When their children are sick, most parents take them to their regular doctors without ever considering Oriental medicine as an alternative from of treatment, although it might not always be the best option.
While Western medicine should always be the first choice when the life of your child is at risk, using Western medication to treat routine respiratory, dermatological or digestive disorders in young children can be counterproductive in the long term. We will look today at the specific aspects of paediatric health before explaining why Traditional Chinese Medicine can often be an alternative option worth considering.
Young kids have a different constitution than we do. It takes several years for new born babies to get their brand new organs to function properly. This makes them very susceptible to getting sick, and very vulnerable to side effects from medications. The American Food and Drug administration (FDA) discourages the use of cold and cough medicine for children under two years of age, and warns against potential adverse effects until the age of ten. Since antibiotics were designed to fight bacterial infections, they have no effects on the cold virus affecting your child. In addition, their repeated use weakens the immune, and digestive systems, thus making the body more susceptible to further illnesses.
Oriental medicine is a lot gentler form of therapy. In acupuncture, different forms of energy, called Qi, circulate throughout the body and organs on different levels. When the Qi supplying a specific area becomes blocked, or deficient, our health gets compromised. In that framework, we hold the lungs, and the kidneys to be responsible for the immunity, and the general well-being of a person. In the case of babies, these two organs are the last to fully develop in the womb, which explains why young children don’t have any inbuilt immunological resistance (Wei Qi). A baby has to rely entirely on the antibodies from his mother’s milk to fight against foreign pathogens, which make him, or her, highly susceptible to getting sick from virus and bacteria.
Another common source of illness, in our little ones, is digestive problems. When the baby is still in the womb, the vital nutrients that keep him alive are supplied directly from the mother to the blood via the placenta. Consequently, at the time of its birth, the digestive organs of a new born baby have never been used. As any mother will know, it takes several years of painstaking efforts to train the body of a young child to gradually digest different forms of food.
In Oriental medicine, when the stomach is unable to fulfil its role of processing, and transforming foods and fluids, excess amount of dampness is produced which disrupts the digestion, resulting in diarrhoea. Accumulated dampness gradually transforms into phlegm causing mucus built up in the lungs which affects the breathing, and the sleeping patterns of the young child
Due to their small body weight, children are very susceptible to environmental changes in temperature, so they get hotter and colder and lot quicker than adults. As a consequence of that deficiency heat, dehydration and bladder infections are always potential problems. On the positive side, while young children get sick a lot quicker that we do, they recover a lot quicker as well. With their small size, only very little acupuncture stimulation is required to make a lasting improvement in their health.
Being an acupuncturist, I have to tailor my treatments to their individual constitutions. I am very aware of needle phobia in young children. In the majority of cases, I use non-insertion Japanese style techniques where a very fine silver needle stimulates the Qi in the meridians on the surface without ever penetrating the skin. In another technique, a rounded gold plated pin is gently brushed against the body to stimulate the energy on specific areas of the body. Massage and acupressure can also be very effective for treating digestive problems, and insomnia. I often find the liver of my young patient needs to be regulated, and their stomach, lungs and kidney strengthened
To create a sense of security in the young child, I always ask one of the parents to be present for the duration of the paediatric treatment. After enquiring about the medical history and symptoms of the patient, I conduct a gentle physical examination looking for areas of pain, tenderness, and alterations in the skin texture, and colour which indicate areas where the Qi is affected. The treatment consists of using a couple of gentle Japanese techniques, on only two, or three selected points without penetrating the skin, or causing any physical discomfort. The treatment is ended with a short massage to stimulate the energy of the whole body. In my experience, once the young children get more relaxed in my presence, they begin to enjoy the gentle palpation aspect of the treatment, and the feeling of being looked after, and felt somewhat special, which in turns affects the speed of their recovery.
Often that’s all what is needed to bring health back to a young child, without any tears, or chemical consequences.
Olivier Lejus MHSc, BHSc is a registered acupuncturist practising in Sydney.