Ever wish you knew more about natural baby care approaches? Ever feel like you would totally be one of those village Wise Women who knows just the treatment for a million and one childhood maladies...if only you had a little more information to work with?
Ever think you would prefer to minimize the amount of chemicals you expose your baby to, but at the same time, you know that herbal and “natural” products have to be learned about and understood just as much as man-made products?
You, as a parent and as a consumer, have the power to make informed choices about caring for your family's health and well-being. Sometimes commercial products are great solutions. Sometimes they're unnecessary. Sometimes we already have far more useful remedies and approaches at home, and just need to understand the healing properties of common household items better.
Sometimes we need to be more aware that there's a lot we can do with no products at all. (And always, we need to discuss our choices with our babies' doctors so we have a greater understanding of what we're choosing.)
Here are some useful ways of thinking and some simple, natural baby-care treatments that can make both your baby and you feel fabulous, and all have multiple non-baby uses. As an added bonus, you'll be able to identify and pronounce every single ingredient.
8 Bath Products
Baths are one of my favorite pastimes for any age, and for practically any situation. Sure, they clean dirt and bacteria off our bodies, but that's almost incidental to the wealth of other wonderful caregiving benefits baths provide. Baths soothe the savage beast in all of us.
No matter how upset I am, a bath calms me down as much today as they did when I was small. Baths can also signal bedtime and get babies (and mommies) in a sleepy mood, if you set up a routine of doing them before bed. And there are endless fun homeopathic treatments you can put in baths.
Oatmeal baths are fabulously soothing for itchy or upset skin of all ages. Oatmeal soothes baby eczema, dry skin, rashes, itchy hives, and even sunburn. You can buy oatmeal baths, or you can make them yourself: either grind up oats in your blender, or put them whole into a mesh or cotton bag you can tie closed. Use about a cup per bath.
Another ingredient you can pinch from the kitchen is baking soda, which soothes irritated skin and neutralizes its acidity; for diaper rash, put about 2 tbsp of baking soda into a bath. You can also use baking soda baths for adults with yeast infections.
Some pleasant herbal bath additions are lavender and chamomile, which aromatherapeutically soothe everyone within smelling distance.
6 Massage Benefits
As a massage therapist, I have to include this one. Massage is the great undersung hero of caregiving options. My own baby never went for it, but I hear there are babies who love to be massaged. All that skin-to-skin contact produces bonding oxytocin and soothes and quiets your baby (and you, too).
It promotes circulation, stimulates nerve endings, aids digestion, improves skin condition, and helps preemies gain weight. Affectionate skin-to-skin contact also boosts T-cells, thus strengthening everybody's immune systems. Massage releases endorphins (in you, too), which quiet emotional distress and ease pain. Massage can help everybody sleep better.
If you're going to massage your baby, the only supply you really need is love. With that in your holster, you will deliver the perfect massage every time. If you want slightly more specific suggestions, try making eye contact with your baby, conversing gently with her, and making soft circular motions with your hands.
As with any massage, just listen with your hands to what your baby's body is telling you. The baby will lead the way, and your instincts will make you put your hands in the perfect places. This is also great practice developing faith in yourself as a parent, because guess what: you're doing it right.
5 Coconut Oil
Where to begin with coconut oil, the thousand-and-one-use household substance? It's amazingly multipurpose stuff. My son and I make coconut-oil-based foot scrubs all the time. You can use it as a moisturizer for your skin, your lips, and your hair. If you're vegan, it's a useful cooking fat. Even if you're not vegan, it's a superfood, packed with surprising health benefits.
Its lauric acid and monolaurin can kill bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Its medium-chain triglycerides can reduce your appetite, and can improve brain function in people with Alzheimer's. You can put it on your skin as a (modest) sunscreen. It can help with dermatitis, eczema, and psoriasis.
It can prevent dandruff and irritable bowel syndrome. It provides relief for candida and bruises. It can reduce plaque on your teeth and improve your ability to absorb minerals your body needs for strong bones. And I'm just scratching the surface here.
I wouldn't be remotely surprised if someone did a conclusive study proving coconut oil can also drive your kids to school, get the laundry done, and rub your back all at the same time.Coconut oil is a natural marvel that's been waiting for the “civilized” world to discover it, and I'm glad we have.
