Category: Medicine Cabinet

Natural Colic Calming Remedies

A mama knows her kids. Or so we like to think, anyway. I, for example, knew my newest little addition in utero — I mean, we spent a lot of time together… time at the gym and prenatal yoga, time doing crosswords at 3am when i couldn’t sleep, time sharing in the trials and tribulations of everyday life — all of this before he ever saw the light of day. We were connected. And I decided, from this place of deep connection, that I could feel his personality (I still, by the way, believe this to be true.) When pregnant with my first son, I had accurately predicted him to be gentle and sweet-tempered, but shy perhaps, and stubborn as a mule. (I gleaned much of this from the way he adamantly and predictably refused to move even a millimeter when anyone would put a hand on my belly, even if he had been doing intra-uterine gymnastics before…it was as though he was saying, “mama, I’m no dancing monkey.” Lo and behold, he came out and for nearly two years was wary of strangers — and, on occasion, his poor, solicitous dad.)

Flush with the success of my predictions with Aidan, I confidently gave it another go with Ammie — ‘he’s good-natured, unusually good-natured, social, and, yes, mellow, definitely mellow’ — he moved only gently and easily day and night, and when he did kick, would happily kick away under the expectant hands of family and strangers alike. Their colors show themselves immediately, I believe, and if they don’t, I liked to believe my happy predictions anyway — because who wants to believe they are about to give birth to a little hellion?

Imagine my surprise then when, after a first few newborn weeks that neatly fit my expectations, my little Angel turned Gripe-y. I don’t mean a little gripe-y either, 5-7 witching-hour gripe-y. I mean ALL THE TIME. Nothing satisfied him. And whether imagination or intuition took over at this point, I don’t know. All I knew, beyond the shadow of a doubt, was that this was NOT his inherent nature. Maybe it never is with any baby. After an embarrassing number of sleepless nights, internet searches, and shame… I decided to go back to my roots as a pediatric expert — and go extreme.

I called my husband at work, suddenly empowered again. “I do this for a living!” I cried in revelation. “We can put all our resources to work and figure this out — he’s uncomfortable!” This was the start of the best baby-weight-loss program EVER — I cut out every food that was featured on any list ANYWHERE of gassy foods, foods to avoid, culprit foods, you name it. In other words, I cut out everything I liked.

No milk, no onions, no beans, no peanut butter, no cruciferous vegetables, no gluten, no — ah the last holdout — no chocolate. (Remember please, with pity, dear ones, that I gave birth to Ammie right before Thanksgiving and Christmas.) And, lo and behold, within a mere week, Ammie turned in to the fantastic sleeper, and good natured love that he is today — we call him “The Smile Factory.” I slowly — and one at a time, experimented with which foods I could bring back — I am breastfeeding after all, which means, I’m hungry! and ultimately narrowed it to a list that makes us all happy — no onions, no cheese, no beans (except, occasionally, lentils), no tomatoes, and, strangely, but definitely, no white rice. At lunch with my sister-in-law a couple months later, she revealed that these are the same foods that have always and still cause her trouble, down to the very last one (Genetics, that crazy thing it is.) We did some other things too, things I’d like to share with any mama or papa or beleaguered babysitting grandparent in hopes that it will help them to unearth their baby’s inner angel as well, and most importantly, bring sweet babies the comfort we desperately wish for them.

But first, the moral. More than one, in exchange for all the sleep lost.

  1. Mamas know their babies. If you think your baby is acting in a way that is inconsistent with their inherent nature, trust your deep knowledge of this little being — they probably are giving you a message the only way they know how.
  2. Everyone’s got advice – I was given everything from belly belts to colic foot cream – none of it bad, not all of it practical. In the end, it came down to trial and error – every baby is different.
  3. Well, I’d like to think there’s a third… Oh yes. “This too shall pass.” I’m sorry. And I promise.

 

Now here’s what has worked for me, personally and professionally:

Food Restrictions

While opinions even within the scientific community differ as to how much effect the foods mama eats while nursing has on her breastmilk or her baby, proteins from the foods you eat are absorbed through your intestines and into the bloodstream — and from here, finds its way into the milk in unknown quantities. Many babies don’t have much to any problem with this; however, if your baby is colicky, your diet is worth a second look. It is my clinical experience that many cases of colic are caused by mamas eating foods that are making the milk difficult for babies to digest. This is especially true if your baby seems to have bouts of crying followed by expulsion of gas, or if your baby has constipation, diarrhea, rashes, or congestion. I am also suspicious of food sensitivities if baby was premature, or if you or your spouse have a family history of digestive or respiratory difficulties.

