Naturally Treating Constipation in Babies and Children


Painting by Mary Cassat

Constipation should be considered when a baby or child is moving their bowels less frequently than normal, or the stools are small and hard. There can be pain and fear about going to the toilet.

There are many possible causes of constipation including:

  • Diet
  • Frequency of Feeding
  • External Stress
  • Internal Stress
  • Lowered Immunity
  • Difficult Birth

Middle Jiao:

In Traditional Chinese medicine the Middle Jiao is the area generally below the heart to the pubic bone. All Middle Jiao issues revolve around the transformation and transportation of food and fluids. We can include the Stomach, the Intestines, the Spleen, the Liver, the Bladder and the Uterus in the Middle Jiao.

When we think about Constipation we mainly look at the Spleen, Stomach, Liver and Gallbladder as the main organs that affect how food is transformed into energy and excreted.


Unlike Western Medicine the Spleen plays a vital role in processing food. The Stomach is considered the Hearth of the body and has the name the “Hundred Degree Soup”. The Spleen functions better with regularly spaced meals, cooked foods and easily digested foods. The Spleen needs to be able to turn the food into rapid energy and then send the waste to the colon for excretion.

How things get “slowed” down:

Irregular feedings:

Most babies and toddlers graze a lot throughout the day. Often snacks keep them happy temporarily but can affect the amount of “proper” food eaten at a meal.

Eating abundance of cold, raw foods:

Cold raw food (including an excess of raw vegetables, fruits, ice cream, cold drinks) can affect the digestive powers of the Middle Jiao.

External and Internal Stress:

New environments can create an interruption in bowel movements such as travel and/ or school. Additionally potty training and issues around that can create constipation.

Traditional Chinese Medicine typically breaks down symptoms into clusters to strategize the best treatment.

Constipation generally falls into two specific categories: Excess and Deficiency.

Excess Type Constipation / Accumulation  


  • Swollen abdomen
  • Stools can be very hard and smelly
  • Stools can fluctuate hard and loose
  • Often the cheeks are red or flushed
  • Strong Child
  • When they yell you are forced to take notice
  • Green or yellow nasal discharge
  • Irritable

Deficient Constitution / Weakened Spleen and Stomach Qi:

These children often do not have the energy or Qi to properly move their bowels.

  • Prone to more frequent illnesses
  • Weak or floppy looking
  • Possibly a challenging childbirth
  • Bowel movement infrequent, possibly hard
  • Not particularly odorous bowel movement

Acupuncture and Acupressure Treatment Strategies:

For the child who has Accumulation Issues we use acupuncture, Shoni shin massage and dietary therapy to help relieve constipation. This pattern is typically revolved around clearing heat and stimulating the colon to move. The colon is essentially bogged down and needs a bit of help passing the accumulated food through.

Children typically respond very quickly. *Do not be alarmed if the bowels move very suddenly!

Acupuncture needles are generally not retained for children under the age if seven years old. Typically a pin is placed and removed quickly before the child even sees it. Shonishin pediatric massage is utilized to stimulate the Stomach, Gallbladder and San Jiao meridian. Often the acupuncturist will leave press tacks in points that are particularly effective including St 36 or St 25.

What you can do at home:

Gently massage the abdomen in a circular fashion over the umbilicus.

Massage Stomach 36 with a tapping motion.

Children with a weaker Constitution are treated similarly but the emphasis is less on draining excess food but warming and strengthening the middle to process food more effectively. We often utilize moxabustion to tonify the digestive strength.

Similarly pins are not retained for children under the age of seven.

Dietary Suggestions:


Klaire Labs and Jarro make great powdered probiotics that can be seamlessly added to just about any food.

More cooked, easily digestible foods like grains, millet, quinoa, rice, sweet potato, root vegetables,

Fewer sugary foods and drinks


Congee is a type of rice porridge that is popular in many Asian cultures. Congee is easily digested which makes it a popular dish when one is sick or constipated.

Grains are generally cooked in a 6-1 (water to grain) dilution until the grain disintegrates. You can add a bit of meat or scallion and soy sauce for a savory congee or honey or maple syrup for a sweet congee. Traditionally rice is the most commonly used grain or you can try millet or quinoa.

Epsom salt baths: 

A few times a day place your child in a warm bath with enough water to cover most of the abdomen. This often works to loosen things up. It tends to relax the body, which is particularly useful with kids who hold stool in. Some kids will allow you to gently massage their belly while they soak in the bath. Adding about 1/2 cup of epsom salts, which contains magnesium and sulfates that are absorbed through the skin, can also help ease constipation.


