What drives new parents to the point of near insanity? A sleepless child.
I know. Until I had children, I had no idea the crushing effect a sleepless child could have on a family. In fact, I had no idea what it was like to have a child with any difficulties because up to that point, I lived in a childless dream world, where sleep was taken for granted. Then I had one who wouldn’t slumber.
I was a slave to his insomnia. I rocked him. Walked him. Fed him calming foods like warm, raw milk. Sang to him. Yet no matter my efforts, he remained wide awake. I felt like crying in defeat because nothing I did helped. There were times he’d fall asleep in my arms after walking him for hours, but the smallest action of putting him down in his bed would wake him, leaving me no other choice but to either let him scream for hours (which I could only endure a few times before collapsing into comforting him), or continue pacing through the wee hours of the night. My husband and I were so worn out by our sleepless baby that we recruited my parents and a babysitter’s aid on some nights, just so we could squeeze in a few hours of desperately needed rest. None of this affected our little one nearly as much as it did my husband and me because he would snooze on my shoulder a little, as long as I walked. At the time, I was a homeopathy student and barely knew how to treat simple acute illnesses, let alone this chronic condition.
As you can imagine, sleep-inducing drugs like Ambien, Restoril and Sonata are sometimes administered to babies and older children in the over-prescribed, conventional pharmaceutical world we live in today. But for those of us walking the path of a more wholesome approach, drugs like these are out of the question.
Indeed, I wish I could tell you there is one simple solution; a single homeopathic remedy that easily puts all children to sleep without any muss or fuss, like the promise of pharmaceuticals, but when employing homeopathy, a more exacting method is required.
It is not a complicated process, however it eluded me during the early moments of my burgeoning motherhood, due largely to my sophomoric understanding of homeopathy at the time. I later learned that the homeopathic technique forces us to tighten our observational skills, become familiar with a handful of homeopathic medicines and learn when to use them.
Certainly the watchful eye of a mother is a critical component when rearing children. In fact, the survival of humankind depends on this. However, there is a contrary side to a mother’s attention to details in which she does not (or cannot) see what is actually happening to her child, in spite of obvious evidence. Perhaps because it is too painful to admit that certain intellectual theories she may have held in high regard may not be at play. Perhaps she cannot see a clear overview when details are in hyperfocus. Such was the case with my son and me. Possibly, I didn’t want to believe there was an underlying condition, such as a problem with his gut and how it may have influenced his sleep. I held to my reasoning that I had only consumed wholesome, pure foods for at least a decade prior to conceiving him; I had followed WAP’s precepts upon conception to a “T”; I gave birth at home, and he was never exposed to manufactured foods nor a pharmaceutical lifestyle. I was sure I had done everything right. So I readily dismissed what I should have paid attention to most.
With the passage of time (which, in truth, equated to many more months than I care to admit) and a dash or two of clarity, I was finally able to unearth the cause of my baby’s sleep disorder. The sobering truth was that my child not only suffered from insomnia but also a swollen, tympanic belly. It was wishful thinking on my part that kept me believing his belly was normal, but in my most lucid moments, it was painfully evident that I was not addressing the true essence of his condition. Then one day (for no reason I can clearly recall), I decided to give him a homeopathic medicine designed to treat bloated bellies and food intolerances. Over a period of about six weeks, some remarkable changes began to occur. First, his appetite returned. This was not something I had wholly recognized as being associated with his overall state, but it was evident upon its correction. Then soon enough, a healthy, stable sleeping pattern started to emerge. I can’t recollect exactly when my husband and I were no longer assigned to our obligatory nocturnal walkings, but now, decades later, I can recall that he slowly began sleeping through the night and not long after, his swollen belly returned to a normal shape and size.
What plagued me as much as my sleep deprivation was the guilt I accrued wondering what I had done that might have contributed to this condition. I could only blame my husband’s and my DNA, which had been plenty manipulated during previous decades of meds, meds and more meds. Indeed, I should have recognized this because in homeopathic literature throughout the centuries, it is noted that when the DNA is poked at by suppressing methods, such as drugs of commerce, the result is thrown into the next generation. This inherited stain is called a miasm.
