Treating Children With Traditional Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture

Posted by Catherine Woodlock

What a precious job – being the guardian of a tiny human.  It is filled with excitement, magic, and no small amount of uncertainty – especially when our treasured little human has something going on with their health.  It can feel helpless sometimes, as google suggests a wide array of worst case scenarios and an overwhelming range of solutions.

This is where acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine comes in.  Traditional Chinese Medicine has a long and rich history of treating people of all ages.  From issues that arise with newborn babies right through childhood to pubescent years, Chinese Medicine can help.  

Chinese Medicine Lens On Children’s Growth & Development

The lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine views children as pure Yang.  They encompass the upward springing dynamic of transformative expansion.  Within their tiny bodies and ever curious minds, children fully embody kinetic energy, as they grow wildly into their unique expression of full sized humans. 

With this much movement – upwards, outwards and forward – childhood is really just one huge transition after another.  And transitions can be difficult.  TCM helps to cultivate a free flowing relationship between the parents, the child and their constitution, helping them to thrive to their full potential and pass through these many transitions with ease.  

Paediatric Acupuncture

Most parents are a little bit alarmed at the idea of using acupuncture needles on children and babies.  However, this is often due to common misconceptions.

Common Misconceptions

– Parents who have not had acupuncture equate the idea of acupuncture needles with immunization or blood draw needles.  However, the needles that we use for acupuncture are super teeny tiny – 0.10mm for children.  In fact, 20-30 acupuncture needles fit inside one hypodermic needle.  Most babies and children don’t even notice the sensation of the acupuncture needles!

– Parents who have had acupuncture laugh at the idea of their active little chaos machines trying to sit still during a treatment, imagining the spa-like 20 minute needle retention of an adult treatment.  However, with a paediatric session, we use fewer needles (on average 2 to 8 needles) – and the needle retention is much shorter, only lasting seconds.  Usually we end up following the little one around the room while he or she plays with toys, or sits in his or her parents arms.

That being said, sometimes children or parents can be too overwhelmed by the thought of needles for acupuncture to be within the realm of possibility.  Thus, we always work in the comfort zone of the children and parents, and opt for a child-led approach

There are many other ways to stimulate the acupuncture points such as massage or other acupoint stimulation tools. 

5 Common Paediatric Conditions Commonly Treated with Chinese Medicine & Acupuncture

1.  Colic 

A double blind, placebo controlled trial found that light stimulation of one acupuncture point, twice per week, led to a shorter duration of fussy behaviour and a quicker resolution to infant’s colic (1). Acupuncture, herbal medicine and infant massage techniques can help to strengthen the digestive system, calm the nervous system and relax the infant.

2.  Constipation

Constipation can be a very common issue with children.  Acupuncture and herbal medicines help to treat constipation at the root of the issue, rather than through the band-aid approach of laxative use.  A systematic review found acupuncture to be a safe and effective treatment to increase stool frequency and improved constipation symptoms and stool formation (2). This has been found effective with children too, with my little patients often experiencing a bowel movement very shortly after acupuncture!

3.  Insomnia

In 2008, a meta-analysis showed that acupuncture and herbs are effective in the treatment of insomnia (3).  Often, as babies, toddlers and children develop, they experience sleep difficulties and sleep regressions.  Acupuncture and herbal medicine can help to balance your little one’s overall health and help them to make it through these transitions with more ease.  

4.  Acid Reflux

One of my saddest moments in clinic was when a three year old explained that it felt like there was lava in his chest.  After a few treatments this little fellow felt much much better.  Indeed one study found that acupuncture significantly reduced the symptoms of GERD (4), with another study finding positive effects on decreasing stomach acid (5).  

5.  Anxiety 

Acupuncture is effective at calming the nervous system, and helping the body to transition from the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system to the rest and digest parasympathetic nervous system.  This can help little ones who are struggling with anxious tendencies as well as behavioural issues.

As our precious little humans mature through the stages that lead to adulthood, there are many places that imbalance can occur.  Ultimately, Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture and herbal therapy can help bring ease and vitality to most situations.  

Contact Us

If you would like to know if Traditional Chinese Medicine acupuncture or herbal therapy would be a good fit for your child, please feel free to book a free 15-minute phone consultation to speak with one of our paediatric acupuncturists.


(1) PMID: 20959312

(2) PMID: 6137450

(3) PMID: 19922248

(4) PMID: 27323443

(5) PMID: 24501947

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