Let me tell you the five most helpful to-do’s I have seen parents use for their children’s health, as we start a new year.
These come from my twenty years’ experience working with families in my pediatric nutrition practice – with mostly complex, difficult cases who couldn’t find improvement elsewhere. In other words, even if your child is really challenged with feeding, growth, chronic illness or disability, developmental trials, allergy or more, I can tell you that these five tips are still my top picks, for setting up the healthiest foundation possible for your kids.
You might think I am going to talk about stuff like picky eating, junk food versus organic, gluten, food allergies, eating more vegetables, probiotics, vitamins, the latest autism protocol, whether or not you should do GAPS, gut biome… Nope. I definitely do cover all that and more in my clinical practice and in my blog, so have a look around.
These tips are about you – and how subtle shifts in your approach to health and what your family eats can cause unexpected benefits to unfold in everyone’s health.
1 – Get fierce about this: Adopt the mantra that health – not illness, disability, endless doctors’ appointments, or dependence on prescription or over-the-counter drugs that bring unwanted side effects – is your child’s birthright. It’s the baseline they are entitled to. Picture them at their healthiest and happiest. Imagine the unimaginable, if that is what it takes. Start with that picture of the joy good health brings.
If they’re not there, if your children are saddled with chronic illness, don’t lament, and definitely don’t feel sorry for them – they have you as their advocate and model, and they need positivity and possibility. Hold that image of total health that they need and deserve. Assume they have it already, and lead the way toward it, quietly and persistently. Expect a good outcome. Their bodies are built to grow, heal, and restore. There is always potential for healing.
2 – Chill out about food. Robyn Obrien’s 80/20 rule is a comfortable sweet spot. Her suggestion is to work for “progress not perfection”. Unless you know your child will sustain severe injury or consequences from eating certain verboten foods which must be avoided, don’t pathologize food. Don’t judge. Don’t chatter about how horrible this or that food is.
I encourage parents to use empowering language, even with small children. I discourage labeling food as “bad” or something that will “make you sick”. This can burden children – even teens – with unnecessary anxiety.
Instead, use words that show the power to choose. If your child eats something that backfires into discomfort or behavioral disintegration, ask which food might feel better next time, if they’re old enough to consider that question for themselves. If not, tell them what you will do next time: “Next time I’ll have xyz ready to eat instead, and you can see if that feels good”. Or “I’ll give your teacher a new snack for you at school. Maybe that will feel good instead.” Don’t harp on what a mistake a transgression was, especially if your child made the choice or if the choice was beyond their control. That is too easily internalized into feelings of powerlessness or failure by a child.
Notice your phrasing, demeanor, and tone when talking about food and health. Leave out the dark, judgmental stuff and emphasize food feeling good, tasting good, or being fun to share or experiment with.
3 – Read food labels? Now try this. If you’re like most parents I work with, you read food labels ad nauseam. You scrutinize every ingredient that passes your child’s lips – especially if you faithfully eat only organic food, avoid corn syrup or dyes, or if your kids ever needed an Epi Pen for eating the wrong thing!
Great. Now try this: Read a vaccine package insert. Read the whole thing, including the ingredients (often listed under the word “Description”). If you care about what’s in your child’s food, you will definitely want to know what is injected into them.
This is a great resource to see the full insert for each vaccine in the schedule. To see ingredients, search for the word “description” (which – as you may wonder – does not necessarily disclose all the ingredients, some of which are allowed to be proprietary, per the FDA).
I’ve met many a mom worried about letting their kids eat, say, corn chips or dairy (because they heard either was “bad” for everyone) – but never knew that Prevnar 13 – just one of dozens of shots on the schedule – has GMO soy fragments in it. Or that Recombivax has yeast, soy, formaldehyde, dextrose, and aluminum in it.
Recombivax is given to newborn babies. If you wouldn’t let even traces of GMO soy, formaldehyde, or aluminum touch your newborn baby’s tongue, why would you let these be injected? Note that eating any protein – or toxin for that matter – is far safer than injecting it, especially if your child is prone to any sort of reaction.
No need to dwell on what a contentious conversation anything with the V-word is, or indulge the drama and emotional reactions to this topic (I’ll delete comments that do). I get it. My graduate training in public health was full-on pro vaccine. I don’t need any instruction here, thank you very much.
