Baby & toddler health

From fevers to teething, Dr Jenifer Worden describes how she treats infants & small children homeopathically

New-born babies can appear vul­nerable and fragile creatures yet they  quickly grow into sturdy and occasionally troublesome toddlers, as any  weary parent can tell you! One of the most rewarding tasks of being a GP  is being able to reassure the worried new mother that her baby will  make a full recovery from its illness. However, the scariest times that I  have experienced as a doctor have been with seriously ill chil­dren.  When babies and toddlers become unwell, they can do so rapidly, but can  also recover just as quickly.

There are certain situations when a sick child should always be seen  by a doctor urgently, by emergency ambu­lance if necessary, such as:

  • a persistent high fever with constant vomiting or diarrhoea;
  • a rash which does not go pale when a glass is held firmly on it;
  • a floppy child;
  • one not responding to your voice con­sistently;
  • an unconscious child.

However, if a child has a raised tem­perature but is able to chat to  you or respond in a normal way and is eating or drinking to a certain  extent, then your local GP surgery or out-of-hours serv­ice should be  able to help you.

Doctor’s surgeries these days will often offer a telephone  consultation first, as simple advice regarding ways to help a sick child  can be given in this way. It also helps the doctor decide how urgently  the child needs to be seen and an appropriate appointment made for later  that day or whenever it is needed. This should mean parents avoid  wait­ing for long times in a crowded waiting room with a sick, miserable  baby.

Contrary to popular belief, no harm will come to a feverish baby or  toddler from being taken out in the cold to visit the GP; it actually  helps as the cooler air outside helps reduce the child’s temper­ature  and that makes the little one feel better. This tends to make  examination easier by the GP as the child is not so fractious and makes  it much simpler to make an accurate diagnosis. As a doc­tor, I have had  many experiences of try­ing to look in the ears of a very fed up and hot  one year-old and parents find it very hard to hold a struggling baby  who is determined not to let anyone near it. A more comfortable and  happier child will co-operate much more willingly.

Homeopathic treatment

So how can homeopathy help with a child that is unwell? How can such  an old-fashioned therapy be so relevant in today’s technological age?

Well, as I have just been discussing fever as a symptom, it would  seem a good place to start. There are a number of homeopathic  medications that can be safely given to a feverish child, either as a  sole therapy or as a holding measure whilst waiting to see the doctor.  It is important to mention that all homeo­pathic medicines can be given  alongside any conventional medications that a baby or toddler may also  be taking, either regular medications for an on­going complaint or  medicines given just for that illness, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen  syrup.

The normal temperature of a child is the same as that of an adult,  36.8 degrees centigrade, and a simple cold or tummy upset will often  cause what doc­tors refer to as a “low-grade” fever of 37.5 degrees  centigrade or less. A bac­terial ear infection may cause a higher  temperature of 38 to 39 degrees centi­grade. A temperature of 40 degrees  centi­grade which persists for longer than an hour or so could indicate  a more serious infection needing urgent medical assess­ment. A fever as  a response to illness is a good sign as it shows the immune sys­tem is  working correctly. Yet fever often seems to worry parents, perhaps  because of the association of a high temperature with serious illnesses  such as pneumo­nia or meningitis; such severe infections are relatively  rare. Fevers are part of a child growing up and there is increasing  evidence that simple infections help prime the body’s immune system to  fight off more serious illnesses. So it is not necessary to avoid every  bacterium or virus, as the manufacturers of disinfec­tants would perhaps  have us believe. Temperatures can be easily checked by a forehead  thermometer, easily obtained from pharmacies.

Fevers

The most commonly used remedy for fever in a child is Belladonna. This  med­ication is produced from the deadly nightshade plant and is suitable  for con­ditions that come on suddenly and severely and then subside as  quickly. A high fever develops, with burning skin, with a hot head,  often radiating heat, whilst the feet and hands are cool to the touch.  The baby or toddler looks hot or flushed, with a slightly glazed look in  their eyes; the toddler may appear deliri­ous and babble incoherently.  Their skin feels dry to the touch and they either refuse all drinks or  want to drink inces­santly. I used this remedy very success­fully with  my own daughter when she was little, with a 30c tablet being given every  two hours until she was better. This is a typical picture of fever due  to simple viral coughs or colds. It is impor­tant to add that if a  homeopathic med­ication does not appear to be helping, then it is  advisable to use conventional medicine. However, as a doctor, I would  advise that parents try to avoid any over­the-counter medication  containing a sedative as this could possibly disguise symptoms due to a  worsening illness and makes assessment of a sick child diffi­cult by the  health professional.

