Natural Remedies vs. Antibiotics for Kids: What’s a Mom to Do?


by Aviva Romm: MD, Midwife, Herbalist, Momma and Grandmomma

Thirty-two years ago, when the first of my four kids was a tiny tot, I was eager to learn everything I could about natural treatments for common kid’s conditions. There wasn’t much information available on how to use natural remedies, and most folks I knew took their kids to the doctor’s office for every fever and sniffle, accepting whatever medication was handed out as the solution. I knew that there was a healthier way to treat my son rather than to treat every symptom with an antibiotic.

I remember feeling anxious and vulnerable treating that first fever and upper respiratory infection he had, choosing not to use conventional therapies. What if I missed a dangerous illness? How would I know if my little one was really sick and needed a medicine? Could I really trust the bond I felt between my baby and me to guide my intuition and common sense in decision-making around health care issues? Could I really trust herbs and foods to help?

Around that time I took a class with a wise older doctor who told me that in all of his 30 years of practice, he’d only once had a case where he found an illness in a child that the momma hadn’t picked up on first. Knowing this gave me a lot of confidence to trust myself to take care of my kids. I’ve since heard this sentiment repeated many times by experienced family doctors and pediatricians.

Now, three decades into using natural medicines, I have treated many hundreds of children, and through my books and classes, have supported thousands of families in taking care of their kids naturally. I have gained tremendous insight into when and how to use herbs and other natural approaches safely and effectively, and when medical care is appropriate – and still believe that moms generally do know when their kids are well, and when they are not.

This blog provides you with resources that give you clear, simple guidelines that you can use to make intelligent choices about antibiotic use, and links you up with some of my favorite recipes for fever, cough, and ear infections in kids.

Should I Give My Child Antibiotics?

In 2011 the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report on the problem of unnecessary antibiotic prescribing for kids. They found that doctors were unnecessarily prescribing antibiotics for kids more than 50% of the time, most often for upper respiratory infections (colds, coughs, ear infections, sinusitis, and sore throats).

Inappropriate antibiotic prescribing is the primary cause of antibiotic resistance, which is a major global public health problem. Further, medical science is waking up to the fact that pediatric antibiotic exposure is not benign, and may lead to asthma, eczema, and the development of inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease later in life.

Other commonly prescribed adjunct therapies for common kids’ infections, for example, Tylenol and ibuprofen carry the potential for serious side effects, including the development of asthma and gastrointestinal bleeding, respectively. Tylenol overuse is one of the most common causes of liver failure in the United States. While antibiotics and other medications can be are lifesaving when necessary, when overprescribed and misused, the consequences can be deadly!

Antibiotics are often given unnecessarily for common pediatric infections because doctors think that parents want or expect them. Indeed, I’ve had to talk dozens of parents out of an antibiotics prescription – they are accustomed to doctors giving meds, and they are afraid and don’t want their kids to suffer. Doctors also prescribe antibiotics because they are worried about missing a serious diagnosis – and then there is also fear of litigation for the rare missed or undertreated infection.

The truth is that:

  • You generally do not have to treat fever. Comfort measures and lot of fluids are the most important treatments for most kids.
  • Antibiotics do not treat coughs due to viral infections and are almost never indicated for coughs due to colds or bronchitis but are overprescribed for both.
  • Ear infection is the most common reason for a pediatric office visit, and one of the most common conditions leading to antibiotic over-prescription. Approximately 80% of kids with acute otitis media get better without antibiotics!

If you haven’t caught my subtext by now, I’m a big advocate of avoiding unnecessary antibiotic use, and the fact is, for common pediatric infections, they’re unnecessary. Natural approaches can play a huge role in supporting health and comfort while avoiding unnecessary medications.

Here are a few of my top blogs and podcasts on common kids’ symptoms and conditions to get you started confidently in caring for your kids at home naturally, and knowing when medications are needed.

Natural MD Radio: Who’s Afraid of Fever in Kids?

Sore Throat: Do You (or Your Kids) Need an Antibiotic? + Some Natural Sore Throat Treatments

Ear Infections Part 2: Antibiotics or Natural Remedies for Kid’s Ear Infections: What to Use & When

Want to Learn More?

Want to learn how treat your kids’ common illnesses with natural remedies? Get your free ebookHerbs for Kids: Taking Charge of Your Child’s Health Naturally. If you have a copy, pull it out – now’s a great time to start using it. If you don’t have one, it’s easy to get – simply sign and you’ll get immediate access. There is no cost.

If you want to take a deep dive into learning how to use natural remedies for most common kids’ conditions, join my course, Healthy All YearIt’s a course that will get you confident in natural medicine for your kids, a reference when you need it most, and an online community, too!

Stay tuned to my weekly E-newsletter  to be the first to know about the Healthy All Year Seasonal Sales! 

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Linda

Hi from upstate ny. Singing to the choir here :-). My kids are 10 and 16. All natural birth breast fed for 3 yrs no vaccines no anti biotics. MY daughters constitution very strong my son not so much. Since he's older he refuses all my "witch craft" but I do get him to eat veggies. My heart and soul Is w pregnant moms and babies. I would love to study and practice midwifery although educating on why we must have more conscious birth is also my focus. I am 51 and work in a sleep lab I practice massage for my own joy and therapy and have a birth keepers circle at my home every Monday night. Love community and connecting heart to heart. Linda

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ambika

Hi Aviva! Thanks for all you do to get this message out. Our son will turn 11 in a few weeks. He's never taken antibiotics in his life so far. The few times he's been ill, even as a babe, he responded beautifully to natural remedies and common sense care. We also chose not to vaccinate him. The fact is, kids are harder than folks think they are, and our bodies know how to restore balance. Thank you for reinforcing our confidence in the innate intelligence of the life force! Keep up the great work you are doing providing resources to women to take charge of their family's health and their own. Love and gratitude! Ambika in Vermont

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ambika

That was supposed to read, kids are hardier than folks think.

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J Clayton

How do you feel about using antibiotics for an 8-year-old who has a Lymes Disease diagnosis?

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    aviva

    ABSOLUTELY APPROPRIATE in most cases. That's what I would do especially if just diagnosed or never treated with a round of antibiotics. Best wishes!

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Lindsay Wilson

I think this really says it all! ~ thank you for such a wonderfully written article ~ "Antibiotics are often given unnecessarily for common pediatric infections because doctors think that parents want or expect them. Indeed, I’ve had to talk dozens of parents out of an antibiotics prescription – they are accustomed to doctors giving meds, and they are afraid and don’t want their kids to suffer. Doctors also prescribe antibiotics because they are worried about missing a serious diagnosis – and then there is also fear of litigation for the rare missed or undertreated infection."

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Cristina

I've been recurring your newsletter for a while now, but perhaps I glossed over one & didn't see the link to download the book. Perhaps you could add that as a tag line on the email in case others missed it too? In the meantime, how may get a copy? Re sign up?

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    aviva

    hi! if you go to the main page and just register in one of the registration boxes that should take you to it. if not please email [email protected] thx! aviva

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Katie

I am new to your blog, so far love what I see! I try to avoid any and all unnecessary medications/treatments both for my children and myself, but have given in several times and administered Children's Tylenol to my healthy daughter (now 3) who seems to get exceedingly high fevers during teething or when fighting a common virus. (104-105+ for several days to a week at a time). What would your suggestion be here? I have really felt quite guilty for giving her Tylenol, but too scared to leave the high fevers for multiple days to see if her body would fight it off without receiving damage.

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    aviva

    Hi Katie, First off -- no guilt needed! We all do the best with the knowledge we have at the time. A small amount of tylenol here and there is not a crime. That said, in general, fevers do not need treatment as long as there is not serious underlying cause -- in which case THAT is what needs to be treated (i.e. a bacterial infection like pneumonia). Check out my pedi-ebook on my website for suggestions for when your little one has fevers. It is free -- you just have to sign up on the main page. It takes getting comfortable not giving meds to reduce fever.... And no guilt!!! :) Aviva

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Jessica

Thanks, Aviva! You rock! I love reading your stuff. I have a question: my 15 month old son is as healthy as a clam (sidenote: are clams really all that healthy? :-)) born at home, only been to doctor for routine check-ups. Recently his doctor recommended that we give him multi-vitamin. What are your thoughts on this? He still nurses quite a bit and we eat an excellent diet ... do you think a multi-vitamin or other supplement is a good idea? If so, what brands?

