This rather charming piece of research by Stanford University in the United States, focused on acupuncture for infants in an intensive care unit, and explored the possibility of reducing the number of sedative and pain medications that they are currently given, in order to reduce the incidence of side-effects (by using acupuncture as an alternative treatment). These infants are currently given both opioids and benzodiazepines in high doses, both of which carry the risk of addiction in infants as well as adults, and both of which cause withdrawal symptoms and irritability when discontinued. Since acupuncture is known to reduce pain, and treat withdrawal symptoms in addictions, the authors decided to attempt to use it in this group of infants. They found that it was indeed possible to reduce the necessary doses of medication by substituting acupuncture, and that the infants tolerated the treatment well. No doubt most people find the idea of using acupuncture on infants alarming, and one might imagine that the babies see it that way too. But in fact it is quite surprising how well they generally accept the treatment. And moreover, it is not always necessary to use needles with small children, one can stimulate the same points on the body using gentle finger pressure (“acupressure”) and parents can be taught to do this for their baby at home. The particular points used in this study are very useful to press to soothe a baby’s mind in any situation, not only the rather serious situations which gave rise to the research study.
Another similar study at the University of Washington found acupuncture useful to manage the delirium that arises in up to 50 % of paediatric patients emerging from general anaesthesia. In that study a total of 83% of patients experienced no delirium at all, and the remaining 17% experienced only mild delirium.