Cold and flu season is here – and all the scary news stories are here right along with it. Is there a way you can keep your baby, yourself, your family safe and healthy during seasonal illness? During a global pandemic? Is there a way to do it without heavy medications, injections, and scare tactics?
Thankfully the answer is yes. This guide is for you – the savvy mama that wants to keep your baby, your family, and maybe your pregnant self healthy… naturally!
An Ounce of Prevention is Worth a Pound of Cure
Cliche but true – your first line of defense against the medical pandemic of the hour is being strong and healthy. Keep yourself strong and healthy. Keep your baby strong and healthy. Keep your family strong and healthy.
The question is: how do you do that?
Breastfeed Your Baby
Breastfeeding your baby is your first line of defense against any illness, during any illness, or even when you're thinking about illness!
Breastmilk is Magic:
Your body produces antibodies for the particular “bad guy bugs” floating and sticking around your environment. That gives your baby the perfect antibodies for what's challenging his or her immune system.
Breastmilk is easy to digest, meaning your baby's body isn't challenged by lengthy digestive processes, and you don't need to worry about inflammation or auto-immune responses weakening your baby's body.
Breastmilk is a fluid that babies like. If your baby does get sick, dehydration is one of the major dangers he or she could face. Babies like breastmilk and are often comforted by nursing. This keeps your little one hydrated.
Breastfeeding is easy to do when you're feeling under the weather, too. You and your baby can just cuddle up to nurse. Put on a good movie (or two, or three), snuggle up, and nurse your little one.
Breastmilk offers complete nutrition to your baby. That means it doesn't just hydrate – it provides micronutrients, macronutrients, and everything in between 😉 It nourishes your baby even when he or she is sick.
If your baby is sick, breastfeed as much as you can, especially baby has diarrhea. Let your baby sleep and nurse. Keeping your baby in your arms to nurse also lets you monitor how he or she is doing, including temperature (you can “feel” fever, illness, etc. because you're sensitive to your baby!)
Keep Breastfeeding, If Possible
If your baby is older and eating solids, or even a rambunctious toddler, breastfeeding is still helpful for keeping him or her healthy!
Breastmilk still brings antibody protection to a nursing toddler. Research also shows that breastmilk changes and adapts as your baby grows. What he or she gets in toddlerhood is uniquely designed for the age and stage your little one is at.
If your tot does get sick, breastmilk is an important source of hydration, just as it would be in infancy. It also brings a level of other nutrients to help see your child through an illness where they may not want to eat very much.
Don't feel guilty if your toddler has weaned (or if you're not able to breastfeed your baby) – it's an amazing resource, but there is much to do your toddler healthy. Breastmilk is the biological norm for babies and helpful for toddlers, but you have a lot of resources if you need alternatives.
Feed Your Family Well
This follows after breastfeeding – since breastmilk is the ideal food. But when we're talking about toddlers eating full solid meals, older children, nursing mothers, pregnant mamas, and even daddies, nourishing foods are what you want to build a foundation of health on.
Many of our foods aren't nutrient-dense, either. It doesn't matter how much you decorate or “whole grain” a slice of bread, it's still not really nutrient dense. And typical “kid food” tends to be really low in nutrients.
So how do you feed your family for good health? Feed them nutrient-dense foods.
Luckily lots of mamas have faced this same question – so you can find tons of resources on how to get good food on the table for your family.
One hint: cut out the 'round the clock snacking (breastfeeding excluded). Limit it to one afternoon snack, but otherwise, it's OK for your child to be hungry for a little while – he or she is much more likely to eat the nourishing foods you have to eat!
Here are nutrient-dense foods to consider:
- Healthy fats (coconut oil, olive oil, butter, palm oil, etc.)
- Deeply-colored vegetables
- Lower-carb fruits (berries are a great example)
- Nuts and seeds
- Meats and Fish
- High-quality dairy products
- Whole grains in moderation
- Beans (add healthy fats in your bean dish)
Here's a quick guide to serving nutritious foods:
Have a protein portion (meat or egg is ideal, but bean or dairy works) – it doesn't have to be huge.
Fill the plate out with a couple of veggie sides. Make sure there's fat to help you absorb the nutrients in your food (salad dressing, butter, hollandaise, etc.)
Have starchy veggies, fruits, or grains as a compliment to the meals – not the major part of them.
Serving meals like this keeps nutrient-density as high as possible and avoids pouring sugar into the blood stream. That keeps you and your baby as healthy as possible.
This kind of diet also nourishes your unborn baby and helps you make rich, nourishing breastmilk.
