When your Support System Quacks Up

When my first daughter (we’ll call her Rose) was born over five years ago, the local baby clinic was my lifeline. With no family living in Cape Town, and none of our close friends having had kids yet, my partner and I were in desperate need of support and advice. The clinic sisters were wonderful; kind, knowledgeable and never autocratic, full of good suggestions.

When we returned to the clinic five years later with my week-old second child (we’ll call her Fynn), things looked to start on the same wonderful footing. Despite the time lapse and the fact that this clinic has seen more than 10 000 children, the sister took one look at me and said “Rose?”. They remembered us! I was filled with a warm fuzzy feeling of belonging.

A few minutes later and I was having to rethink – the sister had actually just encouraged me to take my tiny baby to a chiropractor. “Have you not heard about the baby in Australia whose neck was broken by a chiropractor” I wanted to scream at her. “Don’t you know that there is no real evidence to support chiropractic, especially in children?” Not to mention the fact that my baby is perfectly healthy and I had only been complaining that she was a little windy!

Unsure how to voice my concerns without sounding like a hysterical closed-minded zealot, (especially in front of a bunch of other moms who have all placed their trust in these health care workers), I kept mum. Afraid of making a scene? Loathe to challenge the sister’s professional status? Embarrassed by the strength of my own emotions? All of the above. And now plagued by the fact that I didn’t say anything,

So I have prepared a meager email to send to the clinic. In an attempt not to get any backs up (I am seriously conflict averse) I have, a little disingenuously, framed my opinion as a question (as though I haven’t already got a very strong opinion on the topic!)  I suppose I could console myself that as a good skeptic I should be open to hearing a counter point but really I am just a coward, or as we say in South Africa, a woes.

“Dear Sister
I have heard you a few times recommend a baby chiropractor to parents at the clinic and have been wondering about the scientific merit of this form of treatment. Having read about the case in Australia where a baby’s neck vertebra was fractured after being treated by a chiropractor, I am very nervous of this approach. I’ve done a bit of research into the advantages of baby chiropractic and it seems that the potential harms of this practice outweigh the possible benefits (if indeed there are any). Can you direct me to any research that outlines clear positive results of babies benefiting from this treatment?”

We’ll see what transpires!

Ps: A few day after writing this, we went to the Paediatrician for a six-week check up, and guess what? The Paed suggested I try homeopathic drops to ease the wind. I’ve been well and truly quacked!


The mother of two girls (Rose, 6, and Fynn, 11 months), Mombot is a feminist and human rights activist based in Cape Town, South Africa. She has a fairly laid back approach to parenting if you ignore the regular rants about the proliferation of the colour pink, the lack of diversity amongst "girls' " toys, the scarcity of good role models for girls in the media etc etc etc.

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    1. Which is about as scary as it gets. As a new parent I felt that I was getting so many messages that were in conflict, and I had so little time. I often just depended on my pediatrician.

  1. I about had a fit when I saw homeopathic drops listed in the book our pediatrician gives out to new parents. I interviewed 20 damn pediatricians and chose this one because they had the highest vaccination rates (I had a perhaps irrational fear of my infant catching whooping cough in the waiting room), and totally missed the homeopathic woo. The first appointment I told them something to the extent of “push any of that fake crap on me and I’ll the AMA stripping your license” (what can I say, I was sleep deprived) and he assured me that he only mentioned homeopathy for things like colic (which obviously have no real solution) because it made the parents feel better they were doing something. If they ever suggested chiropractic though, I would probably hit someone. Hard.

  2. I am lucky to have a pediatrician with whom I feel very comfortable on a personal level, and have already talked to about my fondness for science based medicine. Still, I will catch her recommending a bit of what my husband and I call “parental busy work” or “parental pacifiers.” Luke warm baths and chicken soup for the occasional fever, etc. I can see how a pediatrician would fall in love with being able to hand a nervous parent a little bottle of water with a lot of instructions for this or that mysterious symptom. The parent feels they’ve done something, and lo and behold one week later baby feels great! Everybody wins, except a serious symptom is brushed off now and then. Or a parent tumbles into a pit of woo. Or it turns out their is something in those little bottles other than water and it’s memories.

  3. I don’t understand what is wrong with homeopathic drops? Whys it better to pump baby full of chemical medicine if there is a natural remedy that can work as well. I understand if its a serious problem, but eg fennel water does help with gas. Good healthy diet and some homeopathy are great to maintain health and heal some illness.

    1. The problem is that homeopathy doesn’t work. Good quality randomized control trials have shown that homeopathy is a placebo. Which is fine in some cases. But if as a parent you are only treating your child homeopathically then when your child is seriously ill there could be disastrous consequences. A discussion on the research of the effectiveness of homeopathy can be found here:

  4. I’ve always suspected that most people don’t really know what homeopathy is. They’ll think it’s herbs or some other kind of “natural” medicine, not just distilled water and wishful thinking. “They can’t sell something as medicine if there’s absolutely nothing to it, can they? It’s right there in the CVS next to the aspirin so of course it’s medicine.”

  5. I feel with you.
    German medicine is ripe with woo. It’s often even covered by health insurance. So you take your kid to the paediatrician, they write a prescription, you hand it over at the counter and then stop the kid from causing 50 k damage and when you come home you have a homeopathic or “anthroposophic” remedy.
    Last time I looked up studies for the stuff (because occasionally some herbal stuff with actual active ingredients will get labelled as homeopathic as well) and found that there was indeed one. The wonder-remedy was tested on 300 kids with a cold. It was so effective that one week later 80% of patients felt better, can you believe it?

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