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A Holistic Approach to Child Health Care

The health of your child comes down to a million little moments. (Fruit for lunch? A long nap? Stress over a math test?) A holistic approach considers them all.

Illustration of father and child sitting with doctor in doctor's officeGemma Correll

So holistic medicine isn’t about cutting out the traditional stuff.

It’s about being a “both/and” problem-solver rather than an “either/or” type. For a patient with strep throat, I might prescribe amoxicillin, and his mom might also be delighted to know that slippery-elm tea might take the sting out of his throat. When possible, it’s about letting natural remedies and mind-body treatments, like meditation, complement mainstream medicine.

Where do mind-body treatments come in?

Pediatrics, like parenthood, is a risk-benefit analysis, and if there’s quality evidence to support that a complementary treatment is safe and effective, then I’ll recommend it. And there is sound clinical research to support some of this stuff. Massage therapy, for instance, can reduce symptoms in kids who have anxiety or eczema—a condition that may not be caused by stress but is made worse by it. There are also a number of studies that indicate acupuncture can be effective for kids with conditions like headaches or pain. On the other hand, I wouldn’t suggest a homeopathic remedy for an ear infection—not because it will hurt anything but because it’s not clear that it will help. And parents have to be wary about the lack of regulation around the manufacture of herbs and dietary supplements. Caveat emptor! Stick with what you can get from companies known for selling quality products, like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.

Are most kids’ health providers receptive?

You may be surprised. Studies have shown that we mainstream docs are increasingly aware of complementary treatments. I urge parents to test the waters by asking their child’s doctor about gentle herbal remedies, like chamomile for colic and aloe for burns. A source I recommend for initial research is, which lists conditions and gives you conventional medicines and natural remedies, along with information about what the clinical evidence supports. Whatever you decide, it’s important to loop in your child’s primary-care provider, because she knows your child and may be in the best position to understand whether a particular therapeutic approach makes sense or is safe. A child is not a little adult. Kids have a unique physiology that changes as they grow, so we can’t necessarily administer pharmaceutical or natural products known to work safely for grown-ups and assume they’ll be OK for a child.

Do you learn from the parents?

Absolutely. Doctors can offer clinical experience, risk analysis, and compassion. But parents give us our reality checks and present us with new therapies to consider and chances to learn—and they help keep our eyes on the prize, which is a healthy kid. Parents also hold the inestimable powers of love, hugs, and chicken soup.



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