Comparing notes at playgroups, it immediately becomes apparent that many children suffer from the same illnesses over and over again. Some are minor, some are quite nasty. Either way, it is always distressing for the child, and equally so for the parent to stand by and see their child in discomfort.
There are many things we can do both to alleviate the immediate distress, and also to avoid recurrence – or even to avoid the problem in the first place. The information here is designed to be used with discretion. A parent needs always to be vigilant in case the problem is getting out of control and, if concerned, always call in a doctor – it is not worth taking a risk.
This can be a serious condition and must be addressed. The current medical practice is to treat it quite heavy-handedly with steroids, which does seem to have a better prognosis – though I would be concerned about the long term impact on the immune system in adulthood. Asthma tends to run in families that are called ‘atopic’ – in other words, they are genetically susceptible to allergic reactions such as asthma, eczema and migraines. Quite often we are told that children ‘will grow out of it and indeed, superficially this does seem to happen. There is a growing incidence of asthma – 1 in 10 children are affected – and it is presumed that this is due to increased pollution levels. However, areas like New Zealand which are relatively polluted free have extremely high levels of asthma, which lends credence to my position that diet is a major factor. The main triggers, as opposed to the underlying factors, are usually house dust mite droppings, animal hair, changes in air temperature, allergies, pollution, infections, stress and medicines. It seems obvious that the situation would be worse in big cities, but some rural areas have a much higher count, probably because there is so much agricultural crop spray in the air.
There are a couple of important aspects to look out for. Firstly, there is quite a frequent misdiagnosis of this condition in small children – may be because some GPs do not have enough time to consider all the factors. I have known several children to be treated for asthma with steroids when all they had was an upper respiratory tract infection. If you are concerned, it is worth getting a second opinion. Secondly, the ‘triggers’ are often just that – the straw that breaks the camel’s back. It is important to look for underlying factors, such as pollution, diet, and nutrient levels. As to a child ‘growing out of the condition’, I believe that in an attempt to maintain equilibrium the body adapts, and the symptoms are alleviated – to appear years later in a different form – migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, for example.
You will find that I constantly refer to wheat and dairy allergies and essential fatty acid deficiencies. This is because they are so widespread and may lead to different health problems from child to child – if they are implicated. In relation to asthma, dairy products – especially the full-fat type – are known to be pro-inflammatory. Wheat can have the effect of triggering histamine. If you are still breastfeeding, remember that wheat or dairy products in the mother’s diet can have just as much of an effect as introducing these foods directly into a child’s diet. Essential fats, especially the omega-3 fish oils, have a beneficial bronchial-dilatory effect. However, it is necessary to take care of the omega-6 fats such as evening primrose oil, as in excess they can encourage inflammation. It is important to get a good balance between the two types of fats (It is for the same physiological reason that asthmatics are unable to tolerate aspirin). GLA (evening primrose oil) and EPA (fish oil) fats for asthmatics may be particularly important as those with an atopic (genetic) tendency often do not convert the essential fats in their bodies into the anti-inflammatory substances, called prostaglandins, as efficiently as other people.
Other considerations for asthmatics are good fluid levels, making sure they have enough zinc (ground seeds) and beta-carotene (carrot juice). While citrus fruit often presents a problem for asthmatics, it is important to generally keep up a good level of fresh fruit in the diet, particularly apples, to maintain strong lung function.
To keep house dust mites to a minimum make sure that bedding is kept scrupulously clean and, preferably, remove carpets in favour of wood, linoleum or tiled flooring.
The worst time for colic is between the age of 2 months and 5 months. It is not clear why this happens, but there are several very useful steps to take to minimise or eliminate colic. The first thing to do is to exclude wheat and dairy if they are being fed to a child, or to exclude them from the mother’s diet if breastfeeding. One study showed that 70% of bottle-fed infants with colic improved when they were moved onto formula feeds that did not contain cow’s milk protein. It may also be worth cutting out onions and garlic from the mother’s diet as they seem to have an effect as well.
It is important to feed on one breast at each feed from beginning to end. Breast milk is delivered as the first and main course. The initial flow is quite thin and has a high protein and milk sugar content – possibly to alleviate immediate hunger – and the next stage is quite thick and fatty to sustain for a bit longer. If the baby is switched between breasts all they get is the thin sugary milk which makes colic worse, as more sugar, or lactose, reaches the bowel where it then ferments.
Colic may be an indication of protein or lactose intolerance if the child is being bottle-fed. Corn syrup in formulas can also cause a problem.
After feeding, burp your baby and then lay him on his right side so that trapped wind will not be forced into his intestines. It may also help if you do not feed more frequently than every two hours and give unsweetened, cooled, camomile tea half an hour before a milk feed. Other teas to try, one at a time, are fennel seed, dill seed, ginger, mint and liquorice. Half a teaspoon of whichever herb you are trying should be added to a cup of boiling water, then cooled to room temperature, strained, and 1-3 teaspoons given by dropper or on a spoon. Adding infant bacteria (Bifido infantis) to your baby’s feed or water may also help with colic.