Coconut oil's antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties make it useful for your baby, too. It's great for cleaning off meconium. You can rub it on your baby's head to get rid of cradle cap. You can put it on baby acne and baby eczema to help them clear up, and on your own nipples if they're sore and cracked from nursing. There are a thousand other things you can do with it—so go buy some.
4 Castile Soap
You probably either already havecastile soap or saw some the last time you attended a vegan potluck followed by klezmer music and crystal-gazing. Because of its gentleness, versatility, and environmental friendliness, castile soap is the soap of choice for hippies and multifaceted earth mothers of all stripes. It's great for washing babies, and, there are a million other things you can wash with it too.
Your hair (add water to the soap). Your bathtub (add water and baking soda). Your floor or your dishes (add water). Your dog (who gets the same 2:1 ratio of soap to water that you do). Your teeth (a few drops on the toothbrush). Your vegetables (a tiny bit with a lot of water). Even your carpet (blend with water in a blender until the soap foams). What can't you wash with castile soap?
Castile soap is gentle and hypoallergenic, traditionally made only from olive or laurel oil, now made from any vegetable oil. No chemical detergents. It is made into soap using an alkali, which is how soap was always made until synthetic cleaning agents were created. No alkali remains once the soap is made. Be careful around baby's eyes, since only synthetic cleaning agents can make truly tear-free products.
3 A & D Cream
A & D Cream is a skin protectant and moisturizer with vitamins A, D, and E in it. It's used for diaper rash. It seals and heals skin. As such, some surgeons recommend their patients (of any age, not just babies) put it on their post-surgical scars.
It's also great for soothing and healing burns, sunburns, cracked heels, and cuticles. And for recovering from fresh tattoos, go figure. There are mixed opinions on whether it is or is not useful for atopic eczema.
When dealing with diaper rash, remember to change your baby promptly and keep him or her clean and dry. With little boys, make sure you wipe (gently) into those tricky folds around the scrotum and the head of the penis.
With little girls, remember to wipe from front to back. Don't use A & D Cream if your child is allergic to it, and ask your doctor before using it if your child is allergic to other skin products.
2 Aloe Vera Gel
Aloe vera gel is the most useful 99-cent tube you'll buy at the drugstore. You probably knew aloe is great for everybody's sunburn—although, as with everything, you should ask your pediatrician first, particularly if your baby is already taking medication of some kind.
But did you know that aloe gel is also great for insect bites, for diaper rash, and for baby eczema? It's also as gentle, as natural, and as baby-friendly as you can get.
And if you've already got the gel (or the plant itself) at home, here are some non-baby uses for it: put it on your stretch marks and the collagen will help repair them. Put it on cold sores, put it on frostbite, and put it on psoriasis.
Under the supervision of a doctor, adults can also ingest aloe gel orally for osteoarthritis, for fever, for ulcerative colitis, for stomach ulcers, for asthma, and even for treating side effects of radiation therapy. All yours for 99 cents. But you don't even have to buy the tube.
If you have an aloe plant at home, just slice off a leaf, wash it, slit it down the middle, take off the top layer of leaf, and scrape the gel out of the middle of the leaf. Voilá: homemade aloe gel.
1 Peppermint Water
Diluted peppermint water is a useful way to soothe upset tummies, gas, and colic. You may have had a cup of peppermint tea yourself as a digestif after a large dinner. This same idea, diluted to just a few peppermint leaves per cup of water and cooled, is good for your baby too, after you discuss the idea with your pediatrician. (The baby doesn’t need the whole cup either; just a few drops off a spoon is sufficient.)
Peppermint is an antispasmodic, and its leaves contain methanol, which encourages the flow of digestive juices and relaxes stomach and intestinal muscles. (You can combine this idea with a gentle back or tummy massage, too. A tummy massage is no more than a gentle circular pat, and always go in a clockwise direction to encourage proper digestion.)
Peppermint is also antibacterial, so it packs a wealth of super-powers into its innocuous-looking leaves. Remember, too strong a dose is not good for your baby, and use the leaves, not the oil.
Peppermint water in its grownup form—tea—is good for you, too! The muscle relaxant properties can help you sleep at night. It's also a decongestant. And although I've never personally noticed this, for some people its acts as an appetite suppressant. Peppermint can also slightly increase your estrogen levels, which can help with acne. And...it tastes good. So enjoy.