Teething

Chamomilla, from the wild chamomile plant, is another medicine to  keep close at hand in the medicine cabinet if you are a parent or  grandparent. As well as being recommended for ear infections, and the  associated illness, it is invalu­able for teething symptoms. Teething in  itself does not cause a temperature, but very often accompanies a cold  or cough, so results in a very unhappy baby or tod­dler with a sore  mouth and low grade fever. The child often has one very hot cheek and,  unlike the Belladonna pic­ture of fear and delirium, is very frac­tious  and angry. First of all, they want to be picked up, and then they want  to be put down. It is hard to placate them as they do not know what they  want; the only thing that will help is either to carry them or to rock  them. A good rule of thumb when deciding whether your ill child will  benefit from Chamomilla is that if they make you feel cross and angry  and just looking at them throws the child into a temper tantrum, then  Chamomilla is a good remedy to start with.

Colds

Carrying on with the theme of fever, as previously mentioned, one of  the most common reasons for me to see a baby or toddler in my GP  surgery is a sim­ple cough or cold, what is referred to in medical  practice as an “upper respira­tory tract infection” or “URTI” for short.

Real colds in very young babies under the age of three months are  rela­tively unusual, as they still have immu­nity to infections passed  on to them in the womb from their mother, although they can become  snuffly with an excess of nasal mucous, particularly if their nasal  passages are narrow.

Until the age of five or six years old, children get between six to  eight colds a year, and as each cold can last up to six weeks, then it  becomes apparent that most little ones can spend a lot of time with a  runny nose and feeling under the weather. The frequency of colds and the  associated symptoms is a major cause for concern with parents,  especially first time ones and I hope the above figures for normal  children go some way to reas­suring readers of this article. If a child  does seem to be suffering from an excess of viral infections, but is  continuing to grow normally (which tends to rule out a serious  underlying problem) then a professional medically qualified homeo­path  can help with a constitutional remedy, one based on the child as a  whole, rather than just on the symptoms of the acute illness.

Coughs

These are one of the main reasons for me to see a baby or toddler in  my GP surgery. A good remedy for the chesty type of cough that often  seems to follow a cold and which can be heard in class­rooms and  supermarkets up and down the country in the winter months is Pulsatilla.  The reason I mention super­markets is that when my children were little  and off school with a cough I would take them shopping with me. It  seemed that every other child had the same per­sistent cough and that up  and down the supermarket aisles, the same wan faces were looking out  over the top of the shopping trolleys.

If the ill child is oversensitive and tearful when unwell, wants to  be looked after and made a fuss of and is very clingy with a need for  constant cuddles, then Pulsatilla will probably help, espe­cially if  they feel worse in a warm room and want the window open for fresh air.  Thick yellow catarrh runs from their nose, and they often have a  concurrent conjunctivitis. The cough associated with Pulsatilla is worse  at night on lying down, preventing or disturbing their sleep. One  noticeable feature of Pulsatilla is that it is very difficult to  persuade the children to drink; even when not ill, they are often  relatively thirstless.

If the cough is dry and of the tickly type, which exhausts the child  or a hard, barking cough made worse by laughing or talking, then it is  worth considering Phosphorus. Like the Pulsatilla children, Phosphorus  children are sensitive, but tend to feel the cold rather than the heat  and are very thirsty, especially for iced drinks. They love ice cream  when they are ill and can be troubled with nose bleeds when suffering  from a cough or a cold. Their cough may be triggered by a change of  atmosphere or temperature. The cough associated with the Phos­phorus  remedy can be similar to that of asthma, with wheeziness, and an older  toddler may complain of some chest pain due to constriction of their  airways. Phosphorus children are normally intel­ligent and affectionate  but can be easily tired and liable to become moody.

Bryonia, made from white bryony, was one of the first remedies  tested, (proved) by the founder of modern homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann.  Coughs that respond well to Bryonia tend to come on after exposure to  the cold and are dry, like the Phosphorus cough. There is also thirst  for cold drinks but children doing well with Bryonia will tend to be  more irritable and dislike being moved. They prefer to be left alone in  the quiet, whereas Phosphorus child­ren want company. Colds may travel  down to their chests and result in a wors­ening of asthma, if it is a  pre-existing condition.

Over-the-counter medicines

Many parents use cough medicines bought from the pharmacy but these  are often ineffective and were taken off the prescribing list for family  doctors by the government some years ago because of this fact.

A cough is the natural response of an inflamed throat or infected  lungs to the presence of swollen tissues, phlegm or pus and so it is  necessary to treat the underlying cause rather than the symp­tom. A  soothing cough medicine, such a home-made honey and lemon syrup, can  help reduce the dryness of a sore throat but is largely ineffective with  a chesty cough due to phlegm dripping down the back of the throat. This  is par­ticularly true on lying down at night.

Decongestant cough medicines, designed to treat chesty coughs, are  cur­rently recommended only for children aged two years old and over,  following recent safety scares in the US. Labelling will be changed by  the UK suppliers of such medications by October 2008, advising that  cough medicines should only be given to children under the age of two  after consulting a doctor – even more reason to use homeopathy for sick  children with minor self-limiting illnesses as detailed above!

Jenifer Worden MBChB MRCGP MFHom is a part-time NHS GP in  Ringwood, Hampshire and has a private homeopathic practice in  Highcliffe, Dorset.