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Finding Alternatives From Conception to Childcare

Despite thousands of years of herbal lore and traditional practices, modern practitioners seem to have precious little to say when it comes to the effects of these therapies on children and pregnant women. In many cases, studies do not exist to measure potential benefits and risks of alternative medicine use in children and expectant moms. Here are some interesting possibilities:

Herbal Fertility Treatments

As more couples wait to have children later in life, it's become commonplace for couples to need help conceiving. While fertility drugs and sophisticated technology consistently make headlines, traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) may offer another option. Practitioners have been treating infertility for centuries using a combination of herbs, acupuncture and moxibustion, the application of smoldering herbs at specific acupuncture points.

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Another treatment involves the application of an herbal bracelet worn around the wrist during ovulation. The herbs are supposedly absorbed through the skin, stimulating the reproductive organs.

TCM doctors also encourage women trying to get pregnant to soak their feet in hot water. As much as it sounds like an old wives tale, according to TCM, energy meridians stimulated during acupuncture flow from the reproductive organs into the legs. So when the feet are warmed, more energy is supposedly pushed into the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.

It's a way, practitioners say, to nourish this area of the body. Using the same logic, women are also advised to refrain from drinking anything cold during ovulation. Traditional Chinese doctors also believe that stress can affect a woman's ability to conceive. They recommend meditation for women trying to get pregnant. However, the process isn't as simple as it sounds. To increase the chances of success, women are encouraged to visit their practitioner several times a week, often for several months.

Using TCM for Breech Births

We've all heard that a woman shouldn't take herbs during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester when so much critical fetal development is taking place. The truth is that no one really knows what, if any, effects herbal supplements have on a growing fetus, so the preference is to play it safe. Pregnant women should talk with their doctor before taking supplements.

However, there is increasing evidence that in cases where a baby is in a breech, or feet-first position, the treatment recommended by TCM can cause a baby to turn on its own, thus avoiding a caesarean section. As in TCM fertility treatments, the doctor uses moxibustion. In the case of a breech baby, the smoldering herbal stick is placed just above the mothers toes, stimulating what's known as the empirical point with its penetrating heat.

The heat stimulates meridians linking the toes to the uterus, causing contractions and encouraging the baby to move. Practitioners say the energy also stimulates the baby's brain, increasing the likelihood of movement. The 10-minute procedure is usually repeated three to five times beginning between the 28th to 32nd week of pregnancy, close enough to delivery but at a point where the baby isn't too big to turn around.

Afterward, the patient should notice the baby moving more frequently, eventually flipping position within three to five days. The success rate in China is supposedly over 90 percent. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported about 75 percent of the babies whose mothers were treated with moxibustion, turned. That compares to about half of the babies whose mothers received no treatment.

 

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Holistic Care for Kids

As more people use herbal and other alternative therapies, it's natural that they want to use them on their children. Recent studies have shown that as many as 70 percent of American children who suffer from severe or chronic illnesses have been treated with some form of alternative therapy. But is alternative medicine safe for our kids?

Yes, according to Dr. Kathi Kemper, a pediatrician and researcher investigating alternatives for children at Childrens Hospital in Boston, but with some caveats. Holistic care for children, says Kemper, doesn't mean you avoid immunizing your child and it doesn't mean that you avoid going to the doctor for necessary care. It means choosing remedies that are most helpful.

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Dr. Kemper says marketing hype masks the fact that many, if not most, alternative therapies have not been tested on children. Parents, she says, are really doing uncontrolled experiments on their kids when they give them herbs.

For instance, she won't give her own toddler echinacea because there are no studies evaluating its effectiveness in children (though Kemper is currently studying this herself.) But Kemper does recommend some herbs that have a long history of safe use: chamomile or peppermint tea to calm an upset stomach; aloe vera to treat minor burns and scrapes; and ginger to prevent and treat nausea and vomiting.

But Kemper advises growing these plants on your own. That way, she says, purity can be assured. Kemper is currently researching, among other topics, the use of herbs and supplements to treat children with cancer, the effectiveness of acupuncture to relieve post-tonsillectomy nausea and yoga therapy to help adolescents with anorexia.

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