by Diane R. Savage-Pedigo, MD, FAAP
As the dynamics of Pediatric Associates of Savannah have changed over the years, I now have the distinct position of being the only doctor who is also a Grandparent, or Nana as my beautiful granddaughter calls me. Therefore, I know that grandparents are a great source of advice. After all, who is the first person a new mother calls? Her mother, of course. My daughter gets to talk to a Pediatrician when she makes that call, but that’s not the case most of the time. Therefore, I thought I might review some of the advice a grandparent may make and compare it to the recommendations of current medical practice.
1. “Starve a cold and feed a fever” (or is it the other way around?)
Growing up I remember hearing this very often and it is one bit of advice that is hopefully dying away. Whether or not a child eats during an illness is based on several factors that may include loss of appetite, nausea or vomiting, but a parent should not base that on the type of illness. What is more important is to make sure the child stays hydrated by consuming adequate fluids. Before the availability of electrolyte solutions, like Pedialyte, many other fluids were used. As a child I remember drinking the syrup out of fruit cocktail when I was sick. Now, however, we have Pedialyte (or the store brand equivalent) to give children during illnesses. These fluids maintain hydration while providing the sugar and electrolytes needed to maintain the proper balance in the body. Often parents also use Sports drinks such as Powerade or Gatorade. While these drinks do maintain hydration, their electrolyte concentrations are made to replace those lost during heavy sweating while playing sports, so they are not really the best choice for this purpose. Most importantly, if a parent has concerns that their child is not drinking enough, they should be seen by their doctor to evaluate their illness and hydration status.
2. “Babies need extra water”
Often a mother may receive advice that includes giving her baby extra water to drink. The only fluid a baby or young infant needs is breast milk or formula. Not only do they provide the nutrients (or in the case of breast milk all the extra good stuff) that a baby needs, they also provide all the fluid needed as well. This fact is made obvious by the wet diapers a baby has! You can wait to offer water until your infant is starting to practice with a sippy cup.
3. “Use breast milk for your baby’s cold”
This piece of advice actually has medical merit. We know that breast milk is “liquid gold”, and other than being the best nutrition for your baby, it can be used for other issues as well. When your baby has some nasal congestion, you can squirt a few drips of breast milk in each nostril several times a day to aid in reducing the congestion and fighting infection. The IgA in breast milk can coat microorganisms preventing colonization and may inactivate certain viruses. Breast milk also contains Lactoferrin and Lysozyme, both enzymes that have anti-infective properties. Breast milk even includes Leucocytes, especially Macrophages, which are infection fighting White blood cells. Besides using breast milk in the nose, it can be used on minor abrasions and is a great lubricant for skin issues such as eczema.
4. “Give Chicken Noodle Soup for a cold”
This is another time that Grandma got it right! The idea that chicken noodle soup has medicinal properties actually dates back to ancient times. It has even been called the “Jewish Penicillin”. When the body is fighting a cold, which is caused but one of many viruses, it sends white blood cells to the affected area of the respiratory tract to fight the infection causing inflammation and stimulating the production of mucous. This inflammation worsens some of the symptoms of the cold. Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha actually showed that in the presence of chicken noodle soup, there was less migration of white blood cells from one side of the chamber to the other. Although the exact biological mechanism is unknown, this anti-inflamatory process may, if it occurs in the body, lessen the symptoms of the cold. Their research showed this process occurred with a homemade recipe and even with 13 brands of canned soup. In addition to the above anti-inflammatory properties of chicken noodle soup, it also provides nutrients, vitamins, and hydration during an illness. So listen to Grandma on this one. I bet she has a great recipe you can use!