Does crying damage your baby?

Does crying damage your babyAre you from a family of criers? I am. You only had to see my sisters’ faces at Melissa’s christening, when we were singing Jerusalem (which was our old school song); tears rolling down our cheeks, lumps in our throats. Or my mum’s touching goodbye with a tear in her eye; knowing that it’ll be a while before we see each other again. Not to mention the ‘welling up’ of pride when my dad saw me in my wedding dress. We’re an emotional bunch. In fact, I’m shedding a tear as I write – ridiculous as it may seem, because it’s a beautiful thing.

Humans are hardwired to cry. Crying is a natural physiological response to pain, fear, happiness as well as getting grit in your eye or cutting onions. Emotional tears start in the cerebrum where emotion is registered. The endocrine system is then triggered to release hormones to the ocular area, which then cause tears to form.

Feeling better after a good cry

A study at a Medical Centre in Minnesota, found that chemicals that build up in our body during times of stress are shed in our tears when we cry. If we suppress the emotion and hold back the tears, the unreleased stress can manifest into health complaints like chronic illnesses and an increased risk of heart attack or damage to the brain. So the human ability to cry not only feels good, it’s necessary for your health!

So, why is society down on crying?

Somehow our culture has filtered down the message that children shouldn’t cry.  Or that crying should be reserved for the really big things in life, like the loss of a loved one. We’re taught that repressing your emotions is a mature thing to do, and that we must behave in a socially acceptable way; hence the stiff upper lip.

Little boys are told to ‘man up’ or that ‘crying is for sissy’s’. Older children are told that ‘crying is for babies’, and I frequently hear parents say ‘that doesn’t hurt, there’s nothing to cry about’.

Firstly, who are we to decide what does or doesn’t hurt? Secondly, children (as well as adults) cry for many different reasons. It may look like your child’s friend only pushed them gently, but the tears may flow over the emotional hurt that comes from a friend’s rejection. The amount of times I’ve stubbed my toe, collapsed on the floor in sobs and realised I’m crying over something completely different.

Babies cry as a way of communication

The first thing that a baby does when it enters the world is cry. Parents and midwifes sigh in relief that the baby is breathing and all is okay. Crying is a language, it’s a form of communication that tells you your baby need feeding, changing or cuddling and it deserves to be listened to. Toddlers and children often don’t have the words to fully express what they are feeling. So in times of raw emotion they resort to crying, yet society has taken the view that crying is wrong.

Should we tell a child to stop crying?

When we tell a child not to cry, we are saying to them that crying is bad. We aren’t teaching them how to master the expression of emotion, but rather how to suppress it. Worse still, if you tell a child off for crying, or ignore crying, then you’re saying that the emotion they feel is invalid and wrong. If constantly reinforced, over time, your disapproval or unavailability will stop them from expressing their feelings to you again. On the surface, this may produce an obedient child, but this suppression can often be the source of frequent toddler Temper Tantrums (read more on that here), and later in life emotional suppression has been linked with major depression.

My experience of crying

should you leave your baby to crySomething I have the pleasure of, thanks to my lovely husband, is the ability to cry over anything and express myself in a safe environment; even when I’m being completely irrational.

In my experience when someone invalidates my emotions by telling me ‘I don’t understand what you’re upset about’ or ‘you’re over-reacting’, it only makes me defensive, and I no longer want to share my feelings with that particular person. In this way, good friends that listen to you open heartedly are so important; because you deserve to be listened to when you’re upset. I want Melissa to feel the same – that no matter what the problem is, she can express it to me and I’ll support her.

I don’t stop Melissa from crying when she’s screaming the house down; even when I think she may be overreacting. Responding to her cries promptly and allowing her to express whatever it is she wants helps build a strong bond of trust between us.

Even when disapproving eyes are on me….

….instead of trying to quieten her, I offer a cuddle and words of reassurance. Once she’s calmed down enough to hear me, I work on expressing her emotion by verbalising what she may be crying about. For example ‘you’re sad because your friend pushed you over and you really like playing with your friend’ or ‘you’re cross that you didn’t get a turn on the swing’. By putting words to their emotion, even at a very young age, you’re teaching your child to express themselves clearly; which is a valuable skill for life.

Repressing emotions only leads to things eating away at us. Our children are precious; we need to teach them to communicate their emotions freely, safely and openly for them to grow up into well adjusted individuals.