It’s just that it’s high time for common sense. We talk a lot about food ingredients, including traces of glyphosate in GMO foods. Nobody talks much about ingredients in your kids’ shots. The “trace amount” argument loses traction once you see that kids receive anywhere from 70 to 100 doses in their first five years, when they are the most vulnerable to the burden of toxic exposures.
It would be fabulous if there was a pharmaceutical or biological product that actually was reliably, equally safe and equally effective for every kid or baby, every single day. But that is just magical thinking. There is no such thing, anywhere. Not a food, not a medicine, not even a fragrance. Can you imagine if it were mandated that all public school children eat Adderall every day, because some kids are too hard to manage in the classroom due to ADHD?
So this is why my Number 3 is for you to learn exactly what’s in your kids’ shots (or yours, if you’re planning on getting pregnant). They are potent. Don’t take them lightly. They may be helpful, or like anything else, they can be harmful. Too many may overstimulate the immune system to cause problems later on. Learn what is in vaccines, when they’re given and how often, and scrutinize if your child really needs them all.
For example: Your child won’t need boosters if they retain immunity from a prior dose – more may not be better.
If you’re upset because someone gave your kid a bag of Skittles at school, then wig out about the kid next door who skipped chickenpox vaccine, I think you’ve got it backwards. Just my opinion.
Besides, don’t you believe your own kid’s chickenpox shot worked – ?
In this scenario, the candy may be the lesser of two evils. Chickenpox vaccine is made with human fetal DNA, guinea pig embryonic tissue, sucrose, glutamate and MSG, and fetal bovine serum. Check out page 6 under “Description”.
4 – Heed your intuition. It’s a powerful healer, guide, and protector for your kids. And at the same time, remember that intuition is not a mandate for you alone to know everything!
In all my years as a clinician, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a mom say “I just had a feeling” …and how often that feeling was right. I’ve certainly had that moment many times myself as a mom.
It can be tough to go against the advice of the expert specialist at the Mayo Clinic, but you can do it if you simply feel you must, even if you don’t know quite why just yet. You know your child best.
Don’t confuse intuition with fear, or with the egocentric idea that only you can help your child. While I’ve often seen a mom’s intuition impressively steer a child to a good outcome, I have also seen families withhold good care options or block alliances with good providers, out of fear that they shouldn’t trust anything, or a belief that only mom can know what to do. Neither approach is very successful.
Look for your allies and resources, know your own strengths as well as spots where you could use help, allow the help in, and remember – you do know your child best.
5 – Drop the drama. When we have kids with struggles, it’s so easy to be seduced by the drama of what it takes to be their parent.
It’s easy to over-identify with the tasks of caring for kids with learning disabilities, developmental concerns, feeding and growth delays, allergies, and more.
Don’t do that. It messes up your kids. They’re not here to fulfill you in some way, or address your needs. They’re just here. Pretty much, to be themselves.
I meet traumatized families. Families who have had too many trips to the ER for severe allergy reactions from an accidental walnut, for seizures because a medication keeps failing, for passing out because of FPIES reactions and non-stop vomiting (a broken arm sounds pretty good for these families). Families isolated by too many dietary restrictions, by developmental disabilities including autism, anxiety disorders, or processing disorders.
I meet families who have been verbally battered or treated with great insensitivity by doctors, teachers, neighbors, or even friends or family members. Trusting becomes hard. As a parent, it’s hard at times not to feel victimized, to feel like the hardship with your kids may never end, and to lapse into the trap of believing that this whirlwind of medical/developmental/educational crises is… your whole and sole self.
But this isn’t about you.
Underneath and in between all that, there is your child, endeavoring to just be. Like any other kid.
The kids who come out of these tempests with the best outcomes, in my experience, are the ones whose parents can remain aware of this. They do not attach their own pain, ego, fears, sadness, disappointment, frustration, or feelings of inadequacy as a parent to the child, or to the outcomes. They don’t focus on diagnostic labels, whether it’s eosinophilic esophagitis, PANDAS, autism, Crohns, FPIES, or whatever. They rarely if ever use the labels around their kids, because they know their kids are not the labels. They obtain the labels as a path to health and wellbeing as is useful – that’s it. They don’t spend too much time on Facebook groups devoted to their kids’ labels. They focus on actionable solutions. They trust the fact that as parent, they are doing the best they can.
