Category: Natural Remedies

Natural Bug Remedies – For Your Garden, Your Kids, and Yourself

Today is a glorious day. We’ve been sitting out under our oak tree, both sons and I, in the afternoons — until my older son sees his favorite playmate across the street, and my little one decides he needs a change of pace (at least that’s how I interpret his nonverbal objections). Today is no different, except that I am noticing how timely our latest batch of homemade bug repellent is turning out to be – just made on Friday at the first sign of trouble, I now am watching the bugs hover. The repellent is working, but leave one spot uncovered (the back of Aidan’s knees were left perilously unsprayed) and they are there. I watch one mosquito literally hang out in the air around us, never landing…but it’s only a matter of time until hundreds are out to join him — and eventually one will be intrepid enough to risk stench of geranium and make his move…

So what else can we do? I joke about it, but mosquitos are one of the most unpleasant hazards of Austin summer for a California girl, not to mention occasionally dangerous transmitters of diseases I’d rather not blog about from any personal experience (and don’t wish on you either). I don’t like to be told what I can and can’t do by anyone, yet I’ll be bossed around by these tiny tyrants — hiding indoors, occasionally even running out of town for a break from it all. And we don’t have it the worst in the country, by any means. (Here at least, we have swarms of bats that live under our downtown bridge, who mercifully eradicate vast quantities of the problem for their dinner.)

Well, I’m not being run indoors so quickly this year. We’ve got the natural repellent (and it really is fantastic), we’ve got the bug bite remedies, now for some other solutions to keep our backyard the kid-friendly haven that we love…

  1. Remove Standing Water. We don’t have any (unfortunately, says my son, as he yearns for his own swimming pool), but if you do have a bird bath, swimming pool, or unchecked rain gutters, it’s amazing how fast mosquitoes will multiply if the water remains stagnant. Replace water regularly in bird baths, clear all potential clogs from the rain gutters, and, if you do have a pool — a) don’t tell my son about it, and b) make sure you are running the pump/filter long enough to ‘move’ the water — on average, it takes 8 hours to turn over an entire pool’s water, or so a pool tech explains it to me. This should be done at least once per week. You’ll also want to make sure the pool’s filter is working optimally and isn’t clogged as well. (I’ve been given a wonderful explanation on how to tell this by the surface ripples on the water, but without a visual demo, I’m lost — ask any good pool maintenance person for tips on this.) Create movement in ornamental ponds by adding fish (there are mosquito-eating fish I hear). The bottom line is that mosquito larvae thrive in stagnant water, and many lay their eggs on the surface.
  2. Plant Your Summer Garden with Marigolds. Marigolds are heaven’s gift in that they are both lovely on the eyes and repellent to mosquitoes simultaneously. Just know that they have to have a scent to them in order to work effectively in this regard. And while you’re planting…consider planting your garden with lavender, basil and catnip as well. Not only are these great ingredients for natural repellents and bug bite remedies, but their natural smell in the garden will discourage mosquitoes (and other pests). You can plant your basil next to your tomato plants to give them some pest protection (we’ve despaired of planting tomatoes in this climate, but perhaps you haven’t, brave souls!)
  3. Burn sage, rosemary, artemisia. Together or by themselves, sage, rosemary and artemisia give off pleasant, woodsy aromas that are unpleasant to bugs. Just be prepared — if you’re burning artemisia (also called moxa, which can be picked up in stick form from Asian markets or acupuncturists offices), your neighbors and guests may wonder if you’re smoking something…well, something that rhymes with ‘berry-fauna’.
  4. Buy a nontoxic mosquito trap. Hausbell makes a safety and eco-friendly with chemical free trap.
  5. Break out the pure vanilla. Caught without your supply of mosquito repellent, and don’t want to ruin your enjoyment of the outdoor bbq? Mix 1 Tblsp pure vanilla extract (put this in your kitchen cabinet and it will also make your cookies taste better, I promise), with 1 Tblsp of witch hazel and/or water. Or rub it directly onto the pulse points of you and your little ones — behind the neck, ears, wrists, and puh-leaze mama, don’t forget the back of the knees again.
  6. Cover up. Come on, get modest. You do get vitamin D from the sun, but not between dusk and dawn. I put my little babe in sweet lightweight pants with the footsies and he’s all set. My big little one didn’t used to like to take his Spiderman outfit off (complete with Spidey-galoshes) even in the dead of Summer, so our greatest fear was heatstroke, not mosquitoes. We’ll see how it is this year.
  7. Hope to be blessed by common sense. Or good friends. Or both. Some years ago, my husband saw some lovely little tadpoles that had come to swim in a vase of few-day-old flowers. Not an animal lover by nature, he was still touched at the fortitude of these little beings, and wondered when we could expect frogs? He took extra efforts not to change the water. When our friend, a veterinarian, came over for dinner, Brian was quick to take him back to look at his crop of little tadpoles. Overcoming great laughter, our friend informed him that he was breeding mosquitoes. So if you need any extras, come on over to our place. We take good care of our biting friends here.

