01 Jun Just For Kids June
Many people wonder why they should consider bringing their children to see a naturopathic doctor and I am here to answer that question for you! As a naturopathic doctor, I have seen incredible benefits from working with the pediatric population to improve their overall health. Childhood is the perfect time to start effective habits that will lead to a lifetime of health and happiness.
When working with children, my focus is on providing quality care to improve their current health concerns using gentle, safe, and effective treatments. The benefit of using naturopathic medicine in children is that you can see big improvements in their health with very little risk of side effects or harm. I also focus strongly on preventing future health conditions by educating the child and their family on healthy living. This includes promoting good nutrition, regular physical activity, effective sleep habits, and strong mental health. Getting your children into healthy habits in childhood will make it so much easier for them to continue these habits throughout the rest of their lives.
Medical Doctor Or Naturopathic Doctor?
The answer is BOTH! I’m not suggesting you choose a naturopathic doctor to care for your child instead of a medical doctor. In fact, I’m recommending that you create a supportive healthcare team for your child. Medical doctors and naturopathic doctors have different strengths and treatment possibilities available to them and both are important for your child’s well being.
Different practitioners may have varying opinions in any given situation on how to make the decision between bringing your child to their medical doctor or naturopathic doctor. I’m going to share my thoughts with you but please remember that you know your child best! Make the decision that feels right in that moment.
When to see your medical doctor:
I recommend that you visit your child’s medical doctor for routine check ups (as recommended by your doctor), vaccines, diagnostic work ups requiring blood work and other testing, and when medications or other medical interventions are required. How do you decide if medical interventions are required? That comes with experience! Potential broken bones, intolerable pain, high fevers, significant lethargy or a toxic appearance, shortness of breath, and other alarming symptoms that are new or worsening are examples of when a trip to your doctor or the hospital is likely necessary.
As a new parent, it might take time to figure out when your child is suffering from a serious illness that requires medications versus when you can handle it with supportive and natural therapies. A naturopathic doctor can help you figure this out! We are trained to recognize red flags and refer you back to your medical doctor or the emergency room if necessary.
When to see your naturopathic doctor:
I recommend visiting your naturopathic doctor for routine check ups (as recommended by your naturopath), education and advice around diet and lifestyle recommendations, optimization of health and prevention of future health conditions, managing chronic illnesses or symptoms that don’t have effective medical treatments, or when conventional treatments aren’t sufficient. Naturopathic doctors can perform well child checks (usually recommended at least yearly) to check in on your child’s development. During a well child check, I perform a thorough history and physical exam to assess your child’s development, as well as their physical and mental health.
Are you wondering more specifically which conditions can be addressed using naturopathic medicine? Read on!
Skin rashes are a common occurrence in childhood. The skin of a child tends to be thinner, more absorbent, and therefore, more sensitive than that of an adult. Starting by using gentle and non-toxic skin care products can significantly improve childhood skin rashes. Although topical treatment of skin conditions can be beneficial for immediate symptom relief, it is always important to also look internally. Skin is one of our organs of elimination and sometimes skin rashes can show up when your other modes of elimination (digestion, liver, urination, kidney, etc.) aren’t functioning optimally. This is why looking at digestive health and food sensitivities are an important part of the treatment of skin conditions.
Some of the skin conditions that I can work with in my practice include: acne, eczema, psoriasis, and warts.
Promoting optimal digestive function is my passion and it starts with building healthy digestive habits from the beginning of childhood. I will talk to you and your child about how to ensure adequate fiber and water intake for bowel regularity, promote a balanced gut microbiome (good versus bad bacteria), recognize food sensitivities, and the importance of the gut-brain connection. Optimal digestion promotes optimal immune function, skin health, mental health, and so many other aspects of our overall health and happiness. It is also an area that is often more challenging to successfully treat with medical interventions but there are numerous effective natural therapies available to you!
Some of the digestive conditions that I work with in my practice include: excessive gas and bloating, diarrhea, constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, nausea and vomiting, acid reflux and, of course, celiac disease. If you want to learn more about celiac disease, make sure to check out my Mythbreaker May post that I wrote for Celiac Awareness Month.
Both individual and familial stress can have a negative impact on a child’s mental health. Children are only just learning techniques for coping with their stressors in an effective way and this can be challenging for them. Encouraging preventative measures for dealing with stress and anxiety can set your child up for more success in their future!
It is also important to look at nutrition when considering mental health. Low iron can be a common nutrient deficiency in children and leads to fatigue, irritability, and other behavioural issues. Sufficient intake of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6) is essential for brain development and health. The more we learn about probiotics and the gut microbiome, the more we are learning that balanced gut bacteria can also promote improved mental health. We also know that eating too much sugar and too many food additives can negatively impact the mental well being of children (and adults!). Talking to a naturopathic doctor about your child’s nutritional habits can have a large impact on their mental health.
Mental health conditions that I can address in my practice include: chronic stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and insomnia. Autism and ADHD are also common childhood concerns that have evidence showing benefit with natural treatment options.
