Understanding children’s health
In Ayurvedic medicine there are eight specialised branches known as Ashtang Ayurveda. The branch of Kaumar bhritya (or Baala Chikista), is equivalent to the western medical world’s paediatrics and obstetrics. It also includes treatment for fertility issues. Kaumar bhritya covers a child’s health from the time of conception to age 16 when they reach sexual maturity (1).
Kaumar bhritya is not only concerned with the physical health of mother and child but also the mental and psychological requirements of a mother and her newborn. Ayurveda understands that the mental and physical state of a mother has a direct effect on the health of the child. Kaumar bhritya recommends specific diet, routine and nourishment for women before, during and after delivery. It deals with the art of nursing, helping with purification, quantity and the quality of a mothers’ breastmilk and healthy upbringing of children (2).
How does children’s health work?
Ayurveda emphasizes that the health of a child is determined long before it is born so advocates pre-conception plans for would be parents. This is to take advantage of the body’s natural ability to cleanse, renew, nourish and build strong ojas (vital essence and immunity) so that both parents are in optimal health to conceive a healthy baby (1).
In Ayurveda, each individual possess a unique constitution called Prakriti. This is determined by a combination of the mother’s ovum and father’s sperm at the moment of conception. It is also influenced by the condition of the uterus, diet and behaviour of the mother (before and during pregnancy). Prakriti is a unique mix of the three doshas with usually one dosha being dominant. In Ayurveda, health declines when our unique mix of doshas becomes imbalanced. (2)
The three doshas, vata, pitta and kapha, are responsible for all physical and psychological functions in the body. They are the three primary life forces derived from the five elements (fire, earth, water, ether and air) (5).
Vata is composed of ether and air. It is the principle of movement, the energizing force of everything in the body and mind. It governs breathing, the blood circulation, pulsation of the heart, elimination of wastes. Mentally and emotionally it governs inspiration and creativity, imagination and movement of ideas in the mind (5).
Pitta is a combination of fire and water. It is the principle of transformation and heat as it is responsible for all chemical and metabolic processes within the body and mind. Pitta governs our mental analysis, digestion of thoughts and emotions, clarity and perception. It also digests nutrients to provide energy (5).
Kapha is a combination of earth and water. It is the principle of growth and protection. Kapha is responsible for the body’s nourishment and makes up the bulk of our structure, the bones, muscles, tissues, cells and body fluids. It governs strength and stability, lubrication of the mucus membranes, supports and holds the structure of the body together. On a psychological level kapha provides calmness and endurance, a sense of wellbeing, the ability to feel love, compassion and devotion (5).
Vata dominant children tend to be lighter and have a lean build. They are usually highly creative, quick-witted and energetic. They may have dry skin or a tendency to feel cold so love the warmth and sunshine (3). Vata can suffer with anxiety, worry, mental or physical restlessness. They have an irregular appetite and are often fussy eaters with changeable moods, difficulty sleeping and sometimes constipation. Vata children benefit from meditation or mindfulness activities (2).
Pitta dominant children tend to have a moderate build and a sharp appetite. They need to eat regularly as can get irritable if meals are skipped. They tend to dislike hot weather as they overheat easily so should avoid activities that fire them up, opting for more mindfulness activities (2). Pitta tend towards inflammatory conditions such as diarrhoea, sensitive or easily irritated skin, sharp emotions like anger and frustration. They can feel anxious about not getting things right and failing (5).
Kapha predominate children have a larger and stronger build. They tend to be grounded, kind and thoughtful with a sweet nature. They dislike change or unpredictability so like to keep the status quo. They can have a tendency to be lazy as exerting themselves does not come naturally. Their appetite is stable although they aren’t usually hungry in the mornings. Their digestion is slow and sluggish but they do enjoy their food so can have an inclination to comfort eat. They sleep heavily and love to sleep late. Kapha children need to be encouraged to exercise daily and avoid cold, heavy foods (5).