Eating this way doesn't mean you have to avoid bread, tortillas, rice, pasta, etc. – you can round out your children's meals with these. Just make nutrient-dense foods the basis for the meals.
If you or your little ones have low iron levels (anemia), cook in cast iron – it was easy for me to learn to cook with and care for this pan and it boosts iron levels in food. That gives the immune system a big boost!
On Super Foods and Supplements
There are certain foods and food-based supplements that can be really helpful because they encourage your body to work better – to stay healthy!
Food-based supplements are supplements that could be considered real foods. Some examples are coconut oil, cod liver oil, ghee, and homemade broth. I'll talk more about some of these when we talk about stocking your medicine chest, because they can be useful when you think an illness is coming… or it's already here.
For now, lets cover some foods that boost you immune function:
Coconut Oil: Healthy fats are actually essential because many vitamins are “fat-soluble,” meaning your body can't use them without fat. Coconut oil is an especially good fat because it's pretty stable for cooking and it contains lauric acid, which is also found in breastmilk. Lauric acid, along with a few other special acids in coconut oil, have potent antimicrobial properties, helping to boost your immune system.
You can give baby coconut oil starting when he or she starts solids. I recommend you have some every day during pregnancy, too!
Organ Meats: Organ meats are a literal nutrient powerhouse. They contain nutrient levels that vegetables can only dream of, and for the most part all the nutrients are highly bio-available to you. I recommend you have organ meats such as liver each week. You can serve liver pate, or spaghetti with a little ground liver mixed in, etc. to help little ones learn to love liver.
If you have hard time eating organ meats you can try a desiccated liver supplement. I like Perfect Supplement's liver caplets.
Berries: Berries provide a lovely, sweet flavor with very low carbohydrate levels so they're a perfect fruit. They're also very rich in antioxidants, which help boost your immune system. It's usually recommended to wait until after your little one is a year old to introduce berries, but tots can enjoy them and so can pregnant mamas!
Garlic: Garlic has long been known to boost immune function and it can be used to add flavor to foods throughout the cold and flu season. Babies also drink more breastmilk when it's garlic-flavored 😉 (that's proven by research!)
Kefir: Kefir is a fermented milk product similar to yogurt. It has a thinner consistency and stronger flavor, and it also packs a huge probiotic punch. There are lots of “good bacteria” in kefir (it's also easy to culture at home). You can start baby on small amounts of kefir or yogurt around 8-9 months. I recommend a daily probiotic smoothie made with kefir if you're pregnant!
Beans: Beans have a lot of protein and make a good alternative to meat or eggs every night. But they're on this list because they have a pretty good amount of magnesium in them, and magnesium is helpful to boosting immune function.
Leafy Greens: Greens like spinach and kale (and even broccoli) have lots of vitamins and antioxidants, but they're especially good sources of trace minerals. Magnesium, selenium, calcium, etc. are all found. Babies and toddlers often don't like raw leafy greens because they're harder to digest, but many like purees with greens in them. Please season to taste, even for baby! We're made to enjoy our food 😀
I know this makes me unpopular, but during the height of the sick season, it's ideal if you can stay home.
This is especially true when labor and birth are close for pregnant mamas, or when you have a young baby at home.
Staying home and away from sickness and illness is the best way you can protect yourself and your children from illness. It may mean sacrificing some outings, but it means you protect your family's health in a very real way.
Have adults and older kids coming into the house make a habit of washing their hands when they get home.
Stock A Natural “Medicine Chest”
Foods to Have on Hand
- Homemade chicken broth
- Salt (Real Salt, Himalayin Salt, or a similar salt with trace minerals)
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Water
- Honey / Palm Sugar
- Coconut milk
- Kefir (and/or yogurt)
- Ginger Tea
- Chamomile Tea
I'll give a quick summary of why you want these on hand:
Chicken broth and salt: This is the #1 fluid we use when we have sick kids OR adults. It's easy to make and you can freeze it to have on hand if you don't cook with it regularly. We salt it to taste, then give it to sick family members to sip. One teaspoon/tablespoon at a time if necessary. My kids have never needed an electrolyte solution – the salted broth has always been adequate.
Salt: Salt is also essential for helping soothe sore throats and is a useful gargle for adults and (older children who can safely gargle). Gargling with salt helps provide a baseline germ killer and breaks up congestion.
Garlic and Olive Oil: You can gently heat a couple of ounces of olive oil, add in a diced garlic clove, cool to room temperature, and have effective drops for an earache. My kids haven't had many, but this has worked when they have.
Coconut water: A student shared this one with me – coconut water also has electrolytes and is very good to have on hand to help re-hydrate during illness.
