On my son’s first birthday (late October), we took him in for his regular well visit with the pediatrician. We were not surprised to learn that he had a double ear infection (he had been pretty grumpy for a few days), but otherwise was perfectly healthy. The doctor started him on antibiotics and we assumed all would be fine. A couple weeks later we went in for a recheck and found that both ears were still infected. He was prescribed a different antibiotic. A few days later, he started walking regularly, tripped, fell, and sliced open his lip requiring three stitches…to his lip! And by the way, both ears still infected (no surprise at this point).
A couple weeks later he woke up with blood coming out of both his ears. I rushed him to the doctor to find that both ears were still infected and now he had two ruptured ear drums. We started on antibiotic injections, which meant that I picked him up from daycare on my lunch hour, took him to the doctor to get a shot of antibiotics, and then returned him to daycare to eat his lunch and take a nap, for three days in a row. This antibiotic caused diarrhea so bad that I had to take him back to the doctor the following week. She was also concerned and ordered a stool sample (thankfully this ended up being fine).
We took him for a recheck a couple weeks later and found that his right ear was still infected. We were referred to an ENT specialist and he was prescribed a maintenance dose of Zyrtec to try to “dry him out”. A couple weeks later we went to the ENT, the right ear was (of course) still infected and the ENT informed us that we needed to get him tubes in both ears. We scheduled surgery and started him on antibiotic number four! This antibiotic also caused severe diarrhea and the most horrible diaper rash ever.
Two more weeks later we took him in for his ear tube surgery, both ears had fluid at the time of surgery (translation: still infected), but the surgery went great and he was back to his normal self within an hour. We breathed a sigh of relief and hoped that we were done. Five days later, I picked him up from daycare and found out that he had just spiked a 103 degree fever! After several calls and trips to the doctor over the next few days we discovered he had RSV. A few more days and another chat with the doctor and he was prescribed a 5th antibiotic in less than three months (although he was given the same antibiotic as round 2). The doctor thinks he developed a sinus infection as a result of the RSV. This brings us to today. He’s had a fever of around 103 every single day for the last six days and literally just lays his head on my shoulder and whines for the majority of the day. We usually get an hour or two where he isn’t quite so miserable at the peak of his acetaminophen/ibuprofen dose. So far today, we’re hanging right around 100 degrees with much less whining, so I’m hoping that the end is near.
Do you see why I am laser focused on improving the health of my family this year? We have never struggled with illness to this extent and I’m ready for my boy to stop suffering. I’m hoping that making some important changes to our lifestyle will bring about some healthier days.
At this point, my son hasn’t eaten more than a few bites of food in the last week and the only fluid he’s drinking is breastmilk, “straight from the tap”. However, I’m starting to develop a plan to start boosting his little immune system as soon as we can start getting him to eat and drink again. I’m also implementing most of these items for the rest of our household so that we can all remain healthy. Most importantly, I’m taking this plan very seriously for myself because the stronger my immune system is, the better my breastmilk will be for helping my little man. I thought I’d share these plans with you since, by the sounds of it, we aren’t the only family struggling with terrible illnesses this winter.
1. Extended Breastfeeding
Obviously this won’t work for everyone, but if you are still breastfeeding, I encourage you to keep breastfeeding as long as possible. The World Health Organization and UNICEF both recommend breastfeeding at least until age 2. “Extended breastfeeding” is defined as breastfeeding past the first birthday. I’m not talking about breastfeeding until age 7, but the health benefits of breastfeeding don’t tragically come to a screeching halt at 6 months or even one years old. In fact, studies have shown that the immunological benefits of breastfeeding actually increase during the second year of life (which makes sense since one year olds come into contact with more germs than newborns do). My goal with both my babies has been to get them past their second winter. My daughter self-weaned at 14 months, so that didn’t work with her, but I was fine with it since she weaned herself. My son is almost 15 months old, he had been down to just nursing at night (several times a night). However, while he’s been sick he’s been nursing all. the. time.
I am very certain that he would be hospitalized at this point if he wasn’t still breastfeeding. He has completely refused all food and drinks for several days now. He won’t drink anything and with temperatures at a near constant 103 degrees, this is very dangerous. Fortunately, he is nursing a lot. He’s so stuffed up that he’s not nursing well, but he’s still getting enough fluids to keep him from getting dehydrated. My breastmilk has literally been his only real source of nutrition for six days now. I have no idea what we would do if I would have weaned him on his first birthday (or sooner) like so many moms are encouraged to do. I think it’s a little easier to get older children to drink fluids (or at least eat popsicles), but at just over a year old, he just doesn’t understand.