When baby arrives, the lining of his or her intestines is immature, making it more difficult to digest and absorb foods for the first six months than it will be in the months that follow. This is why most pediatricians and childcare experts recommend waiting to start solids with your baby for at least six months (in some cases, I even recommend a bit longer). If your child cannot tolerate an ingredient you are ingesting, this does not mean he or she will be sensitive to it forever — but for now, avoiding it could give baby — and you! — much needed comfort.

Scientists know that flavor from foods is also transmitted to the breast milk — and may not only have a correlation to baby’s enjoyment of the milk, but may also correlate to what foods baby will like as solids (in other words, a mama who eats lots of carrots while nursing may have a baby who likes carrots as a solid — for more interesting information on this connection, check out: Here). Its not such a leap then, that the foods we eat also have an impact on the digestability of the breast milk for certain infants – a tenet of Grandma’s kitchen table wisdom in many cultures.foodstoavoid

The main culprits:

  • milk and dairy products
  • cruciferous vegetables (including broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, kale, cauliflower)
  • “gassy” vegetables (including onions, asparagus, green peppers, tomatoes)
  • spicy foods
  • wheat
  • chocolate
  • caffeine (in coffee, tea, some sodas)
  • soy
  • peanuts
  • citrus
  • shellfish
  • iron supplements (or the iron in your prenatal if you’re taking them)

These aren’t the only culprits (remember, beans and white rice really set my little guy off – although it took me a while and a good food log to believe it), but they are the most common. Which, if any, are culprits for your baby is a personal, and somewhat tedious matter to unearth. Either go extreme and eliminate the main possibilities and then add back in, or unearth likely suspects by backtracking through your worst days with a good diet log. And give this project time. It took nearly a week to notice that the colic had disappeared — which, not coincidentally, is sometimes the amount of time it takes for a food to leave your system. If you’re not sure about some of the foods on this list, experiment by adding them back into your diet after a week of eliminating them. Some of these foods are really good for you (and by this of course, I’m talking about chocolate. :))

* Lactobacillus Reuteri

A gram-positive bacterium that is found in the intestines of birds and mammals, l. reuteri falls into the category of “probiotics” (the beneficial bacteria that makes yogurt and fermented foods popular health boosters). Studies show that the effects of l. reuteri are very specifically beneficial to colicky babies (and not replicated by other probiotics, even of the infant-formulations). A study conducted in 2007, shows that after 4 weeks of taking l. reuteri drops, crying time was reduced by 74 percent.1 A 2010 study replicated these findings with similarly positive results.2 Be forewarned when you head to the local health food store or pharmacy for these — even with all the great research to support its efficacy, I had many well-meaning folks try to steer me toward other probiotics that don’t contain this strain — they’re wonderful for other things, but have not demonstrated the same effectiveness in cases of colic — in fact, they sometimes have generated the reverse.3 The l. reuteri had to be special-ordered and is not inexpensive (ringing up at somewhere around $30 for less than a week’s supply), but after weeks of crying (first Ammie, then me), I would probably have hocked my wedding ring for the possibility of sweet relief. BioGaia Protectis Baby Probiotic is what we used — a liquid formulation that you give to baby by the drop.

* Tummy Circles

One of the most effective ways to provide comfort to a colicky baby and to stimulate healthy digestive function is also one of the easiest. First lie your baby down on his back in a comfortable location. Then with the pads of your four closed fingers or the palm of your hand, gently push while rotating your hand to make medium-sized clockwise circles around your baby’s belly button. Continue in a clockwise direction 50 to 100 times, or for a few minutes. It’s unclear whether this has an effect on colic in the world of western medicine, but age old traditions of qi gong and other eastern practices place the center of much energy at this area in the body — stimulating and soothing the area around the umbilicus increases the strength of baby’s “Qi” (roughly translated as active life force). This couldn’t be bad, right? I’ve found it to be entirely therapeutic.

