How to Raise a Healthy Baby (And Work WITH Your Doctor)
As a mom, your greatest hope is to see your children grow into healthy, happy people. And while you really wish they could stay healthy every day, you know that sometimes kids get sick. Sometimes they get hurt. Sometimes you have worries. Luckily, they have you. Dr. Mom.
You’re the expert on your child, and your instincts are usually right on. But you don’t have to do this alone. In fact, it’s often good to have someone else (even more than one someone) to consult. As a modern mom you can work WITH your child’s doctor to help your little one enjoy vibrant health and well-being.
This guide is a crash course in getting a Mommy MD – and understanding when it’s good to call in colleagues to help you give your baby the very best start 😉
You Are the Parent
Always remember that you’re the mom. You’re your child’s parent; you love your child in a way that no care provider, teacher, or official could ever come close to. As I said above, your instincts are generally correct about your child.
In short, you may not always know what’s best, but usually you do. You have your child’s best interest at heart.
And until your child is much older, you are ultimately responsible for whatever happens. This is a heavy responsibility for many parents to accept, and sometimes it’s comforting just to say “it’s in the doctor’s hands now.” But the truth is you’re always the parent and in the end it comes down to you and your decisions for your child’s care (even if that means you entrust a surgery or procedure to someone else). It’s ideal if you can understand and exercise this responsibility (and the rights that come with it) during pregnancy and while your little one is still little. By doing this, you model responsibility for your child and help him or her become more and more involved in making decisions as he/she grows.
Your Doctor is Your Partner
Your child’s doctor is your partner. Care providers can come from a number of walks in life: MD’s, chiropractors, naturopaths, herbalists, and/or specialists in many disciplines. Remember that this person is not an enemy – he or she is a partner in caring for your child (and perhaps even the whole family).
You need to choose carefully because of this. If you can’t trust your doctor, you need to find a new one. Finding a provider who works with you is worth it even if you have to do several interviews or drive a little farther than you’d like to.
Sometimes a provider won’t agree with you, but he or she should respect you. When my oldest children were little, we had a doctor who clearly expressed her opinions on vaccination and that her views didn’t line up exactly with ours. But she respected us as parents and was satisfied to let us know her thoughts and let us make the final decision. Before finding her we left a practice that actively berated our choices – it wasn’t the place for us.
After moving we found a new doctor with the same level of respect (and similar views to ours on many, but not all issues) via referral from like-minded friends. This can be a good place to start your search for the right provider for you – no matter what initials come after his or her name.
I do think it’s valuable to have a doctor on your team – doctors are great for broken bones, or if you have a child with special needs who needs a referral. It’s worth cultivating this relationship of mutual respect and knowing you have a professional team to consult if you’re not sure how to handle an injury or illness at home.
Don’t just keep your doctor in the favorites section on your phone, however. Taking the time to get your Mama MD can really help you feel confident handling most childhood illnesses and injuries right at home. Good first aid skills can take care of normal bumps, bruises, cuts, and scrapes. With those skills come the ability to see when something is minor or when you should call for help.
Most childhood illnesses, such as colds, flu, and many febrile (fever-causing) illnesses can be safely handled at home. News reports are often filled with fear and panic, but the reality is that healthy kids are resilient.
Understanding Sickness in Childhood
Though it's never fun to see your child sick (they generally feel horrible, they're clingy and cranky, and it means worry and work for you), illnesses in general are good for your child. They test and strengthen your child's immune system. Illnesses with fever may also help cleanse and detox your child's body. Diarrhea and vomiting make lots of extra work, but they're a great sign that your child's body is working correctly – it's handling toxins effectively and pushing them out.
As long as you're carefully monitoring your child, it's safe to let your child's body do the work. Fever is a good thing, and unless it's moving over 103F and you can help your child stay comfortable while the fever does its work to kill the virus or bacteria. With fever, vomiting, or diarrhea, hydration is the other important point to monitor. Keep liquids in your child (salted homemade chicken broth is an excellent choice).
You don't want to overwhelm your child's stomach if he or she has been throwing up, so offer liquid in teaspoons over time, not in large gulps all at once. If your child can't keep anything down after a few hours, even in small sips / teaspoons, it's time to call your doctor. Call for fevers moving over 103F in older children, but with babies, call much sooner – once it moves over 100.4. A rectal temperature is best with infants.
Again, illness in childhood is a strengthening and boosting experience, though it's stressful while you're in the middle of it. Many parents notice their young children make development leaps directly after an illness – I'm not sure there's been an “official” study on this, but anecdotal evidence over time shows that children come out stronger and ready to move ahead after a time of sickness.
It's important to understand the point of many conventional medicines, especially cold medicines, is to treat the symptoms, not the cause of the sickness. And you probably already know this – medications are often prescribed that actually do nothing to combat the illness. Antibiotics being prescribed for viral illnesses is the biggest example of this.
In general, children can and do overcome illness on their own, even bacterial illnesses – there is no need for medictions. Sickness is uncomfortable and as a mom, your first instinct is to stop your child's pain. But their body is doing important work, and it's often best for them to let their body overcome while you provide external comfort in the form of nursing, cuddles, rocking, reading, or even a movie while snuggled together on the couch.
