For Moms Working At Home…

Most moms I know who are working from home put time into their “non-child related work” while the kids are napping or after the little tykes have gone to bed.  This seems like such a good idea in theory, but, I can tell you from experience, it’s quite difficult to achieve in practice.

The deadline looms and your little one gets an ear infection.  Which means the nap doesn’t actually happen.  Neither does a regular bedtime.  Neither does a full night’s rest.  The deadline gets tighter and poor mom and kid get more and more stressed and upset.  Mom gets sick too and, well, it’s rather difficult.

I’d highly suggest that you recruit some sort of child care for the times that you need your attention and focus to be away from the kids and on your paid or volunteer work.  Perhaps a student looking for some fun with young kids.  Perhaps a nanny share with friends.  Perhaps a part-time daycare program.

When you have the time to actually get your work done, the time you spend with your kids will be more enjoyable too.  You’ll be able to focus on them instead of trying to type out that email while cooking lunch and wiping a bum.  Your mood, energy and overall health will be better so you’ll even be more fun and more patient when you’re with them.

And for your kids, it’s great for them to play with other kids.  It’s great for them to play with and learn to trust other grown-ups.  It’s win win win all around.

If you have any tricks for working for home with young children, I’d love to hear about them.  I think it’s important for moms and dads to share our stories.

Yay Breastfeeding!

If you are having any trouble breastfeeding please give us a call. We can refer you to excellent lactation consultants, suggest herbs for milk production, advise about mastitis, answer many questions about breastfeeding.

Did you know that…

  • breastfeeding is a skill to learned by both mama and baby? It takes excellent instruction and practice to get it right
  • the World Health Organization and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend mothers breastfeed their kids for “up to 2 years and beyond”
  • breast milk is the perfect food for babies
  • breastfeeding helps satisfy the emotional needs of children
  • breast milk’s content changes as children grow older
  • breast milk contains immune molecules that help children fight infection and decreases the risk for auto immune reactions, including allergies and asthma, and decreases the risk for certain childhood cancers
  • breastfeeding helps decrease insulin requirements in diabetic mothers
  • breastfeeding decreases the risk for breast cancer, endometrial cancer and uterine cancer for women
  • there are many many more reasons why breast is best!

Let us know if you’re having trouble. We can help.

Female Hormones Control your Bowels?

Yep.  Estrogen, progesterone, oxytocin, prolactin… All of these hormones affect our digestive systems.  So, certainly if a women comes to me with wonky digestion, we talk all about her hormones – how’s the menstrual cycle?  How was her digestive system during pregnancy?  How about when she was breast feeding?  What about during peri-menopause?

In naturopathy we’re lucky enough to see and make these connections.

Usually, if hormones are out of whack, women may find some interesting symptoms:

  • Constipation before the period is common.
  •  Looser stools or even diarrhea when the period starts.
  • Pregnancy is variable – with heartburn, bloating, gas, constipation and more.
  • Nursing moms often report the smoothest digestion of their lives (often abruptly changing when they wean their kids).
  • Peri-menopausal women may find their digestion becomes a source of great frustration as hormones fluctuate. Heartburn one day, constipation another day and running to the bathroom quickly another day.

So what can we do?  Through taking a thorough history, performing a physical exam and sometimes lab testing, we can figure out what’s happening with these ever-changing hormones.  Add in thyroid hormones, blood-sugar hormones, hormones for mood and feelings, stress hormones – and you get a pretty interesting puzzle.

Treatments depend, of course, on the cause of dysfunction but generally, I suggest herbs, some supplements and dietary changes to help balance the hormones and ease transitions. Acupuncture can be helpful too.  I might suggest some comfort measures for an upset stomach or bowel, but I keep in mind that over time, when we balance the hormones, the digestive symptoms will clear up.

I’ve been practicing over 10 years now, and I still find each person’s body fascinating to decipher.  In naturopathy we really do look at the whole body and how the various parts work (or don’t work) together.  And, we try to get at the root cause of what’s going on and causing trouble.

If you’re having trouble with your digestive system, check in with an ND – we’ll ask lots of questions about your entire self, including your hormones, to figure it out.

For those who would like to check out some studies about this topic, here are some that I’ve found interesting…

1. Progesterone receptors and serotonin levels in colon epithelial cells from females with slow transit constipation.
Guarino M, Cheng L, Cicala M, Ripetti V, Biancani P, Behar J.
Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2011 Jun;23(6):575-e210. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2011.01705.x. Epub 2011 Apr 11.
PMID: 21481100 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
Related citations
2. Variation of symptoms during the menstrual cycle in female patients with gastroparesis.
Verrengia M, Sachdeva P, Gaughan J, Fisher RS, Parkman HP.
Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2011 Jul;23(7):625-e254. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2982.2011.01681.x. Epub 2011 Feb 17.
PMID: 21332597 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
Related citations
3. Duodenal and renal transient receptor potential vanilloid 6 is regulated by sex steroid hormones, estrogen and progesterone, in immature rats.
Jung EM, Kim JH, Yang H, Hyun SH, Choi KC, Jeung EB.
J Vet Med Sci. 2011 Jun;73(6):711-6. Epub 2011 Jan 7.
PMID: 21228508 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free Article
Related citations
4. Expression of estrogen and progesterone receptors in the anal canal of women according to age and menopause.
Parés D, Iglesias M, Pera M, Pascual M, Torner A, Baró T, Alonso S, Grande L.
Dis Colon Rectum. 2010 Dec;53(12):1687-91.
PMID: 21178865 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
Related citations
5. Effects of progesterone on motility and prostaglandin levels in the distal guinea pig colon.
Xiao ZL, Biancani P, Behar J.
Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2009 Nov;297(5):G886-93.
PMID: 20501437 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article
Related citations
6. Progesterone receptor A mediates VIP inhibition of contraction.
Cheng L, Biancani P, Behar J.
Am J Physiol Gastrointest Liver Physiol. 2010 Mar;298(3):G433-9. Epub 2009 Dec 17.
PMID: 20019164 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free Article
Related citations
7. Effects of ovarian failure on submucosal collagen and blood vessels of the anal canal in postmenopausal women.
Elbanna HG, Abbas AM, Zalata K, Farid M, Ghanum W, Youssef M, Thabet WM, El Awady S, El-Sattar MH.
Int J Colorectal Dis. 2010 Apr;25(4):477-83. Epub 2009 Nov 10.
PMID: 19902226 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]
Related citations
8. Do fluctuations in ovarian hormones affect gastrointestinal symptoms in women with irritable bowel syndrome?
Heitkemper MM, Chang L.
Gend Med. 2009;6 Suppl 2:152-67. Review.
PMID: 19406367 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free PMC Article
Related citations

Treats and Children’s Food Sensitivities

Often when I suggest to a family that a change in diet will likely help their child’s health concerns, the family feels worried that the child will feel deprived or upset about avoiding those foods – usually considered treats.

Of course it depends on the kid, but honestly, I think that parents are more traumatized about diet changes than the kids are.

Kids are smart.  Kids feel what’s going on in their own bodies and minds.  They know when something feels good and they know when something feels wrong.  That said, they’re not very effective with articulating these feelings.

Unless, that is, you consider screaming uncontrollably or viciously biting to be clear articulations.  Personally, I think something like this would be so much easier:   “Mother, dear, that drink of orange pop has just messed up all of my neurotransmitters and I can no longer control my thoughts or actions.  Perhaps next time I could have some sparkling water with blueberries instead.”  Certainly less dramatic.

I find that most often, kids are happy to take charge and make good decisions about what foods and drinks they put into their bodies.  Usually when offending foods are taken out of the diet, the child has some trouble in the first few days.  Changes can be difficult.  But then when the kid feels better, I like to encourage them to do a food challenge and make clear notes about how they feel.

Here are some responses:  “It felt like there were ants in my brain.”  “My ears got so itchy inside I wanted to stick my fork in to scratch.”  “My eczema got worse.  Waaaaaaaaaay worse.”  “I felt like I had to throw up.” “I felt so angry I couldn’t see.”  “I was all busy buzzy inside.”

And my standard question: “So, what do you think?”

Usually the kid is quite emphatic in choosing to stay away from the offending food.  No one wants to feel yucky.

That said, I think it is important for children, and grown ups, to give themselves a break from excellent choices now and then.  If parents and children can discuss the consequences and feel okay about them, perhaps it’s not so bad to have a taste here and there.  For example, when my daughter eats processed corn products or cow’s dairy, she gets itchy and inevitably eczema pops up.  If there is a food she really wants that has dairy or corn, we talk about the fact that she’ll be itchy if she eats it.  Usually she thinks better of it but sometimes she decides to go for it.  Not such a big deal and she heals up quickly within a day or 2 when we’re back to our usual routine.

BUT, both of my children have a very hard time with food dyes so we avoid them altogether.  My 5 year old clearly remembers the feelings of humiliation and fury following a major tantrum on Queen’s Quay when she was 3.  We finally understood that it was the red dye in the popsicle she’d eaten that interfered with her ability to listen and process information effectively.  Don’t get me wrong… she had plenty of tantrums but the ones after a dye-filled “treat” were different.  We decided as a family to stop having dye altogether.  No dye.  Period.  Ever.  Absolutely not worth it.

