As a chiropractor who treats babies and toddlers, I often share with parents’ insights on how to improve their child’s quality of sleep. After all, good sleep helps to develop alertness and memory in addition to strengthening the immune system. Additionally, research has shown pediatric sleep disorders contribute to attention deficit, hyperactivity, mood disturbances and memory problems. Ensuring your newborn or toddler develops a healthy sleep routine is important and safe and gentle chiropractic care may help.
Why is sleep important for babies and toddlers?
Sleeping difficulties are common with babies and toddlers and can become disruptive to the entire family as someone has to get up and help a child fall back to sleep. Research has shown the importance of sleep with young children in developing memory function and learning. In fact, there is proven science documenting strong links between sleep quality and quantity with daytime cognitive and behavioral performance of children. One such study showed persistent reduction of only 1 hour of a child’s sleep at age 40 months can adversely impact a child’s academic performance by age 6. This adds to the evidence showing the importance of babies and toddlers having healthy sleeping patterns today, for the betterment of their behavior and academic performance tomorrow (years later). Plus, children who sleep better are less prone to sleepwalking, nightmares, and moodiness.
Common reasons why babies and toddlers are not sleeping welling:
- Night sweats
- Restless sleep
- Poor appetite in mornings
- Sleepy during the day
- Poor attention span
- Moody / aggressive
- Crying spells
- Sleep walking
- Unable to sit still
- Stomach complaints / colic
- Achy legs
How much sleep should babies and toddler get?
Newborns have sizable sleep requirements; upwards of 16 hours in a 24-hour period, evenly divided between night and day sleeps. Initially the sleep cycle of a newborn is dependent on feeding, with waking during the night every 2-3 hours for feeding (with the occasional 5-hour cycle), and sleep cycles during the day being divided into 4 equal naps generally of 2 hours each.
By 6 months, a baby’s night sleeping patterns start to reflect that of their parents, no longer requiring overnight feeds (Research) & (Research). At this point the total number of hours a newborn sleep continues to decrease, diminishing to 12 hours by age 3 (Research). Day sleeping also gradually decreases; reducing to 1 nap a day at 18 months which by age 4 is entirely phased out (Research). But even if your baby or newborn is receiving the proper hours of sleep, they may still wake up tired and restless the next day due to poor quality sleep.
What is Chiropractic Care for Babies & Toddlers?
Chiropractors evaluate the musculoskeletal system and identify any mechanical issues and underlying causes of sleeping difficulties. If detected, with gentle care soft tissue massage, mobilizations and or gentle adjustments are carefully applied to relieve any stress on baby or newborn’s spine, leaving their bodies able to relax when sleeping.
Chiropractic care applies targeted delicate manipulations to promote self-healing through restoration of the baby or toddler’s nervous system’s functioning. It’s a painless, natural, drug-free, and subtle hands-on intervention. Know that a chiropractic care for babies and toddlers is not the same procedures and techniques applied to adults.
For example, chiropractic care can help improve flexibility and movement in a baby or toddler’s joints, something important in the rib and chest region for breathing. Restricted flexibility in this region reduces respiration capabilities of the chest wall. While this is not always apparent when a child is awake, the increased energy needed for full deep breathing while sleeping takes its toll and can leave a child restless and tired when they wake up in the morning.
How Chiropractic Care Can Help a Baby or Toddler Sleep
Chiropractic care can help restore healthy spinal and central nervous system function. Research has shown improvements in the functioning of a baby or toddler’s spine and central nervous system resulted in improved:
- sleep duration
- reduced night-waking,
- reduced length of time required to fall asleep
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This is due to chiropractic care being effective in:
- reducing discomfort or pain experienced by a child,
- Improving feeding quality
- Improving spine biomechanics & the musculoskeletal system
- Improving the child’s neurological functioning
It’s important to know that sleep is a complex homeostatic (state of balance) function, in part regulated by the autonomic nervous system, which is separated into the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.
- The sympathetic central nervous system, similar to a gas pedal, is your body’s stress and fight or flight response.
- The parasympathetic central nervous system, similar to a brake pedal, controls digestion, relaxation, rest and immune function.
