Monday, December 26, 2016

How To Stay Well This Winter - 5 Naturopathic Tips

The kids are back in school.  Temperatures have dropped.  Germs are flying.  And you don't want to spend another winter nursing everyone in the family back to health.  So what can you do differently this winter to keep everyone well?

Perhaps most importantly, take heart in the fact that kids who are in day care and get sick over and over again actually are less likely to get the most common form of childhood cancer.  There is a bright side to the constant snotty nose!

Also know that it's typical for a family to have one or two illness plagued winters.  It's usually the first time your first child enters school or day care.  He or she starts bringing home all the goodies from all the other kids, and the whole family gets slammed.  Over and over, each time with a different illness (it's not the same illness circulating through the family).   These illnesses are usually viral upper respiratory infections, which are commonly referred to as colds.  So most of the time, there's nothing wrong with anyone's immune system.  And usually after one or two seasons like that, the illnesses will be interspersed with longer periods of wellness.  Of course, if you're wondering about the integrity of your child's immune system, it's always best to go in for a check-up. 

Photo cred: Sonny Abesamis, Flickr

Back to what you can do.  Here's a review of the basics we've all heard time and time again, but forget to do:
  1. Wash Hands!  We're constantly reminded, but few people actually do it frequently enough, or effectively. It may be the best defense against illness.
  • You (and your child) need to wash
    • after using the bathroom
    • after blowing the nose
    • after coughing or sneezing (although we should sneeze and cough into the elbow)
    • before eating
    • at many other times that are not related to this article - find a comprehensive list here
  •  Are they doing it right?
    • get hands wet
    • then apply soap
    • scrub hands - backs, fronts, under the nails, and in between fingers
    • rub for at least 20 seconds
    • rinse well
    • dry with a clean towel
    • don't touch anything in the bathroom after washing
  • My favorite hand washing song is sung to the tune of Frere Jacques and takes about 20-30 seconds to sing:
Back of hands, back of hands
In between, in between,
Rub them all together, rub them all together,
Now they're clean, now they're clean!
Photo cred: gea79on; no amendments
  1. Get enough sleep!  So important, and so under-rated.  Most of us don't get enough, and that can lead to a sub-par immune response.  The Mayo Clinic provides an excellent summary of sleep and the immune system here, and you can read more here and here.  If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, or have other sleep problems, talk to your doctor.  Many people are fighting through fatigue due to undiagnosed sleep disorders.
  1. Consider the flu vaccine.  No, I didn't say get the vaccine.  I said consider the vaccine.  If you're shocked that I would mention this and appalled at the idea, fine.  But make sure you have envisioned the whole family sick with the flu before you make the decision to avoid the vaccine.  Yes, vaccines have risks.  Yes, getting the flu has its own set of risks.  No, the flu vaccine is never 100% effective, but getting it does decrease the odds of getting the flu. And it's a myth that getting the flu vaccine can give you the flu. **Make sure you make an active decision to get the vaccine or avoid it, rather than putting it on the back burner until it's too late.**
  1. Exercise?  Science isn't sure about this one yet.  Since moderate exercise keeps us generally healthier in many ways, it's not a far leap to assume that it would also boost the immune system.  Unfortunately, we don't have any great science backing up that assumption.  I think we will before long.  Meanwhile, here are two interesting articles:  one from Harvard (scroll down to "Exercise: Good or bad for immunity"; and one from Medline.
Here are 5 less basic, naturopathic tricks to try this time:
  1. Eat seasonally.  Butternut squash soup, mashed yams, pumpkin pie:  they are all orange, which means they are all high in beta carotene, the precursor to vitamin A.  Your body turns beta carotene into vitamin A, which is one of the immune systems most needed nutrients.  For some great recipe ideas, check out The Hands On Home (which also provides natural house cleaning tips and ideas for preserving), The CSA Cookbook, and True Food.
  2. Eat soup.  Chicken soup has been consumed by cold sufferers across the world for years.  Now we actually have some science showing that this practice may actually work!  We definitely know that chicken soup helps decrease and clear mucus, but it may also work on other levels to decrease your cold symptoms.  Bone broth, recently very highly touted as a miraculous cure-all may not be all that, but I think science will catch up to this tradition too.  It makes sense to me that simmering bones, where most immune cells are stored, for 24 hours or longer, probably results in an immune boosting cocktail.  Here's an article from NPR on what we do know about bone broth.
  3. Take vitamin D.  It's true that a few of us get enough sun or eat enough fish and liver (and fortified milk) that we don't need to take vitamin D.  The rest of us need to supplement.  The RDA for vitamin D is 600 iu daily for children and adults.  However, a lot of doctors recommend a higher dose, so check in with yours (you can take too much vitamin D).  The jury is still out as to whether vitamin D supplementation definitively reduces colds and flus, however, this small study is very promising.   For information on the many health benefits of vitamin D, read this article.  For more detailed information on the topic of vitamin D and acute illness, read this Medscape article or this study abstract.  Here are two vitamin D products I like on Amazon:  Carlson and Seeking Health.
  4. Decrease / avoid sugar.  Easier said than done during the holiday season!  We have one study that shows us that sugar impairs the immune system response.  Not exactly the most robust evidence.  However, with all the bad we know sugar does in other ways, and knowing that the sugar you're eating displaces immune boosting nutrients, it's worth steering clear of it.
Happy winter!

