Rebecca Nicholas, Doctor of Chiropractic is the principle chiropractor and director at Back 2 Balance. She has taken extensive training to educate herself on all matters concerning pregnancy and paediatrics, including the interesting topic of developmental delay.
Early brain development is one of the most important pathways to lifelong learning, behavioural competence, positive social relationships and health. In their first years, almost all children learn to move, balance, speak, and read emotions. They go on to master more complex tasks like reading, music, and understanding themselves. Though not all children learn these things equally well. This is often called childhood developmental delay.
As chiropractors, we have long understood the importance of assessing and correctly spinal tension, nerve irritations, and dysfunctioning joints, however, there are increasing numbers of chiropractors who are learning the skills to assess the neurodevelopment in babies and children- I am one of them.
About 17% of children starting school have development delay.
Babies brains start development in utero, from as early as the 8th week! Yes the 8th week! Development begins with touch sensation and movement, both felt at around the 8th week. The foetal brain is affected by the mother in ways you may not realise….the mother’s movement, if reduced, decreases the baby’s vestibular (balance) development, thus already predetermining the baby to be at a disadvantage in early, and possibly even later life.
A baby’s brain is the most under developed organ at birth, so as to be small enough to pass through the birth canal. it is suggested that if our brain’s were the correct size at birth, we would have a gestation of around 2 years.
At birth we have 100 billion neurons and 50 trillion synapses.
In the first month of life these synapses increase 20 fold, and neurons form at 250,000 per minute. Thus development and health of the nervous system and brain is hugely important. Until the 1990’s it was thought that cognitive development was pre-determined by genes, now we know that brain development is dependent on environmental stimulation and that quality input is vital for good development.
A child’s day to day experiences affect the structural and functional development of her brain, including intelligence and personality. Babies and children need to move in gravity and sense their world. We need to encourage parents and our communities to create this richness. This enrichment can only come from certain stimulation. For example, a baby can’t learn language and other non-verbal cues from a screen (even those brain apps well meaning parents buy for their children). As a chiropractor who works frequently with families, there are many other environmental factors that can increase or decrease a child’s development, such as tummy time and playing on a floor that’s not too slippery.
Nearly all babies are born with a set of reflexes designed for survival (these are called primitive reflexes). You may know them as rooting, sucking, grasp, and the startle reflex for example. These provide an indication of the status of the Central Nervous System, and should be slowly inhibited at various stages during the first year of life. As these primitive relaxes are inhibited, so another group of relaxes, called the postal reflexes, should emerge to help the infant cope with demands of a gravity based environment, and provide the basis for the control of balance, posture and voluntary movement.
If primitive reflexes remain uninhibited by the higher brain centres, the health and development of the child will be affected, and thus potentially increasing the chance of developmental delay. A chiropractor trained in detecting these reflexes can play a vital role in monitoring and looking after children.
Some symptoms to look out for, that may indicate developmental delay:
- inability to fix and focus attention
- bum shuffling, crab crawling, and other crawling pattern interruptions
- inappropriate startle reflex
- fear of spinning movements and movements like swimming on the back
- hand eye coordination challenges
- visual tracking problems- this can affect ability to read and write
- inability to sit upright
If you have any concerns or worries about your baby and/or child and the possibility of developmental delay, please feel free to contact me at Back 2 Balance 01273 206868 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For my next blog i’ll be talking about ‘wonky heads’ or as it’s properly known as plagiocephaly. The causes and what you, as a parent, can do about it.