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Traumatic Birth Syndrome

What Parents Should Know to Ensure Their Baby's Health
By Dr. Erin L. Elster, D.C.

Can the normal birth process induce upper cervical (neck) trauma in the newborn infant? Is it possible that a baby’s early health problems could be due to the stresses and strains of the birth process? Could a newborn baby who is irritable, who sleeps for only short periods or is difficult to feed, or who suffers from colic or respiratory disorders, be experiencing the effects of neck trauma during birth? The answer to all of these questions is yes.

Even during the gentlest of births, presentation of the baby’s head through the birth canal requires physical pressure exerted by the mother. This can force the baby’s neck to twist or bend causing misalignment of the upper cervical vertebrae. Often during the delivery, the practitioner will pull or twist the head to assist with the delivery and, in turn, compound the problem.

Precipitous delivery, prematurity, breech delivery, and forceful traction (forceps) applied during the birth process have also been identified as high risk factors for trauma to the newborn’s upper neck, spinal cord, and brainstem.


  • According to Abraham Towbin, M.D. of Harvard Medical School, “Life for the newborn depends upon the preservation and healthy functioning of the brain stem and spinal cord at the level of the upper neck.”
  • 50,000 newborn deaths occur each year in the U.S. Approximately 10,000 of those are due to unexplained respiratory failure, known as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Professor Towbin sites “respiratory depression or failure” as a “cardinal sign of a spinal cord or brainstem injury that occurs during birth, but which frequently escapes diagnosis.”
  • Dr. Godfrey Gutmann, a German medical researcher, discovered that over 80% of the infants he examined after birth were suffering from cervical spine (neck) injuries, causing many types of health problems.
  • J.M. Duncan, a medical researcher, measured the amount of force required to severely injure a baby’s neck during delivery. He found that 90 pounds of force could cause stillbirth, while less could sprain the upper neck, causing health problems. Duncan commented, “This is not what most obstetricians would consider a great force.”


Traumatic birth syndrome can cause severe symptoms immediately after birth including respiratory failure, flaccid paralysis, cerebral palsy, and autism, to name a few. Symptoms may also occur well after birth, and therefore, are less obviously related to the birth process.

The following are conditions that may occur due to upper neck injury, from months to years after a baby’s birth:

Traumatic birth syndrome

  • Colic
  • Recurring middle ear infections
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Chronic colds and flus
  • Irritability, hyperactivity, ADHD
  • Sleeping difficulty
  • Headaches-Neck and back pain
  • Seizures
  • Tics
  • “Growing pains”
  • Torticollis
  • Scoliosis
  • And many more...

Parents, in addition to visits with your pediatrician, please have your child examined by an upper cervical chiropractor to determine whether a neck injury has occurred. Proper correction of the neck injury can prevent or eliminate the above symptoms.

If you have questions about your child’s health, please contact Dr. Elster in Kahului, Maui, Hawaii at 808-866-6551 or