Bridge the Gap Between Traditional and Holistic Pediatric Care with Dr. Elisa Song
We are so excited for today’s episode of the Gentle Parenting Show with Dr. Elisa Song, MD. Dr. Song is an integrative pediatrician, pediatric functional medicine expert, and mother. She’s helped 1000s of kids get to the root causes of their health concerns and has helped parents understand how to help their children thrive – body, mind, and spirit – by integrating conventional pediatrics with functional medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and essential oils. She has created Healthy Kids Happy Kids as an online holistic pediatric care resource to help practitioners and parents bridge the gap between conventional and integrative pediatrics with an evidence-based, pediatrician-backed approach. Today, Kim West and Dr. Song and talk about the science behind gut health and practical things to do to help your child’s health, holistically.
Holistic Pediatric Care and Gut Health for Newborns
A lot of parents with new babies have to deal with things like colic, reflux, constipation, and more. Dealing with these issues can be exhausting, both mentally and physically. As a pediatrician, Dr. Song sees these digestive issues often in newborns. She always starts out every conversation with new parents inquiring about what’s happened so far in the baby’s life, and what work needs to be done to undo it. It’s important to see a whole perspective for adequate holistic pediatric care.
One of the most important aspects of newborn wellness is gut health. The gut microbiome plays the most important role in the brain and hormone development of a newborn and sets the stage for future health and wellness. Disruption in this gut microbiome in infancy is often associated with allergies, autoimmune diseases, and other chronic health issues.
So, how does the gut microbiome get disrupted in newborns? Dr. Song shares a study where if a child has received an antacid or antibiotics in the first 6 months of life, it’s found that by age 4 they have a significant likelihood to develop allergies and health issues. Dr. Song believes that whether it’s colic, gut symptoms like reflux, or behavioral problems, it always starts with the gut. In fact, ancient Chinese medicine always tied health problems back to the gut.
Are Antibiotics and Traditional Medication Ever Ok?
As a physician, Dr. Song fully believes that you should never say no to necessary antibiotics. For example, if the mother is diagnosed with group b strep, the newborn baby will need antibiotics. This is ok! As a holistic pediatrician, Dr. Song believes “there is a time and place for everything. We want to make the best of all worlds and take that evidence-based approach.”
There are positive outcomes to both traditional and holistic pediatrics. What’s most important for parents to understand is how each type of care creates shifts in your child’s health. Dr. Song shares stories of both her children having antibiotics when they were young newborns, and both are allergy-free, thriving, healthy grown children. But, as a physician, Dr. Song knew those antibiotics given to her young newborns would disrupt their gut microbiome, so she made sure both her newborns had the right vitamins and probiotics to heal the gut. These specific probiotics and vitamins will be discussed below.
What is Reflux?
Reflux is common with young newborns. It often starts around 2-3 weeks. Reflux can happen for different reasons and results in fussiness and excessive spitting up. It’s important to know that reflux isn’t always straightforward. All babies have reflux, but they don’t all have reflux disease. Reflux disease happens when the sphincter muscle (the muscles between the stomach and esophagus) is underdeveloped and the food goes between the stomach and through quickly.
Dr. Song suggests looking at things as a whole when it comes to reflux. While there is medication, Dr. Song has not put any babies on medication since she integrated these practices:
- If breastfeeding, evaluate Mom’s diet. If formula-feeding, examine formula ingredients. The most common inflammatory ingredient for newborns is cow’s milk. Very often, babies experiencing reflux have an intolerance to cow’s milk. To determine what is causing the reflux, Dr. Song has breastfeeding moms cut out cow’s milk, gluten, eggs, and corn. It takes 1-2 weeks for these foods to clear mom and baby’s system. Dr. Song then reintroduces these inflammatory foods 1 by 1, and very slowly, to isolate the problem food. But, the good news is breastfeeding moms don’t have to cut out these foods forever – baby’s guts are always maturing and becoming more tolerant.
- Evaluate mechanical issues. A lot of reflux is caused by “mechanical” and physical issues. Overfeeding can be a common cause of reflux. Dr. Song suggests keeping a baby upright for 5-10 minutes before you even burp them.
Holistic Pediatric Care for Babies with Reflux
Dr. Song has many approaches, remedies, and ideas to holistically approach reflux. One of the things she suggests to her patients the most is probiotics. Probiotics are especially important if your newborn had antibiotics early on. Dr. Song usually suggests a broad baby probiotic. The strain “lactalist reutri” is a good strain specifically for colic-y babies. Two brands with this kind of probiotic are BioGaia and Gerber (look for the “soothe” Gerber probiotic). Both of these probiotics are administered by having your baby suck it off a parent’s finger.
Another holistic approach for reflux is acupuncture or acupressure. Dr. Song says to research the CV-12 pressure point on babies and locate it on your newborn’s body. Then, when feeding, press and massage that spot to help keep their food down. She also suggests using essential oils with acupressure. Use lavender or chamomile on your fingertip as you are holding CV-12 to help activate that pressure point.
What to Do If Your Child Needs Antibiotics
Dr. Song says that “despite our best efforts, babies will sometimes still need medicine, and I never want any mom to feel like that’s a failure on her part. It is what it is, we do our best, and medications are still needed.” As a physician, Dr. Song knows that antibiotics can be life-saving and necessary. But, you need to keep your newborn’s gut microbiome in check, especially if they’re on antibiotics.
The best way to do this is through probiotics. Probiotics help the millions of strands of bacteria living inside of us, all live in harmony. From ages 0-2, probiotics are rapidly shifting and changing. But, by about age 2, probiotics take on an adult stance. If everyone in your house is over age 2, you can all take the same probiotic. For kids under 2, Dr. Song suggests using one of the 2 probiotics listed earlier in the episode.
Each kind of probiotic medication will list different billion units per serving (yes, billion!). For most babies, Dr. Song would recommend looking for something with 5-10 billion units per serving. If your newborn has used probiotics, she would suggest 20-25 billion units per serving.
Other vitamins to make sure your baby and children are getting regularly are zinc and glutamine. These are bot essential for gut health.
Other Digestive Issues in Babies
Constipation and/or diarrhea are both digestive symptoms that Dr. Song treats often. The #1 culprit with constipation in newborns is cow’s milk, whether through formula or breastfeeding. To relieve constipation, Dr. Song suggests acupressure and using the point “large intestine 4” for relief in your newborn. It’s also important to know that constipation, especially in adults, is a stress response. When your fight or flight goes up, digestion slows down.
Holistic Pediatric Care for Parents and Children
For all families, but especially for breastfeeding mothers, it’s important to look at the whole picture of digestive issues. Dr. Song notes that a lot of the time, the stress in a breastfeeding mom can accelerate colic or reflux in a baby. Think about it, when stressed, a mom is adrenaline-fueled and jumpy. This can be picked up on by babies and create a stress response in the form of reflux.
Taking time for health and self-care as a parent makes a huge difference in the whole household. Dr. Song says “if you know how important it is for your baby to see you to be mindful and present for yourself, it makes it more of a priority for you.” Just like stress, good chemicals can be passed to your baby too. As parents, we want to flood ourselves with the good stuff to pass on to our babies.
As parents, we need a guilt-free approach to helping our kids from a holistic perspective. To help with this, Dr. Song is writing a book from her viewpoint as a holistic pediatrician. Her goal is to help you bridge the gap between traditional and holistic medicine for healthy and happy kids.