I always carry some Bach Flower Rescue Remedy in my handbag for times of emotional need. I also find Australian Bush Flower Emergency Essence mist amazing at giving everyone a bit of emotional comfort. For more info on how to help a child deal with their emotions safely please read my post on ‘Being a baby is Emotional

Have we got crying all wrong? I’d love to hear your view, please post comments below or on Facebook.

Does TV rot your toddlers brain?

TV bad for your child's brain

Is TV bad for your child’s brain?

Melissa never seemed to need as much sleep as her peers. Just like her father, she had boundless amounts of energy and would easily be revived by a 10 minute cat nap. She could fare quite well on 10 hours sleep a day; even at aged 1, when others toddlers would sleep up to 15 hours. So for the most part, I could have 5 extra waking hours with my child than some other mums did.

Melissa was also an extremely active toddler; she cruised at 7 months, could climb a flight of stairs by 8 months and walked at 9.5 months, yet was too young at this time to understand that cat biscuits were for cats and plug sockets weren’t somewhere you put your fingers.

My husband worked terribly long hours and commuted 3 hours a day, and with family a bit far away to just drop by, I was on my own a lot and I struggled to get some ‘me time’.

TV became my babysitter when I was cooking, needed to shower, or just wanted 30 minutes peace. It led me to worry about the amount of screen time Melissa was getting and what TV would do to my child’s developing brain.

Children and TV Statistics

On average, UK children spend over 4 hours a day in front of a screen (TV, DVD or games console), and a whopping 51% of American households, have the TV on “most” of the time.

For school age children the research is clear; an excessive amount of television watching is bad for brain development. It affects sleep, weight, school grades as well as behaviour, not to mention taking time away from healthy activities like playing outside with friends, participating in sports, eating dinner together as a family, reading or other skilful activities such as cooking, art or music.

However, very little research has been done on the impact of TV on pre-schoolers. With TV, video and DVD programs geared towards babies and toddlers flooding the market surely it’s time we took a closer look. I did my own research and found some surprising results.

Talking up a storm

Several studies have shown how toddlers’ language can in fact benefit from television. One found that babies and toddlers learned vocabulary, in particular shapes, colours, letters and numbers from watching Sesame Street. Dora the Explorer was also positively related to expressive language production and vocabulary, and daily viewing over 6 weeks resulted in 13 more vocabulary words on average at 30 months old.

Another study showed children aged 3 scored higher on school readiness, reading, number skills and vocabulary, if they were regular watchers of Sesame Street. These gains were even greater if caregivers had children participate in a 30 minute lesson following on from the program watched. For example, viewing a program on insects and then going to the park to find some ants and ladybirds enhanced the total learning experience.

Are early TV watchers high flyers?

When it came to the impact of early viewing on academic achievement at school, research is also encouraging. High school students (particularly boys) who had watched Sesame Street as pre-schoolers achieved better grades in English, Maths, and Science in Junior and Senior school. Research revealed they read more often, had greater academic self-esteem, and valued academic performance more highly. To test this hypothesis, researchers in a study called Does television rot your brain?’ looked back at academic achievement in the pre television 1940’s and found that pre-schoolers who watched television preformed better in reading and general knowledge.

Does TV Steal the imagination?

Blueberry muffinsTelevision is often criticised for squashing a child’s imagination and making them lazy. Yet research demonstrates that younger children use their experience of television in play, imitating Tree Fu Tom’s magical moves or playing Princesses and Pirates for example. In this way, as long as the content is good, television stimulates make-believe and acts as an important outlet to express feelings and fantasies.

Melissa and I often get baking after an episode of Cbeebies I Can Cook. Mister Maker is an excellent platform for getting the craft box out and building a rocket out of loo roll. And I’ll never forget the day Melissa pointed at a word in a book we were reading and said C A T; it must’ve been the episodes of Alphablocks she loves to watch.

Children who flick through a picture book, watch a play, or listen to a story on tape also consume fantasies produced by others, but nobody has ever argued that books or theatre hinder a child’s imaginative play. With this in mind, there’s little reason to assume that TV, if used appropriately, does either.

My experience

In our house we have a few rules: Melissa can watch half an hour of TV whilst I’m getting ready in the morning, then it’s switched off for an activity. There’s no telly in the evenings as I find it over excites her brain, which results in meltdown at bedtime as well as frequent nightmares. If it’s a rainy day, we may make popcorn and watch a movie together snuggled under a blanket. During weekend mornings, TV is a treat – mainly in the hope that my husband and I get an extra hour in bed (although this hasn’t quite worked yet!).

