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When choosing an alternative therapy for your baby, it’s essential to know what really works and is safe for the younger set. “There’s so little scientific evidence for safety or efficacy when it comes to the use of natural therapies for babies,” says New York City pediatrician Stuart Ditchek, M.D., author of Healthy Child, Whole Child (HarperCollins). That said, certain approaches are gaining a qualified thumbs-up among integrative physicians. Here’s a look at three popular treatments:
How it works: The underlying principle in homeopathy is the law of similars, or “like cures like”: When large doses of a substance cause certain symptoms, it can ease or cure those symptoms when given in minute doses.
What it’s best for: Topical arnica lotion may help heal bumps and bruises for babies 6 months and older (never use it on broken skin), and homeopathic teething products may ease mild discomfort in babies of any age, says Jill Mallory, M.D., an integrative family physician in Madison, Wis. If you explore other over-the-counter remedies, do so with caution and expert guidance; some products that claim to be “homeopathic” may be strong enough to have pharmacological activity.
How they work: Ditchek cautions against using the majority of herbs for babies, but for infants older than 6 months, a select few are safe and effective.
What they’re best for: A teaspoon of chamomile tea may promote sleep, says Mallory. Slippery elm, rich in a gooey substance known as mucilage, may soothe bellyaches, notes Ditchek. (Try a few drops of glycerin-based tincture, or a few teaspoons of tea.) And calendula-based lotions can soothe rashes or eczema, he says.
How it works: Craniosacral therapy is believed to release tension deep in the nervous system, thereby preventing or treating a wide range of health problems. Practitioners use gentle hands-on techniques, generally on the spine and skull, to release tension.
What it’s best for: Mallory recommends it for babies who have trouble nursing. Andrew Weil, M.D., founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine in Tucson, also recommends it for recurrent ear infections and colic. He strongly suggests looking for an osteopathic physician (D.O.) trained in treating infants.