10 Great Immune-Builders

Well, it’s Spring, and for a nice change of pace, nothing seems to be ‘going around’ these days among school or neighborhood friends. Everyone’s healthy and enjoying our newfound flowers and gorgeous 75 degree weather (to my friends and readers in colder parts, I apologize for my insensitivity and promise, it’s coming…) Still, when seasons transition is always a good time to boost immunity, so that our children’s little bodies are ready for the weather and dietary changes that naturally come with the shift. Here are my favorite immune boosting tips, to be used during any time of travel, climate change, or when something seems to be ‘going around’, in hopes that we can all look forward to a happy and healthy Springtime.
1. Wash hands, and wash hands again

Many viruses can stay alive for at least up to two hours on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs. The single best way to avoid exposure this way is to have your child wash their hands frequently – and with soap. Worried about their thoroughness? Have them sing the “happy birthday” song thru in its entirety, while they rub their hands and fingers with the soap. When they’re finished singing, it’s time to rinse the soap off.

2. Give your Child Vitamin C — and more Vitamin C

Almost all animals create their own vitamin C — it’s that important. Human beings don’t – we need it from the food we eat and the supplements we take. In addition to being responsible for over 300 bodily functions, your child’s immune system needs vitamin C to run at peak levels. Without enough of it, your child is more likely to get sick more often and stay sick longer. It’s one of nature’s most powerful antioxidants. And because vitamin C is water-soluble, our bodies don’t store it, so your child needs to get the vitamin C s/he needs daily.orange-fruit

Vitamin C is found in predominantly in fruits and vegetables. Oranges have the most well-known reputation, but other fruits and veggies have as much vitamin C as oranges or more: kiwis, mangoes, papayas, red bell peppers are all high in vitamin C. Also try acerola (a west Indian cherry with over 1600mg of vitamin C per cup – compare that to 80mg in one orange!). Acerola can be found by itself in your health food store, or more often as juice, that can be mixed into other juices or smoothies. Try also goji berries, a sweet-and-salty fruit that looks like a raisin – we mix it into our son’s oatmeal, it can even be eaten as a snack on its own, or even baked into bread…

If your child has a history of low immunity, I like incorporating a high-quality buffered vitamin c supplement – taken to bowel tolerance. This can be even 250-500 grams of vitamin C 2-3 times a day (especially when your child’s immune system is under stress) – your child’s body will keep what it needs, and pee out the rest. If your child’s poop gets loose when she takes the vitamin c, reduce the dosage. If you have reason to suspect that your child has been exposed to a viral or bacterial infection, you can increase the number of times per day that you supplement his or her vitamin C intake.