At the end of the day, when it comes to TV, parents need to use their common sense. If a screen takes priority over doing activities then a child will become lazy and get used to being entertained in that way. However, as an educational tool, TV’s and computers can stimulate curiosity, creativity and imagination, but only if used appropriately. Let’s face it, in an age where a knowledge of technology is essential, I think it an advantage that Melissa knows how to work my iphone better than I do!

It’s all about balance!

Ask yourself; have I had a meaningful interaction with my child today? If the answer is YES and they’re driving your round the bend, then maybe 30 minutes of screen time’s good for everyone’s sanity! But if the answer’s NO then remember, spending excessive hours in front of the TV leaves less time for other social or intellectual activities. In the long term this could make a child less imaginative and creative than a child whose TV viewing hours are carefully regulated.

Here’s how to help your toddler get the most out of TV:

Missy and headphones christmas 20101) Choose quality content – one that offers possibilities for interaction and new experiences.
2) Makes sure TV is age appropriate as this is when learning is optimal.
3) Follow up a viewing with a related activity or discussion to reinforce learning.
4) Keep viewing times short (max 30 minutes at a time).
5) Know what your child is watching – even Disney can be scary for a 2 year old.
5) Don’t leave the TV on in the background.
6) Most importantly, keep TV out of your child’s bedroom!!

Again another controversial subject. Does TV damage your child’s brain? I’d love to hear your views so please feel free to leave comments below. Thanks for all your comments on Facebook; I’m glad to hear this article made mum’s feel less guilty. If you found this post interesting you may like my article on Co-sleeping habits around the world. Please click here to read it.

Have we all been fooled by one of the Western World’s best marketing ploys?

Melissa eating natural probiotic sheep yoghurtHere in the UK as well as many other Western countries, a glass of milk is considered healthy, wholesome and necessary for bone health. The media portrays gorgeous model Kate Moss sporting a white milk moustache. Petit filous adverts depict beautiful French children winning at ‘marbles’ as fromage frais gives them ‘strong bones’. Even Cadbury Dairy Milk touts chocolate as nutritious with the slogan ‘a glass and a half of full cream dairy milk in every bar’.

Like me, when you become a mum you develop a strong emotional attachment to the idea that milk is natural and healthy. I remember being obsessed in the early months that Melissa was getting enough milk and growing sufficiently.

Being the first food a baby consumes, it’s easy to associate milk with comfort and nurturing as well as being essential for growth and development, which for a baby it certainly is.

Yet 75% of the World’s population are unable to digest it!

Lactose intolerance, the inability to breakdown the milk sugar lactose, is due to a deficiency or absence in the digestive enzyme lactase and is different from casein (milk protein) allergy which I shall discuss in another post.

The frequency of lactose intolerance varies across the world. It is at its highest in the Chinese (95%), but even 70% of African Americans, 90% of Asian Americans, 53% of Mexican Americans, are lactose intolerant. It is also very common in people of Arab, Jewish, Greek, and Italian descent; yes unbelievably, even a pizza and ice cream eating nation!

It may surprise you to find out that…….

…the 25% of people that can digest milk into adulthood actually possess a mutant gene, and are in fact the minority!

Whilst nearly all infants across the world are able to digest milk, this ability declines by 90% by the age of 4. As we reach adulthood, genes that govern lactase production are inactivated; which is why 30 million American adults have some degree of lactose intolerance by the age of 20. In Caucasians, lactose intolerance is less common but may develops in children older than age 5. In African Americans, the problem can start as early as age 2.

Symptoms usually occur within a few hours of consuming dairy. So if your 4 year old is having a beaker of cow’s milk before bed and waking up a few hours later complaining of a rumbling sore tummy. Or having milk on her morning cereal and feeling sick before school. You may suspect more than your child simply ‘acting up’.

USDA food Pyramid
The USDA (US department of Agriculture) diet pyramid places dairy as an essential food group and recommends an adult have 3 servings a day in for optimum calcium intake to prevent bone degeneration.

But what does that mean for those unable to digest cow’s milk?

Surely their bones must be a crumbling mess?

Apparently not! Susceptibility to osteoporosis differs dramatically between ethnic groups, and neither milk consumption nor calcium intake appear to be the decisive factor.

In fact, research reveals that Scandinavia and the US have the highest number of hip fractures worldwide despite culturally consuming the most amount of dairy. Whilst in Japan, the incidence of hip fracture seems to be much less than in the US even though the Japanese get most of their calcium intake from soy bean products, small fish with bones, and vegetables.

Furthermore, various health organisations are unable to agree on the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) for calcium. In the US it is 1000mg whilst in Japan it is 600mg and in the UK only 500mg!