I do want to mention one thing as an aside for working moms out there. I’ve been frustrated in the past because my kids both breastfed exclusively but still got sick (somewhat often). Here’s the deal. In regards to keeping a baby healthy with breastfeeding, in an ideal situation, mom and baby are always together. They both come into contact with the exact same germs. Mom starts immediately building up an immunity and passes this on to baby through her breastmilk. Baby doesn’t become sick or doesn’t get very sick. However, for working moms, this system doesn’t work as perfectly. My son is exposed to germs while away from me for 9 hours a day at daycare. When we reunite at the end of the day, he exposes me to those germs and I start building immunity and passing it on through my breastmilk. The process works the same, but has a delay. This delay often means that my son gets sick more often and sometimes worse than he would if I was a stay at home mom who never left his side (he’d also be exposed to a lot less germs in the first place). However, we are still breastfeeding and therefore the immunological benefits are still working. Research shows that breastfed kids in daycare get sick less often and get better more quickly than non-breastfed kids in daycare. Please don’t let the fact that your children still get sick discourage you from continuing to breastfeed. Every little bit helps! You are still helping your little one’s body fight off the infection with every drop of milk. And if you end up in a situation like ours, breastmilk for a sick baby can mean the difference between hospitalization due to dehydration and staying in the comfort of your own home to heal.
2. Smoothies and Fresh Juice
Nothing beats fresh fruits and vegetables when it comes to good nutrition and a strong immune system. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” isn’t just a silly saying, but you probably should have more than just an apple. Getting all the fruits and vegetables we need is hard these days, especially getting them in their raw (and healthiest) form. Enter smoothies and freshly juiced juice. My son doesn’t have any molars, so his options for raw fruits and vegetables are very limited unless I throw them all in a blender and make a delicious smoothie. He loves smoothies. And I prefer a green smoothie over a salad any day. On his second day of this fever mess, I mixed up a big smoothie and was dribbling it in his mouth with a straw. He’s too miserable and tired at this point for me to do that now, but when it worked the other day, it was amazing how much he perked up afterward. It was packed with nutrition and an ice cold liquid to help him stay cool and hydrated. As soon as he’s feeling better I plan to whip up some fresh smoothies regularly to refill his tank with all the vitamins and nutrition of fresh fruits and veggies.
For our smoothies, I change it up all the time depending on what we have on hand. We mix both fresh and frozen fruits (last time we had frozen mixed berries, frozen peaches, and a fresh orange), a little bit of milk and/or yogurt (you could use water, juice, or some other non-dairy thing if you’d prefer), and often I add in some green leafy veggies like spinach or kale. The green leafies add lots of extra nutrition, but very little flavor so its a great way to sneak more green leafies into your diet. Start with a little and add more as you get used to the slight change in flavor. And the green color makes it fun for the kids! There should be no need to add any sweetener (like honey or sugar) as the fruit is sweet enough.
Another great option is freshly juiced juice. I have a Juicer Machine so I can make fresh juice right at home. I rarely use our Juicer though because clean up is a hassle in my opinion (all that pulp is sticky and hard to get rid of). But fresh juice is really yummy, extremely healthy, and pretty fun. I’ve promised my daughter that we’ll pull out the Juicer and make some fresh juice more often as soon as her brother is feeling better. The main difference between juicing and smoothies is that juicing pulls out the extra fiber and “bulk” to make a more concentrated cocktail of nutrition. Usually I prefer to keep the fiber and bulk, but when looking to boost immunity, juicing can sometimes be better because you get more bang for your nutritional buck without slowing your body down with the extra digestion needed with a smoothie.