Honey (or palm sugar), lemons, and salt: A great, natural, homemade electrolyte solution recipe – substitute palm sugar for babies (and please breastfeed as much as possible):
- 1 quart water
- Juice from 2-3 lemons
- 1/3 C raw honey (or palm sugar for babies)
- 1/4 – 1/2 salt
Warm up about 1/2 C of the the water so the honey and salt will dissolve, then that water, honey, and salt to a quart-sized Mason jar and stir. When mostly dissolved, add remaining water and lemon juice, and mix thoroughly.
Recipe from Vintage Kids, Modern World!
Coconut milk and gelatin: These can be used to make coconut “jigglers” which are gentle on the stomach and loved by most kids. You can sweeten slightly with honey or maple syrup (or palm sugar for babies). The gelatin is very soothing and healing to the digestive tract. Use quality gelatin, such as Great Lakes beef gelatin:
- 1 1/2 cans Coconut Milk
- 4 Tbs plain gelatin
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 cup raw honey, or to taste
Place coconut milk into a saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over top. Allow to sit undisturbed for 15 minutes to soften, then bring to a boil, stirring regularly. Turn off the heat, cool for 15 minutes and stir in vanilla and raw honey. Pour into a greased 9×13 inch (23×33 cm) pan and chill until set. Once set, you can cut into squares or shapes with cookie (biscuit) cutters.
See the original recipe here
Kefir or Yogurt: these cultured dairy products are gentle on the stomach and loaded with beneficial probiotics to help heal the body after an illness. You can mix up a smoothie with a gentle, kid-friendly fruit like banana to help sweeten and give easy energy to a recovering child. Again, serve small amounts as tiny tummies heal.
Ginger Tea and Chamomile Tea: both of these teas are soothing to upset tummies. I would use ginger for adults and older children who like them – stick with chamomile tea for younger children and babies.
Supplements to Have on Hand
Vitamin E: You want to have Vitamin E caps on hand for persistent coughs, especially night coughs. My mother-in-law shared this remedy with me when we were sharing cabin together and a couple of the kids had a night cough lingering from an illness. We opened the Vitamin E caplet, squeezed it on the back of their tongues, and they went off to bed – no more coughing!
Vitamin C: I like keeping a powdered form on hand for children. You can mix a little into a smoothie or applesauce. Extra Vitamin C supports the body in fighting off an illness.
Magnesium: I like Natural Calm powdered magnesium (we just use the plain, non-flavored one). It has a pleasant, sour taste that my kids will drink as a hot “tea.” Give only small amounts to kids. I like to use this after illness, and don't use at all if diarrhea has been an issue (it loosens the bowels).
Eposm Salts: These are essentially magnesium and are great for muscle aches and soreness from athletics or from illness, like the flu. I also mix a little into a tepid bath if I feel I need to lower a fever.
Butter Oil / Ghee: these are rich in Vitamin K2, Vitamin D, and other nutrients. I try to get these into my kids regularly, but if anyone has a toothache or gum inflammation, I really load up with these.
Probiotic caps: I find that probiotic foods, like yogurt or kefir, seem to give the most benefit, but I like giving a little extra after an illness. I open a cap and pour it into the blender when I'm making smoothies. For a baby I mix a little infant probiotic powder into yogurt or let them suck a little off my pinkie finger.
Equipment to Have on Hand
- A vaporizer
- Bulb syringe (or NoseFrida) & saline solution
- An eye dropper (or a few)
- A thermometer
- Mason jars
- Blankets & Cuddles
- Boxes of tissues (enough said!)
A vaporizer: This is actually the most used “equipment” in our house when there's illness. I like the ones that have a little “medicine tray” near the steam vent. We add a few drops of Eucalyptus Oil (more on that coming) and it really helps ease congestion. We have mineral-rich water where we live now, but when we were on city water, we had to add a pinch of salt to get the vaporizer steaming – FYI!
Bulb syringe: I do not like to suction a baby's nose (we don't even suction our newborns!), but if a baby is having a hard time breathing, I will suction. A little saline solution really helps clear out mucus. Many of my clients like the NoseFrida (used instead of the bulb syringe).
Eye droppers: these are useful for essential oils that don't have built-in droppers. They can also help you get fluids into a child who is having trouble using a spoon (because of skill level or grumpiness). Label so you don't mix up oil droppers with food droppers! I always end up wishing we had a bunch of these for various reasons 😉
A thermometer: I usually do not take my kids' temperature, because I can feel if they're feverish and I'm going to do the same thing regardless of how high their fever is. But I have one on hand for young babies or in case I'm worried a fever is getting too high and I want to call my doctor for her opinion. I always take my own temperature if I'm pregnant and worried about fever.
Mason Jars: these are useful for mixing up an electrolyte formula, storing chicken broth, serving smoothies in, etc. They're also glass, so they can be easily sterilized if I feel I need to take that precaution.
Blankets & Cuddles: For our family, this is the best medicine. I'm not afraid of fevers or illness (though I find them very tedious!), so we just settle in, cuddle up, and ride it out. Having my kids cuddled with me on the couch, in the bed, or close by, lets me monitor them easily and provide comfort when needed 🙂 Sick babies sleep in my arms most of the time.
Remedies to Have on Hand
- Regular Tylenol*
- BactaMune and Echinacea & Thyme
- ViraMune & Yummy Yarrow
- Scout Out
- Tea Tree Oil
- Lavender Oil
- Eucalyptus Oil
- Colloidal Silver
- Cough Tea
*Regular Tylenol: I have never used Tylenol for my children, so I don't have any baby or kids' Tylenol. I would, however, take it if I had a fever early in pregnancy, so I keep it on hand for that.
BactaMune and Echinacea & Thyme: These are from Trilight Health and I have used them with my kids since they were babies. I like to alternate these two for cough/cold or any kind of “snotty” illness. Sometimes I'll give the echinacea if I think there may be an illness brewing.
ViraMune & Yummy Yarrow: Also from Trilight Health, and I give these when there's a high fever, childhood rash, etc. Again, I like to alternate between the two (give one, then at the next dose time 2 hours later, give the next, and so on).
Scout Out: Another Trilight favorite, this is the heavy-duty tincture for flu symptoms or when an illness seems to be lingering. Yummy Yarrow or Echinacea & Thyme are good additional supporters.
Tea Tree Oil: I always want things very clean during / after an illness, so I use tea tree to clean doorknobs, light switch plates, etc. during and after an illness. I also use a couple of drops when I make a full batch of baby wipes solution 🙂
Lavender Oil: Useful for soothing distraught children, helping ease achey kids to sleep, and also tends to take the sting out of bruises. This is a good oil to have around, and is safe enough to be used without a carrier oil in most cases.
Eucalyptus Oil: As I mentioned above, we always put this oil in the vaporizer if congestion is a problem. It really helps. Putting a little into a shallow dish in the bathroom when you turn on the shower to create a “steam room” for a cough/cold is useful too.
Colloidal Silver: I use this when someone has a toothache or gum inflammation, along with heavy nutritional support (I fully believe tooth problems begin from the inside out, NOT from the outside in). I also find it useful to take in small amounts in my first trimester of a pregnancy where morning sickness is threatening, complimented with lots of probiotics.
Cough Tea: We get this from the Bulk Herb Store (they have lots of immune mixes, too, if you like making your own remedies). It's meant to be a tea but I've actually found it's really effective tinctured. Scott always wants this if he has a cough.
Honor an Illness
No matter what you do “right,” there are times your family will get sick. I know “he never gets sick!” is a considered an accomplishment and perhaps a badge of honor for some, but I feel that an illness can be beneficial sometimes.
It causes us to slow down and really pay attention to each other. It helps us connect and tune into our bodies. Sometimes it's a wakeup call (when we're eating a little too much sugar or low-quality food)! And sometimes, I think our kids need it. My kids often make a developmental leap right after an illness with a fever – and I know many moms have noticed the same thing.
Illnesses test our kids' immune systems and ultimately strengthen them to go forward.
Here's how to deal with some common issues:
Handling Deep Congestion
I do the same things for all family members if there's a bad cough/cold with deep congestion (including myself when pregnant). We pull out the eucalyptus, start stock simmering, bundle up, and take it easy!
I will suction babies and toddlers if steam and eucalyptus oil are not working to loosen deep congestion. I put a few drops of saline solution (homemade or store bought – use a little eye dropper to dispense homemade) in each nostril, then suction gently, holding one nostril closed while I suction the other. Babies usually cry for this so I try to work quickly and pick up and calm the baby immediately after (or they'll build all the mucus up again crying!)
You can create a “steam room” by closing the bathroom door and turning the shower on full hot. Sit with your child cuddled up in the room (pick the smallest bathroom for this). Sometimes taking a child out of the steam room and into cold night air right after can help ease congestion (you don't need to stay outside long).
We give extra Vitamin C and use Vitamin E and Cough Tea as needed.
Worried about coronavirus in particular? Check out this video from Birthing Better:
Handling Diarrhea & Vomiting
Diarrhea is scary for many parents (not to mention messy and unpleasant). It can lead to dehydration quickly. I tend to stop all foods and all activities, having the child rest on the couch or in my arms. I give fluids in small amounts consistently, or encourage a nursing baby to nurse as much as possible (wearing an “easy access” shirt so they are essentially always at the breast).
Going without food is fine for a few days, but it's important that you keep fluids going into your child. I let a baby breastfeed as much as possible unless he/she can't keep anything down (I have never had one who couldn't keep breastmilk mostly in). But for older kids who keep throwing up, I give a tiny amount of salted broth (a teaspoon or even less). Then I give a tiny amount more 1/4 – 1/2 hour later. As they are able to keep more in, I increase the amounts I'm offering.
I do the same for myself if pregnant.
When the little one can start eating again, I offer easy-to-eat foods like yogurt, bannanas, smoothies, rice, scrambled eggs, etc.
When pregnant, I try to get in plenty of high-quality, extra food as soon as I am able – and have extra smoothies for a couple of weeks to get extra protein and probiotics. I'm also careful to salt to taste and make sure I'm getting in enough protein to rebuild blood supply and keep nutrient levels high for my unborn baby.
For comfort while stools are loose and possibly painful, we use baby wipes to wipe (for kids and adults). We use a homemade wipes solution with coconut oil, but store-bought wipes are also a gentle option for sore bums.
As I mentioned above, I am not really scared of fevers and actually think they're a good thing – my child's body is doing its job! The exception is the first trimester of pregnancy for me, when you do not want the developing baby exposed to very high temperatures. I take regular Tylenol (according to package instructions) to bring down the fever, and spend a few days in bed.
Otherwise, we bundle up when there's a fever and encourage the child to have regular small sips of fluid – and to sleep (that's what we encourage adults to do, too!). Sleep is the best medicine for a fever.
If your newborn has a fever, you should call your doctor right away. Otherwise, though, you should feel comfortable caring for a fever at home. Most fever-causing (febrile) illnesses will pass on their own with no need to see the doctor.
We start immune-supporting tinctures, as I outlined above with the Trilight Health products, and again, encourage lots of napping. I also try to keep movies / TV watching to a minimum so the little one can get quality rest – but if I'm sick, too, I usually do play movies so that I can get the rest I need!
If a fever is very high, a tepid bath (the water has just gotten to “warm”) can help bring down a fever. I like to add Epsom salts. Usually, though, I prefer to let a fever run its course and do its work.
Infections can be as simple as a cold/cough/fever caues, or it can be an infected cut, inflamed gums, etc. How you treat it depends on the cause.
Keep cuts and scrapes relatively clean, and make sure you're feeding your family a high-quality diet. This helps minimize the chance of infected cuts, or of tooth problems that can lead to illness.
For viral or bacterial infections, I like to treat with lots of rest, regular fluids, and the immune-support tinctures I listed above.
I also get really vigilant about washing sheets and linens, and using tea tree oil to help with cleaning.
If we have had a bad, lingering illness I will wipe everything down with a bleach water (10:1) solution. When you have a “lingering illness” in a family of 9, it really sucks!
When to Call the Doctor
Of course you should call the doctor anytime you're worried about your child!
I feel very confident about handling illness at home. I would call my doctor if my newborn had a fever (though I have handled newborn colds just fine). I also call my midwife I have a fever during pregnancy. Otherwise, I feel pretty confident that if we stay home, keep simple fluids coming, and REST, that “this too, shall pass” – and my children will be stronger for it 🙂
If your child has a high fever, or you're not sure about a rash, you may want to call and consult with the doctor. I prefer a doctor who is willing to discuss things with me on the phone and only asks me to come in if she's very worried. That way my kids and I are really able to rest and not be exposed/expose anybody to any other sicknesses!
The Sick Family Checklist!
Here's what I generally do when my family gets sick:
- Start frozen stock simmering (or make roast chicken so I can start fresh stock!)
- Make sure we have boxes of tissues (!!!)
- Double-check any foods/supplies to see if I should send Scott to the store
- Spread old towels over couches/recliners if we have vomiting
- Set bins next to tummy-sick kids (we use dishpans)
- Settle kids in comfortably
- Set up the vaporizer with eucalyptus oil if we have congestion
- Start immune-supporting tinctures/supplements if needed
- Settle in to nurse/hold/cuddle sick family members!
- Make calls to our doctor or midwife if I'm worried
- Share adorably pitiful selfies of the sick kiddos on Facebook 😉