Friday, December 22, 2017

Traveling with Kids

Many families travel when school's out of session, which over the winter holiday season means traveling when illness is abound. I get a lot of questions this time of year about how to safely travel with kids.

travel, international, prevention, kids, parenting, vacation, hotel

Sleep disturbances

Sleep deprivation can make everyone miserable, especially kids (and their parents). Make sure your kids are well rested prior to travel and try to keep them on a healthy sleep schedule during your trip. 

Bring favorite comfort items, such as a stuffed animal or blankie, to help kids relax for sleep. If possible, travel with your own pillows.

If you're staying at a hotel, ask for a quiet room, such as one away from the pool and the elevator. 

Be sure to verify that there will be safe sleeping areas for every child, especially infants, before you travel.

Try to keep kids on their regular sleep schedule. It's tempting to stay up late to enjoy the most of the vacation, but in reality that will only serve to make little monsters of your children if they're sleep deprived.

If your kids nap well in the car, plan on doing long stretches on the road during nap time. If kids don't sleep well in the car, be sure to plan to be at your hotel (or wherever you're staying) at sleep times so they can stay in their usual routine.

Some families leave on long trips at the child's bedtime to let them sleep through the drive. Just be sure the driver is well rested to make it a safe trip!

If you're changing time zones significantly, plan ahead. Jet lag can be worse when traveling east than when going west. Jet lag is more than just being tired from a change in sleep routine, it also involves changes to the eating schedule. Kids will often wake when they're used to eating because the body is hungry at that time. Try to feed everyone right before they go to sleep to try to prevent this. Breastfed infants might have a harder time adjusting because mother's milk production is also off schedule. 

Tired, sick, and hungry all make for bad moods, so try to stay on track on all accounts. Sunlight helps regulate our circadian rhythm, so try to get everyone up and outside in the morning to help reset their inner clocks. Keep everyone active during the day so they are tired at the new night time.

Keeping track of littles

Toddlers and young kids love to run and roam. Be sure that they are always within sight. Use strollers if they'll stay in them.

Consider toddler leashes. I know they seem awful at first thought, but they work and kids often love them! I never needed one for my first - he was attached to parents at the hip and never wandered. My second was fast. And fearless. She would run between people in crowds and it was impossible to keep up with her without pushing people out of the way. She hated holding hands. She always figured out ways to climb out of strollers - and once had a nasty bruise on her forehead when she fell face down climbing out as I pushed the stroller. She loved the leash. It had a cute monkey backpack. She loved the freedom of being able to wander around and I loved that she couldn't get too far.

Parents have a number of ways to put phone numbers on their kids in case they get separated. Some simply put in on a piece of paper and trust that it will stay in a pocket until it's needed. Others write it in sharpie inside a piece of clothing or even on a child's arm. You can have jewelry engraved with name and phone number, much like a medical alert bracelet. Just look at Etsy or Pinterest and you'll come up with ideas!

It's a great idea to take pictures of everyone each morning in case someone gets separated from the group. Not only will you have a current picture for authorities to see what they look like, but you will also know what they were wearing at the time they were lost.

Airplane issues

The great news is that air travel is much safer from an infection standpoint than it used to be. Newer airplanes have HEPA filters that make a complete air change approximately 15 to 30 times per hour, or once every 2-4 minutes. The filters are said to remove 99.9% of bacteria, fungi and larger viruses. These germs can live on surfaces though, so I still recommend using common sense and bringing along a small hand sanitizer bottle and disinfectant wipes to use as needed. Wipe down arm rests, tray tables, seat pockets, windows, and other surfaces your kids will touch. After they touch unclean items sanitize their hands. Interestingly, sitting in an aisle seat is considered more dangerous, since people touch those seats during boarding and when going to the restroom, so if you're seated in the aisle pay attention to when surfaces need to be re-sanitized. Sitting next to a sick person increases your risk, so if there is an option to move if the person seated next to you is ill appearing, ask to be moved. 

