Promoting better baby sleep from the perspective of Chinese medicine is very different from the standard American approach.
Modern pediatric sleep advice 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 if you go to any online parenting discussion board, there will be heated discussions among parents who defend their choice of sleep method for babies.
Regardless of parenting style and culture, Chinese medicine techniques can help improve sleep because they alter the energetics of sleep and focus on physiology rather than behavior.
While a reliable sleep routine will be enough for most 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.
Causes of Poor Sleep
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 recommendations of a pediatric acupuncturist.
In Chinese medicine, the source of sound sleep is good digestion. A visit to a pediatric acupuncturist to treat sleep disturbances will always 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.
To help digestion, you can massage in circles with medium pressure around the belly button, going counter-clockwise (against the flow of the intestines) to treat diarrhea and clockwise (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.
Teething and Sleep Trouble
Teething pain can disrupt even the best sleepers. Massaging acupressure points that have an energetic relationship to the gums helps 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.
To help ease teething discomfort, massage the point on the thumb-side of the index finger from the corner of the nail base to the nail tip (large intestine point), and the web between the second and third toe (stomach point) for two minutes per point as often as needed. This is very effective for improving sleep.
Massaging between your baby’s eyes can also greatly improve sleep. This very relaxing acupressure point can induce sleep in even the most reluctant sleeper. This point is located above the bridge of the nose between the eyes. You can massage upward with medium strokes until the baby drifts off to dreamland. It is good for adults too.
A daily acupressure massage can also be used to promote good baby sleep. 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 a 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 by massaging one finger and follow that line all the way up to the shoulder. Continue with each finger until you’ve done the both hands and both sides of the body.
Then do the same on the lower body by starting at each toe and massaging up each leg. Do both sides. Then continue with circular massage on the abdomen like the one to promote good digestion: Do 100–200 clockwise circles.
Finish with a series of nine upward strokes on the back. Start these strokes at the base of the spine and finish them at the neck. Babies will love the attention and their health will benefit as a result of this tender care.
Parents should be persistent with their use of baby acupressure. Babies respond amazingly quickly to acupressure treatments, but if their parents’ efforts are not enough to work through sleep challenges, then a consultation with a pediatric acupuncturist may be necessary. They can do a more thorough evaluation and plan a comprehensive treatment strategy to put the 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.
Jennifer Taveras, L.Ac., has an acupuncture practice at Triangle Wellness in New York City and is also the creator of the Holistic Baby Acupressure System, which educates parents internationally on pediatric acupressure protocols. Her instructional book and DVD are available at HolisticBabyAcupressureSystem.com.
(*Baby massage image via Shutterstock)