And remember that medications may not simply do nothing – they may also cause harm by stopping the body's own efforts to heal (lowering a fever is one example). Antibiotics do wipe out disease bacteria, but they also wipe out all of your child's good bacteria. Always weigh the pros and cons of a medication. Usually your child will overcome an illness on his or her own – but if your child is really struggling, call and consult your doctor.
Some traditional remedies, an echinacea tincture, for instance, support the body and boost the immune system. Many moms like to use an herbal remedy coupled with traditional favorites like homemade chicken stock (simple on the stomach and packed with minerals) to support their child during the illness. If that's something that appeals to you, researching herbs, essential oils, etc. is a good way to expand your own “mommy md” and build a natural medicine chest. Remember to treat all remedies as medicines initially – weigh the pros and cons and understand how they truly work with your child's body to be sure they're safe and you're comfortable with them.
Worried if you should treat at home or not? This advice from A Practical Guide to Children’s Health is excellent:
“If a child is ill, first determine if it can be treated safely at home. The majority of colds, flu, sinus and ear infections, and other common childhood ailments can be. If in doubt, call the child’s doctor and ask for a phone consultation with him/her or a nurse in the office. Describe the child’s symptoms, ask for ways to treat at home and what to look for as far as “when it’s serious.” Do not make an appointment unless the medical professional feels that it is actually warranted in that child’s case.”
Health is Prevention
Remember that good health starts on a daily basis. You create a strong foundation for your child to stay healthy. And, since illness can be a good thing, a strong foundation creates a strong child who can naturally overcome any illness he or she does get. A strong, healthy body also handles cuts, bruises, and broken bones well. Healthy children are curious, energetic, full of life and ready to learn from everything around them.
Food is the Foundation
Foster that first by good nutrition. Feeding your child healthy, real foods is the foundation for every parent. If you're pregnant right now, start in pregnancy. Give your baby his or her first bites of solids from nourishing foods. And help your child grow on good nutrition. I'm not saying you can never splurge (I certainly do from time to time! I have a soft spot for that smile when my child is given a cookie by a kind acquaintance). But there are many things you can do to make real foods part of your life. Strategies that work well for my family include freezer cooking (usually I double or triple recipes for a couple of weeks every couple of months so there's always ready meals in the freezer), crock pot meals, and “one skillet meals.” There's no need to stop there – many smart mamas have figured out how to do real food on a budget and in time a crunch. And many of them are total beginners, so they break it down for the most inexperienced mamas. Oh, and picky eaters or allergies? You can bet there are wise mamas who have gone before 😉
You can give your child the gift of a healthy diet, which will carry him/her throughout life and create good health to weather any injury or illness
Creating an environment that's healthy for children is important. Generally this means working to reduce the load of chemicals and toxins in your home and keeping your child well-connected to nature.
You can help reduce chemical loads by choosing “green” cleaning products for household cleaning, dishes, and laundry. You can also look into natural fabrics for your home, but start with simple cleaning. Make sure you open your home up as often as possible, letting fresh air in and circulating stale air out. If you purchase something that needs to “off-gas,” try to leave it outside or in an outbuilding (like a garage) if possible.
Choose dishes carefully – glass or stainless steel is a good idea. You can often find dishes that are made of kid-safe materials and are designed to stand up to use by children 😉 You can even get unbreakable glass straws!
You can't avoid every chemical today, and some equipment, such as plastic car seats, are really vital to your child. But you can eliminate a lot of what's present in the environment. Natural and “green” cleaners are usually an inexpensive place to start – the rest can happen gradually 🙂
Safety is part of keeping your child healthy and common sense is usually enough to help you keep your child safe. I want to point out that parents actually tend to err on the side of being overly cautious today, which is where the term “helicopter parenting” comes from. It's important for babies to have the chance to fall down when they're learning to walk. They need to figure out how to tackle stairs, run, jump, and climb.
Give your child freedom to explore and to play. As I mentioned above, you want your child to be well-connected to nature. Little ones can and should enjoy being outside frequently. In forest schools preschoolers, kindergartners, and grade schoolers spend time outdoors in all weather (the only weather where forest schoolers shelter is very windy weather that brings down tree branches). Their saying is “there is no bad weather, just bad clothing.” Your child doesn't need to be out in all kinds of weather if you don't want, but he or she does need lots of time to explore outside. Your child needs to experience dirt, trees, flowers, sun, and even a little rain 😉
Be sensible but include your child in real life. As your little grows, teach him or her to help in the kitchen and in the laundry room. It's by your side, inside and outside, that your child learns safety and common sense. And it's natural and desirable for children to gradually want to explore (while you're a safe home base to return to). Encourage this, because it builds your child's confidence and vitality, which are just as important to health as nutrition and a clean environment.
Advancing Your Education
Moms never stop learning, and that's the way it should be! Your child's health is incredibly important to you, so keep learning. This empowers you not only to care for your child at home, but also to have respectful conversations with your child's doctor. He or she becomes a trusted consultant and you stay the parent – who cares more about your child's health and safety than anyone else in the world. Your little one(s) only benefit from your continued education.