I will note that certainly, not all cases of childhood insomnia are rooted in gut ailments, yet with this episode in my personal life and in my practice, I’ve noted that far too many are. As such, insomnia is frequently not just insomnia, but a representation of a deeper underlying condition, which can include inherited conditions of gut dysbiosis.
However, there definitely are causes stemming from more minor pathologies. Cases of teething are a prime example of this. What would seem to be a normal milestone in a child’s life can sometimes morph into a pathology that can be the root of sleeplessness, sometimes even for weeks, thus becoming chronic.
Here are some of the most common causes of chronic pediatric insomnia and their important homeopathic medicines to consider:
1. Ignatia is the best choice when the cause of insomnia is the result of a psychological issue such as fear, anxiety, sadness or stress. It’s also an effective go-to remedy when there do not appear to be any other extrinsic factors present. Ignatia 200 is also my primary choice in cases of childhood insomnia when nothing else stands out as the cause.
2. What if the sleepless child is a newborn? We don’t usually associate insomnia with neonatal pediatrics, and we don’t expect that there would be a psychological cause. So instead, we might look at what preceded the baby’s insomnia; that is, the actual birth. If the baby came into the world in a flurry of drugs, such as those administered during and after a C-section—Pitocin, which is used to speed up the body’s natural labor process; antibiotics present when the mother is giving birth—a newborn can be adversely affected. Who wouldn’t be after such an event? In cases like these, one dose only of Aconitum 200, followed by Nux vomica 200 taken once daily for a few days will often antidote the ill effects of the drugs and restore the child’s sleep. This is particularly well-suited for babies who concomitantly suffer from gastrointestinal conditions, such as constipation, diarrhea or both, as well as colic.
3. If the child is a little older and appears over-active by way of constant chatter and a noticeably hurried state of mind, particularly after the use of conventional drugs, such as ADHD meds and other personality-altering substances, Coffea 200 is likely the appropriate remedy for insomnia. The use of Coffea is also suitable if the child eats or drinks stimulating foods such as chocolate, coffee and other caffeinated substances, yet the use of these substances is not necessarily requisite for choosing this medicine.
4. For the child who suffers from insomnia due to an overworked mind resulting from a heavy school load, Kali phos 200 should be considered.
If none of the conditions described above fits the picture of the child in question, it might be time to consider those conditions that are prominent in the family, such as gut dysbiosis, food intolerances and allergies, just like I did with my son so long ago. Based on my limited knowledge of homeopathy at the time, coupled with my blind eye to recognize the obvious, I initially started him on Ignatia, but with limited success.
The remedy that did correct my son’s insomnia was Lycopodium 200. I gave it to him once a week for about six weeks. As I remember it, there was no change in his sleep for a while, but I did notice a change in his overall demeanor. He was more lighthearted, his appetite increased and he exhibited a new vitality. He began taking naps and bedtime became a less dreaded undertaking than it had been up to that point, and more a seemingly regular routine. His belly was no longer as bloated and after about a month or so, his sleep was nearly fully restored (along with my sanity!).
I fully expected to witness a complete cure, but that was not the case. Instead, it was necessary for me to administer Lycopodium 200 time and again over a period of several months. Each time it was employed, his belly seemed to improve a little more. To this day, his sleep patterns directly coincide with his digestion, and I’ve noted the same for many of my clients and students.
As is often the case when employing homeopathy, it is best to stop using the medicine once the condition has resolved. This can take anywhere from a few hours, a few days or even several months, and is why the art of observation is so fundamental to the employment of homeopathy. Generally, homeopathics are used twice daily, then assessed at the end of that time to determine whether improvement is evident.
At any time, if sleep is much restored, the medicine should be halted, regardless of how long it has been used. For example, if sleep is only partially restored, this is an indication the remedy has not fully acted and needs more time. Yet, if there is no improvement at all after a month and a half of use, it should be stopped and a more individually specific remedy considered in its place.
Once you discover the medicine that works best for your child, you’ll experience a type of relief you never thought possible. Homeopathy has a long history of gently treating conditions and uprooting them. A tender homeopathic nudge goes a long way when it comes to restoring sleep, correcting food intolerances and easing a worried motherly mind. Genuine sleep will remove the blinders from weary eyes and offer insight into a world of family-centered medicine.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2016