You’re in charge. You set the tone. Your kids will follow suit, even if they have seemingly insurmountable challenges on their plates. I used to hate it when my mother advised, “don’t complain, don’t explain” …but, she was right.
When parents hear “nutrition matters for baby” or “kids need a good breakfast”, what does that really mean? There are plenty of vague platitudes out there filling parenting web and print media, cereal box side panels, and TV ads. But how important is this, really?
Even before pregnancy, what we moms eat and what toxins we are exposed to affect our unborn children. Whole foods organically grown in healthy toxin free soil without genetically modified seeds or feed grains will safely nourish you and your kids – and it really does matter. For example:
– Vitamin D status before and during pregnancy may affect growth of the fetus, length of pregnancy, and immune function for baby after birth. Babies may be at more for risk intrauterine growth retardation in moms who are vitamin D deficient. Even adult outcomes for mental illnesses may be impacted by mom’s vitamin D status during pregnancy.
– Ideal iron status – not too much, or too little – is crucial for normal fetal development. Iron can cause lasting damage to fetal organs and brain tissue, if the wrong amount is on board.
– Toxic exposures for you now may influence whether your grandchildren get cancer.
– Ultrasounds may damage DNA expression in your baby’s brain. Limiting exposure to these while pregnant may be safest.
– Missing folic acid, a single simple nutrient, can have catastrophic outcomes for baby. Taking it before you conceive may prevent birth defects.
– Unvaccinated babies have fewer allergies, ADHD, and chronic disease than vaccinated children. Toxins in vaccines along with early and aggressive exposure to injected antigens may be making our children more chronically ill. This bolsters the need for strong nutrition to support strong immune response. Even vaccinations taken by mom prior to pregnancy may have a negative impact too.
– Breastfeeding is as or even more powerful than vaccination at preventing infectious diseases – so powerful in fact, that the CDC has promoted cessation of breastfeeding to keep natural antibodies from negating those in vaccines! Score another point here for nutrition solutions over pharmaceutical ones.
– Genetically modified organisms in food crops (GMO) are linked to increased allergies and organ damage. These foods are unlabeled in the US – so that means you’re probably feeding them to your family. Look for foods that tell you they contain no GMO ingredients. Livestock and farm raised salmon are typically fed GMO corn. Splurge on organic meats to avoid this when you can.
These are just a few bullets from the staggering amount of information on nutrigenomics – that is, how nutrients (and toxins) impact gene expression and outcomes for our babies. But one fact is too often overlooked for parents nowadays: Nutrition really matters, and it’s up to us to engage it. Your child’s immune system depends on a steady flow of toxin-free nutrients and foods, and a well functioning digestive tract, in order to mount a vigorous response to fight infection. Your child’s brain needs the same, to grow and function to potential. Nutrition is an ensemble piece if there ever was one. Nutrients and foods work together, relying on each other in cells and processes in the body, to create a hale and hearty human. No pharmaceuticals – vaccines included – do these jobs. Food and nutrients do this.
Despite this old wisdom – documented by decades of nutrition science and practice – pediatrics today pays little due to helping parents build kids’ nutrition. Nutrition studies are not part of your pediatrician’s training. Emphasis is heavy on pharmaceuticals, a shift that has happened in the last generation. As a child, I visited the pediatrician very rarely; I have not a single memory of me or any of my four siblings going to the doctor with an illness. We each passed through the rites of chickenpox, mumps, and measles; we never got ear infections; we very rarely got colds or flu. My friends came from families of three, five, or even six or seven children. I knew no one with asthma, allergies, diabetes, epilepsy, or other conditions or disabilities. With all the pharmaceuticals now given to children beginning from birth, we must ask if these are making kids less well, and more debilitated. Over half of US children now have a chronic disease or disability – obviously, using more pharmaceuticals has not improved health for our children.
Pay as much attention as you can to real food for your family. Cooking from scratch is a lot of work, but start – somewhere. Even a few more whole food meals or snacks a week will give your kids fewer toxins, more minerals, varied protein, and essential fats and oils – all key for brain and immune function. Even busy families can begin with these ideas:
– Trade processed fortified breakfast cereals (infamous for delivering too much corn syrup, sugar, additives, or even too much iron for some children) for whole grain oatmeal, eggs, or additive-free organic breakfast meats
– If cereal is non-negotiable, transition to organic brands that use whole grains. Add raw nuts and seeds like cashew, sunflower, or pumpkin seeds.
