Posted by: Ticktock | October 21, 2008

Alternative Medicine in Baby Talk

Meryl Davids Landau wrote a fluff piece on alternative medicine for Baby Talk magazine, promoting probiotics, homeopathy, acupuncture,  herbal tea, and aromatherapy for infants.  You know I can’t pass this up, so here we go…

Landau begins her article with an anecdote about a mother who cured her son of gassy colic and explosive green poop by dabbing a probiotic powder on her nipple before breastfeeding.  Color me skeptical.   One of the known reasons for “explosive green poop” (GROSS!) is that the infant is not sucking long enough to get the creamy fat content that comes toward the end of feeding. My hypothesis is that the sweetener in the probiotic is inspiring more efficient suckling in the baby.  Perhaps the probiotics are working too, but there ought to be more research on the effects of probiotics on children before it’s marketed to desperate parents.

The article then goes on to describe several other CAM treatments for kids, the worst of which is homeopathic remedies.  She compares homeopathic medicine to vaccines, except vaccines actually have active ingredients and undergo rigorous testing.  It bears repeating that homeopathic medicine is not medicine because the random arbitrary ingredients are so diluted that they lose their original properties.  Homeopathy, left unchecked, can kill people by the simple fact that they are avoiding the actual medicine they need.

On acupuncture, sticking babies with needles is an unpleasant and unnecessary idea.   There is no reason to believe that the placebo of acupuncture will work on children, and endorphin production is just a way to use science to legitimize the pseudoscience.  Landau indicates that there are studies showing that acupuncture helps preemies.  The only literature I could find on this topic showed that meridian massage (a form of acupressure) helps premature babies grow.  Looking further into the literature, I saw that infant massage in general helps premature babies grow, not just arbitrary meridian massage.  So, maybe there is merit in baby massage after all, but that is another topic.

There is nothing in the scientific literature to prove the claims of aromatherapists.  The only thing that can be said about aromatherapy is that it smells nice.

Out of all the suggestions in the article, the one that holds the most water seems to be herbal tea.  The studies that I found on fennel’s effect on colic seemed to be positive.  It’s worth a try anyway.  Just know that colic disappears naturally after six months.  It’s likely that you won’t find a magical cure, whether you use modern medicine or not.   And even though American “gripe water” says that it has several ingredients including fennel, you are likely buying nothing but homeopathic sugar water.

I don’t blame people for seeking ways to help their babies, but many of these CAM treatments are bogus.  Put your energy into good nutrition, listening to your pediatrician, and most of all, patience.



  1. Parenting Solved is a blog written by a pediatric gastroenterologist, Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, the author of Colic Solved . He’s a fan of some probiotics.

  2. Thanks for the link Liz. I added Parenting Solved to my Reader feed.

  3. Man, Liz beat me to it.

    You can also check out:

    Back when I had full access to some of these studies, I saw this info, which showed that this particular probiotic had a huge impact on colic symptoms, and that it seemed to even reduce reactivity to milk protein (the green poop symptom can be poor suck, or oversupply, but can also be milk/soy protein intolerance, a temporary condition that has colic symptoms along with the green poop. Info came out after my kids had outgrown it, though. Ah, well.).

  4. […] Allergy & Asthma Science ALLERGIES – I voiced my skepticism toward probiotics for babies with colic, only to be corrected by my loyal readers that probiotics […]

  5. […] placebos and other dubious herbal remedies once you are suckered in.  I say this because this isn’t the first time I’ve written about probiotics and herbal colic remedies.  I feel like I’m repeating […]

  6. Blundered into this blog (hope I didn’t break anything).

    A very old remedy for “EGP” is to smear honey on the mom’s nipples. Same effect, kid sucks harder, gets the full distribution of milk ingredients. Although I cringe at the risk of botulism spores in the olden days, pasteurized honey would work too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: