By Mayim Bialik, Ph.D.
Author of Beyond the Sling
Between our 6 and 3 1/2 year-old boys, we have dealt with just about every ailment, sickness, flu, and boo-boo in our house. However, neither of them have ever been on antibiotics nor admitted to any hospital. I don’t give my kids acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil), medication for teething pain, antibiotic ointment (Neosporin), antihistamines, cough syrups or steroid creams (Benadryl, Cortisone).
I don’t tell you this so you think I’m amazing or special. I’m not; I’m a nervous mother hen as much as the next person. But after watching and learning from people I admire who have healthy lives, outlooks and kids, I have learned some things that I now want to share with you. Almost everything you have right now in your home and in your heart is enough to cope with most of the sicknesses and ailments your child will experience. Just as you know how to parent your baby intuitively, you also know how to care for your baby intuitively.
Our job as parents is not simply to make things not hurt, but also to teach our children that we are not exempt from getting sick; after all, we’re human! In our culture, there is a “pill for every ill.” Fever? Take Ibuprofen. Diarrhea? Take Immodium. Runny nose? Dry it up. That’s not necessarily the best way to heal a body, large or small.
I’m not arguing to be medically negligent. Medical attention should be sought promptly for anything that you deem important and necessary to seek attention for. In addition, children with medical conditions, histories, or allergies need to be watched with special care. However, too often, I see healthy children being medicated with pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, cortisone creams, expensive bug bite lotions, antihistamines, and nasal sprays when an ice pack, rest, even temporary dietary modifications and good old-fashioned holding would probably set them on their way in shorter course.
Never second-guess the intuitive feeling that something isn’t right. Listen to your intuition, which can protect your baby and child as they grow older. Don’t hover and quash independence, but don’t ignore your intuition either.
If your baby is asleep in another room and you have a feeling that something is not right, check on the baby. Present mothers and fathers alike often have an intuitive sense of their baby’s status that translates to knowing their well being even from afar. It’s not hocus-pocus, and acting on this intuition is a good thing, and not a smothering one.
Another intuitive rule of thumb is the following: Watch how you speak to a hurting child. Shushing in order to stop a child from crying and phrases like, “You’re OK,” “Stop crying,” “Big boys/girls don’t cry,” and “There’s nothing to cry about” send a message that getting hurt and expressing your pain makes your parents uncomfortable.
Here’s how we handle the top 5 sicknesses most households will see in their children’s first years:
1) Earache: About 70 percent of earaches are NOT bacterial and therefore do not need antibiotics. What they do need is rest and treatment for discomfort. Garlic drops in the ears, breast milk in the ears (!), and hydrogen peroxide dosed for your baby appropriately all help discomfort and encourage healing.
2) Fever: Fever can be related to a bacterial infection but is most commonly viral. Fever is there to kill the virus, so first give tepid baths, cool washcloths, and minimal clothing on baby to keep them from overheating.
3) Plugged tear duct/eye inflammation (as distinguished from diagnosed pink eye): gentle and frequent massage of baby’s tear duct (towards the bridge of the nose) and breast milk squirted or dropped into the eye every time you nurse clears this problem up in a day. That’s all!
4) Flu: For respiratory flu, a few drops of eucalyptus oil in the bottom of a shower basin with hot water running can steam up a bathroom and allow relief from congestion; a cut-up onion placed wrapped in a sack or cloth handkerchief near a child’s pillow encourage the mucus membranes to run (and get the virus out), rest and tons of fluids help overall healing. For stomach flu, wait out the vomiting and diarrhea but let the body GET IT OUT; don’t stop it up with medicines since the body needs to get it out.
Avoid foods too hard for the stomach to digest (like protein, meats, and dairy), and encourage foods that bind naturally, such as BRAT: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. Encourage fluids, but try not to freak out if even a tablespoon of water makes your child throw up all over again. Know the signs of true dehydration (dry lips, weakness, unresponsiveness) and stay close to your child to monitor them.
5) Teething pain and discomfort, swollen gums: This is a tough one. Some people swear by homeopathic remedies for teething, but we found that the best remedies were: nursing, nursing, nursing, and a wooden teething ring and frozen peas (when baby is old enough to suck on them). Some kids like ice chips; ours never did. Did I mention nursing was our best and most reliable source of teething treatment?
Parenting isn’t just about diapering and feeding a newborn and adjusting to the lack of sleep. It’s a total and complete awareness of your child’s bodily functions and needs in sickness as well as in health. Foregoing Western medicine does not always make life easier in the short term, and this is not an all-or-nothing enterprise. Take each sickness and ailment independently and see what works for your family.
Children hurt for a lot of different reasons, and a parent’s desire for a child to be free of pain is universal. I implore you to take very seriously the charge given to you: Protect this tiny dependent person not only with what Western medicine can offer you, but also with the intuition that is yours simply because you are a caring and loving parent.