 

Here’s what others swear by:

Swaddling: From popular books like “The Happiest Baby on the Block” to Dr. Sears’ indispensable compendium, “The Baby Book” — and tracing its roots again back to Grandma (and Grandma’s Grandma), — swaddling, the technique of wrapping baby up tightly in a light blanket to simulate womb conditions (read: Tight!), and ameliorate the stresses of newly developing, not-quite-controllable limbs, is something many parents swear by to calm everything from a case of the tired fussies to downright aggravated babies. It doesn’t hit the roots of colic at it’s core — however, any safe calming techniques could only help. The larger question seems to be, does it calm? This seems to depend on the baby. Limited research has found the calming effects of swaddling to be temporary — after a few days, there seems to be no difference between the crying in swaddled and unswaddled babies.45 On the other hand, some babies are very sensitive to stimulation — and the newborn startle reflex is, well, startling. My main bias, however, is that my babies didn’t like swaddling at all. Maybe I had a small uterus and they were just relieved to finally be unrestricted. That’s my theory. My firstborn preferred to sleep with arms and legs splayed out like he was making a big snow angel. But if it works for you, by all means… (When not to swaddle: when they’re just born. Skin-to-skin contact here, with unrestricted hands and arms helps breastfeeding, calming, and bonding significantly better than any amount of swaddling.)

Baby Herbal Tummy Packs: My former neighbor, just about the nicest gal in the world, and mama to a now one-year-old, first provided cookies on the day of his birth, and then her baby herbal tummy pack, called “Happi Tummi” a few weeks later. Her daughter cried inconsolably during the first few months — a microwavable belt filled with such olfactory delights as chamomile and lavender, along with the warmth of the belt on baby’s belly was her number one aid in relieving her daughter’s misery. My Indian friend also swears by the benefits of a warm herbal pack on baby’s belly. The warm tummy pack soothes and relaxes the possibly-stressed, definitely tense intestinal muscles of an unhappy infant. You can buy the Happi Tummi version, or for DIYers, make your own by placing uncooked rice in a muslim or linen sack, adding essential oils of your choice – lavender and chamomile are best bets for babies- to the rice before placing in the sack. (Sew Mama Sew gives great instructions for DIY packs). Heat in microwave for 15 seconds and please, test on inside of wrist before placing on baby. Place it over the onesie or sleeper to avoid it getting too hot on baby’s sensitive skin (lets not add injury to insult…) Then remember this technique for when baby gets older — warm belly packs are absolutely great for stomachaches and bedwetting in older kids as well.

gripe_water* Gripe Water: Here’s another remedy folks swear by. I keep it in the diaper bag myself. Chalk full of great tummy-relieving herbs such as ginger and fennel, it performs the minor and immediate miracle of stopping my little one’s hiccups in their tracks (boy, did he hate the hiccups for a while!) There are a lot of gripe waters on the market, however, and all are not created equal. Aniseed is a common ingredient, but also a common allergen, and gripe waters that use essential oils are generally way too strong for babies (this is internal we’re talking). You want to look for natural, optimally organic ingredients, and no alcohol or simethicone. We tried a couple of different kinds and used Mommy’s Bliss with the greatest success, but there are a number of other reputable brands out there for your own trial and error research — Wellements, Colic Calm. Did any of them stop the colic? Verdict’s still out on that one for us, but certainly didn’t hurt. It’s available Here on Amazon.

colic remediesTea for Mama: fennel seed, Indian celery root? 1/2 – 1 tsp of fennel seeds steeped in hot water for 10 minutes (you can include 1-2 slices of fresh ginger while you’re at it) is a remedy that seeks to work at the level of “what mama eats, baby eats.” Hopefully it makes your milk more digestible and more palatable to your little one. Some Indian friends insisted that I should add Indian Celery root to this homebrew – and gave me some of their own that family and friends routinely bring back from India for them. It doesn’t smell the same as the celery root in my own pantry. Again, I cannot say with certainty that it helped, but just the ritual moment taken to nurture myself every evening (boiling the water, steeping the tea) was a therapeutic act.

 

And When is Colic no longer “Colic”? Red Flags That It’s Time to Visit or Revisit Your Pediatrician or ER:

  • if your baby’s cry becomes shrill or harsher than usual, or lasts for a longer interval than usual
  • if your baby’s poop or pee habits change dramatically or are accompanied by blood
  • if the crying always comes at feeding time and includes writhing, arching, twisting
  • if your baby’s soft spot is bulging
  • colicif your baby becomes listless or lethargic
  • if your baby’s cry is more of a weak moan
  • if crying is accompanied by a fever or temperature drop
  • if baby is vomiting repeatedly and/or with blood
  • if your intuition says it’s time for outside support, something’s just not right

And if none of this works? My favorite mantra during the crying weeks was, “I love my baby, and he is perfect for me.” Corny? Maybe. Obvious? Generally. But it helped. Blessings to all the mamas and papas out there who are in the midst of weathering the storm.