3. Bone Broth
This may sound gross and morbid, but really, its just chicken broth (made from the chicken bones so you get a higher vitamin and mineral content). You know how your momma used to always make chicken noodle soup when you were sick? Well, as long as you don’t rely on Campbell’s or Swanson, it’s actually a pretty brilliant thing to consume when feeling under the weather (or to keep healthy while everyone else is sick). A while back both kids were sick with a cold at the same time. I started getting a sore throat, so I quickly thawed out my frozen bone broth and guzzled down several mugs full. I felt fine by the end of the day and never ended up getting sick. I made a big batch of bone broth this weekend so I can load up the sippy cups and mugs all week and kick these germs to the curb. Here is a how-to post from another blog if you’d like to make up your own batch. This is the general process that I follow. Please know that this is very “working mom” friendly as it involves tossing kitchen scraps in the crockpot and ignoring it for a while. It is truly very simple.
4. Vitamin D
Unfortunately, we don’t live in the sunshine state. We live in Northwest Indiana, where we measure snow by feet instead of inches and experience things like a polar vortex and perma-cloud. Have you ever wondered why people get sick a whole lot more often in the winter time than they do in the summer? There are a few reasons, but one of them is a major lack of Vitamin D in the winter months. In case you don’t remember from health class, our bodies create Vitamin D from exposure to the sun. When you’re surrounded by perma-cloud and stuck in the house due to the polar vortex, your body doesn’t get sufficient Vitamin D. You can read this fascinating article that explains how our bodies are unable to even start up an attack against foreign pathogens (viruses and bateria) without sufficient Vitamin D.
Fortunately, it’s easy to add Vitamin D to your daily routine through Vitamin D drops. You can just add a drop (or a few) to food or drinks to make sure you get sufficient Vitamin D, even during polar vortexes and perma-cloud. They come in Vitamin D drops for kids and Vitamin D drops for adults.
5. Raw Garlic
Okay, so this one is probably something just for the adults, but I swear by raw garlic. Unfortunately, it can be hard to get kids to chew on a garlic clove! I have saved myself from many illnesses by chopping up a clove of garlic and swallowing the pieces (like tiny pills) with a glass of milk at the first sign of illness (body aches, sore throat, etc). I’ve heard you can mince a garlic clove and mix it with a spoonful of raw honey to help kids swallow it down. I think this would still be too potent for my kids, but maybe when they’re older. But it works great for adults!
Garlic has many antiviral and antibiotic properties, so it is excellent for immune support. When garlic is heated it loses a lot of its potency, so the key is to consume it raw when you are looking for the best immune system boost. I usually just swallow the garlic before bed so I don’t have to worry too much about smelling like garlic. My husband has commented once that I smelled a tad garlic-y, but it’s a small price to pay in my opinion. I’d rather smell like garlic for one night than be miserable and sick for a week. You can also try Odorless Garlic pills if the smell is that much of a concern to you.
Health begins in your gut. Keeping the proper balance of “good bacteria” in your body is one of your first lines of defense against illness. Probiotics aren’t just for keeping your digestion in check, they help with overall immunity as well. You don’t need to eat gallons of yogurt just to get your proper dose of probiotics. A much easier way is just to add a probiotic supplement to your arsenal. Usually I take this supplement for “daily maintenance”, however, I wanted something geared for babies for Jacob, so he takes this baby probiotic powder. It’s a “pleasant-tasting” powder that can be mixed in anything cool (food or drinks). This is very important for Jacob since he’s been on so many antibiotics recently. Antibiotics not only kill the “bad” bacteria, they wipe out all of the good bacteria. His diarrhea and diaper rash episodes are a clear sign that he needs probiotics to restore the balance.
Several months ago I had a major run in with mastitis (an infection in the breast which happens to some breastfeeding moms) which required some heavy duty antibiotics to get me back on my feet. I needed a bit of a stronger probiotic supplement for myself to get things back in order. My midwife recommended these Florajen 3 Capsules to get things back on track. It worked great and now I’ve switched back to my regular kind (it’s more affordable and works fine for times when my system hasn’t been overloaded with antibiotics).
So, that’s our plan for boosting our immune systems. We have a lot of work to do to get our little man back on track once he finally gets over this dreaded illness. He’s been sleeping most of the day today, so I’m hoping it’s just what his little body needs to get rid of this fever for good. He has been on so many medicines the last few months, not to mention stitches and surgery. It has made me very thankful for modern medicine, but I know that his body is very out of balance and needs lots of good nutrition to get things back in good working order. I think a good dose of nutrition is just what the doctor ordered for all of us.
What tips and tricks do you have for boosting your family’s immune system?