A subluxation (disruption to the spine) occurs when a vertebra of the spine ever so slightly moves out of position causing irritation on nerves within the spine. Spinal nerves, now protruding from between the bones, then malfunction and interfere with messaging (signals) taking place within the central nervous system between the brain and body. Studies have proven subluxations can occur and sustain in place without pain, yet still disturb proper nerve function.
Any pressure or subluxation to a baby or newborns’ nervous system can trigger a dominant sympathetic (fight or flight) state limiting their ability to rest, relax, and digest properly along with reducing their immune system functions. The child’s overall ability to sleep and realize the full cognitive and developmental benefits of healthy rest and sleep is compromised.
Establishing balance between a baby or newborn’s sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system is the chief objective in treating your child with chiropractic care. This is because any pressure or subluxation (trauma or stress) on the spinal cord and or brain stem that can disrupt the nervous system’s signaling (and balance) is commonly found to be the culprit preventing your child’s ability to sleep.
Research published in the Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics (JCCP), documented infants sleep better when under chiropractic care. In the research involving 117 infants brought in for chiropractic care, their parents were asked to complete a questionnaire on their children’s sleep patterns and behaviors. The parents were then asked to complete follow up questionnaires on subsequent visits for chiropractic care, the 1st, 4th and 7th visit to the chiropractic clinic. The research concluded parents reported significant improvements in:
- time required to fall asleep
- number of continuous hours of sleep
- deep quality sleep from only a few chiropractic treatments
Source: Dr. Joyce Miller and Evidence Based Chiropractic Care for Infants (chiropracticscience.com)
How a Baby & Toddler’s Nervous System is Disrupted
Stressor that can interfere with the healthy functioning of a child’s nervous system can come from thoughts, traumas and toxins.
- Thoughts (emotional): Medical testing, Time in the hospital/NICU, stress on the mother and family, etc.
- Traumas (physical): In-utero constraint, birth trauma, car seats, falls, injuries, baby carriers, etc.
- Toxins (chemical): antibiotics, soaps, vaccines, lotions, formula, cleaning products, etc.
These stressors to a baby or newborn’s nervous system can produce subluxations misaligning the spine and affecting the proper functioning of the nervous system and its ability to adapt to different environments. I specialize in finding and correcting your child’s subluxation in order for them to function optimally and sleep better.
Having Your Baby or Toddler Receive Chiropractic Care: What to Expect
Chiropractic care for babies and toddlers involves a gentle touch massaging of joints and muscles associated with the spine. The objective is to identify and correct any spinal imbalances. Any imbalance left untreated can produce inflammation that irritates nerves which in turn stresses the nervous system disrupting its proper functioning. The purpose of a baby or toddler gentle chiropractic adjustment is to alleviate stress so that baby and or toddler (and family) can sleep. By adjusting the locked elements in a child’s body (cranial bones, neck, and spine) we can alleviate discomfort, improve both relaxation and blood flow all which will help your child sleep better.
It’s understandable for parents to feel nervous when having their baby or toddler receive chiropractic care for the first time. So, parents are clear on what their child’s first appointment will look like, here are the main components of a baby or toddler new patient exam:
1. Detailed History
I start with mom’s pregnancy and continue up through and to your appointment date. Early-life possible interferences of the nervous system can surface and present today in many ways – so we maintain a holistic understanding and approach in our analysis.
2. Postural Assessment
I look for rotations and/or tilts with your child’s head, shoulders, and hips. For babies, this assessment is often performed while the child is laying on their back. If your baby is walking, from the side while standing I will review the curvature of their spine
3. Primitive Reflexes
I test primitive reflexes (newborn reflexes) in order to assess the development of your child’s neurology. For example, the “grasping reflex” is a motion babies produce involuntarily. Reflex performance can indicate stress in your child’s nervous system.
4. Palpation of the Spine
In effort to identify spinal misalignments I gently assess the movement of the bones in the neck and back. This can be performed from different positions, allowing us to assess from wherever your child is most comfortable, including being held in your arms.
If I find spinal misalignments, I will recommend a procedure such as an adjustment. The pressure applied in a chiropractic adjustment for a child is a delicate one or two-finger method and similar to what you would use in testing the ripeness of an avocado, as the bones of children are soft and not fully formed.
I typically demonstrate this technique and amount of pressure on the parent’s wrist to give them certainty of what the adjustment would feel like for their baby.
I hope this is helpful in giving you a sense of what to expect at your baby or toddler’s first visit with me.