 

1 ^ Pelle SF, et al. Lactobacillus reuteri (American Type Culture Collection Strain 55730) versus simethicone in the treatment of infantile colic: A prospective randomized study. Pediatrics 2007:119; e124-30
2 ^ Savino, F., Cordisco, L., Tarasco, V., Palumeri, E., Calabrese, R., Oggero, R., Roos, S. and Matteuzzi, D. (2010) Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 in infantile colic: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Pediatrics, 126, e526-33
3 ^ Kukkonen K, et al. Long-Term Safety and Impact on Infection Rates of Postnatal Probiotic and Prebiotic (Synbiotic) Treatment: Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Pediatrics 2008;122;8-12
4 Van Sleuwen, B. E., L’Hoir, M. P.; Engelberts, A. C.; Busschers, W. B.; Westers, P.; Blom, M. A. et al. (2006). Comparison of behavior modification with and without swaddling as interventions for excessive crying. In: Journal of Pediatrics, 149 (4), S. 512-517.
5 Long, Tony (2007). Adding swaddling to behaviour modification in infant care did not reduce excessive crying in healthy infants <13 weeks of age at randomisation. Evidence Based Nursing,10, S. 42.

Spotlight on Slippery Elm Bark

Uh-oh. I think that this whole solids thing may have gone awry. Not dreadfully, unrecoverably awry, more like, ‘let’s step back, assess and regroup’ awry. Avocado went well. No problems there. Four days of green slimy fun. Then I introduced mushed banana. I love this one because it’s gentle, easy to prepare (my older son and his friend mashed it themselves, before taking turns feeding baby), and full of potassium. It’s also the food we’d use during my days in Latin America for what my father would politely call, “Montezuma’s Revenge.” In other words, banana is good for stopping up the works. Little one hasn’t pooped in 2 days. He’s not quite ready for cooked prunes and plums… What now?

Enter slippery elm bark powder to the rescue. Slippery elm is an amazing option for baby’s constipation. It’s also amazing for my babysitter’s sore throat, and for my other babysitter’s coughing fit. (For more on our sitters‘ health plights this past week, check my recent blog on natural remedies for seasonal allergies.) WIth a pleasant, sweet, almost maple-y flavor, it’s great as a tea, mixed with fruit juice, or made into the world’s easiest lozenges. It can also be used externally to soothe skin conditions and diaper rash. Anything this multi-purpose in my world (by my unofficial count, I’ve leaned on slippery elm bark powder this week a total of 4 times) deserves a special spotlight…

A Brief Look at the History and Uses of Slippery Elm

Slippery elm bark is a large, deciduous tree that has been used for centuries by Native Americans for everything from skin conditions and gastrointestinal disorders to preventing food spoilage. Certain Native American populations would brew it as a porridge to nourish babies and the elderly during times of famine. slipperyelmtreeToday it is commonly used as a respiratory aid as well for bronchitis, coughs, and sore throat (as we’ve proven lately in our household), along with GI and skin indications.

What Makes Slippery Elm Effective?

The key to the effectiveness of slippery elm may be the mucilaginous nature of the inner bark (this is the part of the bark that is used). The inner bark contains mucilage — a substance that turns gelatinous when mixed with water or other fluid. This mucilage can create a film that soothes and eases discomfort of the respiratory passages and the digestive passages. This makes the powder a favorite of mine for coughs. It also makes the powder effective for discomforts of the digestive tract. Slippery elm bark contains antioxidants and is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties as well. The formal Western research on this is sparse, but shows promise.

Slippery Elm for Gastro-Intestinal Ailments

Because Slippery Elm is a mucilage, it creates a film over the digestive tract that soothes the pains of a vast array of GI diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease. Scientists believe that mucilages stimulate the stomach’s nerve endings to produce more of its own protective mucus, and reduce excess stomach acid, making it a useful herb to soothe ulcers and prevent excessive acidity in the stomach. Its usefulness for gastrointestinal disorders may also be due to its fibrous nature — slippery elm is high in fiber, and moves through the digestive tract absorbing toxins and fluid as a bulk-forming laxative. Here’s where it comes in especially handy in my world — in addition to having analgesic properties in the face of stomachaches and other digestive concerns, it’s low toxicity makes it an excellent choice for babies’ constipation. Ironically, its tannins also make it useful for diarrhea. Talk about multi-purpose…

An adult dose is generally 2 Tablespoons administered as a tea in 2 cups of water. To use for babies or small children, take 1/2 to 1 tsp of slippery elm and mix it with warm water sweetened with a bit of maple syrup.