The kapha stage of life
The doshas also deeply influence different stages of life. Kapha governs the first stage of life, childhood. The second stage from puberty up to the age of 50 is governed by pitta with the final stage from age 50 onwards governed by vata. The transition between stages is gradual as one dosha begins to decline while the other starts to increase (1).
The kapha stage of life begins at birth and lasts until roughly 16 years of age. Kapha is the principle of potential energy, of growth and protection that is responsible for nourishment and structure (5). Childhood is about growth, building new tissue, accumulating body mass, and rapidly increasing the weight of the physical body as it grows, all of which requires kapha. Kapha also regulates body fat which helps to provide fuel during this growth orientated period of our lives (6).
Have you ever wondered why children love sweets so much? In Ayurveda the sweet taste is building and nourishing, it produces greater strength in the bodily tissues, it improves skin complexion, strength of the sense organs and ojas (5). On a cellular level, children crave sweet, grounding, and anabolic foods that will support building and nourishing a healthy adult body and mind. It is important that children are guided to satisfying these sweet cravings in nourishing foods rather than the processed sugars complete with chemical additives found in sweets, chocolate and other easily available junk foods (1).
Understanding the root
In Ayurveda, breastmilk is the best food for a baby if the mother is eating correctly and not in a physically or emotionally traumatic situation. There are three factors that can cause mother’s milk to become indigestible for the baby (1).
- Nutrition: incorrect diet, overeating, wrong food combinations
- Physical: lack of exercise, trauma, over exertion
- Psychological: fear, anxiety, stress and anger.
These factors will contribute to conditions in the baby such as colic, diarrhoea and constipation. They will also aggravate the mother’s doshas which will get passed on via the milk to the baby. If the mother has vata vriddhi the milk will cause dryness and gassiness. Pitta vriddhi will cause liquid stools and kapha vriddhi will cause excess mucus and constipation. This is the reason that ayurvedic practitioners will treat the mother first as many conditions in infants can be rectified through changes to the mother’s diet and lifestyle. Herbs can also be passed on to the baby through breast milk (2).
The kapha stage of life in childhood contributes to excess mucus, congestion, runny noses, coughs, and frequent colds. Childhood is also the time that the immune system is developing. Some immunity is acquired from the birth canal and mothers breast milk but a strong immune system is developed though exposure to various microbes. Children need to get sick in order to build a healthy immune system but they should also be able to get through colds quickly and easily (6).
Ayurveda has always understood the importance of good digestion and a balanced agni (digestive fire) (5). Health is dependent on our ability to breakdown food, absorb and utilize nutrients. Scientific research is also validating the importance of a healthy gut microbiome and the vital role it plays in the immune system. What children are able to digest is very important to help their body build and grow to achieve optimal health and wellbeing throughout their lives (2).
In today’s world, children have access to a vast array of electronic devices. Smartphones, tablets, games and the internet which can provide education and entertainment but if used in excess contribute to many health issues (8).
Vata predominant children are especially sensitive to time spent on electronic devices. Screen time over stimulates the sense organs and nervous system increasing vata dosha. The increase in vata can then lead to sleep disturbances, anxiety, ADHD and un-groundedness (5).
A child needs to be cared for and guided so that they can develop correctly physically and mentally. A child is dependent on adults for correct diet and lifestyle choices until at least the age of 8 as children cannot yet make these decisions as their intellect is not fully functioning. Children do not need complete freedom in these areas of their life, they need structure and protection which allows them to grow to their full potential physically and mentally (1).
Ayurveda works with the cycles of life and the rhythms of the natural world in order to foster strength, resilience, and vibrant health. Children’s natural intelligence within their bodies have not yet been significantly altered by incorrect lifestyle and diet, even when there are imbalances at play, small shifts will reignite a child’s natural capacity to heal and thrive (3).
Signs and symptoms
It is important to seek medical advice if your child is very unwell.
