Parents have always looked to their gardens and pantries to treat common infant illness. Today, the use of complementary and alternative remedies is common not just in adults but also children. Whether it’s a nip of prune juice to relieve constipation or an oatmeal bath to soothe itchy dry skin, natural remedies offer inexpensive strategies to ease uncomfortable symptoms.
But not all natural treatments are as benign as a spoonful of mashed prunes. Be sure to ask your child’s doctor to make sure anything you use is safe.
What are some of the best home treatments for your wee one? Where can you turn for something that’s safe and effective as well as baby friendly? WebMD asked the experts for tips on safe and effective home treatments for your child.
Decongest With Onion
A raw, sliced onion might not be your first choice as an air freshener for baby’s room, but it can help break up congestion when junior has a cold.
Simply slice up an onion and place it on a plate next to the bed or crib. “The good old-fashioned onion is wonderful for a stuffy noise,” says pediatrician Lauren Feder, MD, author of Natural Baby and Childcare. “The sulfur content in the onion draws out mucus and fluids in body. If your baby has a stuffy nose, it can loosen that up with no side effects except for the obvious odor in the room.”
Breathe the Steam
Relief for your baby’s clogged nose and cough may also be as close as the shower.
Author of The Holistic Baby Guide: Alternative Care for Common Health Problems, Randall Neustaedter, OMD, LAc, says steam up the bathroom, not the bedroom, to decongest little ones.
“If your baby has a stuffy nose, go into bathroom and steam it up. Then hold your baby in there for a while. You’ll get more concentrated steam and your room doesn’t get all wet. Humidifiers turn everything into a rain forest.”
Chill a Fever With Lemon
Though fevers tend to scare parents, they are a sign that the body’s immune system is working. While a fever in babies under the age of 3 months is cause for concern and should be evaluated by a doctor, most fevers do little more than make your baby feel out-of-sorts.
To help take the edge off a fever, slice a lemon over a bowl of warm water to capture the fruit’s aromatic oils. Using a cotton cloth, give your baby a “sponge bath” with the warm lemon water. The cooling properties of the lemon and evaporating water work together in reducing the fever, Feder advises.
“Make sure the water is not too cold,” Feder says. “The idea here is not to shock the child.”
Breastfeeding Moms: Are You Giving Your Child Gas?
One of the most common causes of tummy aches in babies is gas. Burping your baby can help, but so can examining your diet if you are breastfeeding.
“By eliminating certain foods, you might be able to curb gas production in your child,” Neustaedter says.
The most prevalent gas producers are dairy products, wheat, eggs, vegetables in the cabbage family, and beans.
Other offenders that not only cause gas but may make a child irritable include: caffeine, chocolate, and spices. “If mothers eliminate those foods,” Neustaedter explains, “they can see if they are causing problems in babies.”
You’ll know if a certain food is giving your baby gas, he says, when you reintroduce it into your diet. If it’s a culprit, your baby will start screaming within hours after feeding.
Grandma’s Remedy: Prunes Prompt Poop
There’s a reason prunes have a reputation for promoting regularity: Prunes are high in sorbitol, a type of sugar alcohol purported to have a mild laxative effect.
If your baby is straining to poop and the stools are hard, try adding prunes to your feeding regimen.
For constipation, Neustaedter recommends hydrating and chopping a few organic prunes. “Put them with whatever solid food you’re giving them. If you’re feeding broccoli and peas, add some prunes. That usually does it.”
Because babies don’t have notions about whether such combinations are appetizing, they typically eat with relish because prunes are sweet.
Oatmeal is good for more than a healthy breakfast.
If your baby has dry, itchy skin, try a soothing oatmeal bath. To make your own oatmeal bath, grind oatmeal in a blender or food processor until it’s finely pulverized. Sprinkle a half-cup of oatmeal into the bath as the water is running, and mix thoroughly. The water will look milky, and the tub will be slick. Allow your baby to soak for up to 15 minutes. You can repeat this up to three times a day, Feder says.
Warm Comfort: The Hot Water Bottle
Swaddle a hot water bottle in a soft towel and you have the perfect cuddle companion for your sick child.
Feder suggests this classic home remedy as a source of comfort and warmth when your baby has an earache, upset stomach, or chills. Follow the manufacturer’s directions on filling the bottle, and be sure to wrap it in a towel before placing it near your child.
Tuck the bottle next to a sore ear, tummy, or chest. Or warm chilled toes by enfolding the bottle and your child’s feet with extra towels until your baby’s feet feel warm.
“This is a lovely thing to do for your child,” she says, “It’s warm and connotes comfort and is something you can cuddle with or warm a bed before sleep. The idea of warmth is important for people who are sick.”
The tea that helps you take the edge off can do the same for your baby, too.
A traditional treatment for digestive flare ups and insomnia, chamomile tea can be used with your baby as a compress to ease stomach trouble.
To make a compress, add two to three organic chamomile tea bags to a bowl of hot water and steep. Soak a cotton cloth in the chamomile infusion, wring it out, and place it on your baby’s abdomen and cover. Make sure the cloth isn’t too hot. To keep the compress warm, you can top it with a hot water bottle. Keep it in place for 10 to 15 minutes.
Some herbal and home remedies are purported to help with colic and sleep problems. Talk to your child’s health care provider before giving your child any home or herbal remedy. Some may contain ingredients that can be inappropriate and/ even dangerous to your child. For instance, although honey may be a common remedy for the common cold or cough, it should not be given to a child under the age of 1 year, because honey can contain the bacteria that causes infant botulism.
If you think you have given too much of something or are concerned about the safety of what you have given, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 in addition to for child's doctor.