But surely we need calcium for STRONG BONES?

Yes, this is true! But calcium alone will not give your little ones strong bones. You also need magnesium, phosphorus as well as Vitamins A, D and K; none of which are found adequately in cow’s milk. Ironically, eating too much dairy actually lowers magnesium levels. Yet without magnesium, calcium may not be fully utilized.

Undoubtedly milk is essential for the first 2 years of life, and if you’re lucky enough to be able to breastfeed then this is the obvious choice. If not, then there’s a range of formulas out there to suit all needs.

However the emphasis placed on dairy for calcium requirements in adulthood is completely unnecessary. In fact, only about 32% of calcium in dairy is actually absorbed. Compare this to green leafy vegetables which produce a 40-70% absorption rate. Apply some simple maths and we see that around 96 mg of calcium is absorbed from one cup of milk compared with 132mg from 1 cup of pak choy.

Melissa was breastfed for the first 2 years of her life; she has never had a glass of cow’s milk and dislikes cheese. She does however love goat and sheep yoghurt and is rather partial to a bowl of ice cream now and then (we are human after all).

Am I worried? Not in the slightest.

Melissa eating Spring Greens gluten free fritterI believe that childhood is a time for getting children into good habits for life. Schools sadly lack education on nutrition so lessons begin at home. Melissa gets the right balance of nutrients for strong bones by regularly eating fresh fruit and vegetables, oily fish, nuts and seeds as well as a couple of portions of yoghurt a week. Thick full fat live probiotic yoghurt, by the way, is more easily digested due to its culturing process.

Melissa may be one of the lucky 25% of the world’s population that possess the mutant gene that allows her to continue to digest milk into adulthood, but I’m not going to take that chance. The foods children eat during childhood are often those turned to for comfort in adulthood.

The dairy industry invests billions

…….in milk advertising and promotions; it is an extremely profitable business. Scientists would argue that they present a biased view point; one that is motivated by financial interest and not backed up by fact.

Furthermore, there’s an increasing amount of evidence that shows that pasteurised cow’s milk is not the wonder food we thought it to be. In fact, it contains many harmful substances including hormones, growth factors, and antibiotics as well as up to 400 million pus cells that governments legally allow in every litre.

Research is increasingly discovering links between pasteurised dairy consumption and breast, bowel, ovarian and prostate cancers, type 1 diabetes, asthma, eczema, colic as well as numerous other debilitating and fatal health conditions. When searching for answers it’s important to look at the facts, not what the media tries to sell us.

Here are THE FACTS:

1) Cow’s milk is made for calves.
2) We are the only mammals that drink the milk of another species.
3) 90% of our lactase enzymes are gone by the age of 4.
4) 75% of the World’s adults cannot digest milk well.
4) Billions of people around the world consume absolutely no dairy and have healthy bones.
5) Your body is only able to absorb about 32% of available calcium from milk products.
6) Calcium is more easily absorbed from vegetables such as broccoli, kale, collard greens and pak choi.

At the end of the day bone health is all about balance. This balance is determined by genetic, diet and lifestyle factors; including smoking, caffeine, salt and meat consumption as well as physical activity. It is NOT solely dependent on dairy intake.

Homemade gluten free greens falafelsWe need to rethink our attitude towards dairy and put it into perspective. Too much emphasis has been placed on this particular food. What’s the saying?…..’Everything in moderation!’ It is necessary to teach our children to eat a balanced and varied diet with the majority of nutrients coming from fresh fruit and vegetables in order to stay healthy. Please check out my recipe for Super Greens Falafels – 2 falafels contain more available calcium than a glass of milk, as well as an abundance of other bone strengthening nutrients!

This is considered a controversial subject. I’d love to hear your views. Please feel free to leave comments below.

How Children in Buenos Aires go to Bed Late

Melissa newborn asleep in our bedHave YOU ever questioned why we have this obsession with getting a baby to sleep all night long, alone in their own room?

When Melissa, my then 2 and a half year old, asked me ‘why do you sleep in daddy’s bed and I sleep on my own?’ it led me to question this myself; and believe me, I had no reasonable or justifiable answer for my little girl. Furthermore, when she asks me for a night time cuddle I also have to question ‘why not?’ After all, I regularly fall asleep with my husband’s arm draped over me, and often find it difficult to drift off when he’s away or working the night shift.

