Have you ever thought about the way a baby’s position or postural strain affects their development? Wait, babies can have postural strain? Yes!
It starts at birth
Often, a baby’s spinal joints can be restricted and irritated from the process of birth itself. All that pushing, compression, twisting and then pulling can easily aggravate their soft spinal joints because, when we are born, our bones are actually composed mostly of cartilage. Not until we are in our early twenties do our bones fully ossify into bone. As a result, a child’s spine is very “impressionable” to repeated postures, motions, and positioning. Irritation to those joints and their neighbouring nerves can affect a baby’s ability to move and develop appropriately. This is why we encourage parents to schedule a spinal check for their newborns – to start off on the right foot, right from the start!
Skipping stages contributes to spinal stress
A child’s postural development goes from head down. It starts by learning to lift the head as a newborn, then it progresses to pushing up on to hands, controlling arms and hands to purposefully reach and grab, rolling over, sitting, crawling, pulling up, standing, and eventually walking around age 1. Anything that skips these stages is not developmentally appropriate for baby. For example, sitting in a Bumbo style seat before they can hold their head independently, or putting them in baby jumpers before they can stand is jumping developmental stages. This puts repetitively compressive forces on a spine that cannot yet bear the weight. Best advice is to simply skip these devices altogether.
Repetitive motions and positions can cause spinal stress
As they grow, babies experience repetitive motions and postures. Think about how many times a day a baby has their diaper changed with their legs flexed up toward their head? Then consider how many hours they spend in car seats, strollers, bouncers, swings and exersaucers? These positions share something in common. They all stress the baby’s spine at the T12/L1 area. This is one of the most common joint restrictions that we detect in babies and young children. The nerves coming from these areas supply the digestive organs, particularly the intestines, as well as the legs and feet. Two of the most common concerns that parents have with the babies that we see are constipation and difficulties with motor development milestones such as rolling, crawling, and walking. What needs to be working properly to avoid constipation? Digestive organs. What needs to be functioning well for crawling and walking? The legs. Coincidence? Probably not!
There are 3 easy ways to help reduce these postural stresses. The first is to put baby on their tummy on the floor as much as possible when you are not holding them. In the first year of life, being on the floor should be the “default” position as opposed to defaulting to a swing or bouncy chair for example. Of course, swings, sitters etc. are needed sometimes – we need to keep baby happy and safe while we take a shower or deal with another child for example. For the most part though, the best spot for baby to be is on the floor rolling around and exploring as much as possible for optimal neurological and musculoskeletal development. In the first year of life, a baby’s “occupation” is to learn how to get from horizontal to vertical in order to stand and walk. To do that they have to start out on their tummy and learn how to push themselves up against gravity. That can’t be done on their back, and it can’t be done if they are contained in a seat or swing most of the time. Defaulting to floor time will reduce repetitive pressures in their spine, while also helping their development.
A second way to reduce repetitive stress on the T12/L1 spinal segments is to modify the way we change diapers. Instead of lifting baby’s feet up over their head each time they need a diaper change (which is a lot!), we can hold them securely by the shoulder and roll them to the side to wipe their bottom, and then do the same on the other side. This works best for a wet diaper. If there is a dirty diaper, then you probably do need to lift the legs up to get everything clean!
And of course, the third way to reduce the effects of repetitive strain on the baby’s spine is to get them checked by a pediatric chiropractor to see if they need any spinal adjustments. Pediatric chiropractors use gentle, safe, and effective adjustment techniques that are specifically catered to the developing spine of a child. In fact, they are so gentle that babies sometimes continue sleeping during their adjustments!
If you, or someone you know, has questions about pediatric chiropractic care for their baby or child, just let us know, we are always happy to chat with you further!
By: Dr. Janice Oldham, BAH, D.C., CACCP