I am sitting in my son’s martial arts class this afternoon, chatting with another mama. “I should have gotten a coffee today,...
In Honor of Mother’s Day: How NOT to catch the Stomach Flu
What to Do When Your Kid Gets Sick and You’re Not Sick...Yet
You know how you think you’re a healthy person when you’re in your 20’s and single and you can stay out all night (maybe with a cocktail or two:)), maybe not even make yourself a home-cooked meal for days at a time, and you never get sick? And you may even start believing that you’re the kind of person who doesn’t get sick, you have a strong immune system, and your body is resilient enough to handle whatever you throw at it? Maybe you even start to feel self-righteous about it -- it’s the yoga, the Pilates I do, the salads I eat, the juice? And then, you have kids...
Obviously, I’m telling you my own story here, let me know if you can relate. I had never had the stomach flu. Ever. Not, at least, since I was a child and my father would sit with me and force me to drink Coca Cola to settle my stomach (a wonderful way to turn your kids off to soft drinks forever, but that’s a whole different topic). Childhood feels like a whole different thing that way -- occasional bouts of vomiting, tummy ache, ear infection felt de rigueur as a child. Not so as an adult -- and the toll for enduring ‘childhood’ ailments as a grown-up I now know feels much more severe (adult chicken pox, anyone?). When Aidan first arrived, it was a mere five months (I remember, after a breezy February picnic with my husband out of town...) before I had my first trip down childhood memory lane -- with the first and worst 24-hour stomach bug I had experienced in twenty years. In the years that followed, it seemed that if Aidan caught something, one of his parents was bound to eventually catch it as well -- and fall longer and harder. I was usually the lucky one, with years under my belt as an acupuncturist, my immune system had grown relatively strong --until two years ago, when Aidan revisited the stomach flu and one measly day later, I was losing everything I’d eaten -- and more, it seemed to me. The memory of this misery still feels pretty alive and well.
So when my poor boy started throwing up last weekend, all over everything, including, of course, the new comforter cover, and every pillow on our bed, it wasn’t my first thought - how do i keep myself from catching this -- but it wasn’t my last either. After the laundry was safely in the works (3 large loads and more to come), I indulged myself in a little bit of fear for what might lay ahead for me. But as all mamas reading this are undoubtedly aware, the instinct to cuddle in, hold his hair, and clean his vomit off the floor eroded these thoughts. (Years ago, treating in a community health clinic, a colleague I didn’t know well accurately assessed that I was a mom. “How did you know?” I asked. "Because when that little boy threw up, you didn’t flinch, and you took a step forward, not backward.”) We may not even realize it, but it goes with the biological instincts of childrearing. We’re not easily disgusted; we know how this goes.
But now that it’s all safely over for Aidan, I’m not going to be foolish; I’m indulging myself in more than an ounce of prevention. In honor of Mother’s Day this year, I’m going to give myself the gift of avoiding the stomach flu. I’ve blogged on building mama’s immune system before, at back-to-school time and I’m following all of these steps. But I’m revisiting and adding some new ones here as well. ‘Cause nothing celebrates the trials of motherhood more accurately than catching your son’s stomach virus. But I’d rather celebrate the tribulations.
5 Things to Do Immediately (For Yourself) When Your Child Gets Sick
1. Switch to whole foods, especially fruits and veggies.
The minute you see my child down-for-the-count, I cut out dairy, gluten, fatty foods and sugar. I talk a lot about the reasons for this in other blogs (including 10 tips for bolstering immunity), but the bottom line is I want my diet as clean, detoxifying and un-troublesome to my body as possible. It’s all-hands-on-deck time for my immune system, and I want my body to have the right fuel. Fats, dairy, glutinous grains are all more complicated for my body to digest; sugar immediately lowers the immune response by inhibiting the entrance of Vitamin C into the white blood cells (the cells responsible for launching immune response), thereby crippling their productivity in the face of an invasion. Veggies and fruits on the other hand (leaning more heavily on the veggies with a small amount of high-ORAC-value fruits such as blueberries and grapefruits) are full of nutrients, easy for the body to utilize, and full of fiber -- which will keep bowels regular and help toxins keep moving toward the exits. Other than a bowl of immune-building soup and some herbal tea, I personally tend to go raw at this season if I start to feel rundown -- it seems to give me a lot of prana or life energy. This is what works for me. However, I feel that raw or cooked is a matter of personal intuition. If your digestion is already borderline upset, pre-cooked food may be easier to absorb. It’s certainly where I’d lean immediately after tummy trouble is over...but lets hope it doesn’t go that far.
