Chiropractic in the Postnatal Period

Wow! So you’ve just had a baby!  What an amazing feat – and how incredible is the human body to be able to conceive, grow and birth a baby? And how incredible are babies who suddenly come out into the world and are able to breathe, suckle and exist? Life is truly incredible.

For some women, they are able to give birth vaginally, others by caesarean, or with help from vacuum extraction, forceps, gas, pethadine and epidurals. All of these ways take a toll on the woman’s body, and the baby, and can cause the postnatal (time after having the baby) period to be less than comfortable. Uncomplicated pregnancies can end in emergency C-section or even in a non-medicated natural birth, but both mother and infant have been under an immense amount of strain for the months leading up to the birth, and most definitely during the birth!

Mothers-to-be are at least carrying the extra weight of the baby, placenta, fluid, and 50% more blood volume. Their ligament’s are extra stretchy thanks to a wonderful hormone called relaxin which enables the spine and pelvis to help accommodate the changes necessary to get an about-to-be-born foetus through that awesome pelvis. This process may highlight weaknesses in the spine resulting in back pain or neck ache, broad ligament (the ligaments holding your pelvis together) discomfort or pubic symphysis or sacroiliac discomfort or pain (these are the joints that join the bones in your pelvis together). These joints need to be supple and mobile to open up your pelvis for the passage of your special little one. This can be achieved through optimum alignment from visiting your chiropractor, and plenty or walking, swimming and stretching (like yoga and pilates).

After the birth most women are quite sore and tender as their body pulls itself back together. Giving birth is like running a marathon, and muscles, ligaments and joints will ache from the exertion, being stretced and also from fatigue. Any areas of weakness in your alignment will be exacerbated, and handy relaxin stays in your system for 6 weeks to 6 months, which means you must look after yourself with a good diet, gentle exercise and stretching, and lifting baby, toddlers, prams and capsules very, very carefully. Women who have had prenatal chiropractic care, and know how good chiropractic can make their bodies feel, are keen to get themselves and their babies checked as soon as possible after the birth so that their bodies feel better and their nervous systems, and that of their newborns, are functioning optimally.

The foetus is snuggly curled in their mother’s uterus, gradually outgrowing this little home, and if a mother’s pelvis is not optimally positioned, the little babe can have difficulty getting to the head-down position, or even rotated correctly for an easy birth. Babies facing posterior (their spine facing their mother’s spine) typically have more difficult and longer births, which can be more painful for the mother and often end in more intervention (forceps, vacuum extraction, C-section). Babies can also be cramped up or tangled in their umbilical cord, and may even be cramped by fibroids in the wall of the uterus. These instances can have an effect on the baby’s freedom of movement, but the method with which they are born can have far reaching effects.

My second son, a few hours old

Some natural births can be long and arduous, the baby may get stuck along the way at times, which will have it’s effects on the molding of the cranial bones. Forceps, vacuum extraction and any forcible pulling and twisting of the neck done by the obstetrician will have a massive impact on the infant’s cranial molding and delicate nervous system. Not only can this cause flattened or coned head shapes but can unduly stress the nervous system, leading to poor latching, poor sucking, excessive crying, “colic” and even nerve damage or bleeding (haemorrhage) in the brain.

Caesarians are often thought of as ‘the easy way out’. Unfortunately this is not the case. Firstly this major abdominal surgery cuts through the abdominal muscles that can weaken the mother’s pelvic floor leading to back pain, incontinence and prolapsed organs if not exercised and rehabilitated (this goes for natural birth mamas too!). For the infant, there is a significant amount of stress on the spine and nervous system as the baby is pulled out of a small cut in the abdomen via forceps or vacuum or by the surgeon tugging and twisting on the neck and shoulders after the head is disengaged from the pelvis. Cranial molding does not occur as the baby’s head does not pass through the vaginal canal, which has an unmeasured effect on the delicate interaction of the cerebrospinal fluid (which surrounds and cushions the spinal cord and brain) that is pumped around the nervous system.

Poor latching to the breast, poor feeding, excessive crying and “colic” are often symptoms of a strenuous prenatal period and/or birth and are the reasons many parents bring their child to a chiropractor. The chiropractor does not ‘treat’ any of the above symptoms but checks for strain and interference in the cranial bones and spine of the infant and gently adjusts the spine using fingertip pressure.

Please do not take my blog as gospel. To inform yourself please speak to other parents who have had children under chiropractic care. Also access PubMed by Googling phrases like “PubMed chiropractic and newborns”. The scientific literature is by no means complete but it is growing.

Congratulations if you have just had a baby! But please consult with your midwife, postnatal doula, to help you figure out your new role. A visit to your chiropractor is a good idea to get yourself back into alignment, especially if aches and pains are not resolving.

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