 

Alternatively you can mix the slippery elm with 1/2 cup purified water and 1/2 cup apple or pear juice, and give it to your little one either in a bottle, in a cup as tea, as a porridge, or even in a dropper. Because of it’s mucilagenic character, slippery elm turns into a goopy consistency fairly quickly, so my favorite way to give it is by the spoonful as a porridge. Or administer quickly — too long and my older son thinks it looks too much like mucus to ingest. Mercifully, my baby son doesn’t care. 🙂

Slippery Elm for Skin Conditions

Native Americans would soak the bark of the slippery elm, then let it dry over wounds as a bandage. In more recent years, famed psychic Edgar Cayce suggested the use of slippery elm bark in a recorded reading for treating psoriasis. BarkThis suggestion is currently being studied by clinical researchers at the University of Hawaii, Manoa. Even without more extensive research, however, it has been used a great deal for a variety of skin conditions, as the mucilage reduces irritation and inflammation, forming a jelly-like protective coating. It works on the level of soothing rather than curing or speeding healing.

To use it this way, take slippery elm bark powder in a small bowl or ramekin, and wet with just enough warm water that it becomes paste-like in consistency. Apply the slippery elm paste directly to the wound, or to a piece of clean gauze or cheesecloth, pressed onto the wound gently as a poultice.

Slippery Elm for Respiratory Ailments

And finally, coughs, bronchitis and sore throat pain, beware. Slippery elm soothes and moistens mucus membranes of the nose, throat and lungs, providing relief for a variety of respiratory conditions, including cough and bronchitis symptoms.

slippery-elm-bark-teaFor a pain-relieving sore throat tea for kids, use 2 teaspoons of slippery elm bark powder in 1 cup of water — steep for 3-5 minutes, then cool to a palatable temperature for your child (test on the inside of your wrist first). Sweeten with honey to taste if your child is over 15 months of age (otherwise maple syrup is a safe bet…) For adults, use 1 tablespoon in 1 cup of water. Drink throughout day or as symptoms persist.

For an easy children’s cough solution, I’ve long leaned on a wonderful recipe from Aviva Jill Romm’s book, “Naturally Healthy Babies and Children”. Mix 2 tablespoons of slippery elm bark powder with enough maple syrup or honey (in children over 15 months of age) to make a dough-like consistency. Roll into balls, or into a long snake-like piece of dough, then cut into 1/4 inch pieces. Your child can either eat as is, or you can roll the pieces in a dusting of the powder, and cook at 250 degrees until firm, allowing them to harden. Have your child eat or suck on them as often as desired. For children under 15 months old, use maple syrup instead of honey, and offer these only if they’re already accustomed to solid foods. Otherwise, you can offer them a 1/2 teaspoon of slippery elm bark powder mixed in 1 cup of warm water sweetened with maple syrup, or with 1/2 cup warm apple or pear juice, 1/2 cup purified water.

Slippery-Elm-Bark-PowderNow that you’re armed and ready with your arsenal of slippery elm bark powder, and virtually every conceivable (or should I say, reasonable:)) use for it, I hope that this blog ends up being a bit like carrying an umbrella to ensure a day without rain. But if you do encounter the occasional cough, sore throat, skin condition, constipation, stomachache in your household, consider it one-stop shopping. Slippery elm. You’re all set.

 

Heard more now on slippery elm now than you ever knew or cared to know about it? If not, check out these great references for more information:

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center — for a comprehensive examination of the properties of slippery elm, and the scientific research available (http://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/herb/slippery-elm)
LiveStrong.com — a clear, well-researched synopsis of the benefits of slippery elm (http://www.livestrong.com/article/265353-what-are-the-benefits-of-slippe…)
-> Get Slippery Elm Bark Capsules on Amazon
“Naturally Healthy Babies and Children: A Commonsense Guide to Herbal Remedies, Nutrition, and Health”; Aviva Jill Romm, et al.; 2003

Seasonal Allergies & Kids: Natural Remedies to Provide Sweet Relief

My babysitter called in sick last week. She never calls in sick, and that makes two babysitters in one week’s time, both with the solid work ethics of…well, better than mine, anyway. When she shows up again this Monday, she sounds like Kathleen Turner. Not a bad thing, if you’re Kathleen, but a little deep and hoarse for a ninety-pound pixie. Her replacement sitter meantime spent two hours the week before getting my little teething love to take a nap – only to wake him with a coughing fit. “Don’t worry,” she sputters, “it’s just allergies.”