2. Drink your tummy trouble tea, before the trouble.
I am in love with the Tummy Trouble Tea we posted a few weeks ago after my boys over-ate, not just because its what I used effectively then and during Aidan’s stomach bout - alternating with ginger lemonade -- but because at first twinge of nausea in me I made my own cup, and it knocked that gnawing little feeling right out. Every time I made Aidan a glass of ginger lemonade, I’d pour myself a glass too. And lots of warm water with lemon. I realized self care was easy when I’d just give myself a dose of whatever antimicrobial tonic I was making for my little guy at the same time.
3. Embrace a good (but gentle) sweat.
I’ve said this before, but, if at all possible, don’t forego exercise in the face of family illness. This is when it becomes more important than ever. The reason now is not fitting in those cute pre-preg jeans (an embarrassingly good motivation the rest of the time), but to stimulate the lymph system. Our lymph system, the system responsible for escorting toxins away from vital organs and out the exits, only operates at its best when we help it – in the absence of a heart that pumps, like our circulatory system has, our lymph drainage only happens when we circulate lymph ourselves – via movement and exercise. For a nice change, the cardio rate is not the most important aspect of exercising for immunity – it’s the increased movement and circulation, although increased breathing and the resulting increase in oxygen intake are also great for immune building. A good slow or fast yoga class, walking, or jumping on a trampoline (it is one of the best ways to get the lymph system moving, provided you are coordinated enough not to fall off), are all great ways to keep the lymph system flowing and immunity heightened.
It’s also about the sweat. While the jury in the scientific community is still out on how many actual toxins, if any, we lose through our sweat, sweating to cleanse and purify our bodies has been used for centuries and in many different cultures. In the category of TMI, perhaps, the smell of my sweat tells me a great deal about the state of my health (remember the last time you did a detox, or were around someone with a hangover - or maybe a husband who likes to eat raw garlic when he gets sick? Then you’ve experienced this too -- sweat certainly removes something!) One explanation is that our pores open and do release toxins. Another is that the internal heat and release generated by sweat-inducing activities stimulates greater circulation to all of the organ systems and stimulates the body to produce more white blood cells. If you go to a gym with a sauna, now is a great time to steal a few extra moments (can you spare 5-10 minutes?) to sit in it. Or, use this excuse for a detoxifying bath. The heat and steam from the bath will act much as a sauna. One of my acupuncture teachers used to bathe in hot water while drinking hot tea with lemon, cayenne pepper and maple syrup, then hop into bed with the covers on. I’ve tried it, and this, for me, is one of those ‘cure is worse than the disease’ activities (and gives you sweat-drenched sheets, which I abhor), but he swears by it. I opt for a nice detoxifying bath with mineral salts, and essential oil (for a great recipe, check out again our back-to-school mama blog, point #7: Bathtime).
4. Go OCD on hand washing.
We’re probably all sick of this suggestion - I know I feel a little bit unoriginal continuing to write about it, but here it is, one more time.Because it works: Many viruses can stay alive for at least up to two hours on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs. The single best way to avoid exposure this way is to wash your hands frequently with soap. Like I say for your kids, don’t cut corners on this one. Act like a surgeon (or even better, act like Patrick Dempsey playing a surgeon on tv, all scrubbed up and washing his hands...) To make sure you give this simple but effective germ-killer long enough, sing the “happy birthday” song in its entirety, while you rub your hands and fingers with the soap. Get the nail area too. When you’re finished singing, it’s time to rinse the soap off. And don’t rub your eyes. Or chew with your mouth full.
5. Stop Multi-tasking.
This is the easiest way to remind myself to slow down and stay present is to disallow multitasking -- as much as humanly possible. If I’m listening to my kids, I’m listening to my kids. If I’m driving, I’m driving. If i’m in the grocery store, I keep my cell phone dark and in my purse. I keep my attention on one thing at a time. It doesn’t work, of course, when kids are in the mix, but it helps. It makes me deliberate about my actions, which helps me to function more effectively and with less stress. Think this will slow you down too much? You’d be surprised. According to a successful realtor friend of mine, we don’t actually multi-task, we just think we do. At the level of our neurochemistry, we’re actually alternating quickly in our brains between activities rather than processing them both simultaneously, and it slows us down, making us less efficient than we’d be if we do one thing at a time. I’ll find out more on this and let you know. In the meantime, do it anyway, even if you get less done, to give your adrenals a much needed rest from generating stress hormones. Lets put the focus on immunity instead.
One final favorite of mine to do if you’re feeling up to it: Give the house a once-over cleaning or even just a dusting of surfaces, sinks and doorknobs (try out our homemade all-purpose cleaner and add lemon to it, or even lemon essential oil for a great antimicrobial boost.) I can’t in good mama conscience make this a bullet point for wellness during the week prior to Mother’s Day without feeling a bit like a traitor, but it really does freshen the entire feel of the house, in much the same way that taking a shower always makes me feel healthier. And it gets rid of the germs that your little folk spread Hansel-and-Gretel-style throughout your living space. Along with the heaps of love, life, energy and toys-to-trip-on they spread as well.
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