Brigitte Mars and Chrystle Fiedler are the authors of The Country Almanac of Home Remedies: Time-Tested and Almost-Forgotten Wisdom for Treating Hundreds of Common Ailments, Aches & Pains Quickly and Naturally (Fair Winds Press, 2011), from which this article is excerpted.
When your child is screaming at four in the morning, it makes sense to reach for time-tested home remedies. Babies and children respond well to the gentleness of natural solutions, but when in doubt, always see your pediatrician.
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Fight Ear Infections
Babies and young children often have earaches. Earaches are classified as either otitis externa, which is an infection and inflammation of the external ear, or otitis media, which pertains to the middle ear. In the latter, excess fluid and mucous impair drainage through the Eustachian tubes. Symptoms of ear infections include pain, throbbing, discharge, and/or a feeling of fullness. Infants too young to talk may cry shrilly, pull and rub their ears, and have low-grade fever and/or diarrhea.
To help the body fight an ear infection, use the very effective herb echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, E. augustifolia). This herb has large polysaccharide molecules, which the body perceives as bacteria, thus the white blood cell production becomes activated, making the immune system stronger. One simple way to administer echinacea to a baby is in an extract or tincture form. Look for kid-friendly products made with vegetable glycerin rather than alcohol, such as those from Wishgarden Herbs’ Children’s Health line. They can be placed directly in the child’s mouth or added to beverages.
When an ear infection is present, gently massage behind the ear, around the outer ear and ear opening, and pull slightly on the earlobes, massaging gently down the neck to encourage lymphatic drainage. Rubbing the temples helps increase blood flow to the area as well as to move toxins. Using a drop or two of lavender essential oil makes this antiseptic as well.
Stimulate the reflex point to the ears by pressing deeply for about 20 seconds in a circular motion at the base of and between the fourth and fifth toes. These points may be tender yet often provide relief. Massaging children with two drops of essential oil of lavender will help relieve congestion and alleviate pain. Massage behind the ear, down toward the neck. Keep away from the eyes and mouth.
Did you know?
Avoid congesting foods (dairy and wheat are common culprits) if you are nursing a baby with an ear infection. One of the causes of earaches can be an allergy to cow’s milk and other dairy products. A food sensitivity may cause an increase in mucous production and even swelling, thus creating blockage and pressure.
Soothe Teething Pain
Teething is a time that may leave both parent and child sleepless and slightly frazzled. Here’s how to soothe your baby.
If you are a nursing mom, try drinking catnip and chamomile tea. Both herbs are quite calming. You can also soak a washcloth in the cooled tea and allow your baby to chew on the cloth.
Unsulfured dried apple rings make handy teething food. One of their virtues is that you can put the fruit ring around a couple of the baby’s fingers, thus prolonging the amount of time before the object falls to the floor. Several types of natural teething cookies are also available. Be present anytime you allow a baby to chew on something, in case he should choke.
Colic can be stressful both for you and your baby. The most common symptom of colic is when babies draw their knees up to their stomach and furrow their forehead. Colic happens when trapped gas causes spasms in the still-developing digestive system. Tension in the home environment can also be a contributing factor.
It is also possible that the baby is sensitive to something the nursing mom is ingesting. For some babies, sensitivity to cow’s milk that the mother is consuming can cause infant colic. So try switching to goat milk, which is much easier to digest. Adding 1 tablespoon of liquid acidophilus per 8 ounces of milk can also help digestion. Signs that might indicate that the baby is allergic to something the mother is eating include red cheeks, constipation, frequent ear infections, dark circles under the eyes, spitting up frequently, gas and sweating while nursing. Foods to avoid because they can cause colic include wheat, corn, beans, sugar, chocolate, nuts and curries. Foods that are likely to give the mother gas such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and kale, as well as beans, garlic and onions, are also likely to aggravate colic in infants. Cucumbers, green peppers, tomatoes, fried foods, eggs, alcohol, peanuts and caffeine are all also notorious contributors. The tips on Page 23 can provide much-needed relief. Nursing mothers can also take a magnesium supplement (500 mg daily), which helps prevent the spasms of colic by relaxing the muscles.
