Failure to thrive is, just like it sounds, a failure of an infant to grow and gain weight as should be expected for their age. Newborns are measured and weighed regularly and a difference of a few ounces can make a difference when you only weigh 3 or 4 pounds. Failure to thrive can be a symptom resulting from other primary issues the child is suffering with. Things like not being able to latch properly to nurse or digestive issues that prevent food from being absorbed correctly could be the primary cause and need to be addressed first. However in 80% of the cases there is no other known issue causing the infant to not hit the weight and growth milestones expected for their age.
That is what was happening in this case of a 4 month old little girl diagnosed with failure to thrive by her pediatrician. The baby was dangerously underweight, only slept for 1 or 2 hours at a time, spent most of her time awake crying, and had chronic diarrhea. The pediatrician initially diagnosed her with a stomach infection and oral thrush, which is redness in and around the mouth from an infection. She was placed on anti fungal medications for the infection in her mouth but still continued to have all of the same symptoms six weeks later and was still losing weight. At this point she was referred to several pediatric specialists who, after a series of tests on her digestive system and blood work, officially labeled her with failure to thrive. Their treatment recommendation was to surgically implant a feeding tube in the child to try and get her nutrition.
Not surprisingly, this is the point the mother looked into alternative treatments and sought out a chiropractor.
The Chiropractor preformed a full evaluation of the infant including a history, during which the mother stated that the cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck when she was born but otherwise had a normal pregnancy and delivery. At birth she weighed 6 lbs. 10 oz. Now at 4 months old she was only 9 lbs. 5 oz. putting her in the lowest percentile for her age. She should have weighed between 12- 14 pounds at this stage.
During the physical exam by the Chiropractor the infant was clearly undernourished appearing frail and uncomfortable. If placed on her back she would cry and stick out her arms and legs in discomfort. The Chiropractor also noted subluxations, or misalignments in the bones, in her neck and upper back. These subluxations are felt by the Chiropractor palpating, or feeling, along the spine and noting the lack of normal motion of the spinal joints and the tenderness or tightness of the muscles surrounding these bones. These subluxations in the spine can have very negative affects to our health. Between these spinal joints the nerves exit from our spinal cord to go to all of the organs, tissues and cells of our body. Nothing happens in our body without direct communication from our nervous system through these nerves. A decrease in the signal as it travels down these nerves will affect the parts of the body it is supplying.
The Chiropractic treatment involves adjustment of these spinal joints that are not moving using light pressure with their fingertips and use of an adjusting instrument to the fixed or “stuck” joints. The adjustment returns normal motion to the spinal joints, which in turn will allow normal flow of the signal down the nerves to the body. This is the key to why taking care of your spine with proper Chiropractic care is so important, not just for aches and pains, but to make sure your body is working at its full potential.
After the girls first adjustment she slept for a few hours continuously and didn’t wake up crying. After her second adjustment a few days later she could lie on her back without arching her back and sticking out her arms and legs in pain. She also started to have normal colored and formed stools. At the end of her first week of care she had gained 2 oz. At the end of her second week of care she gained another 2 oz. By the third week of care she was sleeping through the night and the mother reported she was just a happier baby during the time she was awake. At the end of 7 weeks of care she was up to 11 lbs. 2 oz. From birth she had only averaged 2 oz. of weight gain per week. During the 7 weeks of Chiropractic care she was averaging over 4 oz. of gain per week. Due to the regular weight gain and the obvious change in her child the mother elected to not do the feeding tube surgery. A long term follow up showed a healthy, happy 5 year old girl that was hitting all developmental milestones.
This is yet another great study showing how beneficial chiropractic care can be for problems other than back pain and neck pain.
I read research articles all the time and I’m well aware of the limitations of a study like this. Yes it is only one patient and sure they could have gotten better on their own. It may just be coincidence. But this isn’t the only study to have similar findings. There were several other papers published showing similar results with other infants diagnosed with failure to thrive that were referenced in this study. The one difference in those papers is that the other cases all had infants that also had other diagnoses such as cystic fibrosis or Down’s syndrome. This case was the only one that the patient was diagnosed strictly with failure to thrive.
Also with a basic understanding of the nervous system and how the body works you can draw a clear line from the trauma of the cord being wrapped around her neck when she was born to digestion issues causing failure to thrive. The cord trauma could cause damage and misalignment to the bones in her neck. The misalignment of these joints could be affecting the nerve signal to her digestive system. The digestive system is under control of one of the branches of our nervous system that happens without us having to think about it. Really when is the last time you had to consciously tell you stomach to release the proper amount of acid to digest your food and then think about your intestines absorbing the nutrients from your food. The main nerve that carries this information, the vagus nerve, runs right next to the upper bones in the neck. Restoring normal motion to the joints of the spine would release the pressure on these nerves allowing them to send the proper signals for digestion to happen naturally.
It’s as simple as that!
By: Dr Scott Szela
ref: J Pediatric, Maternal & Family Health- Dec 17, 2015