Most adults who have flown have experienced ear pain due to pressure changes when flying. Anyone with a cold, ear infection or congestion from allergies is more at risk of ear pain, so pre-medicating with a pain reliever (such as acetaminophen) might help. If you have allergies be sure to get control of them before air travel. The best allergy treatment is usually a nasal corticosteroid. 

It has often been recommended to offer infants something to suck on (bottle, breast or a pacifier) during take off and landing to help with ear pressure. Start early in the landing - the higher you are, the more the pressure will change. Older toddlers and kids can be offered a drink since swallowing can help. Ask them to hold their nose closed and try to blow air out through the closed nostrils followed by a big yawn. If your kids can safely chew gum (usually only recommended for those over 4 years of age) you can allow them to chew during take off and landing. 

Airplane cabin noise levels can range anywhere from 60 - 100 dB and tend to be louder during takeoff. (I've written about Hearing Loss from noise previously to help you understand what that means.) Use cotton balls or small earplugs to help decrease the exposure, especially if your kids are sensitive to loud noises.

The Car Seat Lady has a great page on knowing your rights when flying with kids.

Cruise ship issues

Learn about cruise-specific opportunities for kids of various ages. Many will offer age-specific child care, "clubs" or areas to allow safe opportunities for everyone to hang out with people of their own age group. Cruises offer the opportunity for adventurous kids to be independent and separate from parents at times, allowing each to have a separate-yet-together vacation. Travel with another family with kids the same ages as yours so your child knows a friendly face, especially if siblings are in a different age group for the cruises "clubs".

Talk to kids about safety issues on the ship and make sure they follow your rules. They should always stay where they are supposed to be and not wander around. There's safety in numbers, so have them use a buddy system and stick with their buddy. Find out how you can get a hold of them and they can get a hold of you during the cruise. 

Of course sunscreen is a must. Reapply often!

Be sure kids are properly supervised near water. That means an adult who is responsible for watching the kids should not be under the influence of alcohol, shouldn't read a book, or have other distractions. 

Car seats (for planes, trains and automobiles)

I know it's tempting to save money and not get a seat for your child under 2 years of age on a plane, but it is recommended that all children are seated in a proper child safety restraint system (CRS). It must be approved for flight, but then you can then use the seat for land travel. 

I always recommend age and size appropropriate car seats or boosters when traveling, even if you're in a country that does not require them. Allowing kids to ride without a proper seat will probably lead to problems getting them back in their safe seat when they get back home. Besides, we use car seats and booster seats to protect our kids, not just to satisfy the law.

So... my section header was meant to be cute. Trains don't have seatbelts, so car seats won't work. But they are a safe way to travel. Car Seat for the Littles has a great explanation on Travel by Train.

Motion sickness

I have an entire blog dedicated to this common issue. See Motion Sickness

Dr. Charmaine Gregory, an emergency physician, has written specifically about preventing seasickness at 7 Top Tips To Avoid Seasickness While Cruising.

When should pregnant women and new babies avoid travel by air?

A surprising number of families either must travel (due to a job transfer, death in the family, out of state adoption, or other important occasion) or choose to travel during pregnancy or with young infants. 

Newborns need constant attention, which can be difficult if the seatbelt sign is on and needed items are in the overhead bin. New parents are already sleep deprived and sleeping on planes isn't easy. New moms might still have swollen feet and need to keep their feet up, which is difficult in flight. Newborns are at high risk of infection and the close contact with other travelers can be a concern. And traveling is hard on everyone. But the good news is that overall young infants tend to travel well. 

It is advisable to not travel after 36 weeks of pregnancy because of concerns of preterm labor. Pregnant women should talk with their OB about travel plans. 

Some airlines allow term babies as young as 48 hours of age to fly, but others require infants to be two weeks - so check with your airline if you'll be traveling in the first days of your newborn's life. There is no standard guideline, but my preference would be to wait until term babies are over 2 weeks of age due to heart circulation changes that occur the first two weeks. Waiting until after 6 weeks allows for newborns to get the first set of vaccines (other than the Hepatitis B vaccine) prior to flight would be even better. Infants ideally have their own seat so they can be placed in a car seat that is FAA approved. 