– Once a week, try a session with your kids of making your own cereal. Use whole oats, nuts, seeds, cinnamon, honey – any granola recipe can do.
– Trade sugary GMO concoctions like Ensure, Pediasure, or Carnation Instant Breakfast for power shakes made from organic almond, hemp, or coconut milk; add whey powder, nut butters like tahini, honey, and ripe banana. Let your kids experiment with ingredients, within your parameters of fruits, seeds, nut butters, cacao nibs.
– Stuck on Cheezits and Goldfish crackers? Rotate in crunchy nut and seed mixes, Justin’s Nut Butters, raw young asparagus, or crisp bell peppers. Add dips like guacamole or hummus. If all else fails, offer nut butters and dips rich in brain building fats with the crunchy cracker favorites.
– Is Friday pizza night? Give your own homemade a try, and let your kids in on the project. If making your own dough is daunting, purchase an empty pizza round from your grocer’s freezer section and build from there. Use organic cheeses. Experiment with toppings like olives, fresh basil leaves, raw tomato slices, scallion, or barbeque chicken; let your kids spice the pie with fresh minced oregano, raw minced garlic, or fresh hot pepper.
– Use a crock pot once a week for a home cooked meal. Meatballs and sauce, meatless minestrone, pot roast and vegetables, and lentil dahl are just a few meals that cook themselves and offer protein, minerals, fats, and oils.
What I usually hear in my nutrition practice is this: The more families get into preparing real food, the more they get into it. It grows on you. And the best part is seeing your children become healthier and happier, from the inside out.
When do kids need supplements?
If you’re reading this, then you have probably already discovered, hopefully with some guidance from your team of health care providers, that your child has a nutrition problem. Or maybe you’ve come to suspect there’s a deficit for some nutrients in your child. Should you fix it with a supplement? Does that work? What’s the best way to use those?
These are important questions for children with special needs like diabetes, food allergies, asthma and inflammatory conditions, developmental concerns like Down’s syndrome or autism spectrum disorders, inherited metabolic disorders, seizures, or growth and feeding problems. As many as 60% of children with special needs have nutrition problems that can potentially impair their functioning, learning, growth, or development (1). It has been known for decades that keeping children well nourished, whether they have special needs or not, helps them reach their functional potential, by supporting learning, growth, and development.
Supplements may fit into this, and part of my job as a pediatric dietitian is figuring out if, when, and how they do. This is something to discern based on individualized nutrition assessment. I take into account several pieces: Medical history, signs and symptoms, a food diary, a child’s growth history, circumstances of the child’s gestational period, delivery, and early infancy, and so on. The last piece to fill in the blanks would be lab data, because lab data alone can’t describe a child’s nutrition status. Here are some tips to help you use supplements more effectively. More tips are in my book Special Needs Kids Eat Right (2009, Penguin/Perigee) which you can pick up in most bookstores or libraries, or order via your favorite on line bookseller.
– Kids need food! In fact, they need much more food per pound than adults. If an adult were to eat what a toddler needs per pound, that adult would need 8,000-10,000 calories per day just to maintain normal weight. Giving lots of supplements without enough food means your child will probably not be able to use those supplements as intended. So, before buying supplements, do the footwork to give your child adequate and nutritious foods. How to do this for picky eaters with special needs is covered in Special Needs Kids Eat Right.
– Supplements don’t fix problems caused by inadequate food intake in kids. Anxiety, insomnia, irritability, rage/reactivity, behavior, low muscle tone, fatigue, cognitive difficulties, frequency of infections or illnesses, and school performance are all affected by total food intakes in children. Give a balance of healthy fats and oils, clean carbohydrates that aren’t too sugary, and easy to digest proteins every day.
– If you’ve been given a list of supplements to buy based on lab results, beware. Giving a pill for each lab finding out of reference range is a cumbersome, ineffective strategy, in my experience. For nutrition interventions to work well, children need the right amount of food, foods they can digest well, and good digestion and absorption. Your provider can help you assess whether your child needs to repair digestion and absorption before giving supplements.