Common childhood illnesses
|Coughs and colds||Cough, runny nose, sneezing|
|Sticky eyes, conjunctivitis||Red, itchy eyes, discharge, watery, sore gritty feeling|
|Ear infection||Pain, discharge from ear, high temperature|
|Wheezing and shortness of breath||Rapid breathing or panting, rattling sound|
|Bronchiolitis||Runny nose, dry cough, fever|
|Asthma||Wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath, tight chest feeling|
|Constipation||Passing hard stools, straining, less than one poo per day|
|Diarrhoea||Watery, unformed stool,|
|Upset stomach||Feeling sick, vomiting, low appetite|
|Tics, head banging or unusual behaviour||Seek medical advice as these are often signs of an underlying issue|
Always consult a qualified herbalist or ayuvedic practitioner to determine the most suitable and safe herbs, correct dosage and best method to take the herbs.
In Ayurveda for children over 1 year herbs are usually administered in hot milk or mixed with honey or ghee. For nursing infants herbs are usually given to the mother.
Shunthi (dry ginger) is hotter and dryer than fresh ginger so is better for reducing kapha so is an excellent remedy for colds, coughs, congestion or respiratory issues. Shunthi also relives constipation, colic and increases agni. Shunthi helps with morning sickness (9). A child can suck on a small piece of fresh ginger to help soothe a sore throat (10).
Turmeric is a wonderful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It aids digestion, absorption and metabolism. Turmeric can be used for worms, bloating, colic and diarrhoea. Turmeric is one of the best natural antibiotics for a variety of infections, either viral or bacterial (1). It is also beneficial for helping with colds, coughs, sore throats and fevers (9). Turmeric helps to balance gut flora which is crucial for overall health and wellbeing (10).
Shatavari is useful for breastfeeding mothers as it helps increase milk production. It also enhances immunity, growth and development in babies and children. It is valued for promoting memory and metal clarity. It is used for ADHD in children combined with other brain tonic herbs. Its cooling and demulcent properties make it good for hyperacidity and diarrhoea (9). Shatavari is effective at reducing gut bacteria that in excess cause gas, bloating and colic pain (10).
Amalaki is one of richest natural sources of vitamin C and one of the most valued rejuvenate tonics in Ayurvedic medicine. It is particularly good as a rejuvenate following illness or stress. It balances all three doshas but primarily pitta so is good for calming anger and irritability in children from excess pitta. It is a lovely herb for children’s coughs, colds, chest infections and asthma. It is also helpful in reliving nausea, gastritis and vomiting. It is a good herb for children loving in polluted cities as Amalaki taken regularly helps to counteract the toxic effects of prolonged exposure to environmental heavy metals (10).
Bala is a strengthening rasayana which increases ojas and nourishes vata. Bala increases energy and enhances resilience to infection and stress. It soothes colic and flatulence and is good for dry coughs and asthma. Bala also helps increase milk supply in nursing mothers (9).
Children tend to love licorice due to its sweet taste. It is a strengthening, nourishing and anabolic tonic. It helps increase energy and vitality. Licorice is a very good lung tonic that is effective in treating bronchitis or any chronic lung disorder. It soothes the lungs yet expels excess mucus. Licorice soothes irritation/inflammation so is wonderful for sore throats, dry coughs, bronchial congestion, asthma and chest infections (10).
Fennel balances all three doshas. It improves agni without aggravating pitta. Fennel combines well with licorice to soothe inflammatory conditions. It helps relieve indigestion, colic and cramps. It reduces kapha congestion and vata obstruction so is excellent for coughs and asthma. It also helps to increase flow of breast milk and soothes mastitis (9).
A renowned rasayana for vata (10). This is particularly good for a child with excess vata who is anxious or having trouble sleeping. Ashwagandha is an excellent adaptogen helping to support the body’s response to stress related issues. It is good for rejuvenating weakness in children or aiding recovery post illness. It is helpful for allergies, rhinitis and asthma caused by aggravated kapha and vata (9).