Yet in the UK (and USA) it is the ‘norm’ to expect your child to sleep alone. In fact, you are considered unlucky if your child does not do this willingly, and there’s a whole host of books and websites on ‘sleep training’ techniques – no cry, cry it out, controlled crying, modified crying; all with the aim, one way or another, to get your child to ‘self soothe’ and sleep on their own. But don’t you think it odd that we expect our own flesh and blood, our bundle of joy, the tiniest most important being in the whole world to sleep alone, rather than snuggled up close to the same person they were attached to for nine months?

In other countries around the world, the idea of ‘teaching’ a baby to sleep is a foreign one.

In fact, if I were writing this blog for a different audience, I may even have to define the meaning of ‘sleep training’ as it simply doesn’t exist in some cultures. In the UK and USA many parents view bedtime as a fixed 7pm every night. In contrast, in Latin America, Africa and Asian countries, toddlers are put to bed at a less fixed 10 or 11pm as parents want to spend time with their children after work. Furthermore for most of the world it is also standard practice to co-sleep (a whopping 72% in Singapore) and there are very few cultures that view a baby sleeping alone as acceptable or even desirable. We are in fact the minority!

Melissa asleep on mummy in the pubCertainly when we lived in Uganda last year we observed that the children stayed up late and often shared a bed with their parents or even a grandparent or aunt, compensating for lack of night time sleep with long leisurely after school naps. When we’re holidaying in Spain or Italy we tend to slip into the pattern of a two hour siesta followed by a late evening meal as Melissa plays with the numerous other children that are enjoying this cooler time of day. You can often observe babies and toddlers asleep on their parents’ laps whilst the adults chat and enjoy a glass of wine together.

Furthermore, you’ll find that many child development experts will admit that there’s actually nothing intrinsically wrong with setting later bedtimes, as long as children make up for it somewhere by sleeping in or taking naps.

‘As long as they’re getting enough sleep, it doesn’t make too much difference’

Richard Ferber, Sleep guru and Director of the Centre for Paediatric Sleep disorders in Boston.

And when it comes to co-sleeping, research supports the benefits. A study (Heron, 1994) of middle class English children found children who never co-slept tended to be harder to control, less happy, more fearful and tantrum more than children who always slept in their parent’s bed. Another study (Lewis & Janda, 1988) determined that males who co-slept had significantly higher self-esteem. Perhaps most importantly, rates of infant mortality and SIDS are at their lowest in places such as Hong Kong and Japan where co-sleeping is extremely common.

Yet even when all the evidence suggests otherwise, we have this obsession with getting our child to sleep on their own.

But WHY?!

In my opinion, and I fall into this category too, it is largely for our own convenience.

Our busy lives needs us to be more rigid about scheduling sleep. How else can we make sure the baby is up in time for nursery school or happy and contended in their swimming class? Furthermore, maternity leave is often painfully short (12 weeks in the USA) meaning that mothers worry that they won’t cope when back at work if baby doesn’t ‘sleep through the night’. Gone is the culture where night-wakings are expected and extended family members take it in turns to do night duty.

Compounding this problem is the fact that we live in a Western World that breeds competition.

It is considered ‘one-up’ on other mothers if your child sleeps through the night first. Couple this with the sleep deprivation and the general responsibility associated with parenthood and it’s no wonder that mothers feel anxious and judged for not doing their best or adhering to the ‘social norm’.

Interestingly, the actual practice of co-sleeping does not necessarily vary a great deal from culture to culture, just the social acceptance of it. In fact it’s likely that bed-sharing rates are grossly underestimated in the Western World just because people don’t want to admit to it. We’re told that we will spoil them, get into bad habits and make a rod for our own back.

At the end of the day, there’s enough guilt associated with parenting to last a life time, we don’t need to add to it any further. I’ve learned that only you as a parent know instinctively what will and won’t work for you and your baby, no judgement implied.

Baby sleeping on mummy's lap in UgandaIf that means going against the social norm so be it.

Every baby is different and some methods just aren’t appropriate for whatever reason. All in all, when we engulf ourselves with Western books and websites, we have a very narrow view of the many diverse and amazing ways to raise a child, and nurture them to sleep well.

If you’re interested in exploring this concept please read ‘How Eskimos Keep their Babies Warm’ by Mei-Ling Hopgood. Which is where the title for this post came from. I cannot recommend this book enough.

I would also love to hear your views on this, please feel free to leave comments below.

 

 

Amazing Natural Remedies for Childhood Eczema

Melissa & feathers 1As a Therapist I am well aware of the suffering that eczema causes. From a mild slightly annoying tickle to an entire body being affected, covered it bright red excruciatingly itchy suppurating and bleeding scaly skin that devastates and debilitates a person’s social, work and emotional life.