This is an important area for parents to understand! It is common to feel that any illness requires antibiotics to clear it up. However, did you know that antibiotics only address bacterial infections? Many childhood infections are actually caused by a virus and if that is the case, it means that the antibiotics are unnecessary. Instead, we can use natural treatments that have anti-viral properties and help the body eliminate the infection, while strengthening the immune system and the body’s ability to fight future infections! Natural treatments, such as echinacea, honey, garlic, and elderberry can all help treat viral infections. Remember my Fight The Flu February post? Check it out again to remember the many ways naturopathic doctors can help you when you’re sick.
Did you know that improving immune system function could be related to digestive health? A large part of our immune system is located in our gut (the GALT, or Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue) so it all starts with optimizing the health of the digestive tract.
Infections to consider working with a naturopathic doctor for include: the common cold and other upper respiratory tract infections, ear infections, sinusitis, and urinary tract infections.
Naturopathic Treatment Options for Kids
Are you curious to better understand the types of treatments I would use when working with your child? They are very similar to those used with adults! For example, many children can benefit from nutritional supplements, such as probiotics, fish oil, vitamins (A, D, C, B vitamins), and minerals (Magnesium and zinc), as well as herbal treatments in the form of teas or tinctures, such as chamomile, lavender, tilia, and echinacea. Working with a naturopathic doctor can help you ensure that the products your children are using are effective for their age and size. Check out my Naturopath Services page to understand the variety of options available to you.
Determining Food Sensitivities
Food sensitivities are a common concern for parents, especially when they are noticing physical reactions after their child has ingested certain foods. For all of the conditions I have listed in this blog post, it is worth considering whether there are food sensitivities aggravating your child’s system.
First of all, you need to be aware that there is a difference between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. A food allergy should be diagnosed by an allergist with the use of a skin-prick test and occurs when your child’s body has an immune response to a certain food. These IgE responses lead to the anaphylactic reactions that are commonly seen with nuts, eggs, shellfish, and many other allergens.
On the other hand, food sensitivities are often less immediate and severe but can still cause significant symptoms in children. Many symptoms including eczema, irritability and behaviour issues, diarrhea and other digestive concerns, nasal congestion, and poor immunity can often be improved by finding and removing food sensitivities. These are harder to pick up with conventional allergy blood work and skin tests. Luckily, a naturopathic doctor can help you figure out the most effective way to determine food sensitivities that might be present in your child.
As part of every initial intake, I do an assessment of my patient’s diet. This is no different when I do an initial intake with a child. Foods that are specifically made for kids taste delicious but are often lacking in nutrition. The diets of children today are often high in sugar, low in fiber, and low in many other important vitamins and minerals. The first step is figuring out how to get your child interested in healthy foods! Check out my Asparagus, Arugula & April post for some tips and tricks.
The next step, is determining possible nutrient deficiencies in your child. A naturopathic doctor will then help you understand how to increase those specific nutrients in your child’s diet and offer supplement recommendations, if necessary. There are many important nutritional deficiencies to consider but common ones seen in children are iron, vitamin D, and calcium.
Depending on the age of your child, the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for iron is between 7mg-15mg daily. The richest sources of iron are meats and seafood. Vegetarians have a higher recommended intake of iron because vegetarian sources of iron (called nonheme iron) are less bioavailable, meaning you absorb less from the food sources. Breastmilk is also high in iron to ensure sufficient iron intake in babies 6 months and younger. Once infants reach 6 months, it is important to start feeding them foods high in iron because breast milk levels of iron decline.
The RDA for vitamin D is 400IU daily for infants 0-12 months and 600IU daily for children 1-18 years old. Vitamin D is present in very few food sources, with the best source being fatty fish and fish oils. The optimal source of vitamin D is from the sun. It can be a challenge to get sufficient vitamin D from the sun in Canada, especially during the winter months, so a supplement is often recommended. Canada requires that infant formulas be fortified with vitamin D but it can be a good idea to consider a supplement in exclusively breastfed infants.
The RDA for calcium, like iron, depends on the age of your child but it is between 700-1300mg daily. The richest sources of calcium are dairy products, including milk, yogurt, and cheese. However, there is a common misconception that cutting out dairy in a child’s diet will lead to a calcium deficiency. Fortunately, there are many nondairy sources of calcium, including dairy milk alternatives (almond, soy, etc.), tofu, leafy green vegetables, and canned fish with bones.
This is an essential part of working with children! As I have previously mentioned, small adjustments can lead to big changes. When you’re raising a family, the biggest challenge can be finding the time to keep your family healthy. This is where a naturopathic doctor can be helpful in figuring out the key aspects of health that your family needs to focus on and how we can make it doable in your busy lifestyle. We can discuss bedtime routines, managing difficult behaviours, increasing activity levels for the whole family, decreasing screen time, and improving family quality time.
Looking for a way to get started making these changes right now? Check out my Mindfulness March post for some great tips on how to increase mindfulness in your life. Practicing mindfulness will help you live in the moment and feel like you have more time to do the things that are most important to you and your family.