If I had one strike to level against Austin as an otherwise Utopian city, full of lush greenbelts, outdoor restaurants, natural springs and outdoor concerts, it is that the outdoors here that is so seductively available is also a veritable minefield of allergens, nearly all year long. This Spring, however, seems to be bringing unique challenges. My kids aren’t hit (mercifully!), but if I had one complaint among clients that trumps all others — and creates all sorts of health complications and related conditions, it’s seasonal allergies. The clear runny nose, mild headaches, itchy eyes that may mark the beginning of a histamine response to anything from ragweed and grasses, to high mold counts, can quickly make their way into sinus infections, coughs, sore throats, eustachian tube congestion,earaches and generally lowered immune systems that leave your little one (and their caregivers) open to other invaders. This issue gets so complicated, in fact, that I’ve saved writing about it for years, hitting on it indirectly through remedies for cough and runny nose, sore throat, ear infections, but never addressing seasonal allergies directly.

I’ve waited long enough. Here’s what I recommend for seasonal allergies & your children: both for before allergy season begins for your kids, what to do if you didn’t see allergy season coming, and, at the worst, if your family never found it’s way out of one long allergy season (Austinites, read on…).

BEFORE THE ONSLAUGHT (in hopes that it never arrives):

I should say before going further, that stemming the tide of allergy symptoms can absolutely be a reasonable goal for most families. The trick that makes it easier, is to bolster your kids’ immunity before the season begins. That way you aren’t clearing out and drying up mucous, or calming frazzled nervous systems, you are getting them healthy — much as we all prefer the carrot to the stick, the carrot here is having children who feel stable, healthy and energized, a power place from which to enjoy a pollen-filled outside world. At least one month before your child’s peak allergy season, begin incorporating these remedies and immune tonics:

  1. Astragalus root: A staple of Chinese herbalism, astragalus (also referred to as Huang Qi), is an amazing immune tonic, with beneficial effects in boosting the wei qi astragalus root(1)(loosely described in english as our outer protective energy that is especially correlated to lung and immune health). In short, this herb is a long-used immune miracle. To prepare, take 4 long slices (in bulk form it comes in slices that closely resemble tongue depressors) and place in soup or boiling water for 20 minutes. If you’ve placed it in water, you can give it to your child as a tea, in 1/4 – 1/2 cup quantities, 2-3 times a day. It lends itself to soups as well — with a mild earthy flavor, it blends well with cooked carrots and shitake mushrooms – also great immune enhancers, or adds nicely to our Spring Healing Soup.
  2. Local Honey: in children over 15 months of age, local honey is an oft-touted remedy. Does it live up to its reputation? No scientific studies have ever conclusively investigated honey to my knowledge, but anecdotal evidence supports an inherent logic to why local honey might prove very effective: when bees pollinate flowers, some of the pollen remains on their legs — honeyultimately making its way into the honey we eat. The result for us may be much like homeopathy, immune response therapy, or even the theory behind vaccinations: when a very small amount or ‘dummy’ version of pollen or other substance (such as a virus in the case of vaccines) is introduced to the body, the body produces antibodies to respond to it. When a larger quantity is introduced, the body is ready. Like the logic? Honey is your ready-made homeopathic dose of pollen. Either offer it to your child by the teaspoon, or mix it into tea — a slice of lemon and/or a few small slices of ginger, steeped for 3-5 minutes with honey to taste is a tasty and popular way to give your child their daily dose of honey — plus, the lemon’s antimicrobial properties and ginger’s anti-inflammatory action make this an allergy super-remedy. Be on the lookout for a ginger-lemonade recipe for recipe weekend…
  3. Essential fatty acids: In addition to being ‘brain food’ for children, essential fatty acids have been shown in studies to reduce the body’s inflammatory response. So good for growing minds anyway, its a great idea to incorporate efas into your child’s diet prior to allergy season, then continue with it throughout (and beyond!). Great sources include flaxseed oil (don’t cook this, but add it liberally after cooking to oatmeal, yogurt, rice, greens, grains — it has a pleasant nutty taste to it), walnuts, fish oil or algae-derived DHA supplements. If purchasing fish oil (krill oil is a great alternative for non-vegetarians), splurge on a high-quality, purity-tested supplement — we want it to be free of all contaminants in larger fish such as heavy metals.
  4. Immune-building acupressure: I talk about spinal rolling quite a lot in both the Mommy’s ER iBook and the DVD series. Why? It is an amazing technique that most children look forward to – and, when done regularly, offers great benefit to the immune system. Spinal-Rolling-blog-sizeBy applying a gentle pinch-and-roll technique to the skin and muscles of the back on either side of the spine, you are actually stimulating every organ system in your child’s body, and touching on every point I’d use in one of my favorite treatments as an acupuncturist when dealing with any allergic response. Here, a picture is worth a thousand words on spinal rolling. I recommend it at least once a day every day for even one minute, three is even better, or as long as your child enjoys it. It is a great after bath ritual with efficacy that should not be under-valued.
  5. Remove & reduce environmental & dietary stressors: Pre-allergy season is the time to reduce the number of stressors on your child’s immune system — at least those over which we have some control. Notice that your child breathes a little heavier after ice-cream and dairy products, or gets excited-then-sluggish after sugary snacks? Now would be a wonderful time to put these foods or food groups on seasonal hiatus. Alone, they may not be worth imposing restrictions, but together with pollen, they may be the straw on the proverbial camel’s back when it comes to your child’s immunity.If ragweed is a trigger allergen for your child, studies show that raw bananas, cucumbers, melon and zucchini share certain properties — prolifinsprolifins, a similar proteins so you may try avoiding these as well (although some science suggests that these proteins get broken down by saliva.) Smoking, pet dander, mild food sensitivities are all potential immune stressors that you can look at removing. If friends, family or loved ones are smokers, encourage them to smoke outside, far out of range of your child (this should always be the case, but allergy season provides an important impetus if this change needs to be made.) Pets in the house that you suspect may cause a little bit of an allergic response in your child? Don’t ban the pet, but consider banning it from your child’s room. Give carpets and linens in their room a good washing and allow their bedroom to be a dander-free haven. You can stress to your child that these changes are temporary. When Spring or your other high allergy time of year is over (check the allergy reports for your area – it can be anything from just a couple of weeks to a couple of months that your child’s particular airborne triggers are high), decisions around food and pet can be revisited.

