Better baby sleep from the Chinese perspective is a very different approach than most Americans practice. Modern sleep advice for babies is an incredibly contentious subject as any trip to the bookstore will demonstrate. There are books on the many different behavioral modification methods from the cry it out approaches to the attachment parenting styles. And go to any online parenting discussion board and there will be heated discussions between parents who defend their choice of baby sleep method.
Regardless of parenting style and culture there are many benefits to families in implementing Chinese Medicine techniques in improving sleep because they alter the energetics of sleep and focus on physiology rather than behavior.
The foundation of all treatments to improve baby sleep with Chinese medicine begin with an analysis of digestion. There can’t be good sleep if there is gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. Regular abdominal massage can be incredibly beneficial to regulating the digestive processes. Massage with medium pressure in circles around the belly button, going against the flow of the intestines to treat diarrhea and with the course of the intestines to treat gas, bloating and constipation. To do a well-baby treatment begin with 50 circles against the flow of the intestines and then finish with 50 circles going with the flow of the intestines. This is guaranteed to ease tummy troubles that interfere with good sleep.
Massage acupressure points that have an energetic relationship to the gums and help to relieve the pain, heat and swelling that accompany teething. In Chinese medicine, the primary channels that intersect the gums are the stomach and large intestine meridians. Massage the point on the index finger by the corner of the nail (large intestine point) and the web between the 2nd and 3rd toe (stomach point) for two minutes per point as often as pain is a problem. It is easy to do and very effective.
A very relaxing acupressure point that can induce sleep in a reluctant sleeper is called Yintang. It is located between the eyes (the third eye point). Massage upwards with medium strokes until your baby drifts off to dreamland. It is good for adults too.
The entire body is crossed with energy channels that correspond to the internal organs. There are six channels that traverse the arms and six channels that traverse the legs. Regular massage along these energetic pathways will keep your baby’s immune system strong, improve digestion, and assist with good growth and development. For an easy massage that will benefit the whole body, begin with each finger and follow that line all the way up to the shoulder. Continue with each finger until you’ve done the entire hand on both sides of the body.Then do the same on the lower body by starting with each toe and massaging up each leg. Do both sides. Then finish with an abdominal massage and upward strokes on the back, going from the base of the spine up to the neck. Your baby will love the attention and their health will benefit as a result of your tender care.
In Chinese medicine there are many different patterns of sleep disturbance, each with their own unique treatment. With babies it is usually an excess of Yang energy (fire) and a deficiency of Yin energy (water), but it could also be due to a weak Spleen (earth) and an excess Liver (wood) or other elemental imbalance. Balancing these energies with acupressure can be done easily and effectively with the use of a good acupressure reference guide or the recommendation of a pediatric acupuncturist.
Babies are not mini-adults and their sleep behaviors are unique for their stage of physical and neurological development. Remember that the circadian rhythms in babies are still developing and that their sleep cycles are shorter and more easily disturbed than adults. Parents should educate themselves about pediatric sleep rhythms and through this understanding of the differences between adult and child sleep patterns practice patience with their babies as they mature.
Chronic sleep disturbances that don’t shift despite good sleep habits could signal a health condition that should be screened by your pediatrician. These include gastroesophageal reflux, sleep apnea, food and environmental allergies, and ear infections. Once diagnosed consider supporting your doctor’s recommendations with Chinese Medical interventions as well.
It is important to establish good sleep habits. These include having a flexible routine that you follow each day for naps and bedtime. Babies thrive on consistency. So create the ideal sleep environment for your child - darken the room, quiet the house, and then follow the sleep routine that best matches your parenting style.
While a reliable sleep routine will be enough for many babies to establish a healthy sleep pattern, others may need additional support. This is when Chinese medicine and its attention to individual energetics can come to the rescue.
Babies respond amazingly quick to acupressure treatments, but if your own efforts are not enough to work through sleep challenges then consult a pediatric acupuncturist. They can do a more thorough evaluation and plan a comprehensive treatment strategy to get your baby on a better sleep track.
Babies benefit immensely from Chinese medicine’s unique perspective on pediatric sleep and its gentle and effective acupressure solutions. Regardless of parenting style and sleep philosophy, all families can utilize these simple and easy to implement strategies to improve their baby’s sleep. It just takes a little time and attention, and the result can be a better night’s sleep for both the baby and the parents.
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Photo Credits: baby massage by Flickr: Valentina Powers; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com