Babies born before 36 weeks and those with special health issues should get clearance from their physicians before traveling.

Overall traveling with an infant is not as difficult as many parents fear. Toddlers are another story... they don't like to sit still for any amount of time and flights make that difficult. They also touch everything and put fingers in their mouth, so they are more likely to get exposed to germs.

Illness prevention

Who wants to be sick on vacation? No one. It's easy to get exposed anywhere during the cold and flu season, so protect yourself and your family. 

  • Teach kids (and remind yourself) to not touch faces - your own or others. Our eyes, nose, and mouth are the portals of entry and exit for germs. 
  • Wash hands 
  • before and after eating. 
  • after blowing your nose. 
  • before and after touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. 
  • before and after putting in contacts. 
  • after toileting or changing a diaper.
  • when they're obviously soiled. 

  • Cover sneezes and coughs with your elbow unless you're cradling an infant in your arms. Infants have their head and face in your elbow, so you should use your hands to cover, then wash your hands well.
  • Make sure all family members are up to date on vaccines. 
  • Everyone over 6 months should have a flu shot if it's flu season (fall-winter). 

Keep records

Take pictures of your passport, vaccine record, medicines, insurance cards, and other important items to use if the originals are lost. Store the images so you have access to them from any computer in addition to your phone in case your phone is lost.

Have everyone, including young children, carry a form of identification that includes emergency contact information.

Create a medical history form that includes the following information for every member of your family that is travelling. Save a copy so you can easily find it on any computer in case of emergency.
  • your name, address, and phone number
  • emergency contact name(s) and phone number(s)
  • immunization record
  • your doctor's name, address, and office and emergency phone numbers
  • the name, address, and phone number of your health insurance carrier, including your policy number
  • a list of any known health problems or recent illnesses
  • a list of current medications and supplements you are taking and pharmacy name and phone number
  • a list of allergies to medications, food, insects, and animals
  • a prescription for glasses or contact lenses


Last, but not least: Enjoy your vacation! 

Be flexible. 

Don't overschedule. Your kids will remember the experience, so make moments count - don't worry if you don't accomplish all there is to do!

Take a look at some of the Holiday Health Hazards that come up at vacation times from Dr Christina at PMPediatrics so you can prevent accidents along the way. 

Take pictures, but don't make the vacation about the pictures. Try to stay off your phone and enjoy the moments!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Which Supplements Help Prevent and Treat Infections?

I don't know anyone who wants to get sick, so most of us try our best to avoid illnesses. We do this by washing our hands and encouraging our kids to cover their coughs. We avoid sick people as much as possible (though we don't always stay home when we should). We should routinely get enough sleep (most Americans fail in this regard) and eat more fruits and vegetables (again, most of us fail to get the minimum recommended amounts of plants in our diets).

All of these measures can help, but can we get more help from nutritional supplements or other natural remedies? What will boost our immune system?

supplements, illness, prevention, natural, essential oil, herb, homeopathic, treatment

I'm often asked if vitamin C, zinc, or essential oils will help various ailments or boost our immune system. I know that many people try natural products that are promoted to boost or support the immune system. They're hopeful that stimulating immune system activity will help the body fight off a virus. But research doesn't show that our immune system works that way. A virus can cause illness even in healthy people. If you want to read an in-depth summary of how our immune system works, the Skeptical Raptor has done a nice job discussing the complexities and why it's not as easy as eating healthy and taking supplements. Not to mention the fact that we don't necessarily want an overactive immune system, which is associated with allergies and autoimmune diseases.

One thing we need to remember first and foremost in the discussion of supplements is that this is an under-regulated industry. The FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed. For this reason I hesitate to recommend supplements at all. Even though I do recommend Vitamin D supplements because studies support the need for additional Vitamin D in most people, I cannot endorse one particular product. Over the years many supplements, homeopathic products and herbs have been reported to have significant variances in amounts of product and unnamed contaminants, including lead and other hazards.

