A Touch to Fear: Chiropractic and the Newborn Baby

Sep 2, 2014

By Clay Jones


A significant part of my job as a pediatric hospitalist involves caring for newborns. It is arguably the best thing that I get to do as a physician, even if I do at times prefer the increased intellectual stimulation of the ill hospitalized child. While seeing newborns, I am almost always surrounded by happy and appreciative parents, grandparents and whoever else is invited to meet and greet the new arrival because the babies are almost always healthy. In fact, and not that I really care (sniff, sniff), the parents of newborns are with rare exception the only caregivers that ever thank me at discharge.

Unfortunately, sometimes I am called upon to assist babies that are having difficulty transitioning into the outside world for a variety of reasons. These reasons can range from the fairly minor and transient to the catastrophic. And despite our advances in the understanding of neonatal pathophysiology and in medical technology, there remain newborn infants that cannot be saved or who have severe lifelong deficits caused by their illness or injury. This will likely always be the case, especially if unqualified professionals continue to involve themselves in either the delivery or the care of babies.

Over the course of 11 years of practice, and after having seen thousands of both perfectly healthy and severely ill newborns, I have acquired a skill set which allows for the recognition of a baby in trouble and the ability to respond appropriately. All pediatricians and family doctors strive to develop this, particularly if they see patients in the newborn nursery, although I imagine none, including myself, would claim to have perfected this “art”. Newborn medicine can be very challenging for many reasons, not the least of which is the significant overlap of the presenting signs and symptoms of many serious conditions, with even normal baby behavior sometimes mimicking potentially life-threatening pathology.

Take a fussy or jittery baby for example. These are common symptoms often experienced as part of normal newborn behavior or related to environmental insults such as hunger, overstimulation, or a wet diaper. Frequently babies are fussy for no apparent reason at all, and normal newborn findings like the Moro reflex and startle can be exaggerated but within the wide range of what is normal. But fussiness or jitteriness can be the presenting symptoms for hypothermia, hypoglycemia, hypocalcemia, opioid withdrawal, meningitis, pneumonia, sepsis, necrotizing enterocolitis, a collapsed lung, a broken clavicle, hemorrhaging into the brain, a twisted testicle and much more.

While it is true that there are often historical clues or additional exam findings that can help differentiate the many possible causes of a newborn’s signs or symptoms, it isn’t always the case. Sometimes helpful clues develop over time, but time isn’t always a luxury we have. Waiting for a blood culture to become positive or for a baby to develop hypothermia and seizures before starting antibiotics would result in some very poor outcomes.

Healthcare professionals who care for newborns are trained to deal with most of the complications that can arise in the immediate period after a baby is born. We are qualified in neonatal resuscitation and regularly maintain our skills by attending classes and taking part in simulated cases. And again, we see actual sick babies. Some of us, particularly neonatologists, see a lot of them.

I tell you all this to provide some insight into my utter revulsion at the concept of chiropractors taking part in the care of any newborn infant, let alone one that might require medical intervention to save their life or prevent long-term complications. I realize that readers of Science-Based Medicine are almost certainly aware of the push by many practitioners of so-called alternative medicine to be accepted as a primary care provider or PCP. There are a number of posts that discuss their legal tactics by Jan Bellamy, for instance. And several that point out the absurdity of it all considering the lack of a fund of knowledge and appropriate training that could even remotely qualify them to successfully prevent or treat real medical problems, as opposed to their litany of fictitious ailments.


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13 comments on “A Touch to Fear: Chiropractic and the Newborn Baby

  • One would think the track record for delivering healthy babies was really poor in countries using modern western medicine instead of the reverse. There comes a point at which the hospital needs to stand firm.

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  • I’m not sure if people outside Australia can watch view this for stupid regional restrictions, but it is a documentary by Australia’s leading scientific TV broadcast show, Catalyst, on chiropractic, including its application to children. One appalling scene is a chiropractic surgery, full of mothers with tiny children, having their spines manipulated to prevent allergies and similar medical problems… WT…

    I’m not sure if Clay Jones has seen this, or whether he reads these comments. But I would commend the program to him.


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  • Plays in the u.s.

    Maddening that those, those, wtfs, are preying on vulnerable mothers. Guess they know how to stay just shy of crossing the woo-line, sneaky bloody b*ds.

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  • The story also illustrates how risky an at home delivery is.

    I know, I’m quotemining. The rest of the article I found as interesting and scary as intended, and I’ve no gripes with the author’s stated view, except in the above mined quote.

    Childbirth is not a medical emergency, usually. Not until it is. One way of preparing for such emergencies is to have full emergency facilities immediately available. In other words, have the birth in a maternity hospital.

    But for those births that are NOT medical emergencies, isn’t there a temptation to imagine it might be? After all, we have all this emergency equipment and expertise standing by. But a healthy woman in labour is not a sick or injured person in need or medical intervention, though that’s how it is framed once she’s in the hospital.

    Personally I’ve experienced the best of both hospital- and home-birth. First child in hospital, because too many unknowns to feel sufficiently confident to go against the prevailing advice and have the birth at home. Second and third at home, as the first was uneventful and the mother healthy. Second was attended by a wonderful midwife, very hippy touchy feely lala in demeanour, made the whole thing seem like the joyous non-emergency welcoming of the new identity into the world etc, very calming to the mother; but when the cord was wrapped round the baby’s neck the (metaphorical) gloves came off, and her True Identity as a genuine and well trained midwife sprang to the surface, and she dealt with it with minimum fuss, maximum authority and a bottle of oxygen that we hadn’t even noticed she had. It was like watching Clark Kent transform into Superman.

    Child and mother have been fine for over 10 years since, so a Happy Ending to that story.

    Point being: while warning about inappropriately trained and overconfident personnel taking part in childbirth, please don’t leap to the (unwarranted) conclusion that “the story illustrates how risky an at home delivery is”.

    It’s not home delivery that’s the danger here, and dissing it in this way is insulting and/or scaremongering, and detracts from the rest of the article.

    I’m sure someone could counter with a True Story about inappropriate interference in a perfectly normal delivery by overworked or poorly managed hospital staff causing all kinds of unpleasant outcomes in a hospital delivery. I don’t want to see that, but I don’t think the (mined) quote should stand unchallenged.

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  • Thanks for that, David, but I meant “in a hospital delivery”.

    However, I’m pleased to report, the homebirth midwives I encountered were competent, unlike the person mentioned in the article you linked. Anyone considering home vs hospital would need to be very careful about finding a suitable (ie competent) midwife for home birth. Equally, they’d need to be very careful about doing “due diligence” on the hospital-based maternity care available.

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  • ‘Equally, they’d need to be very careful about doing “due diligence” on the hospital-based maternity care available.’

    I’m in the UK, could you explain why my lack of “due diligence” on the hospital-based maternity care available would put my wife at risk, or any woman for that matter?

    I can’t say that I put much thought into who my wife’s Midwives were at the time. All I know is that they HAD to be qualified to be in that position.

    Is there a list available of competent midwives available somewhere?

    Is this not just your own ‘Scaremongering’?

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