“We took our son at three days old and he melted into her arms as she adjusted him,” she said. “With my daughter Sicily, our chiropractor attended our home birth and adjusted our daughter at only two hours old while I was breastfeeding her. Again, Sicily was melting into our arms as she received her first adjustment after birth.”
TikToker and mom Elizabeth Owens told BuzzFeed News she also went to the chiropractor while she was pregnant with her daughter Goldie. She decided to take the baby for an adjustment as soon as she was born after reading about “the trauma babies go through during birth.” She said it has helped her baby daughter relax and sleep better and relieved constipation for her other child, who was 1 year old at the time.
“It isn’t cracks and pops, it’s gentle massages and stretches done on places that cause discomfort,” she said. “There my newborn and toddler don’t know what it is, and I see physical changes in them after every appointment.”
Some chiropractors like Danny DeReuter, who practices in Georgia and posts videos on TikTok working on babies for his nearly 84,000 followers, recommends all parents and caregivers bring their babies in for an evaluation.
However, Pelley said it’s critical that the child’s healthcare team deems chiropractic an appropriate treatment based on the youngster’s medical history and needs.
Dr. Stephen George, an orthopedic surgeon and director of spine surgery at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Florida, agrees. He said understanding the cause behind the pain or misalignment is key, otherwise chiropractors “may be doing patients harm if they blindly assume that a manipulation won’t hurt them.”
Studies show that adults in rare cases can experience neurological complications following neck manipulations, such as stroke and decreased blood flow to the brain, according to a 2002 review published in the journal Paediatrics & Child Health.
“When you look at the literature, the risk profile of a lot of the techniques and manipulations they do is pretty low, but the data on the success of them is also not always strong,” George told BuzzFeed News. “In our treatment algorithm, we may try some things that are less evidence-based, but we always have to risk stratify … and being realistic about what your appetite for risk is very important.”
Some experts are even less inclined to consider chiropractic adjustments as an option in pediatric care.
“Babies and children are not little adults. They’re an entirely different entity as far as their anatomy, how they experience pain, and how their muscles and bones interact,” said Dr. Sean Tabaie, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at Children’s National Hospital in Washington, DC. “If it really helps, then that’s fine, you should do what you think helps your child, but you should be aware of the consequences.
“I would never recommend a kid go to the chiropractor,” he added.
Children are considered developmentally immature until age 14 for girls and 16 for boys, Tabaie said. Manipulating babies’ tiny bodies can damage their soft tissue, which includes muscles, nerves, and blood vessels, he said.
An injury to a vessel, for example, could lead to stroke or, in more serious cases, paralysis. Tabaie said he’s heard anecdotally that a child developed a pulmonary embolism — a blood clot that travels to the lungs and blocks blood flow — after a chiropractic adjustment, which is very rare in healthy kids.
“There’s no quick fix,” Tabaie said. “As adults, we have aches and pains, we feel stiff, but those things don’t correlate with children. So, it’s not an apples-to-apples thing.”
As for dangling babies upside down by their legs, it is a legit technique taught in chiropractic school — albeit a controversial one, according to DeReuter, the Georgia TikTok chiropractor. In fact, in 2019, an Australian chiropractor sparked outrage after holding a 2-week-old baby upside down in a viral video.
Although it’s been taught since chiropractic’s inception, the field has since become a more “evidence-informed practice,” Pelley said. In other words, the technique has got to go: “That is not a practice that I think is appropriate. There’s no reason to be doing that.”