Summaries of supplement and other "natural treatment" effectiveness:
  • Probiotics may actually help prevent the number of infections. There are many, many types of probiotics, so further studies are needed on how to choose the best strain.
  • Zinc has been shown to help prevent upper respiratory tract infections in children and teens and to decrease the duration of the common cold symptoms. It is best given as a lozenge to help with absorption. Intranasal zinc has been linked to a permanent loss of smell and should not be used. High doses can cause significant side effects, so talk to your doctor and pharmacist before supplementing.
  • Nasal saline rinses show benefit in treating symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections. Learn how to do these correctly before trying it though. I often recommend Nasopure products as an unpaid endorsement. They're a local company with a very helpful website. Use their library to learn how to properly use nasal rinses in kids as young as 2 years of age.
  • Honey may reduce the frequency of cough and improve the quality of sleep for children with the common cold. Honey should never be used in children younger than 1 year of age because of the risk of botulism.
  • Echinacea has consistently been shown to be ineffective in many studies. I know that many people have heard of its benefits, so if you aren't convinced that you shouldn't waste money on it, see the NCCIH's Echinacea page.
  • Garlic shows overall low evidence of benefit.
  • Vitamin C can shorten the duration of illness mildly with daily supplementation. 
  • Chinese herbal medicines do not have high quality studies so effectiveness is unknown.
  • Geranium extract (Pelargonium sidoides) has insufficient evidence of benefit for cold and cough symptoms.
  • Turmeric's supposed anti-inflammatory properties have not been shown to be effective by research.
  • Essential oils have the potential for beneficial effects – but they also have the potential for adverse reactions. Although they are touted as a cure for many ailments, published studies regarding the uses of aromatherapy have generally focused on its psychological effects on stress and anxiety or its use as a topical treatment for skin conditions. Both Young Living and dōTERRA have received warning letters from the FDA about improper marketing and unsubstantiated claims for uses of their oils. While many people think essential oils are safe, they can lead to significant problems. Some people suffer from allergic reactions to oils. They can increase sensitivity to the sun when applied topically. Tea tree oil and lavender have estrogen-like effects and caution should be used with these. Some of these substances can even lead to seizures, liver damage, and death if used improperly. Ingestion of the oils is a growing concern - as more households have them, more children are ingesting them.

Alice Callahan's “Immune-Boosting” Supplements Won’t Protect You from Back-to-School Germs is a great review of many of the supplements touted to prevent or treat illnesses. Her background in nutrition provides a solid base for reviewing claims that many of us don't understand completely. 

Generally supplements are not recommended, but if you choose to use them, use them cautiously.
  • Supplements contain a wide variety of ingredients - including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and herbs. Research has confirmed health benefits of some dietary supplements but not others. The woo can be strong in this area, so be cautious where you get your information. 
  • Supplements have been known to include unlisted ingredients and to have inconsistent levels of product. When they are recalled, there is no mechanism in place to identify and notify people who have purchased affected products. 
  • Find a reliable source to evaluate effectiveness and risks. Some reports have shown that people who take supplements have higher risks of cancer, liver damage, birth defects, bleeding, and other health problems. When looking for information, use noncommercial sites (National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration, US Department of Agriculture, National Center for Complementary Health) rather than depending on information from sellers.
  • Natural does not mean safe. I've always said that I wouldn't give my picky eater marijuana to stimulate his appetite and encourage him to eat. Not even if it was organic. That usually gets the point across. You need to know the risks of a product, even if it's natural. 
  • If supplements will be taken, talk to your doctor and pharmacist about drug interactions. Sometimes it's difficult to know the risks because not all ingredients are included on the label and not all ingredients have been well studied, especially in combination with other supplements and medications. 
  • Most dietary supplements have not been tested in pregnant women, nursing mothers, or children. Remember just because something's natural doesn't mean it's safe. Arsenic is natural but I wouldn't advise taking it in high doses.
  • If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. There are no miracle cures. Avoid being manipulated by advertising. It's easy to fall prey because we all want to feel better quickly and parents want their kids to be healthy. But if it claims to be 100% effective or to have no side effects, it's probably false advertising. Personal accounts of something working are as likely to be based on bias or coincidence as to be from real benefit. Rely on large clinical studies that have been reproduced by other researchers. Dr. Chad Hayes has a very long, but wonderful post on how many of the integrative medicines are not simply not beneficial but potentially dangerous - Citations Needed: The curious “science” of integrative medicineMy experience at "Get Your Life Back NOW!"
This post isn't about antibiotics, but they don't work against viral illnesses any better than supplements. They don't prevent the development of ear infections or pneumonia, so even if your child seems to always develop these complications, your doctor should not prescribe them preventatively. Don't use antibiotics for routine upper respiratory infections, stomach bugs, and other viral illnesses. 