3. Reduce or eliminate white sugar from your child’s diet

Kids love the taste of sugar. Breastmilk and formula are sweet by nature, and in Chinese Medicine, foods with a naturally-occurring sweet taste are considered nourishing and easy to digest – in small quantities. The trouble is that in the standard modern American diet, we consume a lot of sugar – in cakes, cookies, sodas, fruit juices, and even foods that we don’t associate with being a sweet, like crackers, cereals and ketchup. When you add it all up, there’s a strong chance that your child is consuming more sugar than it might seem.

Here’s the thing that no one told me when my son was a baby. Sugar can lower your child’s (and your own) immune system function almost immediately. In particular, sugar can reduce the ability of white blood cells to digest and destroy bacteria. According to research reported by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the effect of this immune system drop lasts for five hours, or more. If your child is fighting off an invader already, this could be just the drop that bacteria or virus is waiting for. If your child is ingesting sugar continuously throughout the day, even in small quantities, his or her immune system may be in a constant state of depressed function.

White sugar is especially hard on your child’s system. It has been processed, bleached, and all mineral content that exists in many of its original sources is lost. It breaks down so rapidly in the body that its almost like an i.v. of glucose into your child’s system – which can cause spikes in blood sugar to the brain and other organs, and stress on your child’s pancreas and general digestive tract.
agave-nectarSugars in their natural form still need to be used with real moderation – after all, they are still sugar, and can still have an effect on your child’s immune system, especially in larger quantities. However, in their natural form, they still contain essential minerals, and generally have a lower glycemic index – meaning that they break down more slowly in your child’s body – minimizing the blood sugar peaks-and-valleys. When you are going to use sugar in baking or to sweeten, consider using:

  • Maple syrup or maple crystals
  • Honey – in children over the age of one (in baking, can be sweeter than sugar, may have to modify accordingly)
  • 
Molasses
  • 
Brown rice syrup (slightly less sweet than sugar, may have to be combined with other natural sweeteners)
o Apple juice or other fruit sweetener

Cooking and using new sweeteners can cause some initial adjusting. For example, if it’s a liquid sweetener, you may need to use less of some other liquid in your recipe. If you’re using honey, agave, or maple syrup, you may find you need 1/2 to 2/3 the amount of sweetener to achieve the same level of sweetness. It just takes a little bit of practice. For more information on cooking with natural sweeteners, there are also some great cookbooks devoted just to this… Please don’t substitute artificial sweeteners for sugar here – we have found that they can be quite difficult for a child’s system to recognize and detoxify. The idea is more to bring back sweet choices with more nutritional merit, while still giving your child the sweet flavor she or he enjoys.

Sugar cravings can result from an imbalance of intestinal flora or excessive intestinal yeast in your child’s body – which can come from a history of antibiotic usage, a diet high in sugar, or following illness. Sugar cravings can also result from insufficient nutrition – such as too little lean protein or beneficial fatty acids. Sweet-tooths can also be from mineral deficiencies – sometimes chromium, or other minerals are implicated. If your child has a real sweet-tooth, we suggest that you consult with a qualified nutritionist.

4. Consider Other Beneficial Supplements

Probiotics, whether from yogurt, or in supplement form, can also play an important role in bolstering your child’s digestive health and immunity. Some research suggests that children with high levels of lactobacilli and bifidobacteria in their intestines – the good bacteria found in many probiotics are less likely to get infections than those with sub-optimal levels. Levels can get low from heredity, diet, illnesses, history of frequent antibiotic use. Probiotics may also be added to your child’s bathwater for some gentle exposure.

If your child is recovering from illness, looking frail, or suffering from lowered immunity, you may also try giving them royal jelly – up to 75mg for 50 lbs of body weight. Royal jelly – the food that transforms a worker bee into a queen bee, thereby living 20 times longer! – is considered by some nutritionists to be one of nature’s most perfect food sources. If your child is having any issues with food malabsorption or malnutrition, this may prove particularly effective.

