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Pregnancy, babies and chiropractic

By Martin Harvey BSc MChiropractic MCAA

Pregnancy is a time of great change for your body, especially your spine. As your belly grows your spine changes shape so that your low back arches back more, your hips move forward and your body compensates to balance you by moving your head and neck forward. These changes mean that there is a lot more pressure on your low back, pelvis, upper back and neck. Also the level of a hormone called Relaxin increases. Relaxin softens the ligaments that hold your spinal and pelvic bones in place. This makes the pelvic joints more flexible during labour, but it can also mean that your spinal and pelvic bones are more likely to malfunction. These two factors mean that it is very common for spinal problems to occur during pregnancy.

As a chiropractor I take care of many pregnant women. Some of the benefits that women see in having chiropractic care are that they feel physically more comfortable, they feel more healthy and more relaxed and they feel it has helped them in their preparation for labour. In fact a research project in New York found that women who had chiropractic care during their pregnancies had, on average, shorter labour times than women who did not. For first time mothers the average labour time for women receiving chiropractic care was 24% shorter. For women who had previously given birth the average labour time was 39% shorter. Another American study has shown that regular chiropractic care during pregnancy reduced the likelihood of back labour, a common complication of labour.

The most common problem that I see is vertebral subluxation. Vertebral subluxation is a condition where the bones of the spine malfunction and stretch, choke or irritate the delicate nerves nearby. The vertebrae malfunction when they lose their proper alignment or motion. Nerves carry signals to every cell, tissue and organ in your body and are the main way that your brain controls how your body functions.

Julie is the mother of two children, Jacob and Isabel, both born at Moorabbin Birth Centre. Julie had chiropractic care during both her pregnancies. " I had been having regular chiropractic care for several years before I got pregnant with Jacob and found that it helped me be much healthier overall. It seemed natural to keep having adjustments through my pregnancies while my body was going through so much change. I found it a real help in keeping me healthy and comfortable. I also think that having my pelvis, spine and nerves working properly helped my labour go more smoothly and I would recommend anyone who is pregnant look at getting chiropractic care."

The Chiropractic approach

The chiropractic approach is to restore function to the spinal bones allowing the nervous system to function without interference. The role of the nervous system is to control and coordinate the function (and health) of every cell, tissue and organ in the body. Because the nervous system, to a large degree, runs the other systems your body is able to work closer to your peak. The goal of chiropractic care then is not to treat ear infections, colic, asthma, sleep disturbances or any of the other symptoms that babies may have from vertebral subluxation, but to help return the nervous system to proper function. This, in turn, may help return health to the rest of the body.

Frequently asked questions:

1. Is it safe for me to have chiropractic care while I am pregnant? Yes. Chiropractors use modified techniques when you are pregnant to ensure that your care is safe and comfortable.
2. Will I need to have x-rays? No. X-rays are not used to assess spinal function when you are pregnant.
3. Will having chiropractic care be painful? Most people find that having chiropractic care is very comfortable.


Most people are surprised to learn that babies, some only a few days old, have their spines checked in a chiropractic office. Once the facts are explained though, most parents see that having their child's spine checked can be an important part of their healthcare.

Birth trauma

The birth process is potentially very stressful for a newborn's spine. A difficult birth, forceps delivery, vacuum extraction or Caesarean birth may produce significant stress on a newborn's delicate spine. In fact one gynaecologist, in speaking about the birth process said -

"The birth process, even under optimal controlled conditions is potentially a traumatic, crippling event for the foetus...the mechanical stress imposed by obstetrical manipulation - even the application of structural orthodox procedures may prove intolerable to the foetus. The view has been expressed clinically that most signs of neonatal injury observed in the delivery are neurological."

Chiropractors and medical doctors have found that this stress can easily cause vertebral subluxations. Vertebral subluxation is a condition where the bones of the spine malfunction or misalign and choke, stretch or irritate the delicate spinal nerves.

Babies' health

This nerve interference can cause many health problems. A study published in the German medical journal "Manual Medicine" involved a group of 1258 babies who had their spines examined by two medical doctors within 5 days of birth. Of this group 211 suffered from vomiting, hyperactivity or sleeplessness. Manual examination of the babies revealed spinal abnormalities in 95% of the group. The authors recommend spinal adjustments and note that they "...frequently resulted in immediate quieting, cessation of crying, muscular relaxation and sleepiness".

The authors noted that vertebral subluxation in the upper neck area caused "many clinical features from central motor impairment and development (sleeplessness, incoordination, seizures) through...impairments of vegetative regulatory systems (vomiting, digestive problems, elimination problems), to lowered resistance to infections, especially to ear, nose and throat infections."

A case history discussed in the article is of a 10 month old boy who suffered from tonsillitis, frequent enteritis, conjunctivitis, frequent colds and earaches and worsening sleep problems. After the first spinal adjustment the child was put to bed and slept peacefully until morning. His health returned to normal. Responses to spinal adjustments like this are common in chiropractic offices around the world.

When should children see a chiropractor?

In the first year of a child’s life a child's spine grows by 50%, or between 24 and 36 centimetres! It is also this time that a child’s spine starts to develop the essential secondary curves in their neck and low back. This period of great growth and development may also be a period of considerable spinal trauma. Infants, in learning to crawl, stand and walk are constantly falling and jarring their spines. Since the first year of life is so important for spinal development and the potential for trauma is high, chiropractors believe that chiropractic spinal checkups are particularly important at this time.

Between ages one and five the child's spine will grow, on average, a further 42%. From five to ten years of age there is a growth rate of about 20%. In adolescence growth is characteristically in spurts where a teenager may grow 7 to 12 centimetres in less than a year. Spinal growth and development continues until the mid-twenties. As a chiropractor I see that spinal problems can occur from trips, falls, carrying heavy school bags and the hundreds of other things that kids do. I see that vertebral subluxations occur in most children and can go unnoticed simply because the child has not complained of symptoms. Just as a dentist would not recommend that you wait until a child complains of toothache before they have a dental checkup, I recommend that parents not wait for back or neck pain before they have their spines checked.

Yours in health
Martin Harvey BSc MChiropractic MCAA

I am happy to answer questions or make recommendations for chiropractors with a special interest in care of pregnant women and or babies.

My contact details are: Martin Harvey
align chiropractic
165 Victoria Avenue
03 9696 1057

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