A child suffering with severe eczema is a sorry sight. Parents often feel helpless as their baby claws at their face to relieve the frustration.

My mother has been a lifelong eczema sufferer and her father before her. In the Allergy Clinic and in my private practice I have treated numerous cases of childhood eczema so I am well versed at complementary therapies for this very common condition.

When I became a mum, I was determined that I would not let my daughter Melissa suffer with skin complaints the way that I witnessed others suffer. With Atopy in the family, and a history of skin problems myself, it became my mission to provide her with the foundations of health and a strong vital body so that she would be given the best possible chance of a beautiful healthy complexion. Although conditions such as eczema are genetic, you don’t have to be a slave to your genes; there’s always something you can do to help prevent eczema from occurring in the first place or lessen its impact if it does appear.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of eczema. If there is a family history of allergic conditions and atopy, breastfeeding exclusively for at least 4 month has been shown to help. This is particularly true when the nursing mother avoids cow’s milk. So if your child still develops eczema despite being exclusively breastfed you may need to look at your own diet (read more on that here). If for whatever reason breastfeeding isn’t possible and eczema does appear you may wish to consult your doctor about a hypo-allergenic milk formula, but do stay clear of Soy based ones as they are often just as bad – even a dash of soya sauce can cause a flair in my mum’s eczema.

Food Sensitivities

In general, it is young children with severe eczema who often have a food allergy as a trigger factor. The most common foods which trigger eczema symptoms include: cow’s milk, eggs, soya, wheat, fish and nuts. A study funded by the Food Standards Agency, Medical Research Council, and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), found that infants with eczema, are over six times more likely than healthy infants to be sensitised to a variety of foods such as egg, cow’s milk and peanut. They observed that the more severe the eczema, the stronger the correlation to food sensitivity, independent of genetic factors.

Essential Fatty Acids

Essential fats, omega 3 & 6 found in fish, nuts and seeds, are labelled essential for a reason; we need them to be healthy. The health of the skin is no different. Studies show that people with eczema have a block in the breakdown of fatty acids that distorts some markers of inflammation. Supplementing with a good fish oil such as Eskimo Omega Kids (for over 1’s), or Nordic Naturals Baby DHA (for over 6 months) may help. If breastfeeding, take an Omega supplement yourself to make sure your milk is rich in healthy essential fatty acids for your baby. Read more on the health benefits of fish oils and how to get your child to eat more fish here.

Vitamins & Minerals

It is common sense to expect the nutritional status of your child to play a role in their overall health. The health of the skin is no different. Melissa was a terrible eater at the beginning; she would refuse any food that I offered in favour of milk. Instead of getting into a battle at every meal time I realised that as long as my milk was nutritious she’d stay healthy. So to keep myself strong I took a good quality Multivitamin & Mineral throughout. If you’re worried your infant isn’t getting enough good nutrition I would recommend supplementing them with an easy to administer liquid multivitamin for babies and young children for example Animal Parade Baby Plex.

Probiotics

Antibiotics are often given routinely to mother and baby at birth. These wipe clean the good bacteria in the gut leaving it defenceless. It is valuable to your child’s health and wellbeing to replace these beneficial bacteria in order to preserve the immune system and help prevent or lessen the impact of eczema. Various research studies of mothers who took probiotics when pregnant and continued when breast feeding showed increase protection against atopic eczema in the first and second years of their child’s life. If your child has been given antibiotics at birth or following an infection, you may wish to consider replacing their good bacteria with a quality supplement such as OptiBac or Biocare Baby Infantis powder

How to stop the itch in order to sleep

Many parents email me to ask how to help their baby with eczema sleep. The itching associated with eczema is often worse at night and so getting an irritable baby comfortable enough to sleep can be a real challenge. Here’s what I’d do:

Herbal bath

Missy in the bathStart the bedtime routine with a herbal bath. In the centre of a muslin cloth place a handful of ground organic oatmeal (you can whizz oats up in a blender) and a handful of Calendula flowers. Tie up the oats and calendula into the muslin with a piece of string and let it dangle under a warm running bath tap. The bath should turn a milky colour. Also add 2 drops of lavender oil to the bath. Do not use any type of detergent on a baby or child with eczema. Just sweep any dirt off with the bath water and some cotton wool or a soft flannel and allow your child to soak for at least 10 minutes.

