In a recent Parents poll, 88 percent of readers said they treat common ailments like constipation and nasal allergies with nondrug remedies. Pediatricians are typically on board with the trend as long as parents check with their doctor first, says Tanya Altmann, M.D., author of What to Feed Your Baby.
Interested in going au naturel? Consider these expert picks.
Good for: Colic and gas
How They Work: Taken regularly, probiotics may increase the number of good bacteria in the gut and subdue the bad kind, which improves overall intestinal health, says David Burke, D.O., a pediatrician at the Cleveland Clinic Children’s Center for Pediatric Integrative Medicine. A recent study from Canada found that giving colicky breastfed infants five drops of a probiotic called Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 daily reduced crying and fussiness after three weeks. Study coauthor Saul Greenberg, M.D., posits that this particular probiotic strain improves the gut’s bacterial makeup, speeds up stalled digestion, and inhibits pain by directly affecting intestinal nerves.
Good for: Nausea and motion sickness
How It Works: Ginger chews, ginger tea, and ginger candy can prevent or treat all kinds of queasiness by slowing the natural movements of the stomach and calming the gastrointestinal tract, says Dr. Burke. The trick originated thousands of years ago in Asia. Just choose a ginger treat that contains real ginger, not ginger flavoring.
Good for: Seasonal allergies
How It Works: Although the scientific evidence is mixed, many doctors believe that consuming honey from your region of the country may help relieve pollen allergies. “The theory is, if the honey contains antigens to the pollen where you live, it can slowly expose a child’s body to the allergen and help build up his tolerance,” explains Dr. Altmann, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. One study from Finland found that when people with a birch-pollen allergy consumed honey containing birch pollen daily for five months before the start of tree-allergy season, they experienced a 60 percent reduction in their symptoms and twice as many sniff le-free days compared with people who took their usual allergy medication instead. “If your child’s seasonal allergies are severe or life-threatening, don’t rely on honey,” Dr. Altmann says. But for mild to moderate allergies, try drizzling a teaspoon of honey onto his oatmeal or cereal each morning. Never give honey to children under age 1 because it can lead to botulism.
Good for: Itching or stinging skin
How It Works: Mix 1 teaspoon of baking soda with a little less than a teaspoon of water and you’ll get a thick paste that you can smooth over any irritated spot, like a bug bite, a bee sting, or a rash. Let it dry completely (it takes about ten minutes) before washing it off. The paste eases allergic reactions by decreasing histamine production, and it has a soothing effect, Dr. Burke explains. Got a kid who gets itchy or develops eczema from time in the tub? Add a few spoonfuls of baking soda to the bath and it may prevent symptoms, says Dr. Burke.
Good for: Congestion from colds or allergies
How It Works: Gently squirting an over-the-counter saline rinse into your child’s nostrils can help clear out mucus, irritants, and allergens and reduce inflammation. “Use slight pressure—don’t be too forceful or it could cause irritation or bleeding in the nose,” explains Dr. Altmann. After squirting the spray, have your child gently blow her nose. With a baby or a toddler, use a bulb syringe to suction out the mucus after spritzing.
Good for: Constipation
How It Works: Prunes (both dried and stewed) and prune juice have long been used by adults who struggle with constipation. But few people realize that pear juice can have a similar effect, and kids often prefer the taste, Dr. Altmann says. These fruits have natural fiber and sugars that work together to soften stool, and they work especially well if you can get your child to consume an extra glass or two of water per day. Give your child a glass of pear or prune juice—plus a cup of water—after school or in the evening, so she won’t have to rush to the bathroom at school. Infants as young as 1 month old can try it too: “Usually 1 ounce per month of age is the maximum per day, so a 4-month-old can drink up to 2 ounces of prune juice twice a day,” says Dr. Altmann.
Good for: Trouble focusing
How They Work: It’s widely known that omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for brain development, and they may help improve a child’s attention span, concentration powers, and ability to stay organized and complete tasks. A recent Dutch study found that after 16 weeks of consuming margarine enriched with omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) daily, boys with and without ADHD benefited from a sharpened attention span. Pediatrician Natalie Lambajian-Drummond, M.D., founder of Whole Child Pediatrics, an integrative practice outside Chicago, often recommends 1,000mg of EPA and DHA per day for children who weigh under 100 pounds, in whatever form they’ll tolerate: capsules, gummies, or liquid. For some kids, supplements may be enough to improve attention problems; for others, they are best used in addition to prescription medication. And if you’re feeling distracted yourself, don’t forget: Omega-3 fatty acids could help you too.