slightly rotated. The neck is in a pretty restricted and fixed position. If the forehead is wedged onto part of the pelvis, the neck can be forced into extension and after birth these infants have a loss of normal range motion in their necks.”

The following may indicate that your baby is in pain:

  • Your baby likes to be held and cradled and cries when you put her down flat
  • Necks should be floppy from birth so don’t mistake a stiff and sore neck as strong
  • She suddenly hates her baby chair or gets restless when put down to sleep in her usual position
  • There are lots of pressure marks and stork marks on her body
  • She refuses to latch or feeds on one side

Debunking the myths

When parents hear the word ‘chiropractor’, they often imagine cracking bones or wrenching movements. Not so … gentle fingertip pressure is applied.

The sceptics

Many in the medical world are sceptical of chiropractic treatment. As far as anecdotal evidence goes, we heard from moms who felt it had really helped their babies and others who weren’t so sure.

Problems like colic and irritability tend to be self-limiting, so it’s not always clear whether a baby has been cured or the condition has just improved over time.

Cape Town paediatrician Deon Smith says he’s been impressed by the results he’s seen:
“About 10 years ago I started hearing patients talking about a chiropractor, Dr Anna Keating, who was having a lot of success with colic and torticollis, which angles a baby’s head to one side because of its position in utero. We met and she talked me through what she does, which is very gentle massage – no ‘ruk en druk’.

“When I’ve ruled out everything and the colic is not responding to treatment, I often refer patients to her. Around 70% of my colic patients seem to improve with her help. The babies seem calmer and sleep better.”

Smith admits he doesn’t quite know how it helps.

“Stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system seems to relax the baby. It’s a combination of warmth, massage, and working with the parents.

“We don’t have all the answers, so I keep an open mind. Colic, for instance, is a multi-factorial condition that isn’t dangerous and cannot be cured with medication. I think it often helps parents to try alternatives and Anna takes a cautious approach.”