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Mom, Take Care of Yourself

Moms, how many times have you been reminded about self-care?  Never?  You're sick of hearing about it?  Not often enough to get you to actually do it?  I'm betting that for most of us, it's the latter.

Self-care is in some ways a relative term.  What looks like self-care to some looks like torture to others (I'm looking at you, moms at boot camp!)  And what counts as self care for some (a shower once a week) is complete self-neglect to others.

So sit down, for 5 minutes.  Take a breath.  Think about what self-care is for you.

Consider the things that fed you before you had kids.  Do they still feed you?  Think about what (besides your kids) makes you the happiest, and calmest.

Consider your current actual energy level and average nightly sleep; if you're currently being awakened multiple times a night, now is not the time to start training for a marathon or writing a novel.

Consider the ages of your kids; what's appropriate for a mother of 2 children over 6 is likely not appropriate for a mother of 3 toddlers.

Consider, with a large grain of salt, what your friends and family suggest.  They know you, and they see things about you that you can't see.  But they are not you, and you know yourself better than anyone else does.

Consider how much time you can actually squeeze out of each day.  A daily 3 hour break while all the kids are at school is different from catching 5 minutes here and there at unpredictable times of the day.

Now, write down your self-care plan.  What activities qualify?  How many times a week?  For how long?  What enables you to check off your self-care for the week? 

Photo credit Flickr, Kanoktham Massage

Five self-care steps to take every day:
  1. Drink water - most of us don't drink enough
  2. Eat - eat nutritious food throughout the day
  3. Sleep - at least 8 hours uninterrupted (if that's not possible, then do what you can to increase sleep - take naps, leave the dishes and go to bed earlier, get someone to take one or two of your child's night wakings)
  4. Use the bathroom - No seriously.  Use it as soon as you need to, not 20 minutes later when you "have the chance"
  5. Get outside - you don't have to walk or run, but get some fresh air every day, even when it's cold and wet out (also clean your indoor air with house plants)
Five self-care steps to consider incorporating into your weekly routine:
  1. Exercise - not everyone likes to exercise, but everyone benefits from it, in the short and long term.  It can be boot camp, or it can be restorative yoga or a walk at lunch.  Don't undertake more than your body can handle.
  2. Sex - obviously moms of small babies are completely exempt from this one.  But moms who are romantically involved and have older kids should spend a little time on this, not just because it fosters a healthy relationship, but because it releases endorphins, so it feels good.
  3. Down time - it doesn't need to be yoga or meditation, but a few minutes alone, completely removed from screaming kids and nagging chores can do wonders for your sanity.
  4. Do something you did before kids that nourished you - whether it's writing, reading, baking, volunteering, or anything else, if it fed you before, it may feed you again.  Try it and see.
  5. Talk to a friend or family member - sit down with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, face to face or on the phone, and connect with someone you knew before you had kids.  Re-connecting with a grown-up loved one feeds your brain and your heart and reminds you there is life outside your child-rearing bubble, which is sometimes a good thing.
Again, you know you best.  So take these 5 ideas with a grain of salt (you are required to do the first set of 5!).  If they resonate with you great, otherwise, skip it and move on.  Do what works for you.

I meet more and more moms (and dads) who are doing more and more with their time.  We can't put self-care on the back burner, and then push it farther and farther back until we lose it.

Remember the oxygen mask on the airplane; put yours on first, and then help your kids.  We are better parents, partners, friends, and workers when we spend some amount of time taking care of ourselves.  It's a win, win, win.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

When Is Mommy Guilt More Than Mommy Guilt?

We all have it.  That nagging ache that hits you and keeps hitting you. 

I could have tried harder to breastfeed.  I should not have let her watch that movie.  I wish I didn’t have to work.  He’d be better off if I were working (outside the home of course).  I … insert your “woulda, coulda, shoulda” here. 
Photo credit: Beth Kanter on Flickr; no amendments

Yes, we all experience the nagging pain of feeling we are failing our children.  Daily, probably, for most of us.

I’ve decided mommy guilt must be a necessary and natural part of child rearing.  After all, most of the time we are so tired and overwhelmed, the mommy guilt (or the threat of it) may be the only thing motivating us to act in any given circumstance.