– Rule out bowel infections in your child with your health care provider before beginning a complex supplement regimen. Remember, whatever you feed your child will be eaten by his resident bowel bacteria first. New research is emerging to describe how important this bowel flora can be – from helping us prevent inflammatory conditions (2), to encoding our own GI tracts with the skill to make digestive enzymes (3). Other research shows that unhealthy bowel bacteria can impact behavior or even seizures in children (4, 5) – making it all the more crucial to balance this piece before using supplements that might “fertilize” the wrong bowel flora.
Those are just a few reasons why supplements need to be worked into a total care plan for your child, rather than given without thoughtful strategy. Work with your health care providers to get it right; given in the right total context, the right supplements can work very well for children. If you need more help and information, contact me or schedule an appointment at NutritionCare.net.
1. Nutrition In The Prevention and Treatment of Disease, 2nd ed. Ann Coulston and Carol Boushey, Eds. Elsevier Academic Press. Burlington, MA and London, UK: 2008
2. Maslowski KM et al. Regulation of inflammatory responses by gut microbiota and chemoattractant receptor GPR43. Nature 2009 Oct 29;461(7268):1282-6.
3. Hehemann JH et al. Transfer of carbohydrate-active enzymes from marine bacteria to Japanese gut microbiota Nature 2010 April 8;464 (7269):908-912
4. MacFabe DF et al. Neurobiological effects of intraventricular propionic acid in rats: Possible role of short chain fatty acids on the pathogenesis and characteristics of autism spectrum disorders Behavioural Brain Research 2007;176:149–169
5. Herawati R et al. Colony count candida albicans of stool in autism spectrum disorders. Clinical Pathology and Medical Laboratory, Airlangga University E-Journal 13(1):November-2006
[/caption]We’d all nod in agreement if asked, “…does nutrition matter for babies and kids? Is it important that they have enough to eat? Does it make any difference what
they eat?” I bet any pediatrician would too. So why don’t we tap that when it comes to helping special needs kids thrive to their potential? After all, these kids are at higher risk for nutrition problems than typical peers – problems that often go unnoticed, and have the power to impede progress.
We can, and this is what I have done in my pediatric nutrition practice for over ten years, working with kids who have asthma, severe food allergy, autism, Down’s syndrome, arthritis, growth failure, feeding problems, ADD or ADHD, clinical depression, and more. On top of that work, I’ve written Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free – because even after a decade working with kids, I am surprised that parents still have so little reliable information on how to leverage nutrition-focused tools for a child with a chronic condition or disability. Just as they can for any child, nutrition tweaks can make or break the difference between staying well or getting sick a lot, succeeding versus struggling at school, growing as expected or being stunted, and relying on symptoms-only drug treatments versus ditching the drugs altogether to feel and function even better.
Pharmaceuticals are not a bad thing. But our health care system may be stacked to make these too much of a good thing for our children. For example, prescriptions to young children for stimulants (like Ritalin) and proton pump inhibitors (reflux medications) – just two types of drugs – have skyrocketed in recent years. Children are now more medicated and more immunized than ever before – but are more chronically sick and disabled too. Between 1980 and 2000, a 57% increase occurred in the rate of children with disabilities served by government programs. In our public education system nationwide, about one fourth of learners are served under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) – and the increase in number of children served under IDEA has grown at twice the rate of the general pediatric population. In the same time frame that Americans have used more medications than ever, our overall health related quality of life has declined.
What this means is that our children have become more sick and disabled in the last thirty years, not healthier, and that prescribing more medications may not be helping. Physicians aren’t trained in non-pharmaceutical strategies for disease management in the US, as they are in several other developed countries. Controversy continues regarding the influence the pharmaceutical industry may wield here on medical training, clinical trials, even medical journal publications – making good information on strategies like nutrition almost invisible.
Gluten free noodle bowl and gluten free pot stickers. No sweat.
I’m not sure how to eat these. Anybody? Beuller?Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free
to the rescue. Affected children are often assumed to be presenting in a certain way because of the condition or disability itself, rather than because of a fixable, nutrition-related impairment. Here are just a few examples of how nutrition can impact a child with a learning difference, developmental disability, or chronic condition. More examples with strategies to address them are found inSpecial Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free
. These spotlight nutrition problems that have been linked in myriad clinical trials and public health data to learning deficits, growth or developmental impairments, insomnia, psychiatric disorders, or behavior problems in children; others abound in my case files:
– Children with Down’s syndrome may have gluten sensitivity or celiac disease more often than typical peers. Even in the absence of celiac disease, untreated gluten sensitivity in itself may impede growth, stooling, and functional abilities for a child with Down’s syndrome. A gluten free diet may help a Down’s child make unexpected leaps.
