While I am not completely opposed to the use of over the counter pain relievers in certain situations, I have many parents ask me for suitable alternatives for pain relief for their young child. Here are a few suggestions, but keep in mind that if you do not know what is causing your child’s pain or efforts to relieve pain do not seem to help, you should take them to a qualified healthcare provider for evaluation.
- A hug and kiss. This seems obvious, but touch and expression of love and care can do wonders for bumps and bruises and even more annoying growing and teething pain. Skin to skin contact also causes release of endorphins and chemicals in the brain that can help block pain signals.
- Breastfeeding. This is extremely helpful for infants and toddlers who have not yet been weaned. Besides the physical contact and emotional bond, breastmilk also has the ability to affect brain chemistry and neurotransmitters that affect mood and pain.
- Ice and heat. Ice is good for injuries or any type of inflammatory pain. For pain due to infection or muscle tension, heat can be helpful. If you aren’t sure which to use, try contrast hydrotherapy: apply a warm (check temperature on wrist) moist compress (towel, rice pillow, washcloth, hot water bottle) to the affected area for 3 minutes and immediately follow with an ice pack over the affected area for 1 minute. Repeat 3 times to help pump blood through the area. This helps with inflammation, infection, and even stress related pain.
- Homeopathic remedies. Arnica is a good remedy to have on hand for bumps, bruises, and inflammation after dental work or surgery. It can even be administered to infants by crushing one pellet and dissolving in a small amount of breastmilk or formula before administering it orally. Topical arnica creams can be used as well on bruises, strains, and sprains (but avoid using on open wounds unless directed by a doctor). You should check with a qualified healthcare professional or Naturopathic Doctor for specific recommendations about how much and how often to give any homeopathic remedy. There are also other remedies besides Arnica that may be more helpful for your child’s particular pain, so it is good to ask a professional first.
- Sleep. This may seem like a catch 22, especially if your child is not sleeping because of the pain, but I am including it, because some parents forget that sleep is actually a good thing if their child is in pain, and it is not always necessary to interrupt sleep to administer pain relievers or check on them (unless specifically directed by a healthcare provider). During teething and growth spurts, your child may take unusually long naps, which is completely normal. Be prepared to be flexible during these phases.
- Diet. Chronic pain such as headaches and stomachaches may be related to food sensitivities or other dietary issues. Any chronic pain that is persistent should be evaluated by a healthcare professional, even if you suspect a particular food might be the cause. Some children may need to be evaluated for medical conditions that could require treatment beyond simple dietary changes. If your child has a stomachache after overindulging in sugar or processed food, simply offer lots of fluids and the pain should subside in a day or two.
- Counseling. If your child has been going through a particularly stressful time and stress seems to be at the root of their pain, consider counseling or therapy from a professional who specializes in age appropriate therapy. Often pain that is stress related will be accompanied by changes in mood, behavior, academic performance and may be strongly correlated to certain situations (being around a particular person or in a particular place). If you suspect you may be part of the cause, you should consider counseling for yourself too.
- The power of suggestion. It is amazing how a “magical tea” can be the perfect cure for any aches and pains. Chamomile tea is generally safe for all ages and can be served warm or cold. Telling your child that it is special tea to help them feel better is an important part of the treatment. Chamomile itself is a nervine, meaning it helps calm and bring balance to the nervous system, which can have an indirect impact on pain.
- Massage. Like a hug and kiss, the gentle touch of massage has many physiological as well as emotional benefits. Using calendula oil or another blend specifically formulated for infants or young children can be good for the skin as well as the connective tissue and muscles underneath. Abdominal massage can be incredibly helpful for many types of pain, since it can reduce stress and improve bloodflow to vital organs. Pressure should be very gently, especially with infants and young children. There are classes available on infant massage, which may be worthwhile for new parents. When massaging the abdomen, you should always move in a clockwise direction.
- Remember that not all pain is bad. For example, pain from injuries exists so that we will protect the injured body part from further damage. Eliminating this type of pain entirely can lead to more extensive injury or prolong the healing time. Pain that teaches us not to repeat something (like getting burned) also serves a purpose. Pain that interferes with sleeping, eating, eliminating, or other important daily functions should always be evaluated by a qualified healthcare professional.
About the Author: Dr. Bowker is a Naturopathic Physician and owner of Snohomish Valley Holistic Medicine. In addition to her clinical practice, Dr. Bowker serves as a Board member for the Washington Association of Naturopathic Physicians. She has also been a guest speaker for community organizations and instructor of several community health classes. For more information, please visit her primary website: www.snovalleyholistic.com