WHEN ALLERGY SEASON (and its symptoms) ARRIVES:

Sometimes, I just don’t catch on — either to the calendar telling me it’s ragweed time, or to the fact that my cranky son may be under some kind of environmental stress. Fatigue, clear runny nose, slight digestive disruptance. watery-itchy eyes, or allergy ‘shiners’ — dark sunken-looking circles under the eyes may be the first clue. Never fear, it’s still not too late to stop a full-blown allergy attack by incorporating the above remedies, and adding at least a couple of the ones below:

  1. Vitamin C: in addition to being an incredible antioxidant, which eliminates free radicals and their burden on your child’s immune system, vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties that make it a go-to supplement for children and grown-ups suffering from allergies alike. 250mg taken two to four times a day is a reasonable dose for children over the age of four (for chldren under the age of 4, start with doses of 100 mg at a time or less). If your child develops diarrhea, back off to a lower dosage. When allergens begin to decrease, taper your child’s vitamin C supplementation back to one dose per day, but don’t stop giving them vitamin C abruptly (vitamin C is water soluble and as such, extremely safe, but quick withdrawal can temporarily mimic the symptoms of scurvy – yikes!). My preference is always mineral ascorbate form with bioflavenoids.
  2. bioflavenoidsBioflavenoids: Bioflavenoids are natural plant compounds that provide pigment and act as antioxidants. They also have proven anti-inflammatory effects that are specifically anti-allergenic. The most potent anti-allergenic among the bioflavenoids is quercetin, which acts as a natural antihistamine. The most effective way for a child to utilize bioflavenoids is with vitamin C, which is why vitamin C supplements often include them. If you choose to supplement them separately, the dosage appropriate for your child would depend on their weight — the typical 150 lb adult dosage of quercetin for allergy relief is between 400-600mg, so if your child weighs 50 lbs, the dose would be around 200mg for children 4 and over (for under 4 years old, I tend to be conservative with supplements, so consult on quercetin with a trusted health professional). You can also encourage your child to eat flavenoid-rich foods — common in purple-colored foods, such as grapes, blueberries, and blackberries, and in apples when you leave the skin on. (PS mama, wine has flavenoids too, if you need a post-bedtime dose.)
  3. Calcium and magnesium. I don’t like a slew of supplements for children in general, but during allergy time, the right nutrients take on added importance. Calcium and magnesium help to calm allergic responses in the skin and respiratory system — especially, but not exclusively, when your child is deficient in magnesium (many kids and adults are.) A good supplement provides you with a 2:1 ratio of calcium to magnesium for optimum utilization. A good dose for a child over 4 would be 250mg calcium and 125mg magnesium, twice per day during acute attack, down to one dose per day for a couple weeks after the attack has ended.
  4. nettlesFreeze-dried nettle: A heartily nutritious herb, nettle can be used to bolster nutrition, immunity, and act as an antihistamine simultaneously. It is particularly good for drying out sinuses and also for stimulating the lymphatic system. If your child suffers from chronic allergies, sinus trouble, or swollen lymph nodes during allergy season, this would be my desert-island pick. Dosage is as directed, for children over 4 years old only. Consider having your child take this with food, as it can occasional cause stomach upset. In rare cases where the stomach upset still persists, stop giving the nettle for the time being.
  5. Elder: Also called elderberry and black elder, elder is an herb whose flower and berries are rich in flavenoids — the natural plant compounds we discussed earlier, with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. While most commonly used to reduce fever, elder’s natural tannins and volatile oils have natural astringents which dry up mucus in the respiratory passages. This makes elder an effective choice for children’s allergies – particularly if your child is generating a large amount of mucus, and a generally good thing to have on hand in your medicine cabinet. It can be administered as a tea, tincture or syrup — for children’s taste and ease, I use it in syrup form, using as directed, 1-2 times per day.