Astragalus has long been used by Chinese medicine (and also is grown here in the U.S.) as one of the most effective ingredients in any immune tonic. Research has shown that astragalus increases the activity of macrophages (immune cells that ‘eat’ unwanted visitors) and the production of T-lymphocytes (white blood cells that are capable of seeking out and destroying viral proteins.) For children especially, astragalus can also work very well on its own, made into a tea or broth. Astragalus is a member of the pea family, with a long membraneous root. It’s the root that is useful here, and comes dried, resembling a tongue depressor. Put 3-4 pieces of the astragalus into boiling water, and simmer for 25 minutes. You can have your child drink this with miso paste or bouillon for a simple broth, or add 1-2 cloves of garlic, 1 white onion, 2 carrots, parsley and shitake mushrooms for an incredible immune-bolstering soup. Astragalus can often be purchased as a tincture from your local health food store as well, and is a particularly good choice if your child has swollen glands.

**A word on supplements here. Not all supplements are created equal. We love these immune-enhancing suggestions in general, but some forms of vitamins and nutrients are more bio-available and easy for your child’s body to break down. Please ask your practitioner, or nutritionist for suggestions. A reputable health food store may also prove to be a good resource.

5. Maintain a healthy diet for your child

A well-balanced diet, may be, above all, the most important gift that you can give your child for their current and later health. The more nutrition research that’s done, the more it emerges that an adult’s health, general constitution, brain development and number of fat cells in their body is very influenced by their diets as a child. This occurs at the biological level. As your child reaches developmental milestones, it is important that the nutrients required for growth are available to them.

Research also now shows that deficiencies in certain nutrients can lower your child’s immune system. Folic acid tends to be the most common deficiency, and can increase your child’s susceptibility to infection. Other vitamins that mediate immune response, and can cause lowered immune function when their levels are low are: vitamin c, a, e, certain b vitamins, magnesium, copper, and iron. You’ll need to consult with a qualified nutritionist to know if your child is deficient in any of these nutrients, and, if so, which ones. Preventatively, however, a well-balanced diet is your best defense.

salmon So what constitutes good nutrition for a child? Variety is a key component in making sure your child gets a good mix of the nutrients she or he needs. Here is a very basic list of things that most children should be getting on a daily basis:

  • “good” fats: essential fatty acids, found in flax oil, avocados, wild salmon, nut butters, cold-pressed vegetable oils – – olive oil, safflower oil, walnut oil; should be about 20-25 % of their total calories (margarine, partially hydrogenated oils should be avoided here; butter and saturated fats should be only moderately used)
  • proteins: such as beans, poultry, eggs, meat, fish, nuts and seeds; should be about 15-25% of their total calories
  • 
complex carbohydrates: such as vegetables, beans, whole grains, whole fruit; should be about 50-60% of total calories
  • 
vegetables and fruits: should be between 4 and 6 servings per day; at least 3-4 should be vegetables. A “serving” is approximately 1/2 cup of fruit or vegetable, except leafy greens, where a serving size is 1 cup

I recommend eating organic and locally grown foods as a part of healthy nutrition. Organic foods tend to keep higher nutrient levels, and are easier on your child’s system; it gives them less to fight against – no more pesticides or chemicals to fill their ‘rain barrels’. Locally grown foods preserve more nutrients due to less transit time between being picked and getting to your table. Its also great because what’s grown locally may be what’s exactly right for your child in your climate, at your time of year.

6. Become an expert on your child’s poop (and general digestive health)

In most Eastern Medicine, boosting your child’s immune system begins with supporting their digestive tract. In recent years, western science supports this connection between immunity and the gut – recent studies show that the majority of our immune cells reside in our intestines.

One important way to assess your child’s immune health can be by observing their bowel movements. Some variation in stools is normal. When you start noticing patterns developing however that may indicate a digestive problem that may be affecting your child’s immune system. Examples of problems would be a tendency toward constipation, loose stools, undigested food in the stool, pain in the belly or when passing a stool, lots of gas, or alternating diarrhea and constipation, consistent foul smell to your child’s poop. Any of these as longstanding patterns warrant a trip to your primary health provider.