– Over a third of boys with Asperger’s syndrome tend to be clinically underweight – that is, their body mass index (BMI) is <10th percentile. This is a growth pattern deficit that may impair infection fighting, sleep, continence, and cognition. The only correction: More food! Healthy fats, easy to absorb proteins that are not inflammatory, good carbs – and plenty of them all. In some cases, specialized formulas or custom made smoothies can help too.
– In puberty, low BMI in boys is linked to low total cholesterol. This is inversely related to testosterone level, meaning that testosterone will rise when cholesterol is too low. Low total cholesterol has been linked to psychiatric disorders, suicidality, and aggression. Excess testosterone has been noted in about a third of boys and girls with autism; aggressive or obsessive compulsive behaviors showed improvement, in early work treating high testosterone with medication in these children. Keeping a child’s BMI above 20th percentile, plus allowing ample daily healthy organic fats and oils, are nutrition measures that may help.
– Any child with a self-limited diet (eats just a few foods) or mechanical problems with feeding (tube feeding, swallowing disorders, oral tactile defensiveness) can quickly become depleted for minerals like zinc, which allows normal appetite, growth, and immune function; magnesium, which helps nerve cell function; chromium, which helps control blood sugar; and selenium, a key antioxidant. Children with Down’s syndrome in particular should be screened for zinc status. While a high potency supplement can help, so can slow cooked stews and broths, chock full of vegetables and gluten free carbohydrates like quinoa (a grain that is also high in protein), black rice (higher in iron than regular rice), lima or kidney beans (to add zinc, protein, fiber) or breadfruit and potato (great for potassium). Adding grass fed beef or free range poultry – organic if you can afford it – will further up the mineral, protein, fat, and calorie content of a crock pot meal.
– Any child with a self limited diet or chronic inflammatory condition like cystic fibrosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, food allergies, or asthma may have sub-optimal iron status – which will make them more susceptible to infections, more cranky, hyper or irritable, less able to focus at school, and less likely to sleep well. Entrenched iron deficiency (anemia) can leave your child tired, averse to exertion or typical play activities, showing shiners at eyes, and prone to eating non-food items. Have your pediatrician screen serum iron, ferritin, transferrin, hemoglobin, and hematocrit. If a supplement is needed, use one that is gentle and well absorbed, like ferrous bis glycinate instead of ferrous sulfate – but only with supervision, as iron quickly becomes toxic to children.
– Copper is a metal we need in extremely small amounts, and a potent neurotoxin, if too much circulates in a free, unbound form. High serum copper level has been linked to several psychiatric diagnoses. Some children with autism may need treatment to reverse copper toxicity and should avoid copper in daily multivitamins; special formulations are available for this purpose.
– Several studies have documented the presence of opiate-like polypeptides from poorly digested food proteins in autism; these have neurotransmitter effects that can impede language, pain tolerance, stooling, cognition, sleep, and behavior. Special diets or digestive enzymes that target these proteins have shown promise.
– Children with autism were found to have four or more GI issues, including histological changes, diarrhea, reflux, constipation, and abnormal endoscopies, about 40% of the time, compared to 5% of the time for their neurotypical siblings, in a study published in Pediatric Gastroenterology. While some studies countered this finding, debate centers on methodology weaknesses in those studies that “bury” evidence of gastrointestinal problems in these children. In clinically standard nutrition screening in my own practice, I routinely find these problems in children with autism. If your child has a picky, weak, or rigid appetite, vomits undigested food, is dependent on medications for constipation or reflux, has undigested food in stool, can’t move bowels at least three times a week, has more than three loose or foul stools/day, or often presses his stomach on pillows, knees, or furniture for comfort – these signal atypical digestion and absorption that may mean lessened health or functional ability for your child. Several nutrition interventions may eradicate these uncomfortable symptoms and improve the flow of crucial nutrients to your child’s brain, muscles, bone, and organs.