Soothing massage

Gently pat dry and then perform a baby massage (learn how to here) with a mixture of pure virgin coconut oil and calendula cream. As well as being an effective moisturiser, coconut oil has antibacterial properties that reduce the risk of eczema becoming infected. Marigold flowers (Calendula officinalis) have been used to promote healing and improve skin conditions for centuries. You may also wish to try some of these magic acupressure points to help your child drift off into a peaceful sleep.

Homeopathy and Flower Essences

If your baby or child is still distressed you may wish to try Nelsons Noctura homoeopathic sleep aid. I personally find this helps deal with the stress associated with itching and although Melissa never suffered with eczema, she had terrible chicken pox and also experiences several encounters with stinging caterpillars which produce an itchy burning rash that lasts for days, when we lived in Uganda. This product really helped her calm when the itch interrupted her sleep.

Andrea Tyrrell, Homeopath and Bach Foundation Registered Practitioner, says that Centaury Bach Flower Remedy and Five Corners Flower Essence are often indicated in persons with Eczema, although when choosing a remedy it is important to look that the personality profile of the individual.

I personally love Australian Bush Flower Calm and Clear Mist, for spritzing around the bedroom to create the calm atmosphere your child needs for sleep.

Do you have a child with eczema? Children often respond differently to treatments and you have to find what works for them through trial and error. I would appreciate it if you could please share your valuable insight into what worked for you.

 

3 Herbs that help your Child Sleep Better

Herbal sleep tea for childrenAs a qualified Herbalist I know the numerous medicinal benefits of Western herbs. However, many mothers often feel reluctant, confused and hesitant to take herbs when breastfeeding, or to give them directly to their child.

This fear is founded from the lack of modern day research on the safety of herbs. It saddens me because herbal medicines are the oldest form of healing known, and their medicinal properties are well documented. In fact, many modern day drugs are modelled on the actions of herbs, yet children are still being prescribed synthetic drugs in place of simple and safe herbal remedies.

If we allow this knowledge to be forgotten and the prescription of manmade drugs to take over, we turn into a nation of drug addicts and lose touch with nature and the valuable information that has been passed down from generation to generation.

I know for sure that Melissa would not even exist

….if it weren’t for the herbal preparations that I took for over a year prior to her being conceived. Furthermore, I would not have had such a healthy pregnancy, straight forward labour or quick recovery had it not been for the valuable support that Western Herbal medicines provided.

Melissa has grown up with herbs; in fact her name (Melissa officinalis) is Latin for Lemon Balm which in medicinal terms means a BIG HERBAL HUG. And she certainly is that – never wanting to be put down, she spent most of her early months strapped to me in a sling. Even now at nearly 4 years old her most frequent sentence is ‘I need a cuddle’.

In our day to day life, Melissa has seen me use herbs for all sorts of ailments – a Chamomile soaked flannel on a sore tummy or Lavender for a headache, a Thyme medicinal gargle for a scratchy throat, a Calendula wash on a grazed knee, even a Lemon balm herbal spray made up as mosquito repellent. So it’s unsurprising that she occasional gets given a cup of herbal tea to help her chill out ready for bed.

One of the most valuable actions found in herbs is their ability to calm and relax.

Melissa lacked the ability to calm and relax herself and was a type ‘A’ personality from the start. She learned to stand at 6 months old, was crawling at 7 and was walking before she was 10 months (if you’d like to read her full story please click here). I’ve found many techniques over the years that helped her relax enough to fall asleep easily after wasting many hours rocking her to sleep in a darkened room. Some of these include ‘the sleep inducing acupressure point’, the power of baby massage, and sleepy foods, and now I want to add another one to the list.

There’s nothing quite as soothing as a cup of herbal tea before bedtime. Here’s a review of the literature on medicinal herbs and a recipe to help you and your child sleep.

Chamomile

Researchers have discovered that the constituent apigenin in chamomile tea works on the brain in a similar way to that of a group of anxiety-reducing drugs including Valium, but without the harmful side effects. In fact a Japanese study demonstrated that chamomile extract helped rats fall asleep just as quickly as rats that got a dose of benzodiazepine (a tranquilizing medication). Furthermore, another study demonstrated that chamomile has anti-anxiety properties and the FDA considers chamomile tea to be safe with usually no side effects. It is perfect for children that suffer from bedtime associated separation anxiety and an inability to unwind on their own.