Constipation, in particular, is an important imbalance to consider when assessing your child’s immune system. If your child is having a bowel movement less than once a day, is straining and struggling, and/or the movements seem ‘incomplete’, this could be interfering with your child’s ability to absorb nutrients, and weakening their immune system (as waste gets reabsorbed into the bloodstream thru the walls of the large intestine, and intestinal flora becomes imbalanced). If constipation is an issue for your child, make sure your child is drinking enough water and getting enough fiber in his or her diet. You can also make your child flaxseed tea – 1 Tblsp. of flax seeds in one cup of boiling water, left to soak overnight and taken in the morning can be a big help.

There are some other basic mealtime suggestions that can improve your child’s digestive and immune health. We recommend that mealtimes are as calm as possible and that children are expected to sit down to eat. We also recommend that parents reduce snacking. Constant snacking requires that a kid’s digestive system is constantly working. Focusing on fixed regular mealtimes helps regulate the system.

Another easy way for parents to help support their child’s system is to provide warm cooked foods at mealtimes on a regular basis, especially if your child is frail, pale, tends toward loose stools, or is recovering from illness. Children’s digestive systems are not “up and running” like an adult’s, so they may not be effectively breaking down food without some help from your oven or stove. The way Chinese medicine looks at it is that the breakdown of food creates energy in the body but also requires energy to digest. In particular if your child’s system is tired from illness, fatigue, or is showing signs that it is having trouble breaking down food on its own, in the form of loose stools, gas, bloating, undigested food in the stool, offering your child cooked bland foods can help them to rebuild, without expending energy on digestion. Grandma was on the right track when she made up chicken soup!

If your child tends to be more robust, however, to run hot, be sweaty, red in the face, maybe even tending toward constipation, including some raw veggies, salads, seeds and nuts may have a more beneficial and even cooling effect.

You may also consider incorporating digestive enzymes with your child’s meals. You can have your child take them immediately after eating to improve food breakdown, or I’ve known parents to break open capsules of enzymes and sprinkle them directly into their child’s food. You can also get them directly from papaya and pineapple (sometimes a little at the end of a meal can provide nice results.) Ask at your local grocery or health food store for their favorite digestive enzymes for your child.

7. Help your children get their ZZZs

A few words on healthy sleep – This may seem basic, but one of my great struggles as a parent was to understand that the amount of sleep my son needed, and the amount of sleep he thought he needed were two different things. While his enthusiasm for playing and reading books and exploring has always trumped his desire to sleep, without his beauty sleep his health and immune system suffers.

So what is the right amount of sleep for a child? Well, it really depends on your child, and the age of your child, but in general, your child should be getting from 10-12 hours of sleep per night from the ages of 4-6, at least 10 hours from the ages of 6-9, and at least nine hours from the age of 9 to 12. These are just averages. Your child may need a little less or little more, but if they are way off of this range, it might be worth exploring any factors that may be interfering with your child’s sleep.

Going to sleep requires a certain type of “letting go” and for some kids this may be difficult. For the sensitive or really active kids often this transition may be even more difficult. I often find the key to sleep problems occur during the day. Parents will need to look closely at the amount of stimulation kids receive. Scary movies, a very hot day, new foods, or lots of transition may create the occasional bout of insomnia or nighttime waking. The focus here is to help your child’s nervous system unwind.
If your child is having a hard time unwinding a nice warm bath with some lavender oil or chamomile in it may help. Lavender and chamomile have relaxing properties and the water element can also help to move your child into a more receptive or sleepy state.
After a nice long soak you can incorporate some massage to help your child relax more. With your child stretched out in a warm place on their towel you can gently work on their feet or their heads. In general massaging the feet helps to bring the energy down. Some children prefer to have her heads gently rubbed. As you massage your child check in to find out what feels relaxing to them.