It is agonising to see a little baby or toddler straining to do a poo and being really uncomfortable. Also if this discomfort goes on for too long, the child can begin to associate pain with going to the toilet, and can deliberately try not to go – making the vicious cycle worse. Ideally, small children, who have got very short digestive tracts compared to adults, should go about twice a day. If your child is constipated, the main considerations are: Is he getting enough liquids to keep the stools soft? Is there enough fibre in his diet, especially from the soluble fibre found in fruit, vegetables, rice and oats? You should never give a small child wheat bran as a fibre source as it only relieves constipation by irritating the gut wall, which is undesirable. Is he allergic to any food, especially wheat, or other grains such as rye, oats or corn? Is he emotionally distressed? A useful measure to try is to mix a couple of teaspoons of olive oil in with his food – olive oil increases peristalsis (or movement) of the digestive tract quite remarkably.
This can be quite dangerous in a small child if it goes on for too long, as children can get seriously dehydrated a lot more quickly than adults. If you think this may be happening, consult your doctor, who will probably suggest an electrolyte solution – in fact, you could always keep some sachets of an electrolyte powder available in your first aid kit. Most of the time diarrhoea is a sign that the body needs to evacuate something which is causing irritation. The most obvious possibility to consider is some kind of food poisoning – this may be accompanied by vomiting. It is often the case that a food sensitivity is to blame, and it is often the foods that are eaten most frequently which cause the trouble. Culprits can include, wheat and dairy products (yes again!), other grains such as rye or oats, soya milk, citrus fruit, especially oranges and any other food that is eaten too regularly. Foods that can help get rid of diarrhoea are brown rice and live yoghurt.
The advice here is similar to that for asthma, as they share many of the same dietary risk factors. Some babies can be covered head to foot in eczema, and this is so sad because much can be done to prevent it.
Once again consider allergies: wheat and other grains such as oats, rye, corn and barley, all dairy products, soya products and citrus fruit are top of the list. It is important to keep saturated fats from meat and dairy to a bare minimum as they can cause inflammatory flare-ups. GLA and EPA essential fats (see below) could be very important. Some eczema sufferers seem not to be able to make the conversion of essential fats into the compounds the body uses to bring down inflammation. By using GLA (found in evening primrose oil) and EPA (found in oily fish) you skip this conversion step. Zinc (ground seeds) and vitamin A (carrot juice) are helpful, as is making sure water intake is kept up.
You can also try piercing evening primrose oil and vitamin E gelatin capsules and gently rub them directly onto the affected areas – they are absorbed quite well through the skin. One or two capsules a day should be enough
This is a build-up of sticky fluid in the middle ear usually as a result of repeated infections or allergies, and its correct term is otitis media. The biggest culprit here is a dairy produce, followed closely by too much sugar in the diet and sensitivity to wheat. I would immediately suggest that any child with a glue ear avoids milk and cheese totally. Glue ear is on the increase, 17 out of 20 children under the age of six have experienced this problem, and the usual course of treatment is antibiotics. If it gets bad enough, the next stage is grommeted in the ear canal, and yet glue ear can mostly be avoided by cutting out dairy products and, if this does not produce results, suspect other food-related problems. Your child’s hearing should always be checked a few weeks after an ear infection.
Hay fever doesn’t usually develop in very small children, but you may notice a seasonal tendency to sneeze and watery, itchy eyes. I would consider wheat as a likely culprit, since wheat is a member of the grass family, and can increase the ‘load’, leading to hay fever symptoms. It is a good idea to avoid wheat for six weeks or so to see if it helps. You may also suspect oats and rye if wheat doesn’t do the trick.
Histamine is the body chemical that triggers hay fever symptoms and two nutrients work together to help get rid of histamine. Calcium helps to release the histamine from the mast cells and vitamin C detoxifies the histamine and carries it out of the body.
Many small children, especially if they are going to playgroup, have a permanently runny nose. Clear mucus is normal, as they are building up their immunity to a vast number of viruses, and the problem usually decreases with age. The naturopathic attitude to mucus is that it is a natural cleansing mechanism. However, if it seems that the mucus is too thick or is going on for too long, or that there is excessive mucus in the nasal passages, without a cold or infection, you can suspect an allergy. The potential culprit list includes all dairy products, wheat and other grains and soy products. Ensuring good levels of water intake helps to keep your baby’s system clear of toxic build-up and reduces the need to excrete toxins via mucus. The enzyme found in pineapples, called bromelain, has been shown to help reduce mucus as a result of allergic responses.
Some people seem to think that nappy rash is normal and I have seen children with almost permanently sore bottoms. It is not normal and can be avoided. Cleanliness is important – make sure that nappies are changed regularly and that your baby is not allergic to the wipes or creams. Give your baby’s bottom an airing from time to time – leave off the nappy for a while if you can. You may notice that nappy rash seems to occur when stool consistency is not normal, indicating that there may be a component of the diet that is not helping. Ensuring that all the skin nutrients are in the baby’s diet in good amounts is important: ie, zinc, vitamin A, vitamin C and essential fats. A good soothing alternative to talcum powder is green clay which has anti-inflammatory properties.
Some babies are ‘sicky’ babies and their parents seem to constantly have wet patches on their shoulders. This seems to me to occur more frequently with bottle-fed babies – formula milk is not as digestible as mother’s milk for little babies. I would switch to other formulas or try to re-instate breastfeeding. Projectile vomiting is another matter and could indicate something more serious. If this happens once or twice, it probably indicates an infection or allergy. If it goes on it may be more serious. In either case, contact your doctor as dehydration could swiftly follow.