Did you expect a more natural approach from pediatric care, when you had your first child?
I did. In fact, full disclosure, I naïvely assumed that natural pediatric care was what any pediatrician would want to practice. Who gives drugs and procedures to kids unless they really, really need them, right? And as a health professional myself, trained in maternal and child health, and in pediatric and infant nutrition too, I assumed I’d enjoy a good rapport with our pediatric care providers once my son was born.
But, I did not love them at all. In fact, my husband and I so did not love our pediatric group that we fired them when our baby was just six months old.
It was rough from the start. Throughout it all, every treatment, directive, or advice the pediatric group had given us hurt that baby boy. Every. Single. One. From telling us to “let him cry it out” when he couldn’t sleep (huge fail) to “more shots right now or we call child protective services” (I complied, after which came more seizures, more vomiting, more misery, less growth and gain, rashes, pain) to “this is fine, this is normal” (nope) … nothing offered by this pediatric office did any good at all. They were beyond tone deaf. We were done.
At six months, our little one had had way more office visits than expected. He’d been rushed to the ER, and he’d been hospitalized too. He rarely felt good or happy, rarely smiled, wasn’t interested in movement or much playfulness. His gross motor skills were delayed such that he qualified for Early Intervention services by the time he was eight months old. He was not sleeping, not feeding well, had constant rashes, kept getting sick, had seizures, and was slipping down the growth chart.
Frayed to the bone after just six months of being a new mom, there I was on the phone again with the doctor. At this point, we were failing on all formulas, and on breast milk. We’d cycled through different formula trials, each one with the expectation that I’d stop breastfeeding, pump and save the milk, then resume breastfeeding. Breastfeeding had already exhausted me. My son sipped slowly and took 10 hours out of every 24 just to eat even at six months of age. On top of that, he still hadn’t managed to sleep more than 20 or 40 minutes at a time. We’d all been awake 24/7 for six months, relying on mini cat naps. His stools were explosions of mucousy yellow that reached his neck and soaked his clothes up to 8 times a day – to which the pediatrician had mused, “I think it’s coming from the diaper”.
True story. My pediatrician actually said that.
I had to find a new way to feed this guy. He needed to grow, feel better, and sleep better.
So I asked the doc, “what did you guys feed babies back in the day, before all these formulas, and when a mom couldn’t breastfeed?” I assumed he would know how to create another feeding strategy.
“Just keep using soy formula” he said, “Nothing else you can do.”
I hung up on him. It was before cel phones. It felt so right to slam that wall phone into the receiver and walk away.
We pivoted. Our little guy never saw a pediatrician again. We wanted to love the pediatrician, not be furious with them. We needed more nourishing, natural pediatric care.
We intentionally sought natural pediatric care. We worked with our family practice doc, a naturopathic doc (ND), our MD GI specialist, a family nurse practitioner who was also a classical homeopath, and whomever else stood among the helpers/supporters. Unfortunately and unexpectedly, our general pediatric group was not in that camp.
Years before this happened, I had completed my graduate and undergraduate degrees in nutrition and public health, as well as registration as a dietitian/nutritionist. Licensure followed once it became available for my profession too. My training in pediatric nutrition and maternal and child health had drilled me on the power and necessity of nutrition for development and growth, not only in utero, but through the first three years at least. Nutrition, feeding, and a functional gut are crucial. The brain takes half the fuel the body draws out of food during that moment of explosive growth and development. Nutritional compromise, if severe enough, can injure a baby’s brain for life. At the tender age of a few weeks or months, it doesn’t take much to injure a growing brain.
So, I wondered: Had my pediatrician not receive that training? Did they not know about the pivotal, essential imperatives of nutrition in pregnancy, infancy, or childhood? Had they no skills for practice in this context? I was never aware, prior to becoming a parent, that a pediatrician would not have this knowledge. But I later learned, they pretty much didn’t then, and still don’t. Pediatricians do not know how to provide natural pediatric care, if they don’t know pediatric nutrition.
Though this happened years ago – in 1997 – pediatricians still don’t get training in nutrition today. GMO soy formula was the popular go-to if a baby failed milk protein formula. There were no organic infant formulas, no goat milk formulas, no goat milk formula recipes, no internet to speak of, no European alternative formulas like Holle, HiPP, or Kendamil. There was milk protein formula (some with more whey than casein, which also failed), there was soy formula, and there was semi-elemental formula (like Alimentum or Nutramigen). That was it. Elemental formula like Neocate was new to the US at that time – and we tried that too.
I solved my baby’s feeding problems by creating my own goat milk infant formula recipe. There wasn’t even an internet then to speak of, and nowhere to find an existing recipe. Thanks to my training, I knew how to build a formula that would be safe and nourishing for him to use, and it worked. Thankfully, formulas and access to them have improved. There are better formula options now, but it’s just as likely today that your pediatrician doesn’t know how to guide you on those either.
Leaving conventional pediatrics behind was the best decision we made for our baby. That was also my moment of empowerment. I took permission, which was mine to begin with, to go with my instinct, and listen to my true nature as a woman and a mom, to take care of the baby I’d carried into this world.
Fast forward 25 years. I’ve been in private practice as a registered licensed dietitian/nutritionist for over two decades, helping babies and kids leverage nutrition and food so they can thrive. Natural pediatric care has been a salve for many of them, and whole foods nutrition and gut health is a cornerstone in this as well.
Natural pediatric care leans more into resolving root cause, more into non-drug solutions, and more into flexibility for parents with concerns about routine shots. Most parents who I meet in my pediatric nutrition practice want these. I encourage parents to find the providers who are willing to do this and act as helpers. Helpers encourage, problem solve, troubleshoot; they hold you up when you are unsure; they restore health by resolving root cause. Providers and resources to explore for natural pediatric care are…
- Naturopathic Doctor – Naturopaths are licensed and/or require registration and monitoring in 25 states, with 3 more states pending this legislation in 2022. In many states they can order labs, imaging, or blood draws, and can be recognized as Primary Care Physicians. Their focus is on natural non-drug solutions and root cause.
- Family Nurse Practitioner or Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – either may be a helpful ally. FNPs are licensed, independent practitioners.
- Family Practice Physicians care for the whole family, all ages. Consider looking for one certified in functional medicine. See my caveat about functional medicine for children here.
- Classical homeopathy was a profoundly effective tool for my child’s health from a young age, and my family still relies on it today. I was fortunate as a young mom to have this resource in my community, where one of my providers was a pediatric nurse practitioner who was a trained classical homeopath. If you don’t have a homeopath in your area, pick up a copy of Everybody’s Guide To Homeopathic Medicines. This is an invaluable help for resolving minor bumps, bangs, fevers and routine illnesses of childhood, from teething and broken bones to anxiety, sleeplessness, and digestive upsets. It saved me countless doctors visits.
- Weston Price Organization – If there was ever an organization fierce on whole family wellness, nourishing real food, nutrition, and natural health, it’s this one. You’ll find a great community (local chapters abound) as well as a deep well of information on all family and child health topics.