However, most of us could stand to carry around A LOT LESS mommy guilt.  Really.  Most of us are pretty good moms.  Most of us are giving the mom thing top priority while simultaneously trying to advance or at least maintain our careers, feed our marriages, lose our baby weight, and maintain a semblance of sanity and soul health.  We are making the choices that best serve the family.  Constant and unrelenting mommy guilt does not advance these causes.

Here’s my proposal for handling mommy guilt:
·       Recognize and acknowledge its presence
·       Recognize and acknowledge how it affects your decisions and your mood
·       Then, LET IT GO! 
Easier said than done, I know. Since I’m not any kind of therapist or coach, I won’t try to offer advice on how to let it go.  I can say, however, that some of the same tools you can use to manage depression or anxiety would be useful here:  visualization, meditation and cognitive behavioral or other talk therapy could all be helpful. 

But what if you can’t just let it go?
Some of us have a hard time letting go of certain emotions.  Some of us have a hard time letting go of any emotions.  Some of us have never had an issue holding on, but suddenly find ourselves wrapped around this mommy guilt like white on rice.  And some of us actually have some sort of mental health condition that needs to be diagnosed. 

Anxiety and depression can show up at any age.  If you’re unable to stop beating yourself up for your decisions as a mother, go see someone.  Start with your primary care provider or find a counselor / psychotherapist.  Maybe all you need is a little support for a limited period of time, a way of looking at things in a new way, some new tools for controlling emotion.  Or maybe you’ll find that there is something medical going on, like your thyroid isn’t working, or you’re pre-diabetic.  And perhaps you’ll find out that you would benefit from a prescription, whether “natural” or pharmaceutical.  Regardless of the outcome, you’re sure to feel better when you stop beating yourself up so much and start patting yourself on the back once in a while.

And friends, let’s always try to pat each other on the back.  Remember to acknowledge your mom friends.  Look for ways to help the moms you run into at the store and the playground.  Sometimes it’s just a look, a glance even, that shouts out “I get it.”  Sometimes it’s holding the door, or letting someone cut the line.  It doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture.  Let’s remember that our judgmental thoughts are perceived, and contribute to the collective mom shaming culture.  And let’s remember that a smile or a nice gesture goes miles further than you realize.  Let’s build each other up, one mom at a time.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

I Had Post Partum Depression

Well I’ve been gone from here for almost two years.  I thought I’d be gone six months tops.  But nothing prepares you for child #2.  Oh sure, I’ve met those people who say that going from 1 to 2 was a breeze, and the real struggle was going from 0 to 1.  I don’t know if those people are high on sleep deprivation or something else, but I don’t really believe they believe that.  But I digress.  My second is now 19 months, and I am *almost* sleeping through the night.  I no longer feel, look, and act like a zombie.  I have some level of coherence and brain power.  I am ready to write again.

The past 19 months have been fun, scary, tumultuous, and even a little boring at times; I’ve seen the rawest form of myself, my family, and even some of my colleagues.  It’s been intense, to understate it drastically.  So having been through that wringer, I think I’ll share my experience, in the hope of helping others get through theirs.  Maybe, if I share some lessons learned, they will speak to someone who needs to hear them.

Fortunately, Hollywood stars are talking about Post Partum Depression (PPD), so more of us know about it, and the stigma is decreasing.   

I already knew about PPD from my studies, and I knew that it was more common than realized and often goes unrecognized.  So I recognized fairly early on that I might have it.  If I didn’t have it, I had such severe sleep deprivation that I acted and felt like someone would with PPD.  Does it matter if you're suffering because you're beyond exhausted, or because your hormones are out of whack?  Does it matter if you officially have PPD or if you're "just" so tired and so moody?  Regardless of the label, here’s the take home message: 


There’s no prize at the end for going it alone, for making this look easier than it is, for always having your hair brushed and a smile on your face.  Yet most of us act like there is.  Like we literally will be handed a golden ticket if we can cross some imaginary finish line with our make up on and unwrinkled clothes.  And the culture in this country perpetuates this feeling.  Sure, you can have some friends bring you some meals, and you can have your partner home with you (likely unpaid) for a few days, maybe even a few weeks, and you yourself get to take 6 weeks off from “work”!  But then, buck up mama; you’re on your own.  Figure it out.  Sink or swim. 

