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Choices in Natural Pediatric Care

With ever increasing academic pressures, environmental pollution, food additives, the fast pace of a quickly changing world, constant media exposure to suffering and violence and less opportunity to discharge tension through playing outside, children today are perhaps under more stress than ever before. Tension can build up inside the body, leading to a decrease in normal function, which in turn makes it more difficult to process toxins, leading to reduced immunity, further tensions, irritability, poor concentration and variety of physical symptoms.

Conventional medicine focuses on treating symptoms and diseases with prescription drugs. While at times these are necessary, antibiotics and other drugs can lead to problems of their own and rarely address the underlying problems. Alternative pediatric care can address problems when they are still minor and prevent the development of more serious and chronic problems.

Children respond readily to natural treatments. Chronic conditions, such as asthma and allergies are often treated very effectively, reducing or eliminating the need for prescription medications. (Note: If your child is on medication for asthma or another potentially life-threatening illness, DO NOT discontinue his or her medication unless doing so under the supervision of licensed health care provider who is qualified to diagnose and treat illness.)

Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic medicine focuses on preventing illness and achieving optimum health. Naturopathic physicians are also trained and skilled in diagnosing and treating disease. Naturopathic pediatric care includes helping parents give their children the healthiest possible start in life, providing complete well-baby and child care, and treating a myriad of childhood ailments and chronic conditions.

Naturopathic doctors are licensed as primary care physicians in Washington State, along with MDs and DOs. They perform physical exams, order or perform diagnostic tests, and diagnose and treat illness. They are licensed to prescribe certain drugs, such as antibiotics and hormones, when appropriate. Most naturopathic doctors have a healthy respect for conventional medicine and have regular referral relationships with MDs who are open to naturopathic treatment.

People often ask, “How is a naturopathic physician different from a ‘regular’ doctor?” In many of the ways mentioned above, they are not. Where naturopathic physicians shine, is in their treatment of the whole person, not just the symptoms. For example, it is not uncommon to have a parent bring in a child with recurrent ear infections. The child usually has received antibiotics multiple times and may be a candidate for a tympanostomy (having tubes put in her eardrums). In some cases the child already has tubes but is continuing to get ear infections. While her medical doctor has been diligent in treating the child’s infections, there may never been a discussion with the parents about what might be causing the recurrent ear infections and what steps can be taken to correct those causes. Tolle causum naturopathic doctors are instructed in school — this is Latin for Find the Cause. Identifying and treating the underlying causes of illness is one of the guiding principles of Naturopathic Medicine.

Naturopathic treatment frequently involves dietary changes, making sure that your child is getting more (or less) of certain foods. This type of treatment can show dramatic results, but it generally doesn’t happen overnight. What do you do in the interim to bring your child (and yourself) some relief? Before the advent of antibiotics and modern drugs, physicians relied upon medicines derived from plant and animal sources to help their patients regain their health. Poultices and steams using medicinal herbs were used to speed recovery from colds and flu. These treatments may not seem to be as sophisticated as modern medicines, but with the dangers surrounding antibiotic overuse and with the side effects produced by many medications, these treatments are gaining new respect. Naturopathic physicians have a whole tool-chest of treatments that can help alleviate symptoms when antibiotics or other drugs are not really the answer.

What to Expect From Naturopathic Pediatric Care

In a first visit your naturopathic doctor will usually discuss your child’s entire health history with you and consider what genetic, environmental, and nutritional factors could be contributing to your child’s illness. He or she will perform a physical examination of your child and may order laboratory tests to arrive at a diagnosis. He or she can provide you with nutritional, botanical, and homeopathic remedies tailored to your child’s needs and that will help your child’s system to be more resilient and resistant to infection. Often a home treatment is recommended that will ease your child’s discomfort and accelerate recovery. Occasionally a first visit with a sick child will be briefer, focused on getting your child (and you!) some immediate relief, and leaving longer-term treatment plans for a later visit.

If you are coming in for a well-baby or well-child checkup, your child will receive a complete physical exam, including weight, length (or height) and head circumference, assessment of neurological development, musculoskeletal assessment, heart and lungs, examination of skin, ears eyes, nose and throat, and basic vision and hearing evaluation. Your child’s next developmental milestones will be discussed, as well as suggestions made for safety measures appropriate to your child’s age and ways you can play with your child to promote his or her development. If you have questions about nutrition your naturopathic doctor will answer them and make helpful suggestions about providing your child with the best possible nutritional foundation. Most naturopathic doctors also carry high-quality multiple vitamin and mineral supplements formulated especially for children. These professional grade supplements are free of dyes, additives, and allergy-promoting substances that can be detrimental to your child’s health, and are compounded using the forms of nutrients which can be most easily absorbed.

