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 to those of adults. It takes several years for newborn 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 much 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 becomes compromised.
In that framework, we hold the lungs and the kidneys to be responsible for the immunity and general wellbeing 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 viruses 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 newborn baby have never been used. As any mother will know, it takes several years of painstaking effort 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 dampness is produced which disrupts the digestion, resulting in diarrhoea. Accumulated dampness gradually transforms into phlegm, causing mucus build up in the lungs, which affects the breathing and 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 much faster than adults. As a consequence, 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 most 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 kidneys 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 session ends with a short massage to stimulate the energy of the whole body.
In my experience, once young children relax in my presence, they begin to enjoy the gentle palpation aspect of the treatment and the feeling of being looked after and treated as somewhat special. This all helps to speed up their recovery.
Often, that's all that's 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.
Olivier Lejus BHSc.MHSc. is a registered acupuncturist and Chinese herbalist practising in Sydney. A former casual university lecturer and tutor in Oriental medicine with over 15 years experience in clinical practice, Olivier specialises in Japanese- style acupuncture for the treatment of male and female infertility, migraine, pain, and insomnia.www.olejusacupuncture.com