What happens to our children with this mentality, this lack of support?  What happens to ourSELVES?  Well, here’s what happened in my case.  My marriage went on the fritz (fortunately my husband is quite patient and believes in us, so we are pretty good now).  I was a walking zombie full of rage.  Any time my poor son woke the baby, or did something that might wake the baby, or did something that might delay the baby going to sleep, I freaked.  I might yell, I might push him away; I certainly did not calmly and politely explain, or re-explain what I needed from him.  All my parenting values were out the window, not because I stopped believing in them, but because I was too exhausted to execute them.  I spent so much of the first year being mean to my older son and then crying about it.  Countless times I apologized to him while squeezing him tight and trying to make it up to him, praying that he’d remember these moments and not those others.  It’s deeply upsetting to me to remember the way I treated him.  Luckily he’s resilient and he seems to be fine.  But I’m sure I’ll never let go of the guilt from that first year and a half.  And the poor baby; I wasn’t exactly the picture of patience with him either.  When he cried my first words were likely to be “oh @#$%*, what now??!”, rather than "awww, what’s the matter sweetie?"  At least with him I was able to maintain a reasonable tone of voice most of the time, so maybe he didn’t always realize he was being cussed out.

With all this guilt that I carry around, and all this relief that I’m on the other side, and able to write about it, I consider myself lucky.  I had PPD and I survived.  I always met my kids’ physical needs, and I kind of met my own.  There are no lasting dire consequences.  Others are not so lucky.  The problem of mothers with PPD (and post partum psychosis) hurting themselves or their children is real.  So how are we going to address this problem?  When are we going to stop sweeping it under the rug?

In my experience, I reached out.  I reached out to professionals, and did not get the help I needed.  I spoke with one of my doctors who either didn’t believe me, or didn’t know what to do with me.  I spoke to counselors who specialize in PPD, but I didn’t make an appointment because they didn’t take my insurance. 

When you have a wee one, even if you don’t have PPD, picking up the phone is a big deal.  Picking up the phone to do something for yourself, an even bigger deal.  Picking up the phone to do something for yourself when you have PPD, HUGE. 

Maybe one of the counselors could have stopped me and said “get in here, and we’ll worry about payment later.”  Maybe the counselors can’t afford to offer that.  Maybe they don’t realize they need to.  Maybe I seemed so together that they and my doctor didn’t realize I needed help.  That’s the point though!  Moms (almost) always seem put together. Like it or not, that’s what’s expected (sometimes demanded) of us – keep the kids healthy and safe and make it look easy.

Societal pressure.  Under-educated doctors.  Financial constraints.  Stigma.  There are many layers to this problem.  Often the moms that need the most help don’t reach out, to anyone, and therefore can never be helped.  

How do we reach the ones that aren’t reaching out?  How do we help the ones who are?  How do we recognize when someone needs help, if all of us moms are putting on a show?  We have a mountain of a problem in front of us. I think it will take all of us doing small things to slowly improve the situation.   

Here’s how I think we can help:

·       If you are pregnant:
o   Read about post partum depression and post partum psychosis
o   Talk to your doctor about PPD and PPP
§  Ask questions
§  Make a plan just in case you develop symptoms
o   Be aware that depression during pregnancy is also common

·       If you just had a baby
o   Ask for help!
§  Let them help you out at the grocery store
§  Let your friends cook you meals
§  Call your friends and family and tell them what you need (if you don’t know what you need, ask them to come over and be with you – being alone is the last thing you need!)
§  Join a moms group
·       You’d be amazed how good it can feel to find out you are not the only one experiencing any given thing
·       You’d be amazed how far a little company will go

o   If you have a friend or relative who have recently had a baby:
§  Go to her house
·       Bring a meal with you
·       Offer to hold baby while mom eats
·       Ask mom what she needs, and don’t allow her to say “nothing, I’m fine”
·       If she won’t tell you what she needs, either do what your gut tells you to do, or throw some laundry in the washer, see if the sheets need to be washed (how much baby puke/pee/poop is on them?), and clean the kitchen
·       Keep in touch!  Don’t let a week go by without reaching out.
·       Let her move at her speed.  Don’t force her out of the house; she may not be ready, and that’s not necessarily a sign of depression.  Meet her where she is emotionally and physically.
o   If you have no contact with babies but want to help:
§  In Seattle, support PEPS or start something like it where you are (I have no financial interest in PEPS, though I am a volunteer speaker for them)
§  Support organizations who support moms
§  Don’t judge moms you see out and about – either for how they are parenting or how they look
§  Open doors for moms, and offer to help however you can – you’d be surprised how far a small offer of kindness can go

General Educational Resources:

Post Partum Depression explained "in plain mama English"

Post Partum Depression explained by the Mayo Clinic 

Fascinating article about mom shaming

Post Partum Support International

Help Finding Help:

National Crisis Line - 1(800)273–TALK(8255) 

National Crisis TEXT Line – Text “GO” to 741741


Post Partum Progress - (a slightly confusing website with a lot of great information and resources; click on the links under the FIND HELP tab)  

Weekly Chat With an Expert

General resources for getting non-emergency help - click on “Get Help”

Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS, Seattle only)