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Spinal Injury at Birth

Labor and delivery can be traumatic, even under the best circumstances. While we know the stress and strain is hard on mom, it can be just as hard on the child making his or her way into the world. Spinal injury during birth is all too common. Here are the most frequently asked questions about this silent epidemic.

What is traumatic birth syndrome?
Research suggests that as many as one-quarter of newborns have a spinal misalignment or signs of neck stress. The condition, known as traumatic birth syndrome (TBS), can be caused by a number of delivery factors, including:

  • Twisting of the head, neck, or back as the infant is pulled from the birth canal
  • Long or difficult labor
  • Instrument-assisted birth (such as forceps or a vacuum)

The condition can lead to nerve damage, which interferes with messages sent between the spine and the rest of the body. Some babies with TBS show significant symptoms, such as paralysis or respiratory problems.
But not all of the symptoms are as apparent. Infants with birth-related spinal injury might be irritable or colicky. These babies also might be poor feeders or sleepers. The effects of TBS can be long lasting. Babies with misalignments can grow into children prone to illnesses, such as ear infections or colds.

How can a chiropractor help?
The chiropractor will adjust your baby’s spine into the correct position, using gentler techniques than those used on adults. In fact, spinal manipulations on infants don’t produce the loud popping sound that is characteristic of treatment in adults.

Is chiropractic care safe for babies?
Research shows that chiropractic adjustments are safe for babies. In fact, chiropractic care is much safer and produces far fewer side effects than over-the-counter and prescription medications.

How soon can my infant see a chiropractor?
A chiropractor can evaluate a newborn as soon as a few hours after birth. Some chiropractic experts recommend that babies also see a chiropractor for an evaluation when they reach certain milestones, such as when the child can hold up his or her head or starts to crawl.

Byers RK. Spinal cord injuries during birth. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology 1975; vol. 17(1):103-110.

Fielding JW. Cervical spine injuries in children. Fractures and Dislocations; Pediatric Fractures, vol. 3, 2nd edition. Philadelphia, J.B. Lippincott, p. 422-427.

Curran JS. Birth associated injury. Clinics in Perinatology Feb. 1981; vol. 8(1):111-127.
Dickman CA, et al. Pediatric spinal trauma: vertebral column and spinal cord injuries in children. Pediatric Neurosci 1989; vol. 15:237-256.