  6. Turmeric: Turmeric is a bright yellow-orange culinary spice that is great for health as well — alleviating muscle aches & pains, and even sometimes used as a natural cancer treatment (if I haven’t recommended it before, you’re almost certain to see it again in an upcoming blog on growing pains). It is an amazing medicinal spice due to its curcumin content — a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. As such, it helps heal inflamed respiratory tissues, along with resolving cases of excessive mucus. Because, to my knowledge, no studies exist on turmeric at medicinal dosages for children, I recommend it for children over 50-60 lbs, and stick to a conservative culinary amount, such as the amount you’d use in a good serving of curry — about 250mg (where, by the way, it’s the reason for an Indian curry’s characteristic yellow color).
  7. Saline rinse: This is as simple — and not quite as disagreeable as it sounds. Available over the counter, get one without preservatives — or make your own by dissolving 1/4 tsp of non-iodized salt and 1/8 tsp of baking soda in 1/2 cup of room temp or lukewarm water, then spray into one nostril at a time with a nasal spray bottle or a bulb syringe. If your child is old enough, have them blow their nose after you administer. If not, you can suck out the excess mucus with a bulb syringe as well. If making your own saline rinse, make a fresh batch every time.
  8. Face massage: There’s nothing like mama’s healing touch when your child is feeling ill — but neck and face massage serves another important function — moving your little one’s lymph system in the area of their body most affected by allergies. Using your clean fingerpads, with or without a little light olive or almond oil, massage at their temples, over their eyebrows, and gently from the bridge of their nose, down under their eyes at the top of their cheeks, following the cheekbones from the nose out in repeated strokes.

IF THINGS INTENSIFY:

Sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, we can no longer tell if our children have allergies or a full-blown infection or viral illness. Often it’s a combination effect — what started as one has led to the other (eg what starts as mild seasonal allergies lowers immunity and makes your child susceptible to the virus run amok at school…) Here are some ways to assess the severity of your child’s condition:

  1. Watch the color of your child’s mucus as one indicator of how things are progressing. hiking-in-austin(1)If their mucous remains clear and thin, you are generally dealing with a relatively minor ailment or allergy. If it turns, green, copious, thick, you may now be looking at a sinus infection, or, if the mucous moves into the eustachian tubes, a possible ear infection.
  2. If your child starts coughing, this is another sign that whatever has been bothering their system has now moved deeper into the body. In Chinese medicine, the most superficial level of ailment is runny nose and other mild ‘head’ and ‘back of neck’ symptoms (back of neck soreness, chills, runny nose are signs of an initial challenge to your child’s health). If it starts to affect, mood, digestion, or lungs, or your child starts running a fever, it’s gone deeper and become more entrenched. This is not to scare you, but just to give you a sense of when to keep a greater watchful eye, and consider consulting with your healthcare provider. Also, check out our remedies section on cough & runny nose for further home remedy suggestions.
  3. Your child’s mood is a great indicator of how they are feeling. If they seem hyperactive, difficult to calm, or alternatively cranky or depressed. These can also be byproducts of allergies. Check out our Remedies Section on Runny Nose and Cough, or the iBook chapter by symptom — sore throat, runny nose, wet or dry cough, and handle it according to the prevailing symptoms.

The goal here, of all of these remedies, is to gently but firmly rebalance little one’s body, and make the outdoors feel friendly again, just in time for Summer fun. And if our babysitters read this blog and follow its advice too, so be it. 🙂