You can also try chamomilla, a gentle homeopathic remedy to relieve nervousness and irritability, and to relax tension in your child. Homeopathics come as little sweet white pills that are dissolved under the tongue at least 15-20 minutes before eating. They are extremely gentle, which makes them an easy remedy for children. Sold at different potencies, start out by giving your child 6x potency, 3 times during the day, or right before bed for mild relaxation. You can also try Sleepytime Tea, a Celestial Seasonings® blend that includes chamomile, along with lemongrass, spearmint and orange blossoms. Traditional Medicinals® also makes a wonderful organic nighty-night tea with chamomile for children.

In Chinese medicine, the time of night that your child sleeps and the quality of that sleep can be even more important than the number of hours she gets. Sleep is the time when the energy of your body cycles through all of the organ systems, and traditional Chinese wisdom believes that the hours between 9pm and 12am may be the most important hours for your child’s body to detoxify. Some practitioners even believe that one hour during this window is equal to 2 hours the rest of the night. Experiment with the time you are putting your child to bed. If your child goes to bed late, try lowering his bedtime by 1/2 hour each night over the course of the week, and see if you notice a difference in his behavior, energy and tendency toward illness. In some children, just the time that they go to bed can make a profound difference in the quality of their sleep cycle.

In general, most children in our culture do not get as much sleep as their little bodies actually need to grow, detoxify, process, and function properly. One of the single most effective steps you can take as a parent to improve and support your child’s health is to ensure healthy and adequate sleep. If your child is having trouble winding down or staying asleep, please refer to this great Mommy’s ER video for tips.
8. Try gentle massage and acupressure
Infant-Massage-Tummy-1200-x-798
To strengthen your child’s immune system, I also recommend doing basic acupressure and massage techniques daily. Parents can use the digestive massage techniques of spinal rolling, tummy circles, belly massage and acupressure. For video demonstration of these techniques, check out the Mommy’s ER youtube channel.

All of these techniques help to regulate the digestive system and the bowels. They also improve autonomic nervous system functioning, the system with which is responsible for regulating your child’s (and your own) immune functions. We encourage parents to incorporate some or all of these techniques into your child’s nightly routine, much like brushing their teeth, five to ten minutes a night.

9. Eliminate Environmental Irritants

Why look at environmental irritants in the context of building immunity? Undetected environmental sensitivities and allergies have a generalized impact on the immune system, kind of like a mystery movie, where someone is getting poisoned a little undetectable bit at a time. Your child may get colds, flus, even have behavioral changes and trouble sleeping aggravated by simple factors in the environments in which they live. Reducing your child’s exposure to common household substances, pet danders, or outdoor pollens to which they may be reacting poorly may reduce a constant barrage against their immune systems.

Here’s a list of some other things you can ask yourself, or start to notice as you look at your child’s different environments – home, school, out-of-doors.

  1. Is this an old house?
  2. Does it smell ‘musty’ when I walk in after having been away? … you may want to have your house checked for mold.
  3. Is this a new house – two years or less?  Do I notice any new house smells when I’ve been away?
  4. Do we have pets?
  5. Do my child’s symptoms get better or worse when they spend time on the floor in our house or playing with the pets?
  6. Does my child experience any physical or behavioral changes after getting vaccines, flu shots, taking any medications, getting surgery or dental work done? … we are NOT saying don’t do these things, but if your child is having a response, it could be a sign his or her ‘toxic load’ is already too high to handle something new – again like the last drop that makes the barrel overflow.
  7. How does my child’s daycare smell when I first walk in? Is it a new building? An old building?
  8. Do we have scented candles, room deodorizers, incense sticks in our house?
  9. Do we clean infrequently? How often are things dusted?
  10. Do we use a lot of chemicals, bleach, etc to clean our house? How’s my child’s energy, behavior, sleep, on days when its just been cleaned?
  11. Does anyone smoke in our house?
  12. How old are our pipes and our paint? Is our paint peeling Have our water pipes and our house been checked for lead contamination?