Do you know what really boosts your immune system?

Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Working Parent's Guide to Being There

As a working mom myself, I have at times struggled with the guilt of not being around for every new milestone, class party, or other occasion.

working mother, busy, parenting

There are the stay-at-home vs working mom "Mommy Wars" that I don't want to get into because these options are unique to every family. I know that working is the right choice for me on many levels. I like that my kids have two hard-working parent role models that also spend quality time with the family.

Do things always flow smoothly?

Of course not. We have a crazy, hectic life. Every stage has had it's own problems to conquer, and once we get into a routine it settles for a bit. Then the life stage changes and we adapt. At this point I thought my life would be less crazy (my oldest is away at college and my youngest drives), but it's still crazy aligning schedules.

When my children were younger, it was really hard to get home, get dinner on the table, and get them to bed on time for a good night's sleep. Young children need 11-12 hours of sleep, and when we get home at 6:30 pm, it's really hard to do anything. I became the queen of 15 minute meals and love my crock pot. My quick cooking is probably even healthier than fancy casseroles because it's a basic heated frozen vegetable, stovetop cooked chicken or a quick fish, and noodles or rice. No fancy cream sauces or cheesy goodness weeknights. Sometimes my kids ate leftovers from the previous night so they could eat within minutes of getting home. Whatever worked at the time to get dinner served quickly so the bedtime routine could start was what happened.

We only have two kids, and are fortunate to have two parents, but sometimes we still needed help from friends to get kids to scheduled activities on time. I am a big believer in being there at games or shows, but it's impossible with more than one child and overlapping schedules to be at everything. We tried to alternate which child's activity we do, though my husband went to more hockey games and I went to more dance activities because, well, we're human and he can only watch so many dances and I had a hard time watching my son get thrown against the boards.

It is important that kids know parents are there for them, even if they aren't physically able to be there all the time. The best way to do that is to show kids. When you're together, really be together. Don't keep checking your phone. Make conversation. Make eye contact. Have fun.

Sneak in quality time any way you can, even if it's just a minute or two.