Lemon balm & Valerian

Several studies have shown Lemon balm, Valerian and Lemon balm/Valerian combinations to improve sleep patterns and reduce stress, anxiety and hyperactivity in children. In one study a Lemon balm/Valerian combination was found to be as effective as the prescription drug Halcion (a benzodiazepine). Whilst in another study by Maryland Medical Centre of minor sleep problems, 81% of those who took an herbal combination of Valerian and Lemon balm reported sleeping much better than those who took placebo. Lemon balm is approved for “nervous sleeping disorders” by Commission E of the German Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices, however there a lack of data on Valerian in the long term, so to be cautious and use it only for a limited time.

Melissa drinking herbal sleep teaSleep tea:

1 tsp Chamomile flowers
1 tsp Lemon Balm
½ tsp Valerian root

Obtaining the herbs: The best way to get hold of herbs is in loose dried form through an herbal supplier such as Baldwins, or your local health food shop. These herbs may be of better medicinal value that those in bags in supermarkets. For example, if you are using teabags of chamomile you need 2-3 bags per cup for a medicinal dose.

Brewing the tea: The trick to this teas efficacy is to make sure you are brewing it properly. Place the above herbs in a tea pot, put a lid on to keep the oils from escaping; this way you get the medicinal effects of the tea. Steep for 5-10 minutes, strain and allow to cool before drinking. You can sweeten it with honey if desired (for over 1 year olds). Use chamomile cautiously if you or your child are allergic to ragweed (the plants are related). For adults you can double the proportions of herbs. Drink 1 hour before bed.

Caution: Valerian should only be used for up to 4 consecutive weeks. Chamomile and Lemon balm may be used continually.

If you are breastfeeding

Just in the same way that caffeine from your cup of morning coffee can reach your baby through your breast milk (read more here), so can the individual properties of herbal teas. Although some herbs are restricted when breastfeeding, you can take these safe herbs and use their relaxing properties to your advantage.

General uses

I’ve used these herbs to help Melissa, as a toddler, unwind in order to sleep. I drank the preparation myself to help with the insomnia that followed from coping with a child that doesn’t sleep well for many months. I’ve even known breastfeeding mothers who have drunk this tea to help their newborn differentiate between night and day.

Have you used herbal preparations? What were your experiences? Please feel free to leave comments below.

My BritMum’s Brilliance in Blogging Awards Journey

Caroline Mentzer My daughter wont sleep wins BritMums Bibs2014For those of you who read the blog and have been following my BritMum’s Brilliance in Blogging Awards Journey, I’m proud and honoured to announce that…

I CAME TOP of the Health Category!

On Friday the 20th June at BritMum’s Live Bibs2014 I met a wonderful collective of influential and inspiring bloggers at The Brewery in London’s Old Street. With a crowd of 700 dressed up lovelies (and a few gents), it was a glamorous event presented by famous mummy blogger Katy Hill no less (you may remember her from Blue Peter). Meeting my blogging community in person was truly wonderful.

Katy Hill & Caroline Mentzer selfieBrilliance in Blogging Awards (BiBs21014)

For those of you who don’t know, the BiBs is one of the most popular and prestigious blogger awards in the UK. Taking place annually, it highlights the best of parent lifestyle blogging and is an opportunity to recognise the most creative, inventive and compelling blogs.

Last year there were more than 200,000 nominations and votes. So, you can imagine how thrilled I am.

Press interest

When I was shortlisted in May I was invited to talk on BBC Radio Oxford, Siren FM and had some coverage in local newspapers and the popular Mother & Baby Magazine. If you would like to listen to or read the articles please click here.

Awards Sponsors – Kids Company UK

The Health Category Award sponsors are KIDS COMPANY a charitable organisation founded by Camila Batmanghelidjh in 1996 which provides practical, emotional and educational support to vulnerable inner-city children.

This is a charity close to my own heart, because they share the same ethos as I do, which aims to provide a supportive, safe and caring family environment tailored to the individual needs of every child. Despite extreme challenges that these children face, KIDS COMPANY’S work empowers them to lead positive and fulfilling lives, with an opportunity to achieve their full potential.  We are honoured to be associated with this noble charity by means of these Awards.

Melissa and Mummy Brilliance in Blogging pictureThank you

Melissa and I would like to take this opportunity to THANK YOU ALL from the bottom of OUR hearts for your continued support. I am overwhelmed by everyone’s belief in me, and Melissa is chuffed to see her picture in the newspaper. All your encouragement has motivated me to keep writing, and I can’t believe how much I’ve enjoyed the journey so far!

It has allowed me to continue doing what I love best, which is to help parents overcome difficult parenting challenges and improve children’s health and well-being.

The Award Ceremony was one of the biggest highlights of my life. I will remember it forever. You have made one blogging lady very happy. Thank you!