More moms than ever before are paying closer attention to organic, non-GMO foods, chemical-free baby products and green cleaning tips. And the remedies they give their babies when they’re sick are no exception.
In recent years, some are turning to complementary and alternative medicine such as homeopathy. In fact, in 2012 approximately 1.8 percent of children in the U.S. used homeopathy in the previous year, according to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Here, experts weigh in on the benefits and risks of homeopathy and what you should know before trying it.
Homeopathy— a complementary medicine
Developed in Germany more than 200 years ago, many doctors in Europe and India are trained in homeopathy and use it to treat babies today.
Homeopathy, or homeopathic medicine, is based on the principle that “like cures like.” Instead of treating an individual’s illness, homeopathy treats individual symptoms with substances from plants and minerals that are highly diluted and “succussed,” or shaken to release energy, said Sara Chana Silverstein, a homeopath, master herbalist and an international board-certified lactation consultant who works in New York and Los Angeles.
Although homeopathy isn’t meant to replace Western medicine, it can be a complementary or alternative approach for ailments like colds, the stomach flu and teething.
For example, if your pediatrician has diagnosed your baby with an upper respiratory infection, there’s not much you can do other than offer lots of fluids, rest and possibly acetaminophen or ibuprofen. In this case, a homeopathic remedy might help.
Plus, since antibiotic overuse and antimicrobial resistance remain a major concern in the U.S., and antibiotics often have side effects, homeopathy could help heal without the need for a prescription.In fact, a study in the journal Homeopathy found that homeopathy for ear infections was just as effective as conventional treatment but patients in the homeopathic group had a faster improvement in symptoms.
Although some studies show promising results, more research is needed to determine who homeopathic remedies work best for and in what situations, said Dr. Hilary McClafferty, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Section on Complementary and Integrative Medicine.
Is homeopathy safe?
Although homeopathic remedies are regulated by the FDA as drugs, they are not evaluated for safety and effectiveness and can be marketed without approval. Instead, they use the Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States as their guideline.
“In the United, States, the homeopathic products that carry the label, HPUS—
Homeopathic Pharmacopeia of the United States— are prepared with a very standardized, procedural monograph. So there is a map and regulations that ensure what’s on the label is what’s in the bottle,” McClafferty said.
Despite these regulations, concerns about the safety of homeopathic remedies remain. In 2010, Hyland’s Teething Tablets were recalled after the FDA found inconsistent amounts of belladonna, which could be toxic at higher doses.
Earlier this year, the FDA held a hearing to determine how homeopathic remedies should be regulated. They recently extended the deadline for comments from the public and other interested parties until November 9.
The only adverse effect of homeopathy, according to Silverstein, is that if a baby consumed a remedy too frequently, such as every hour for 10 hours, they would “prove” the remedy, or create the symptoms the remedy was trying to heal.
“But if you gave it to a child 3 times a day at a low dose, personally I do not believe it could injure a child in anyway whatsoever,” she said.
What you need to know
Before trying a homeopathic remedy, experts agree it’s imperative that your baby be seen by his pediatrician first to make a diagnosis and evaluate treatment options. Babies, especially newborns, should be seen by their pediatrician immediately.
“It can be very difficult to figure out if a baby has just a mild illness or there’s something more serious going on,” McClafferty said.
If your child is a healthy, normally developing toddler with an upper respiratory infection for example, you could try a homeopathic remedy knowing that it may or may not work, but it’s unlikely to have a negative effect, McClafferty said.
But if your child has health issues or his symptoms are complicated, you could put your baby at riskby using a homeopathic remedy instead of seeing your pediatrician first..
Plus, if you choose to use an over-the-counter homeopathic remedy, it can challenging to know whether it will work for your child since some contain a combination of remedies to address many symptoms. What’s more, some over-the-counter remedies contain meat and dairy— a concern if your baby is allergic— as well as stabilizers.
Your best bet is to see a trained homeopath who will target individual symptoms and give you pellets in the size that’s appropriate for your child’s age, Silverstein said.
The bottom line when it comes to deciding between homeopathy, a medication or another remedy?
“You want to be well educated, conservative and in touch with your pediatrician,” McClafferty said.
Julie Revelant is a health journalist and a consultant who provides content marketing and copywriting services for the healthcare industry. She's also a mom of two. Learn more about Julie at revelantwriting.com.