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Should you swing your baby?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 2, 2011

Baby Swing Yoga

Okay, I will confess when I first saw this I was shocked, stunned and disturbed. It’s a video, well there are several out there, showing a parent throwing their baby around much like a Kung Fu master swings nun chucks called Baby Swing Yoga[1]. My knee jerk reaction was this was horrible and must be stopped. Then I stepped back and tried to take a skeptical look at what I was seeing. First, I should point out that this practice APPARENTLY has been going on for decades[2] and at least one generation has reach adulthood with little evident damage and 2 women are now free divers. The person in the videos says they started the “yoga” practice on the featured child when it was 5 days old.

So let’s go down our skeptical checklist. The obvious thing to compare this to seems to me to be chiropractic. When skeptics have investigated these practitioners there are three main areas that are discussed: weak claims, strong claims and physical manipulation. “Honest” chiropractors tend to make weak claims for their practice; they tend to simply claim physiotherapy benefits directly related to joints, pinched nerves and other conditions directly related to actual manipulation performed. On this ground, most people see chiropractic a valid form of physiotherapy and the claims reasonable and in line with empirical evidence.

Baby Yoga weak claim is that it instills in the child a healthy enjoyment of flowing free in three dimensional space and that it is a valid form of ‘developmental exercise’ and something the children seem to enjoy. Ironically enough, because of the limited and vagueness of the claims, there seems little or no reason not to accept them as true at least anecdotally. The claim that making people more comfortable in ‘free movement’ could be tested, I suppose.

Less ‘honest’ Chiropractors have in the past made strong claims that ‘body manipulation’ as a means to ‘align bodies energy fields’ could cure conditions such as ‘asthma, chronic ear infections, nursing difficulties, colic and bedwetting’[3]. On this ground, the practice is devoid of any valid evidence and is seen as both unethical and quackery.

Listening to the practitioners of Baby Yoga make some claims like, their children learn to walk sooner, talk sooner and are quick learners…there is always the shadow, if not the actual claims, of spiritual ‘woo’ in how they describe the benefits. But again, the claims are so amorphous, unlike the specific health claims made by (disreputable) chiropractors, this could be ascribed to simple marketing although something to keep an eye on (that is I can see people in the future or off camera making these unfounded claims like curing bed-wetting or cancer or something).

Lastly, the moments involved in chiropractic manipulation are sudden jarring actions intended to ‘snap’ bone or in a babies case more likely cartilage, into ‘proper alignment’. When done by a properly trained practitioner for a valid medical purpose on an individual of an appropriate age and health, there is little (although some) risk. There have been cases of stroke due to neck manipulation and cracked bones due to inappropriate ‘manipulation’.

In the video the child does not seem to be in pain or discomfort. The actions seem fluid and smooth with no sudden jerks or excessive strains on the child (of course, I am not truly qualified to make such a judgement but have found none yet to say this was anymore jarring or harmful that the usual tossing parents do to little children). Assuming the practitioner is well trained and the child in good health, there seems to be little risk and less risk due to the smooth flowing movements as opposed to the sudden jarring movements of chiropractic.

So, by our criteria, there seems to be little to actually complain about with regards to Baby Swing Yoga, that said just because you CAN do something does not mean you should. It seems quit plausible that one could put a child in a modified car seat and do the “swinging” to simulate the ‘free flowing’ of the yoga but with a much larger degree of safety. The manipulation of the joints may be said to be important but this is not part of the weak claims and would require more empirical evidence to support.

There is also the ‘copy-cat’ risk factor. We as assumed so far that the people performing the yoga are well trained and will ensure the safety of the child; however one of the reasons that the video was pulled from YouTube was not due to the pornography (of pedophilic type) but the worry that untrained people will start throwing their children around to gain the ‘benefits’ of the yoga. These amateurs may inadvertently create harmful amounts of force and twist/swing in joint damaging ways…it could even result in broken bones or death due to stress.

The last issue I had was with the age the yoga was started. The child in the video started the ‘exercise’ at 5 days old…to me this just seems WAY too early. Assuming you think that there is benefit to have this done to a child, there should be a minimum age and 5 days does not seem appropriate. I think one year old (two? Three?) would provide all the beneficial effects claimed while ensuring that the child was better capable of handling any ‘mis-swing’ that may result in injury and the base health of the child would be known.

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