– Food allergies and sensitivities may go undetected in kids with Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, autism, asthma, or other conditions. Help can be had with correct screening for these, plus plug-ins of hypoallergenic formulas, special diets, or supplements to diminish inflammation.
– Children with seizure disorders may improve with dietary measures beyond the traditional ketogenic diet. Lessening inflammatory foods, avoiding neurotoxic trigger ingredients like glutamate, glutamine, phenols, or colorings, or treating undectected bowel infections for Candida or Clostridia are measures that have helped children in my practice with seizures.
Changing how your child eats, using a special diet, or adding targeted nutraceuticals may be a long term commitment for a person with a chronic condition or disability. But it is a critically worthy one, if it means a child can improve beyond expectations, attend a regular school with no aide, avoid residential care or placement as an adult, have independence or have a job, and contribute to society in what ever way their unique talents and gifts allow. I have witnessed all of these outcomes in persons with disabilities because of nutrition interventions. This is not new, not novel, not even alternative – it’s simply engaging what we already know to be evidence-based in child nutrition. Any parent can start tapping these tools anytime, with Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free.
Orange and purple. Pumpkins, Frankenstein, cute goblins. It’s Halloween. When I was a kid, October was my favorite month. Not only did it bring my birthday (still does), it felt like the most fun time of the year to me. Hurtling around outdoors with neighborhood friends on blustery, chilly fall days was my idea of heaven. We spent hours unsupervised and untracked, roaming woods and fields, and playing til our fingers were so cold it was just time to go in. New England’s blaze of colors was my backdrop. Leaf forts, leaf piles, leaf-filled scarecrows with my dad’s old clothes. Carving pumpkins, coloring decorations. Costumes, candy, staying out late to trick or treat.
It’s so different now, as kids spend less time outdoors with unstructured activities, and trick or treat traditions have faded out as we’ve become a more fearful society. Even less of this autumn joy might apply for kids with autism, sensory processing disorders, epilepsy and seizures – not to mention food allergies. It’s bad enough that this can be a traumatic week for kids on the autism spectrum and special needs. Routines and rules run amok (see Autism and Halloween: A Sometimes Scary Mix with Kim Stagliano). Behavior norms that parents work all year to teach their kids on the spectrum flip upside down. At Halloween, for some kids, confusion and anxiety mount as there are treats you can’t eat, and it’s loud, and random. But I’ve learned of news this week weirder than any Halloween trick, news that makes the autism journey at this time of year even stranger for me as a clinician. It’s called Purple Crying.
The CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics are putting some spin together to convince new families, obstetrics nurses, and NICU staff nationwide that it’s normal to have a screaming, trembling newborn. And that colic is a “a normal developmental phase, not a medical condition”. It actually says that on the Purple Crying website – yes, there is a Purple Crying Website.
Here we have a well funded effort afoot to systematically rework your thinking on this, right down to giving CDs about it to new parents, to take home with the new baby. The tag line on all this sends chills down my spine: “A new way to understand your baby’s crying”.
I did not understand my son’s crying as a neonate. Though the Purple Crying site does not intend to say purple babies are happy babies, my son’s crying turned him purple, and blue, and even left him unconscious for fleeting moments. It rocked his body into spasms. It kept him awake for as much as twenty straight hours, unhealthy and extremely costly for a newborn, who must eat and rest a lot, in order to survive. His limbs quivered, shook, and straightened. Yes, we called the doctor. Yes, we went to the emergency room. No, the physicians did not do anything. In fact, they were annoyed with us, because my son’s diagnostics were inconclusive. Once there were no clear test results, we went from being treated as proactive smart parents to being treated as nervous foolish parents. I should count my lucky stars: Nowadays, this scenario might land me in jail. I would be scrutinized for shaking him, in the absence of a clear cause for his symptoms. As it turned out, his symptoms were caused by an adverse event to newborn heptatitis B vaccine. But nobody told us that. We didn’t even know he’d been vaccinated in the nursery at birth. But that’s another story.
Prolonged, inconsolable screaming and crying is a serious sign of distress for an infant. It is a common feature of an adverse vaccine reaction. Is this what the purple crying public relations campaign is really about? CYA for the CDC? Like this: Your baby is suffering, maybe from a poorly tolerated vaccine we want you to use, so just ignore the crying, please.