Power of Propolis

Bee-PropolisMy family of Bee Keepers recently paid a visit in NYC and I was so excited to chat with them extensively about the power of Bees and their extraordinary products. My cousin Gustav is a third generation of beekeeper and I have fond memories meeting his Grandfather (my great, great Uncle) in Sweden when I was eight. I have an image in my head of my Great Uncle in his bee suit and huge drums of creamy honey in the basement. Maybe that started my deep love for honey?

Gustav had a lot of information to share. Sadly a lot of the discussion was about the disappearance of bees. He has been working extremely hard over the past ten years developing ways to keep his beehives healthy.

There were so many fascinating medicinal facts and bee products that I was inspired to write a 4-Part Piece on Bee products including Honey, Propolis, Bee Pollen and Royal Jelly. I’ll start with Propolis.

The Power of Propolis

Gustav called Propolis “the anti” because of  its antiinflamitory, antibacterial, antiviral, antitumor and antiseptic properties. Honey bees are “propolis harvesters”. Bees collect resins from treebuds and mix the resins with a little honey, wax and enzymes to create propolis. Propolis essentially contains resins, balsams, essential oils, flavonoids, vitamins, minerals and pollen. Analysis shows that bees don’t significantly change the resins they collect which makes propolis an herbal medicine similar to other medicinal gums and resins such as boswellia and myrrh.

Propolis is a Greek word that translates to “before the city” and is used by bees in the hives to line the hive to keep the hive clean. Propolis also acts as an adhesive as it assists in gluing the hive together and protect the hive from inclement weather. Bees not only line their hive with Propolis but leave Propolis as a “doormat” at the entrance. Gustav mentioned that bees step their feet in the Propolis before entering the hive to “clean” their feet before entering. Additionally Bees embalm invaders. Ancient Egyptians followed the bees knowledge and used propolis to embalming agents for their mummies. If a pest were to enter the hive and die the bees cover the dead animal in Propolis to keep the hive and the Queen Bee protected from germs.

Even The Gracie Diet, a diet created by Grandmaster Carlos Gracie, the forefather of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu who lived and trained into his 90’s, listed Propolis as one of the 10 foods that should be eaten daily. Following the Hippocratean maxim “Let your food be your remedy”, Grandmaster Carlos Gracie aimed at founding a system that would primarily prevent illness on days of competition.The basic principle of the Gracie Diet is to keep blood pH level neutral by consuming only compatible nutrients at each meal.

A study on PubMed reported that “More than 15 Greek and Roman authors report on the preparation and application of the so-called third natural product of the bees (besides honey and wax). Aristoteles described the fundamental issues of its biology in his ‘Historia Animalium’ correctly.” Propolis has been utilized since ancient times as a topical antiseptic used for open wounds. It is said that Propolis is the most natural antibiotic man has ever discovered. The remarkable thing about this statement is the fact that this discovery took place some 2000 years ago.”

Integrate Propolis into your daily regimen:

In cell culture tests Propolis extracts have been shown to significantly inhibit the growth in the Klebsiella pneumoniae, Escherichia coli, Staphyloccocus, clostridium, corynebacterium diptheriae and some streptococcus species.

Propolis Salve:
Treating open wounds it is superior to use a blend of propolis as a topical salve rather than a single antibiotic in petroleum jelly. Antibiotics are overused and their overuse are creating a rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria. The complex bend of compounds in propolis is superior to the single antibiotic in petroleum jelly. Gladiators know how to treat wounds!

Propolis as mouth wash:
Propolis mouth wash inhibits the growth of common human oral bacteria which helps the body heal after surgery, prevent bad breath, gingivitis, tooth decay and gum disease.

Upper respiratory conditions:

Propolis can be added to saline for a sinus irrigation. In many Eastern European countries widespread use of antibiotics is less common than beekeeping. Washing, gargling and irrigating the sinuses with propolis rinses are more commonly used.

Promote heart health. Propolis has been demonstrated to be an antiinflammatory.

Emollient: Studies also indicate that Propolis may be effective in treating skin burns.

Immune Support: Propolis exhibits immunostimulant effects in numerous clinical trials.

Propolis is available in powder, lozenges, tincture, capsules and pills.

As my family was heading back home they were eager to hug and kiss everyone of us before boarding the plane. Gustav waved a hearty goodbye as he popped some Propolis in his mouth.

Stay tuned for Bee Pollen!!

Sleep For Restoration

P8171435SLEEP for mental and physical restoration.

Sleep is one of the most important aspects of life and it is something that the average person spends about a third of their life doing. Just as every person differs, sleep is a highly individualized affair as well. Everyone can agree however that one feels awful if they do not get enough of it. Even if for some people 5 hours is sufficient and for others 10 hours is required to feel “normal”.

The perfect sleep:
In traditional Chinese medicine the perfect sleep is likened to a mini death. One should enter sleep easily and wake 7-8 hours later completely rested and refreshed having absolutely no recollection of any dreams.