  • Talk on car rides. Make routine trips no-screen rides. On longer trips consider an audiobook that you can all listen to and discuss along the way.
  • Make eye contact when your kids ask for your attention. Even if you're busy making dinner or doing the dishes, be considerate enough to look at them when you're speaking to them. So often we get upset by our children's manners, but we forget who they're modeling after. 
  • Bed time. Definitely at bedtime make the time to connect. Those night time stories, back rubs, and cuddles are the perfect time to bond. Even when your kids can read, take time to read to each other.
  • Find quick games to play after dinner. Many games list the time it takes to play right on the box. No one has time for Monopoly after dinner if they plan on getting the kids to bed on time, but family games are a great way to connect, and kids learn many skills from playing. 
  • It sounds silly, but kill two birds with one stone. Have a family "clean time"- and make it fun. The house needs to be cleaned or picked up regularly and if everyone pitches in with age-appropriate chores, it gets done more quickly. Brag on your children's effort and build their confidence. 
  • Try to be at activities as much as possible. If they're in a recital, they want you there. If they have a big game, they want you to see it. Even if they say, "it's okay" when you can't go, they want you there. I know it's not possible to be there for everything, especially if you have more than one child and you need to alternate between which activity you go to, but try to be at as many things as you can. Even when it's painful to watch the first season of kid-pitch baseball. And if you must take a pain reliever before going to the band concert for your 4th grader. Still go. 
  • Make the time with them with them. Turn off your cell phone. Don't check e-mail. Set a good example and talk with the people you're with. So many studies are being done that show parents ignoring their kids due to electronics. You have time to check email after your kids go to bed when they're young. When they're older and their bedtime rivals yours, you can find time when they're doing homework or when they're at an activity. No need to ruin family time with work, social media, or other things that can be done when you're alone. I cannot stress the importance of this. Don't miss your real life and your children's lives by wasting time on screens.
  • Family meals are important. Study after study shows benefits. Take the time to talk. Turn off the tv. Keep the phones away from the table. If your family gets stuck with conversation, try some conversation starters or the story game where someone starts with a sentence, then the next person takes it from there.
  • Slow down. So often we have a list of tasks we know we must accomplish, but our kids can sense the rush. Take a deep breath and enjoy the moment with your kids.
  • Take 10 minutes to do whatever your child wants. Read a book. Run outside. Color a picture together. Just 10 minutes a day can make a difference. Make it a tradition, something your child looks forward to every day.
  • And finally, remember that no one is perfect. Some days just won't work out as planned. That's okay. Just don't let every day become that over-rushed day.
I see far too much guilt in parenting. Guilt because you choose to give baby a bottle. Guilt because you want your baby to sleep through the night. Guilt because... it never ends. I think one big driver of guilt is social media. We see into other people's lives on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or Twitter and compare it to our own. The posts are usually the best parts of their life, but we forget that everyone has the parts they aren't showing. Everyone wants to be like someone else on some level. We all have dreams and aspirations to improve. Great. Keep bettering yourself. But don't suffer from guilt of choices you've made. If they are working, great! Keep them. If they aren't working, investigate other options and make a positive change. In 4 S's of Being a Confident Parent, Dr. Escalante discusses the trials parents face and errors parents make and why that's okay.

I came across this great post on the problems with Attachment Parenting. I think that when people have such strong opinions about anything, it is a set up for failure. Attachment Parenting can lead parents to feel guilty because they aren't always there for a child. You know what? It's healthy to have alone time. Parents need to do things with other adults and leave the kids with a trusted adult or mature teen babysitter. It's just healthy. If you don't take care of yourself, you won't take as good of care of your family as you can if you are healthy in mind, body, and spirit.

Enjoy time with your kids. They won't be little forever. Make the time to be present in their lives.

One last thought... Here's an old song that I always think of when I think of busy lives: Cats in the Cradle from Harry Chapin. 

Sunday, December 3, 2017

New Allergy Guidelines for People Over 12 Years Old

If you or your kids suffer from allergies, I'm sure you want to know how to best manage them. In addition to limiting exposure, medications can be a big benefit. 

allergy, antihistamine, nasal steroid, nasal spray, corticosteroid, asthma

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology and the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology (AAAAI and ACAAI) have published new guidelines in the Annals of Internal Medicine for the initial medical treatment of seasonal allergies in people 12 years and older.

The recommendations essentially state:
  • Use steroid nasal sprays first without an oral or nasal antihistamine. Many intranasal steroids are available over the counter without a prescription. A great list is included on the AAAAI website. (Be careful to not to confuse them with the nasal antihistamines, which are in the same chart but identified in the column titled "Class".) 
  • In those over 15 years, the nasal steroid is preferred over a leukotriene receptor antagonist (ie Singulair or montelukast). For those with asthma, the leukotriene receptor antagonist might offer an additional benefit for asthma, but it is not the preferred treatment in either allergies or asthma. (I think the age change is simply due to the ages studied but it was not specified.)
  • In moderate to severe allergic conditions, a combination of nasal steroid and nasal antihistamine can be considered. 
These recommendations are based on a review of many studies to show what treatments worked and what didn't. They also took into consideration the fact that oral antihistamines can cause sedation and the nasal antihistamines do not. In general the nasal steroids worked better than other treatments. They did note that for people who do not tolerate nasal sprays, alternates would be oral antihistamines or leukotriene receptor agonists.