Herbs for Colicky Babies
Herbs to treat colic can be taken by the nursing mother. Ideally, the nursing mother will drink a cup of the tea or take capsules three times daily. These herbs can also be taken in tablespoon doses in bottles by infants older than 3 months of age.
The following herbs are gentle and help ease digestion by increasing circulation to the digestive tract due to the presence of essential oils:
Soothing Practices for Colicky Babies
Massage the baby’s abdomen gently in a circular clockwise motion (up on the baby’s right, across and down on the left; the direction the intestines move food through) with 1 ounce olive oil scented with 5 drops anise, chamomile, fennel, ginger or peppermint essential oil.
You can also give your baby a warm bath in which you add 3 to 5 drops of one of these essential oils or several cups of chamomile tea.
You can also soothe your baby by applying a warm (not hot) compress of ginger or peppermint tea over the baby’s abdomen. Cover with a dry towel to hold the warmth in. For a different solution, wrap a warm (not too hot) hot water bottle in a towel and apply it next to the baby’s belly to provide relief.
It helps to carry a colicky baby with his or her belly against your shoulder. Rocking and car rides can also be soothing. Be sure and keep the baby’s feet warm, which helps them feel more relaxed and secure, and thus calmer.
Exercise can also help a colicky baby. Gently take the baby’s legs and pretend it is pedaling a bicycle by pressing the legs to the baby’s stomach and then out and down. Lay the baby across your knees and gently rub his or her back.
Feed babies who suffer from colic small, frequent meals rather than large ones to minimize gas. Be in a relaxed state when feeding the baby as babies pick up on your stress and tension. Keep the baby’s head above the feet when feeding, which allows burps to be released more easily.
After you’ve tried everything, it might just be time to drink a cup of relaxing tea yourself!
Moisturizing Cradle Cap
Cradle cap is a type of infantile seborrheic dermatitis caused by overactive sebaceous glands or in some cases by a yeast called Pityrosporum ovale. It is not caused by poor hygiene. Babies may have flaking of the skin and redness on the scalp and head and also under the arms and groin area. It is not itchy, contagious or painful and tends to bother the parents more than the child. It usually begins between two weeks and three months of age and can last until the toddler stage.
You can try supplements when you are nursing; add two omega-3 capsules and burdock root tea to your daily diet to respectively help in fat metabolism as well as in controlling any fungus, as poor fat metabolism and yeast overgrowth can be causes for cradle cap. Another thrifty cure is to give the baby an oatmeal bath. Tie oatmeal in a square of cheesecloth with string, and add it to your baby’s bath. Use the oatmeal that exudes from it to wash your baby’s scalp.
At night, rub the baby’s scalp with 1 teaspoon of olive oil or coconut oil scented with 3 drops lavender or rosemary essential oil. You’ll also want to avoid using harsh soaps and shampoos on the baby. Instead, wash the baby’s scalp with a tepid tea of burdock root, chamomile, chickweed, meadowsweet or violet leaf. Leave the tea on the scalp and when it is dry, apply some cocoa butter on the scalp to soften the crusts. Use a fine-tooth comb to loosen the afflicted spots.
Diaper Rash Remedies
Painful diaper rash can occur when either the mother’s or the baby’s diet is overly acidic. It may indicate that tomatoes, citrus products, sweets and even fruits are being overconsumed. To heal diaper rash, as a first step, keep the baby’s bottom diaper-free as much as possible, ideally exposed to sunlight, and change the diapers more often.
Try applying plain yogurt to your baby’s bottom to help clear up a persistent diaper rash. Also consider giving your baby an internal probiotic supplement that is formulated for infants. (Nursing mothers may also want to use an adult acidophilus supplement.) Acidophilus, a type of probiotic, is a friendly bacteria that naturally occurs in yogurt. Since many diaper rash conditions can be due to yeast overgrowth, this is balanced by the probiotics. You can also apply calendula salve to your baby’s bottom.