If your child is nursing, naturopathic care will include a discussion of any breastfeeding problems, suggestions for dealing with teething problems, and the best ways to introduce solid foods to minimize the development of food sensitivities that can lead to health problems such as ear infections and asthma.

What Conditions do Naturopathic Doctors Treat?

In addition to the normal childhood colds and coughs, naturopathic pediatric care includes treatment of rashes, allergies, asthma, ear infections, strep throat, urinary tract infections, constipation, diarrhea, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and many other childhood illnesses and infections. They can also treat acute injuries such as sprained wrists, bumped heads and minor lacerations, referring for x-rays or more extensive suturing as appropriate.

For further information on naturopathic medicine:

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a wonderful medicine for children. It has a long and venerable history in China, and it is growing in popularity in the West. Many diseases which orthodox Medicine cannot help respond very well to acupuncture, while for many other diseases, Acupuncture is an option worth serious consideration for its efficacy and safety.

Acupuncture has the great advantage of being safe and non-invasive compared to surgery and other techniques. It is free from the side-effects of drugs. It is holistic and curative rather than merely symptomatic or palliative. The long-term effects are to strengthen the child.

Will Acupuncture Hurt My Child?

Many acupuncturists use a form of acupuncture with children called “Shonishin” which is a form of Japanese pediatric acupuncture which does not require needles to be inserted into the body. Instead, a variety of metal tools are used to rub, lightly scrape, tap or roll over the points on acupuncture meridians (channels), on or just above the child’s skin. Children can be treated this way because a child’s energy manifests relatively superficially and is easily accessible using these techniques. Other acupuncturists stimulate acupuncture points using sound vibrations generated with tuning forks, another pleasant and non-invasive approach.

Some acupuncturists do use needles with children. Acupuncture needles are very fine, about the diameter of a human hair, and generally cause only minor or no discomfort. Many children are surprisingly willing to try them and find that they don’t mind them at all. Younger children, who cannot remain still for extended periods of time, are probably more suited to a non-invasive form of acupuncture.

Children of all ages can visit an acupuncturist, but must be accompanied by a parent. Infants usually need to be held by a parent during the actual treatment. Diagnosing patterns of imbalance (or energetic disharmonies) requires the practitioner to examine most of the child’s body, checking by touch with the back of the hand for temperature variations, for areas of excessive dampness or dryness, and for other signs of problems. Most children find the treatments relaxing, and most look forward to their treatment sessions. Parents observing treatment often feel relaxed themselves just watching.

What can Acupuncture treat?

Acupuncture can treat a wide variety of health issues, including strengthening the immune system in children who are frequently ill. Acupuncture has been used to successfully treat asthma, ear infections, eczema and other skin disorders, colic, abdominal pain, sleeping problems, bedwetting, and the behavioral and emotional symptoms characterized by the western diagnosis of ADD or ADHD.

Newborns are most often treated for digestive problems, such as colic, constipation, diaper rash and abdominal pain as their digestive systems are not fully developed

For further information on acupuncture:

Chiropactic Care

More and more parents are seeking chiropractic care for their children. Many spinal problems seen in adults began as early as birth. Even natural childbirth can stress an infant’s spine and developing nerve system. The resulting irritation to the nerve system caused by spinal and cranial misalignment may contribute to many newborn health complaints. Colic, breathing problems, nursing difficulties, sleep disturbances, allergic reactions and chronic infections may benefit from chiropractic treatment.

As the child begins to participate in regular childhood activities like skating or riding a bike, small yet significant spinal misalignments may occur. If neglected, the injuries during this period of rapid growth may lead to more serious problems later in life. Subtle traumas throughout childhood can affect the future development of the spine leading to impaired nervous system function. This can adversely affect the body’s ability to function at its best.

One of the most common reason parents seek care for their child is trauma from an injury of some sort. These injuries may or may not result in immediate pain or symptoms. Regular chiropractic checkups can identify potential spinal injury from these traumas, make the correction early in life and help avoid many of the health complaints seen later in adults. Parents also seek care for conditions such as colic, ear infections, asthma, allergies and headaches (to name a few) because they have heard from other parents that chiropractic care can help.