Guduchi is an excellent rasayana that enhances immunity, longevity, energy and vitality. It helps improve resilience to infections, emotional/physical stress and promotes brain function. Guduchi helps relieve respiratory infections, sinusitis, hay fever and asthma. It stimulates agni and promotes good gut bacteria (9).
Olive oil infused with garlic can be used to treat ear infections. Garlic is a potent anti-microbial that also helps to soothe ear pain with its anti-inflammatory properties. Olive oil helps to soften any accumulated ear wax that has trapped bacteria (9).
Chyavanprash is an ayurvedic jam which children love because of its sweetness. The main ingredient is amalaki but it also contains many other herbs, rock sugar, ghee and sesame seed oil. Its building and nourishing nature helps create strength, energy and vitality. It nourishes and protects ojas. It supports the immune function and body’s natural defences with its high vitamin C content. It stimulates healthy digestion and elimination (5).
Sitopaladi is excellent for upper respiratory congestion. It opens the airways in asthma, wheezing and hay fever. Its expectorant and lubricating actions help to clear kapha congestion and soothe the lungs and throat. It is made from bamboo, long-pepper, cinnamon, cardamom and rock candy (ayurvedic crystalised sugar) (5).
Children should be fed a diet that helps to keep their doshas in balance and to prevent excess kapha. Food should not be heavy or ultra-processed (5).
Replace sweets with homemade sweet treats made with jaggery. Include naturally sweet foods such as whole grains, whole milk, ghee and root vegetables (11).
Make meals interesting by using a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables (11).
Encourage more seasonal & local fruit and vegetables more than exotic ones. Avoid ultra-processed foods like frozen meals, instant pizza, canned food, carbonated drinks and, swap these with homemade items like baked sweet potato, homemade crackers (11).
Add a small number of spices like ginger, turmeric, and pepper as they help with digestion and metabolism (11).
Be flexible with your child’s choices, acknowledge that it is an exploring age for them and that appetite will vary (11).
Ayurveda considers Takra/buttermilk as one of the best probiotics. Takra is made by churning curd, diluting it with 1/4 water and add digestive spices like cumin (11).
It’s important to lead by example as parents are the biggest influencers and role models for their kids, and ultimately children imitate them.
In Ayurveda, daily routine is considered critical for good health and wellbeing (5). Daily routine and structure is even more important for children. Try to ensure meal times are at the same time each day. Keep bedtime, nap time and getting up times consistent. Place limits on screen time. When possible, include time for exercise each day with a nice walk in the park exploring nature or time playing outside (3).
Abhyanga oil massages
Massaging the body with warm sesame seed oil helps to calm the nervous system, lubricates and rejuvenates the tissues and promotes healthy circulation throughout the body (5). This practice is incredibly soothing to a child’s nervous system and helps to ground them from overstimulation. Apply the oil before bath time (3). Some people are allergic to sesame seeds, and so we advise you do a patch test first. For this, apply a small amount of sesame oil on a clean patch of skin, cover with a plaster and leave for 24 hours. If any irritation occurs then it means one is allergic and you should avoid using sesame oil. If irritation happens before the 24 hours then wash the oil off immediately.
Nasal rinse and nasya oil
Teaching children from a young age how to use a neti pot will create a good habit for life. A neti pot rinses the nasal passage with salt water that helps to clear mucus, debris, pollutants and allergens that contribute to respiratory issues. Teaching children how to apply nasya oil drops in their nose is also a good practice to help remove excess kapha and sinus congestion. Using a herbal nasya oil is an excellent way to direct herbs to the brain to help with calming stress, clarity and cognitive function (5).
Yoga, pranayama and meditation
Children can learn very early how to be present with their body and the power of breath. Short pranayama breathing exercises help to calm a child’s nervous system and reduce anxiety or stress. Many children love doing yoga asanas especially the poses with animal names.
Children can also learn meditation with short amounts of time focussing on counting their breaths or candle gazing. Children learn from observing adults so it is a wonderful practice to start together (3).
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