I recall when a mom spoke to me about her son not being able to have treats with the diet changes I recommended.  Her son said this:  “But Mom, it’s not a treat if it makes me feel bad.  Can I have a game for my DS instead?”  Wow.  Exactly.

6 Ways to Support Your Child’s Immune System and Help Prevent Nasty Infections

1.  Make great immune supporting food choices as a family.  Leafy green vegetables like kale, rapini, spinach, beet tops, swiss chard all have components that help the immune system.  Oranges, red, yellow and orange peppers, berries, plums – all of these are chock-a-block full of vitamins and minerals that help the immune system.  Lean meats, organic eggs, nuts and seeds and legumes help provide protein building blocks to construct antibodies and healthy cells to fight viruses, bacteria, and parasites when children are exposed.  Including children in choosing the foods from the market, grocery store, or garden, having them help  wash and rip apart the leafy greens or take the stems out of the blueberries – these are all great ways for children to anticipate eating the food and feel great about the choices.  You can even tell children what the food is doing inside their bodies.  “You know, this kale is helping your white blood cells get strong.  White blood cells kill germs in your body.  Go white blood cells!”  Kids love that.

2.  Skip the junk “food”.  Junk food offends so many parts of the body, don’t get me started, but certainly the immune system takes a major brunt of the chemicals, rotten fats, sugar and salt that make up most junk “food”.  Let’s help kids fight back against the ever present advertising for these products by creating a culture in our families and in our communities where good choices for our bodies are the norm.  Families and communities where we make great food choices so we can be strong and accomplish wonderful and amazing things throughout the day because we feel healthy.

3.  Sleep.  Some kids are easy sleepers and others need lots of help with sleep.  I’m sure you’ve read over and over again that a bedtime routine helps.  This stumped me for quite a while as I thought I needed to do the bath (which actually stimulates my kids so that was totally counterproductive), maybe a massage (turned into a tickle-fest and stimulated everybody) some quiet music (distracted everyone including me) and some books (one more!  one more!).  We  finally found a simple routine that works for us and now it has become, well, routine.  The bedtime routine helps the whole family make the shift from daytime “on” to nighttime “low”.  The body does all kinds of important things when we’re sleeping – growing, repairing any damaged bits, processing all the information gathered that day.  When we’re sleeping, all those building blocks and vitamins and minerals are put together and utilized to make antibodies and healthy immune molecules and structures.  Important work to make sure the immune system is on track and ready to fight those germs.  Ah, sleep.

4.  Get dirty.  While it is important to wash hands and keep up reasonable hygiene, it’s also great to realize that getting a dirty is good for our kids and ourselves.  I’ll tell you about the theory here:  If kids are exposed to dirt and viruses and bacteria and fungus and pollen and what-have-you in small amounts on a regular basis, their immune systems learns that these foreign substances need to be eliminated but not in a panicked and freaking out sort of way.  So, if little Freddy eats some dirt now again when he’s playing in the sandbox, his body builds immunity to all the junk in that dirt.  When he’s exposed to it again, his body says, “Ah, you there virus, I’ve seen you before and this is how to get rid of you!”  A quick and efficient runny nose should do the trick.  If it hasn’t been exposed, the body goes into full blown inflammatory / fever / super strong mode to get rid of them.  So fever, chills, sweats, runny nose, cough, major mucus – the body pulls out all the stops to get rid of something new to which it hasn’t been exposed previously.  So scrap the anti-bacterial soaps, get out the old fashioned plain soap to wash hands and feel great when your kids are filthy.

5.  Help your child identify and deal with stress.  We always hear about stress for grown-ups in our busy and hectic world.  It contributes to headaches, stomach aches, colds, flus and chronic disease.  Well, kids have lots of stress too.  Kids’ stress can be big – like being bullied or going through their parents’ separation.  But, smaller stresses can add up too. Learning and practicing new skills, a busy schedule with school and extra-curricular activities, even something like growing out of a favourite shirt can be stressful.  Helping children identify, name and talk about their feelings if they want to, or just giving them space to draw, paint, run around or think to themselves can be tremendously regenerative.  More formal practices like yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing can also be helpful for kids.  Who knew, huh?

6.  Check in with your naturopathic doctor to discuss probiotics, vitamins, minerals, herbs and homeopathics that help the immune system kick some germ butt.  There are all kinds of wonderful supports for the immune system.  And, if the body does end up getting stuck in the “sick cycle” – perhaps recurrent ear infections or recurrent chest colds, there are effective naturopathic treatments to nudge it back to normal responses.