If you are answering yes to any of these questions, the best solution is usually eliminating the possible irritant. However, this is not always the most practical solution. Incorporating vitamin C in difficult environments can be a very beneficial practice for your child, getting them extra antioxidants that their bodies can use to cope.
Solutions can also be simple, such as moving beloved pets out of your child’s room at night, or even calling their bedrooms a no-pet zone.

Incorporating green plants into your home can also provide a simple solution – green plants help to clean up our air quality and help to provide us an oxygen-rich environment. Specific plants that are noted for their ability to detoxify their environment are peace lilies, gerber daisies, bamboo palms, Phillodendron, golden pothos, and spider plants have been found by NASA to best clear formaldehyde (a preservative used in cabinets and other woods, insulations, even new clothes) from the environment. Dracaena massangeana, boston fern, ficus, lady palm, miniature date palm, rubber plants and chrysanthemums were also rated as good at removing toxic substances from the air.

Ionizing air purifiers are another line of defense against the pollutants that enter your home environment. Just make sure that if your air purifier does produce ozone, that you only leave it on when you are away from the house. Ozone can be very hard on the sensitive lining of your child’s lungs and respiratory tract.
Mineral salt baths, or baths using dead sea salts can also be a way to remove toxic buildup on and through your child’s skin. You can see its calming effect as well – I see it especially with my son if I bathe him with mineral salts two nights or more in a row. Just make sure to rinse your child off afterward thoroughly with glycerin soap.

Finally, a word on children who live with smokers or are exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke on a regular basis. Children with parents who smoke are admitted to the hospital with what has been estimated as 28% more frequency than children who are not exposed to cigarette smoke. Some of this may be due to the fact that exposure to cigarette smoke lowers levels of antioxidants vitamin e and vitamin c. It also is aggravating to the tender tissue of their little lungs. If your child is an environment with secondhand smoke, and quitting is not an option, you may consider establishing an outdoor smoking area, away from your child’s play area. Keep an indoor ozone-free air purifier in the house if you can. Change your filters frequently. Keep a lot of green plants around. You may also choose to supplement your child with buffered vitamin c supplements daily, to replenish what is lost from second-hand smoke exposure.

10. Provide a Loving and Low Stress Home for your Child

We all love our children (if you didn’t, I doubt you’d even be reading this article), but providing a low-stress home can be more difficult, especially, if, as a parent you’re feeling stressed and overtired – which is, perhaps, subject for another article, and one I may not be as qualified to write. My best suggestions for a typical 21st century household? Number One: be sure that you are taking care of yourself – like the favorite airplane analogy: put on your mask first, then assist your child. Make sure that you, as a parent, are following the preceding nine suggestions as best you can, getting adequate sleep, exercise, nutrients and rest. It is easiest for our children to get on board the behaviors that we are modeling to them.

Research on emotions is now uncovering that our emotional states can be even more contagious than our physical ailments. If we’re stressed, our child can pick up on that…and stress is the number one enemy of healthy immunity. Just one more excuse to indulge in that bubble bath, fit in a run or golf game, or take your favorite yoga class…

For your child, make sure that s/he or he is getting plenty of exercise, time with easygoing friends, time outdoors. Make sure they are getting extra touch from you. Even just rubbing my son’s arm as I read to him can noticeably improve his calm and our connection. These are the stress relievers of children.

An old Chinese proverb says, “a man is not sick because he has an illness. He has an illness because he is sick.” If your child’s immune system is healthy, it can tackle invaders that we will never know have been there. We may not be able to control our children’s exposure to illness-inducing viruses and bacteria, but we can help them to be ready and healthy in the face of any exposure. As always, a healthy immune system is the universal remedy.

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.