Doctors of chiropractic do not diagnose or treat conditions or diseases. The expertise of the chiropractor is in checking the child’s spine for misalignments that impair nervous system function therefore affecting overall body function.

A doctor of chiropractic will take a case history and perform a chiropractic exam to determine if spinal alignment problems exist. Chiropractic adjusting procedures are modified to fit a child’s size, weight, and unique spinal condition. They are both gentle and specific to the child’s developing spinal structures. Most parents report that their children enjoy their chiropractic adjustments and look forward to subsequent visits. They also report that their children experience a greater level of health while under regular chiropractic care.

For further information on chiropractic care: www.icpa4kids.com/children_and_chiropractic.htm

Craniosacral Therapy

CranioSacral Therapy (CST) is a gentle, non-invasive, yet effective type of hands-on body treatment that is helpful for infants and children as well as adults. It is an assessment tool as well as a treatment. As with chiropractic care, a newborn CST session can minimize or eliminate the repercussions of difficult births and help ensure good health for well babies.

The craniosacral system consists of the membranes and fluid that surround and support the brain and spinal cord. It extends from the bones of the head (cranium) down to the bones at the base of the spine (sacrum). The fluid within the membranes is continuously draining and refilling.

The filling and draining creates gentle, rhythmic, expanding and contracting movements that can be felt anywhere in the body by the trained therapist. These movements are the craniosacral rhythm. They occur at a rate of about six to twelve complete cycles per minute.

What happens in a Cranio-sacral therapy session?

Children rest fully clothed on a massage table or in the therapist or parent’s lap. The therapist monitors the craniosacral rhythm with her hands. She conducts other gentle assessments and corrects the sources of pain and dysfunction using gentle manipulative techniques. Sometimes children release emotions or cry during treatments, but the techniques do not hurt babies and children. Seldom does the pressure exceed five grams (the weight of a nickel). Babies and children will often sleep for a longer stretch than usual after a session. During a session, the therapist adapts her technique to the attention span and needs of the child.

Craniosacral therapy and birth trauma

Getting born is hard work and even Cesarean birth can be harder on babies than we imagine. Cesarean-born babies have lower Apgar scores, more respiratory distress, more abnormal neurological exams, and more abnormal craniosacral therapy assessments. They have more chronic middle ear infections and other problems throughout childhood. The birth process is more abrupt and potentially more frightening than vaginal birth. Surgically born infants have fewer quiet alert periods right after birth and have less opportunity to share bonding time with their mothers who may be drugged or recovering in another room. Craniosacral therapy can help correct some of the trauma associated such births, as well as traumas associated with vaginal births.

Craniosacral Therapy is helpful for people of all ages. It has successfully been used to treat such diverse conditions as headaches, TMJ dysfunction, chronic middle ear infections, vertigo, depression, back pain, joint immobility, neck pain, sinus congestion, migraines, learning disabilities, the effects of childhood trauma and negative touch. In infants, it is used to treat colic, sleep disorders, feeding problems, breathing or digestive difficulties, various congenital, neurological and genetic problems, plus the effects of forceps, vacuum extractor or cesarean delivery.

Insurance Reimbursement

Most Naturopathic Physicians and Chiropractors accept insurance reimbursement, as do many acupuncturists. Craniosacral therapy is most likely to be paid for by insurance if it is performed by a naturopathic physician or other licensed health care provider and if it is considered medically necessary. Be sure to check with your insurance company if your plan covers care by naturopathic doctors, acupuncturists, and chiropractors, and if it covers the practitioners you want to see. If not, you may have to pay out of pocket. Many alternative providers have sliding payment scales, or are willing to work out payment arrangements so that you can afford treatment for your child.

Naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic care, and craniosacral therapy are not the only effective alternatives for children’s health care. Aromatherapy, homeopathy, and flower essences can also be highly effective with children. Regardless of the kind of treatment you choose, the earlier you can start preventing or treating potentially chronic conditions, the more likely it is that the condition can be controlled or corrected so that it does not lead to problems later in life. By treating asthma, ADD, ADHD, allergies, digestive problems, ear infections, and skin problems with naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, diet, and lifestyle changes, chiropractic care, or craniosacral therapy (or a combination) your child has a greater chance of becoming a healthy adult.

Pushpa Larsen, ND, LM is a Naturopathic Physician, Licensed Midwife and Certified HypnoBirthing Instructor, who focuses on naturopathic pediatric care, women's health care and natural childbirth, as well as maintaining a general family practice.