Well, okay. Let’s acquiesce that babies can just plain cry their nuts off, boys and girls alike, for no particular reason, through the first three or five months of life, and it’s all right. Let’s make that leap of faith, and presume that we evolved to cry for no reason. We somehow got to the twenty first century, and never noticed this about human infants (but not other mammals?). Let’s presume screaming for hours on end is simply not related to a possible vaccine reaction (that may trigger lasting developmental effects, by the way), or any sort of painful inflammatory response to anything in shots or foods. Besides, the CDC reassures us that babies can look like they are in pain when they are screaming, but they’re not. Amazing creatures – they can do this for hours a day, and it’s fine. If you saw a newborn deer shrieking ceaselessly, would you think it was not in pain? Or that it was behaving “normally”?
I hate it when the CDC contradicts itself, and they’re doing it again. Here’s why this is not fine. First, obviously, it is not fine to tell parents to ignore possible signs of a vaccine adverse event. Second, for newborns, crying is exquisitely spendy. So is insomnia. It is not safe, normal, or healthy for young infants to spend hours awake and crying, week after week. Newborns are growing so fast, they need to eat two to three times more calories per pound than older kids and adults, just to stay alive. If you ate what a newborn needed, and you weighed 150 lbs, you would need to eat about 8500 calories/day just for baseline wellness. Add screaming all day and never sleeping to that, and, well, how long could you last? Just breathing inefficiently or suckling poorly can cost a newborn precious small gains in weight at the the start of life, if energy balance skews week after week into the red. This lowers nutrition status, and that in turn lowers disease resistance. Nutrition status directly correlates with immune function. Why is the CDC saying it’s okay for babies to endure something that threatens their ability to fight infection?
My next family arrives for consult in about thirty minutes. Was their nine year old child one of the “purple criers”? After taking nutrition histories on special needs children for eleven years, I have noticed that they usually are. They usually have more difficulty than their typical siblings did as infants, with screaming, crying, colic, and the orange part of this post: Explosive, copious, loose, orange-gold stools. These often fill the baby’s diaper, pants, and shirt. Stool to the neck and ankles, three or four, maybe even eight or nine times a day. My pediatrician back in 1997 did not say it was normal for my son to have bowel movements like that. But he did tell me it was probably coming from my son’s diaper (no joke – see this memoir I published on this back in 2002). Here in my office, too many years later, pediatricians are still giving parents some peculiar feedback on this: Now it’s “toddler diarrhea”, and it’s “normal”.
No folks, purple crying and orange poop are not normal or benign. My clinical observation is this: The more purple and orange there is in a child’s history from age 0-3, the more developmentally delayed, disabled, or challenged with inflammatory conditions the child is later on. These colors may haunt these kids for years, with lasting inflammation, developmental impacts, learning problems, or growth problems.
Colic is not a “developmental phase”. Colic is often milk or soy protein intolerance, and it is painful. This pain is avoidable, much of the time. Food protein intolerance is not the only reason why an infant would cry, but it does account for a lot of colic in babies. It has been over-treated with reflux medications or drops to reduce gas. I give this topic a lot of ink in Special Needs Kids Go Pharm-Free, and in this blog too. Please don’t start believing that in addition to regarding it as normal for your child to have crazy explosive poop several times a day, it’s normal for your baby to scream in pain for hours on end, months at a time.
When I was trained in public health nutrition and completing rotations as a dietitian, I never heard the phrase “toddler diarrhea”. It is now so common, no one blinks as children struggle through infancy and toddlerhood without potty training until they’re four years or older, stop growing as expected, or develop multiple food allergies and asthma. For kids with autism, it’s practically a rite of passage – often one that never ends: I have ten year olds with autism in my practice who can’t potty train, who struggle with impactions and constipation so bad they need regular hospital admissions for clean outs, and school aged kids with ADHD who can’t join sleepovers because they still wet the bed and have stooling accidents at school on a daily basis. Maybe the CDC will join up with the American Academy of Pediatrics to call this normal too. There will be a website, a CD from your pediatrician, a TV ad campaign. Followed by, no doubt, the drug of choice to fix it (mostly, it’s Miralax – another over-prescribed, non-FDA-approved-for-kids drug).
Here’s to young parents out there who are too smart to go there. Listen to your instincts and make safe choices around your child’s health care. Keep orange and purple for the fun parts of Halloween, not the horrors that can haunt your children for years.