Both first-time and seasoned moms know how stressful it can be when their little one feels under the weather and struggles with a fever, possible ear ache or a blocked nose. Not to discount your doctor’s good advice or that of the local pharmacist, but you’d be surprised to know how many proven natural remedies are right under your nose in your home.
Natural home remedies have many benefits for babies, with some considered healthier and safer options for their developing immune system. Many of these remedies are also as effective as some conventional medications in helping to soothe the symptoms associated with common childhood ailments. And, of course, the remedies mentioned here have been tried and tested over generations by mothers just like you.
Stock your medicine cupboard with natural remedies so when those dreaded ailments strike you’ll be prepared. Another option is to consult a complementary or alternative health professional who can prepare remedies for specific ailments.
1. Fight the fever
The discomfort a young child experiences while fighting a fever can be quite frightening for mums.
The important fact to remember is that fever is your baby’s natural defense to fight bacterial or viral infections as the heat associated with the fever effectively destroys the infection. In most cases it’s best to let the fever run its course, but there’s no harm in relieving the little one’s discomfort, especially if his or her temperature reaches 38 degrees Celsius and continues to rise.
Paediatrician Dr Vincent Lanelli says fever “red flags” include confusion, a stiff neck, fever that continues for longer than 72 hours, difficulty in waking baby up, and persistent vomiting and diarrhoea.
According to Dr Lanelli, consulting a doctor about a child’s fever depends on the age of the child. She gives these guidelines for parents and caregivers:
- Younger than three months: 38.1 degrees Celsius
- Age three to six months: 38.3 degrees Celsius
- Age six to 12 months: 39.4 degrees Celsius
- Age 12 months and older: 39.4 degrees Celsius, and if the fever doesn’t subside after home remedies have been administered.
Home remedies to manage fever in babies
- Remove your baby’s excess clothing and dress in a lightweight vest and nappy.
- Uncover feet, head and hands to allow body heat to escape and help reduce body temperature.
- Cool down your baby’s body with wet compresses. Soak a clean cloth nappy, kitchen towel or facecloth in cool water before placing it in the fridge for 15 minutes. Then apply it to your baby’s forehead, neck and cheeks to help her cool down.
- Paediatric nursing sisters swear by bathing babies in lukewarm water for at least 20 minutes to quickly reduce fever.
- Give lots of fluids to replace those lost while your baby is hot and sweating. If you’re still breastfeeding, nurse the little one more often, and feed her with formula too, where applicable. If the baby is aged nine months or older, try feeding a mixture of chicken or vegetable broth and clean, safe water.
- Consult a herbal health professional about herbal remedies such as lemon balm leaf, which has antibacterial and antiviral properties.
- Treat fever in babies aged six months or older by rubbing some egg whites or mashed garlic on your baby’s foot soles. Keep the substance in place with gauze and leave an area open for body heat to escape.
2. Kick coughs and colds
Developing immune systems and the fact that babies instinctively use their hands and mouth to explore the world around them makes it easier for viruses and bacteria to enter their bodies.
It can be difficult to know whether your baby simply has a cold, an allergy or a more serious viral illness such as flu. Look out for these symptoms to help you determine whether to treat your baby for a cold or flu:
- A cold is usually associated with sneezing; a runny nose; mucous that’s either clear, green or yellow in colour; and mild fever or coughing.
- The above symptoms will develop gradually and disappear in about 10 days.
- Flu has a rapid onset.
- Increased irritability and listlessness may indicate something more serious.
- Allergies aren’t associated with fever and may persist for a longer period.
Home remedies to ease phlegm and congestion
- Keep baby upright. Mucous that drips into the throat due to a stuffy nose often causes congestion. Keep your baby upright and the head elevated, so instead of laying him or her down for a nap, rather prop up baby on a pillow.
- Loosen phlegm with steam: Close the bathroom door and run a hot shower to fill the room with steam. Take baby into the bathroom for about five to 10 minutes and do this a few times a day.
- Humidify the air: In a dry-air climate use a cool-air humidifier or vaporiser in baby’s room which will help thin the mucous and ease breathing. Adding a few drops of eucalyptus oil to the vaporiser water will speed up the process.
- Salinate stuffy noses. Spray a few drops of saline solution into baby’s nose to decongest a stuffy nose. Mix one cup of water with a quarter teaspoon of salt, then stir and store in a plastic or glass container. Avoid getting the salt solution in baby’s eyes. Use a bulb syringe to remove mucous, but ask someone to help you hold your baby as he or she will probably move when the syringe is being inserted into the nose.
- Opt for herbal healing. Mix a tablespoon of olive oil and a drop of eucalyptus oil to make a herbal ointment. Rub your baby’s chest with the ointment, cover the chest to allow body heat to release the eucalyptus scent and relieve congestion. Your local health shop will also stock organic menthol ointment that can be used to help clear a stuffy nose and congested chest.
- Call the doctor. If your baby’s cough gets worse and starts sounding more like a bark, or if coughing lasts more than a few days, consult your doctor.
3. Banish diarrhoea
Just like fever, diarrhoea is a way for the body to cleanse itself of a bacterial or viral infection. It usually isn’t necessary to give your little one medication for this ailment as it will delay or interrupt the cleansing process.
Diarrhoea differs from a normal loose stool as its smell is fouler, its consistency looser and more watery. Diarrhoea can also be more frequent and could last for several days. Most diarrhoea is caused by viral or bacterial infection, although food allergies or a reaction to antibiotic medication could also be the culprit.
- Diarrhoea resulting from a viral infection can include symptoms of vomiting, abdominal pain, achiness, chills and fever.
- Diarrhoea caused by a bacterial infection may be accompanied by fever, cramps and possibly vomiting.
Home remedies for diarrhoea
- Most cases of infant diarrhoea are effectively managed by ensuring the baby takes in enough fluids. It’s recommended to feed more breast milk or formula during this period.
- If your baby is already eating solids, try adding water to vegetable or chicken stock and feeding this broth. Also feed him or her mashed banana as it’s a good binding food.
- In other respects, stick to your baby’s regular diet.
- The American Medical College of Homeopathy recommends a host or medications for baby diarrhoea. Always consult a professional homeopath and make a note of your baby’s exact symptoms as this will determine which remedy will be the most suitable (possible homeopathic remedies for diarrhoea include Aethusa, Arsenic Album, Ipecac, Nux vomica, Mercurius, Chamomilla and Veratrum album).
IMPORTANT! Consult a medical doctor if your child has diarrhoea and is younger than six months old, or has severe, prolonged diarrhoea. A high fever, repeated vomiting or refusal to drink fluids, severe pain, and/or diarrhoea that contains blood and mucus are other signs that you should see a doctor.
If you notice signs of dehydration (e.g. a dry or sticky mouth, eyes that look sunken, and lack of urine and/or tears), consult a medical doctor immediately.