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    aviva

    Hi Jessica If children are getting a wide range of good nutrition and have been getting appropriate vitamin D (no need to supplements once solids are started especially if he's getting any milk) then a MVI is not essential but can give a bit of a boost when kids are picky -- which is common in toddlers. IT can give you a little piece of mind as well. I like Rainbow Lite multi's -- they are a good quality company that you can get in local health foods stores. I prefer food based multis. Keep up the great mothering! :) Aviva

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Linda S

Aviva, I really appreciate the moderate approach you take to natural remedies. In many cases, illness can be handled at home, but not in all cases. I appreciate that you openly recognize this fact and encourage people to make sensible choices with their health. My daughter turns six months next week, and I find too much polarization in treatment options. "Crunchy" friends suggest never going to see a doctor because "all they do is give you antibiotics when you don't need them" yet I sometimes feel it's important to have a professional opinion. It is a rare thing to find a medical professional who will recommend natural, common sense home treatments with the same gravity that they recommend medications. Even though you are at a distance and do not know our family personally, I find it beneficial to have your site to refer to when my instinct says I am getting extremist advice!

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Taniya Agrawal

Hi Aviva..1st i saw that kid's photo in your post. I am really appreciate your post & i think we should not take any chance about health of our kids. Thanks for posting such a nice post. God bless you..

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Tammy

Hi, my son is 6 He went to the dentist yesterday & the dentist said he has an infection in his tooth prescribed antibiotics which I'm not comfortable giving him can I treat this naturally We live in Hawaii where medical care is behind the times please any advice is greatly appreciated

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    aviva

    hi tammy tooth infections are tough. there are a lot of herbal antimicrobials but you don't want the infection to get into the gum. i'd work with a local naturopath ASAP to see if you can get it under control -- but there's certainly a time and place for antibiotics! best. Aviva

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Avital

If my daughter has a UTI do absolutely have to give antibiotics or can I treat it naturally by flushing it out?

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    aviva

    Little girls often do need an antibiotic for UTI treatment, but check with her pediatrician....

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Amber Hamilton

Hi Aviva! I love your blogs. I'm doing my best to try and take a more natural approach to treating illness in my boys, ages are 2 (almost 3) and 8 months. My oldest son was prescribed antibiotics for a sore throat a year ago and he had a very severe allergic reaction including hives, swelling throughout his entire body and very sensitive joints. It was a very scary experience and ever since that happened I have decided I really need to do my best to stay away from antibiotics as well as other OTCs, including NSAIDs. Recently my 2-year-old was diagnosed with a really bad sinus infection. His doc said there was pus, green and grey mucous draining in the back of his throat and prescribed antibiotics. I don't want to give them to him and am trying to figure out another way to treat. My husband feels like at this point antibiotics are necessary. When would you say that antibiotics are necessary in this case? When there is pus and grey mucous present? If I do give him the antibiotic I was planning on accompanying it with a probiotic. Thank you!

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    aviva

    Hi Amber, I can't give personal health information of this sort, but I'd say take a look at the CDC Get Smart website for guidance on when antibiotics are needed for sinus infections. Sometimes they are really necessary and it's ok to give them! Best, Aviva

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Kerri

My 5 yr old daughter is on her 5th round of antibiotics for recurring UTIs. Just recently the MD. Prescribes an antibiotic 'to get her started' only to find 3 days that the one she have us isn't the right one for her bacteria. The advise I got, you don't want to wait in case the bacteria travels to the kidney. Do you have any initial thoughts about this over use of antibiotics (what I think) but perhaps it's necessary.

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    aviva

    Hi Kerri, Your daughter probably needs to be seen by a pediatric urologist to get to the bottom of why she's having recurrent UTIs. I'd also add in a probiotic, check for pinworms, remove all gluten and add in cranberry-d-mannose for prevention. But the pedi urologist super important....

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