Can My Baby Do Acupuncture?
Babies often struggle with colic or gastrointestinal issues that can interfere with good sleep and make them fussier than normal. You may have heard that acupuncture is a way to mediate some of these issues, and perhaps have questions on whether or not it's safe for your child to try.
We turned to some experts to learn more about acupuncture and children. With that said, it's important to note that there hasn't been a lot of research on acupuncture for kids and babies, so please check with your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider.
What Is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been practiced for over 3,000 years. It is based on the theory that there are meridians or pathways throughout the body that connect organs and bodily systems. Acupuncture uses very thin needles inserted into specific points along these meridians to help restore balance and health.
"Modern-day acupuncture is a form of treatment that uses very thin needles to stimulate specific points on the body," says (Grace) Ye Seul Song, an acupuncturist and physical therapist at Brentwood Physio. "Some practitioners may use lasers, magnets, or pressure instead."
Doctors who practice traditional Chinese medicine sometimes prescribe acupuncture as part of treatment for various ailments. "We can clear heat (fevers), warm up (chills), dry damp (runny nose), and even treat reflux in infants by using points that descend uprising energy," says Stace Nelson-Hicks, DACM, LAc, a licensed acupuncturist, nationally certified herbologist, and certified functional medicine practitioner at Elixir Lifestyle.
Acupuncture often makes up one part of a holistic plan for treatment. "By using traditional Chinese medicine diagnostic techniques, we develop a treatment plan which can include acupuncture, herbs, nutritional counseling, and exercise plans," says Dr. Nelson-Hicks.
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Is It Safe For My Child to Get Acupuncture?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not have an official stance on exactly what age babies can start getting acupuncture. It is strongly advised to check with your child's pediatrician or healthcare provider to get their clearance before beginning treatment.
Some practitioners may start acupuncture around 3 months old. Dr. Nelson-Hicks notes that she has treated a baby under a month old for severe reflux.
Acupuncture for babies will be different from the procedure for grownups. "Unlike acupuncture for older children and adults, the thinnest needles are used and are not maintained," says Dr. Nelson-Hicks. "We call it quick needling, where the needle is applied to the appropriate point and is quickly taken out."
You should make sure to stay with your baby during their acupuncture appointment and expect to participate in making sure that they feel safe and comfortable. "During a treatment, the baby is being held by their parent or is laying comfortably on a treatment table they are sharing with their parent," notes Dr. Nelson-Hicks.
Every baby is different. Be sure to consult with a pediatrician if you have any questions about getting your baby acupuncture.
Benefits of Acupuncture
Depending on what may be bothering your baby, acupuncture could have several benefits and can provide relief from several issues.
Acupuncture has been proven to significantly reduce pain. No one wants to see their baby hurting. Whether your baby has a specific condition or they seem to be struggling with some unknown discomfort, acupuncture may help.
Sleep issues are common in babies. Acupuncture may help with insomnia, as well as reduce overall stress. So it could help your little one relax and settle down for nap time.
Getting better sleep may also lead to less fussiness overall. "Babies who receive acupuncture treatments may be calmer and happier on the whole," notes Song.
Supports Digestive Issues
Digestive issues such as gassiness or reflux often plague babies. The resulting discomfort may lead to colic (excessive crying) and trouble sleeping.
Acupunture could help relieve digestive problems so that your baby can be more comfortable and relax easier. "In addition to needles, there are techniques that are used on young children including gentle Gua Sha, where we massage along certain pathways on the arms, legs, and back to reduce fevers, help with growing pains, relieve gastrointestinal gas," says Dr. Nelson-Hicks.
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If you are considering acupuncture for your child, there are a few safety precautions that should be in place if you decide to go ahead with the treatment.
First and foremost, you should check with your child's healthcare provider to make sure that acupuncture is a safe choice, particularly if you are wanting to try it as an alternative to a different treatment.
Make sure the acupuncturist is licensed and has experience working with children. It is also important to tell the acupuncturist about any health conditions your child has and any medications they are taking. "Acupuncture is generally considered safe for children, but it is always best to err on the side of caution," notes Song.
A Word From Verywell
Acupuncture can be an option for babies, as long as you get your child's pediatrician's okay first. Expect to hold your baby or be with them during the treatment. Your baby will be treated with the thinnest needles and the doctor will insert and remove them more quickly than they would with an adult.
If your baby becomes upset or is clearly uncomfortable during the treatment, it may be best to stop and try again another time. Remember that the goal is to help your baby feel their best. It's okay to try acupuncture and see how it goes before deciding to continue.
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