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Baby-Safe Alternative Medicine

With more parents turning to alternative remedies to cure what ails them, it's not surprising that they're increasingly interested in treating their babies this way too. "These methods can be more gentle and have fewer side effects, two reasons they are gaining in popularity for young children," says Benjamin Kligler, M.D., a family practitioner and Director of the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

Of course, what works for parents may not be safe for their kids. Because natural remedies are not regulated by the government, talk to your pediatrician before trying any alternative approach. Following are common alternative treatments for basic baby bothers:

* Cradle cap: Olive oil is an ancient remedy used to help moisturize the scales that come with cradle cap, says Edward Cox, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Rub one tablespoon into the head a half hour before bathtime three times a week, gently comb out the flakes or rub them with a soft toothbrush, then rinse.

* Colic: Diluted chamomile or fennel tea relaxes a baby's intestines, says Stuart Ditchek, M.D., clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine and coauthor of Healthy Child, Whole Child. To get the correct concentration, steep a bag for one minute in four ounces of warm water. Then give your baby a half-ounce or an ounce by bottle a few times a day, not exceeding four ounces in a 24-hour period.

Water can fill up an infant's tiny tummy, so decrease if this appears to affect your baby's appetite. A very small number of babies may be allergic to chamomile tea, so it's important to talk to your doctor before trying this remedy. Symptoms of a reaction include rash, vomiting, or breathing difficulty. Dr. Ditchek also recommends infant massage, "which not only soothes the irritable child, but also calms the parent doing the stroking." Use a baby-safe moisturizing cream and rub gently over your infant's body.

* Teething: Homeopathic remedies (extremely diluted forms of a substance) have no documented side effects and may be effective for even the youngest teethers, says Dr. Kligler. The remedy Camilla (diluted chamomile) can be given orally as directed several times daily.

* Constipation: If your baby is over 6 months, constipation can often be cured by increasing her water and fiber intake; good sources are baby cereal with added fiber and mashed peas, broccoli, or beans. A teaspoon of caro syrup in four ounces of liquid may help as well.