Insomnia in Chinese medicine:
When a person suffers from insomnia, the two organs most often out of balance are the Heart and the Liver. Each of these two organs houses a specific aspect of the spirit. If these organs are out of balance, they will not be able to house the spirit properly, and the spirit will wander.

Blood reserves and sleep:
Sleep is dependent upon the amount of blood in the body. Blood is needed to help ground the spirit at night so that a deep sleep will come naturally. Pregnant women often remark that they feel calmer and I think that the increased blood volume has something to do with that.

Dreaming in Chinese medicine:

Dreams are considered to be a continuation of over-thinking.
Highly fantastical dreams like flying, slaying dragons, nightmares, etc relate to the HEART.  Rote, life-like dreams are usually related to the SPLEEN. I’ve had people tell me that they dream about alphabetizing things from work or just going about their day as usual busily performing tasks in their sleep as if the day never ended. Usually dreaming leaves people feeling tired in the morning.

In Chinese medicine all disorders are broken down into clusters of symptoms or patterns that help differentiate each case. Usually people exhibit a few symptoms from one or more pattern. The language is from traditional Chinese medicine and as you can tell may seem a little different than average American vernacular.

1) Liver depression transforming into fire: (people under long term stress)
Insomnia, irritability, bitter taste, headache, blood shot eyes, constipation.

2) Phlegm harassing the heart:
Insomnia, heaviness of the head, copious phlegm, distending pain, aversion to eating, belching, acid regurgitation, nausea, irritability, bitter taste in the mouth.

3) Yin vacuity with effulgent fire:(common in postpartum women, students, people who work late hours or have had a history of drug use)
Insomnia, irritability, dizziness, vertigo, tinnitus, aching of the lower back, dry mouth, usually wakes in the middle of the night, heat in the palms or soles of the feet, forgetfulness.

4) Heart and Spleen vacuity:
Frequent dreaming, light sleep, difficulty falling asleep, ruminating before bedtime, dizzy spells, tiredness, listlessness, vertigo.

5) Heart and Gallbladder insufficiency: (menopausal women, people under stress)
Insomnia, frequent dreaming, tendency to wake startled, palpitations, prone to fright, shortness of breath, timidity, copious, clear urine.

Acupuncture and herbs can help target your specific pattern and restore rest.

Foods to help boost the blood:

Some foods are:

* red colored foods such as berries, cherries, pomegranate
* red meat in moderation
* floradix (vegetarian iron supplement)
* beets

Postpartum Anxiety

In Chinese Medicine birthing is considered the b184-Mood-Disorders2-1iggest drain on a woman’s essence or jing.

Jing is basically your battery reserve of strength for life. Everyone is born with a certain amount at birth and the levels are steadily used to sustain life. Jing essence is exceedingly difficult to replace (some ancients believe that qi gong, meditation and a few supplements like cordyceps can do so).

Jing is drawn steadily from the kidneys to support the aging process and is burned rapidly through stressful events, medications and stimulants that tap the adrenals. It is far better to pull the energy you need from the food you eat and sleep you get than use your reserves.

In order to do everything that you can to preserve Jing traditional culture recommends rising with the sun and sleeping with the setting sun, resting during the menses, avoiding intercourse during the menses and refraining from stimulants.

Postpartum anxiety is a syndrome where the mother is overly anxious, suffering from paranoid thoughts, obsessive compulsive behaviors, sleep disorders and physical issues like palpitations. Many women are stressed about the well-being of the baby and even possibly concerned that they will harm their own baby (i havent met anyone with this extreme condition). If your condition persists for more that two weeks or you have thoughts of harming your baby, you need to speak with your Dr immediately.

From a TCM point of view postpartum women are extremely blood deficient. The body’s blood volume has practically doubled throughout pregnancy to support the fetus; the hair gets luxurious, nails long and strong and little wrinkles disappear. Postpartum is a different story. Childbirth itself is pretty bloody-especially if you have had a C-section. Nursing also depletes the bodies fluid levels. When blood and fluid levels get low there is a phenomenon in Chinese medicine called Liver Blood or/or Heart Blood/Yin Deficiency. This can manifest as disturbed sleep, palpitations, dry mouth, agitation, anxiety, trouble concentrating…

Chinese medicine treats postpartum anxiety really well. There are many classical herbal formulas to address both the root and symptom of postpartum anxiety or if you are concerned about taking herbs and nursing acupuncture alone may be the way to go.

Dietary therapy is helpful as well. I always make sure a woman is taking:

  • Fish Oil
  • Floradix: veggie iron supplement
  • Eating Black foods to nourish the Kidneys (home to Jing Essence): black beans, fish, black sesame seeds, molasses, seaweed
  • Also consider: dandelion and nettles to boost iron and calcium