I have worked in Pediatrics for over 20 years. My education and experience in Western medicine has been invaluable. I know where it excels and where it has its limits. My trainings and experience with holistic and integrative medicine in this later part of my career has provided me with more depth on how to assist in achieving optimal wellness for my patients and families.
The following are my opinion of 10 topics that are part of a regular day in a busy Pediatrician’s office. I know this very well, because I once also failed to make these recommendations. Then I started paying closer attention to patient outcomes and pursuing further education. It is important to be your child’s advocate, and to be able to have open discussions with your child’s health care provider.
1. Milk and dairy should not be a large part of your child’s diet.
Going back generations it has been recommended that your child start drinking cow’s milk at the age of 12 months. This is encouraged by the Dairy Association’s heavy lobbying and marketing going back to the 1970’s. There is nobody else in the animal kingdom that drinks another’s milk. It is just weird if you think about it! Milk sugar (lactose) and milk protein (casein) are very hard to digest for most people. And there is concern about how pregnant and lactating cows are treated, as well as how milk is processed, and how that affects the nutritional status of the end product. No wonder more and more people are discovering that dairy is contributing to their health problems. There are many healthy alternatives to milk, like almond milk and coconut milk. And contrary to popular belief you can get enough calcium in your diet from healthier sources.
2. Starting your infant with rice cereal at 4 months is not the best option.
Parents are often told that rice is “less allergenic” and therefore to start offering this to your baby first. But there really is no need for processed grains for a baby. And you probably want to wait until closer to 6 months of age. It is best to start with a mild vegetable, most palatable are often in the yellow family, like carrots, squash or sweet potatoes. You can advance with other green vegetables or avocado, and then move onto fruits.
3. You do not need to give your infant the Hepatitis B vaccine at birth.
The hepatitis B shot is routinely given to infants before being discharged from the hospital at 24-48 hours old. Unless the mother or a close household contact has Hepatitis B, your infant has very minimal risk for contracting the virus. You can complete the 3 dose series when they are older if you choose. If a newborn gets their first vaccine in the hospital, it is not uncommon to get an unnecessary 4th Hepatitis B shot because of combination vaccines routinely given at their well visits in the first 6 months of life.
4. If your infant is having trouble nursing, you don’t necessarily need to switch to formula feeding.
Both moms and infants need to learn how to breastfeed. It can be challenging at times. Lactation counselors are highly trained, excellent advocates and can really make a big difference in the first few weeks. But sometimes that is not enough, and mom’s can often be devastated, exhausted and frustrated. Working with a Chiropractor or Cranial Sacral Therapist who is highly trained to work with infants can make a world of difference. You should also consult with a skilled practitioner about releasing a tongue and/or lip tie that could be interfering with proper breastfeeding.
5. If your infant has reflux, there are other options besides giving them prescription medications like Zantac or Prevacid
Western medicine’s model of care is to treat the symptom instead of addressing the root problem. But medications do not come without side effects; some of them are even dangerous. All infants have reflux to some degree, that is why all babies spit up. It is normal as long as they are gaining weight and they will outgrow it. But if your baby has discomfort or pain, there are alternatives that may address the issue without the side effects of H2 antagonists or proton pump inhibitors (PPI’s) that may interfere with nutrient absorption. Many moms see a huge improvement with removing certain foods from their diet if they are breastfeeding, or switching to a hypoallergenic formula if bottle-fed. Probiotics may be helpful as well. You can also see a chiropractor skilled in infant care.
6. If your older child has stomach pains, there are other options besides PPI’s as well
The same goes for older kids. It is more and more common for Pediatrician’s to be faced with evaluating and treating chronic belly pains. I personally think that this is really something to pay attention to. It is important to look at the whole picture including their nutrition and stress. Even though PPI’s can give them some immediate relief, it does not address the root cause. And in some cases, lowering the stomach acid (which is an important part of digestion) can actually make things worse. There is research showing the dangerous side effects of PPI’s. I have seen dietary changes, nutrient and herbal support make a big difference for kids.
7. There are proactive steps you can take to treat mild and moderate scoliosis.
It is common for Pediatricians to take the “wait and watch” approach for scoliosis that is less than a 25 degree Cobb angle. And above that it is bracing (which is minimally effective) and possibly surgery. There is plenty of research and case studies to support that Chiropractic care and home exercises are extremely effective. There are specific yoga and Pilates poses that can be used therapeutically as well. These treatment options have helped many adolescents avoid the pain, psychological stress and high cost of bracing and surgery.
8. Your child may not need antibiotics every time for an ear infection.
Countless times in my practice, I have seen young babies and toddlers get repeated courses of antibiotics. This disrupts their gut flora balance, which can then lead to other problems. And it is not uncommon for these children to end up requiring surgery to place tubes in their ears to address the reoccurring build up of fluid and pus behind their eardrums. Antibiotics are effective and sometimes the best option, but there are alternatives. Dietary changes, chiropractic care, and herbal support have all been shown to be effective and I see it in my practice regularly.
9. For depression and anxiety, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) may not be the best first line of treatment.
The statistics on kids being treated with medication for depression and anxiety is staggering. The cause is multifactorial and the treatment should be too. Doctors will usually prescribe counseling along with their prescription drug, which is important, but also is sometimes limited in effectiveness. SSRI’s can have dangerous side effects including worsening of symptoms, and the supportive research on its effectiveness is nebulous. Depending on severity and individual situations, you can use natural supplements and dietary changes in conjunction with medication or alone. There is also a possibility for genetic single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP’s) that can be therapeutically addressed.
10. That they really do care.
Pediatricians and doctors really do have a love and compassion for the welfare of children and families. Otherwise they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing. I have worked with many of these colleagues and they are brilliant, caring and dedicated people. Some of my most valuable lessons are from western trained physicians. Allopathic medicine has incredible strengths and it is amazing the advancements we have made and the lives that we can save. Unfortunately, where it often falls short is its reliance on using prescription medication to treat symptoms, and to fail to address the root cause of disease. Health care practitioners are also faced with years of grueling stress, witnessing devastating situations, administrative pressures, insurance reimbursement struggles, and having to see a large number of patients day after day. It is easy to get burned out and to lose sight of their original calling. So next time your doc looks uninterested or disapproving, gently remind them that you are in this together.
Lara O’Neil APRN is a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner at ProNatural Physician’s Group, an integrative medical practice in Berlin, CT. She bridges traditional with integrative care from birth through age 21. She is an in network provider for insurance companies and is accepting new patients. Find out more at: www.pronaturalphysicians.com or call 860-829-0707.