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As you wander the aisles of your local health food store, you stumble on one that is full of bottles that look like they belong in a drugstore. Looking up, you notice that the name of the aisle is "Alternative Medicine."

Seeing the phrase "alternative medicine" might conjure up images of pungent herbal teas, poultices, chanting, or meditation. In fact, both herbal remedies and meditation, as well as dozens of other treatments, fall under the heading of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM).

Although there is no strict definition of alternative medicine, it generally includes any healing practices that are not part of mainstream medicine — that means any practice that is not widely taught in medical schools or frequently used by doctors or in hospitals.

But the boundaries of alternative medicine in the United States are constantly changing as different types of care become more accepted by doctors and more requested by patients. A few practices (such as hypnosis) that were dismissed as nonsense 20 years ago are now considered helpful therapies in addition to traditional medicine. So, are any alternative medicines right for your family?

Biologically based practices. This includes substances such as herbs, foods, vitamins, and dietary supplements that are geared to help heal the body. Herbal remedies include a wide range of plants used for medicine or nutrition. They are available in grocery stores, over the Internet, in health food stores, or through herbalists and are often in the form of teas, capsules, and extracts. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate these.

Can Alternative Care Help Your Child?
Many childhood ailments and diseases can be successfully treated with alternative medicines, used on their own, or alongside conventional medicines, However, when administering them to a baby or toddler you should always seek professional advice. If a child does not respond to a treatment or you are concerned about his or her health, consult a physician immediately.

Babies' Colic:
Colic is a distressing pattern of excessive crying during the first few months after birth. The cause of colic is unknown.

Treatment:
Diet and Nutrition If you are breast­feeding, consider your own diet: many different foods can affect a baby through the mother's milk, A special counselor can offer advice. Some formula-fed babies are allergic to cows' milk, and a change to a soybean alternative may be required. Always seek professional advice before changing your baby's formula.

Herbal Medicine Half a teaspoonful of peppermint, catnip, and fennel tea every half­hour may be helpful. If you are nursing, take an infusion yourself.

Aromatherapy Offer a gripe water containing the essential oil of fennel. Externally gently massage the baby's stomach in a clockwise direction with one drop of fennel in half a teaspoonful of carrier oil (sueh as wheatgerm or almond oil).

Homeopathy Depending on the other symptoms. Chamamilla, Colocynthis, Dioscorea, or Magnesia phos may be prescribed. Consult a homeopath for a remedy suited to your baby.

Cradle Cap Flaky patches of white or yellow scales Oil the top of the scalp caused by the glands in the hair follicles overproducing oil.

Treatment:
Naturopathy Rub almond or olive oil into the hair at night and comb gently the next morning to remove the scales.

Herbal Medicine Add 2 drops of tea tree oil to a mild shampoo.

Many parents turn to a cup of chamomile tea or ginger as first-line treatment against the flu or nausea. Anxious kids can learn to relax with the help of meditation or yoga. Some alternative therapies may be helpful for a child when used to complement traditional care.

If you want to try alternative medicine for your child, you should first talk with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure it is not dangerous and will not conflict with any traditional care your child receives. Your doctor also can give you information about treatment options and perhaps recommend a reputable specialist.

By coordinating alternative and traditional care, you don't have to choose between them. Instead, you can get the best of both.

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