Some alternative-minded mamas swear by acupuncture for their little ones, with babies as young as 6 weeks old routinely "put under the needle" as a way to help with such issues as colic or poor appetite. Putting aside the question of whether or not acupuncture really works for small children, researchers are first asking, is it safe?
It's not for everyone, that's for sure. But when it comes to harmful side effects, acupuncture doesn't appear harmful for small children, says Canadian researchers. In a study of 1,400 children treated with acupuncture, just 168 experienced a mild adverse reaction, such as crying or pain, and only 25 experienced more serious side effects.
"In trained hands, acupuncture seems safe in children," says the study's senior author, Dr. Sunita Vohra, a professor in the department of pediatrics at the University of Alberta in Canada.
Needles and babies? For most, these two things just don't seem like a good match, but experts say the Eastern medicine practice has a growing fan base of parents in both the US and Canada. If you are curious about what benefits acupuncture may offer your baby, the big "must," says experts, is to make sure the acupuncturist you pick is trained and experienced to work with children. In the US, requirements vary by state, although most require that acupuncturists be licensed. (In Canada, acupuncture is regulated in a standard fashion and acupuncturists have to have specific training.) You should also talk over your plans with your child's regular pediatrician.
And if you just can't stomach the thought of needles? According to at least one expert, it's not required to do needle insertions on children younger than 11 years old. Instead, acupuncture practitioners can use something that looks like a "spiky rolling pin" as a way to put pressure on acupoints.