Good luck this fall and enjoy your families and communities with healthy immune systems.

Sensitive Kids and Bug Bites

This post is about natural remedies to help with bug bites.

Now, I’m sure you have noticed that bugs love to bite some people and  just leave others alone.  I don’t know the science or research behind it but I sure do know that having tons of bites stinks.  I’m one they loooooove to bite.

Turns out, so is my elder daughter.

It also so happens that myself and my daughter are allergic, inflammatory type people and that we react pretty strongly to bug bites.

She swells up with impressive welts and itches like crazy.  I’ve been thrown into a full histamine response with rashes, swelling, fever, diarrhea – the whole bit – just from lots of bites.  Puts a damper on activities like camping, hiking, going to the cottage.

So this last time we went camping, I tried to remember every preventive and comforting remedy I could, so we wouldn’t suffer so much.

Happily, they worked well and though we were both bitten more than the people we sat next to, neither of us reacted in a huge way.  Which means that camping was actually lots of fun!

So here is a short list of cheap, easy things to do to help deal with bug bites.  Feel free to let me know if they work for you and your sensitive kid!

Apis – a homeopathic remedy that can be taken orally (which is what I do with my kids) or topically as a gel or cream.  Apis helps prevent swelling and itching if it’s given early enough.  If it’s given after the fact, it’ll help decrease the swelling and itching.  Homeopathic remedies come in different strengths and this year we went with a higher strength.  I actually watched a welt on my daughter’s leg decrease down to a little bump, right before my eyes.  I see and hear about health improvements all the time, I’m a naturopathic doctor, after all, but this was enough for me to say: whoa.  If you give the remember to give the remedy before bedtime, it’ll help the itching enough that hopefully, your kid will sleep.

Vitamin B – moderates the inflammatory response and keeps swelling and itching at a lower level.  We’ve found that it decreases the itching substantially – the bugs still bite, but the itching isn’t as intense.

Vitamin C – puts off the allergic response and helps tissues rebuild themselves (after having been scratched like crazy.)  So in practical terms, the bites are somewhat less itchy with less swelling and the traumatized skin heals faster.

Stinging nettle tea –  (you can make it as iced tea at the cottage or camping) – a natural anti-histamine it helps the body keep calm and interrupts the over-reaction that creates the swelling and crazy itching.

Aloe – you can slice open the leaves and squish out  the gel to use topically (ingesting it will cause major diarrhea so just topically, please) to calm down the itching and prevent a rash from coming up.  Do a spot test with this one as I’ve had some reports of it making the situation worse, especially if the skin is broken.

Decrease sugar – I know, I know, you’re camping, at the cottage, it’s summer fun-time, you and your kids want to eat buckets of marshmallows and banana boats.  Sugar is like throwing alcohol on fire for the immune system.  It does all kinds of things to increase inflammation and generally cause mayhem for allergies and reactions.  If you keep it to a minimum, it really makes a huge difference for decreased swelling and itching.  Sorry.

Those are a few suggestions.  Dosages for your children should be checked with your Naturopathic Doctor since what may be effective for one kid, may be inappropriate for another.

Good luck and enjoy those delightful great outdoors!

Sunscreen for Sensitive Children

If your child is sensitive, you’ll need to get creative with sunscreen.

I have 2 kids. My older daughter has very fair, sensitive skin and is incredibly sensitive to textures. The second daughter, not so much. When it came time to put sunscreen on my first bundle of joy, we encountered some resistance. To put it mildly. The second thinks sunscreen is hilarious and fun. Go figure.

Sensitive kids honestly feel the sunscreen differently than most people. Here are some quotes from sensitive kids I’ve known: “It feels like I can’t get away from it. I feel trapped.” “It itches. I don’t like itching.” “It’s so slimy. I can’t get it off.” “It smells bad in my nose all day long. I can’t get away from the smell.” “It burns. It hurts and it burns.” (with no visible signs of irritation)

No wonder they don’t want to wear it.

So here are some tips to help parents and kids apply sunscreen so their perfect little bodies will be a little safer.

  • If the child has sensitive skin, do a patch test on the inner, softest area of the arm. A reaction will usually occur within about 12 hours but it may take up to 3 days. Some kids with sensitive skin will not get a reaction if the sunscreen is washed off at the end of the day. Others will react no matter what.

How about kids who are sensitive to texture? Tricky to say the least.

What doesn’t work:

  • No amount of reasoning will work. Take my word for it. Telling them they’ll get cancer in 40 years if they don’t calm down and let you slather on the goo today, doesn’t register in their minds at all.
  • Bribery might work once or twice, but beyond that, not really.
  • While it may seem like a good idea to hold the kid down and smother on the sunscreen, I can tell you, that will backfire. When it comes time to leave the house next time and the time after that, the kid will be nowhere to be found. Also, she’ll just rub it off.

What might work:

  • Apply the sunscreen when the kid is sleeping. If your child is a deep enough sleeper, you might be able to gently rub some on. This too may backfire, however, if your child is a light sleeper. Mine started waking earlier and earlier each day to make sure I wasn’t leaning over her bed sneaking on the evil cream.
  • Create a song. I like this one because it’s fun and can break the tension. “Sunscreen is delightful, it smells so yummy.” (while you’re putting it on) “Sunscreen is wonderful, now hop like a bunny!” (after you’ve finished)
  • Have the kid do it herself. I know, I know, the mess can be atrocious. She’ll miss spots and it takes foreeeeever. She’ll also get used to the texture and feel in control of her own body. Both excellent investments in time.
  • Create a routine. “In our family, we ALWAYS put sunscreen on before we put on our hats.” Or “shoes, sunscreen, hats.” There will still be resistance but the odds of getting the sunscreen on do increase.
  • Try oil sunscreen. And different brands with different textures. To a kid who is sensitive to texture, sunscreen A may feel completely different than sunscreen B. To the average person, they may feel exactly the same.
  • Try to find out what exactly is bothering your kid about applying sunscreen.
  1. Is it the hysteria in mommy’s voice as time passes and she is becoming later and later for that meeting? Try starting the routine earlier so you’re truly calm and not feeling pressured.
  2. Is it the feeling on her skin? Try different brands.
  3. Is she relating it to a previous cream problem? My daughter held a grudge against cream for ages because I’d used some on a rash and it made it much worse. She thought, therefore, that cream was always going to cause pain and intense itching. Including her as an investigator during the patch testing helped a lot to ease her worry.
  • Give up. If you are having a hard time, have your child wear long sleeves and long pants. Light cotton, silk, or sunsuits can be entirely preferable for a kid who feels oppressed by goo all over her body. A little cream on the face may be possible if you promise that it doesn’t need to be slathered all over the body.

So good luck with the sunscreeen.  I hope you and your sensitive kids will find comfortable, creative ways of dealing with it.

Kids’ Allergies and ADHD

Did you know that allergies could be the root cause of children’s trouble to make good behaviour choices? That is – tantrums and trouble listening…

Over and over again I see children who are suffering with allergies misdiagnosed as having ADD or ADHD.

Often kids who are dealing with allergies have fluid in their ears preventing them from hearing properly. As allergy symptoms come and go, this hearing loss may not be picked up during a regular screening hearing test. You can imagine that if you can’t hear instructions or suggestions quite right, it’s pretty much impossible to follow them. Of course this scenario becomes frustrating for both the grown up who’s instructing and the confused child. Usually the result is tears and screaming (possibly for both the grown up and child!).

Naturopathic treatments can reduce and eliminate the allergic response and clear out the ears. When we help to calm down the whole body and improve the child’s hearing, we often see a decrease in frustration, improvements in behaviour choices, and increase in focus and concentration.

Spring Cleansing for Kids

Cleansing with Kids

Cleansing works for kids too! Just like grown-ups, children are exposed to toxins all over the place. Human bodies are designed to break down and clear out toxins but, sometimes the body becomes overloaded.
Children benefit tremendously in the short term from detoxing – clearer thinking, smoother digestion, stronger immune system, again, just like adults.
But imagine the longer term impact if we clean out those toxins before they have a chance to be stored in the fatty tissues of little bodies. Cleansing a couple of times a year with your kids is a tremendous investment in their long term health.
Involving children in the planning of healthy meals and snacks and the “why’s” of choosing healthy foods helps with the change of diet. Framing a cleanse as an experiment for children to observe and report how they feel before, during and after helps kids feel involved and learn to make great choices.
Spring is the perfect time to spring clean with your kids. Book in with your ND to plan a cleanse for your kids.

Solar panels on TDSB schools! Yay!

According to the Globe and Mail yesterday, approximately 450 schools will have their roofs repaired and fitted with solar panels by AMP Solar Limited.  At their peak the panels could produce up to 66 megawatts of green energy a year – enough to meet the needs of 6000 average Toronto households!  After the company recovers the cost of the roof repairs, the TDSB will collect 14.5 per cent of the energy revenue.

Hooray for the TDSB for not just for going solar, but for providing an example to our children of a mutually beneficial green choice in action.