Archive for the ‘Michelle Ogniewski’ Category

What’s Up When Nothing Will Stay Down: Reflux vs. GERD

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Acid reflux vs GERDBringing a new baby home from the hospital is equal parts exciting and nerve-wracking. Thoughts of “he/she is so sweet, I’m already in love, I can’t wait to show him/her off to the world” mesh right in with “will I get any sleep, will he/she feed well?” With my first, I reacted to every little oddity, and I even recall my youngest making this arm-jerking motion to her side that freaked me out, which I of course brought right to my pediatrician’s attention. He chuckled as he explained how typical this was of newborns.

I also remember her early days being filled with difficult feeds, screaming fits accompanied by arching her back and tummy grumbles that just did not sound right. I had heard of babies having acid reflux, and I wondered if this was what my baby had.

What I found in my research, which my pediatrician confirmed, is that some babies have what people commonly refer to as reflux, a harmless tendency towards spitting up after feeds. In it’s harmless form, it doesn’t seem to cause baby discomfort, doesn’t cause additional medical problems, and seems to go away on it’s own. On the other end of the spectrum is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or “acid reflux” as it’s more commonly referred to. This is a medical condition in which your baby’s frequent spit up is causing pain and possibly other associated medical problems such as weight loss and apnea, and may require treatment. And because babies like to keep us guessing, your baby can also have “silent reflux” in which baby is indeed experiencing acid reflux, yet it’s not apparent since they may not spit up anything.

So how do you decipher whether or not your baby’s spit up is problematic?

1)     Mood. Is your baby a “happy spitter”? Chances are if she’s cooing and smiling while spitting up, she’s experiencing some innocent reflux and it will likely resolve on it’s own as her system matures. If your baby is arching her back and/or is screaming inconsolably after or during feeds, there is a likelihood she has GERD.

2)     Quantity. When our babies spit up, as moms, we are typically concerned that their weight gain is being compromised. How much actually comes up can be deceiving though. Take a tablespoon of water, and pour it on a surface. You’ll be surprised how much it appears to be. If your baby’s spit up seems to be much more than that, then it’s something you should bring to your pediatrician’s attention.

3)     Other issues accompany the spitting up. Other signs of GERD are chronic ear infections, chronic respiratory infections and/or pauses in breathing (apnea), and weight loss.

These are meant to be used as a guide, but remember there are always exceptions. For example, my youngest had GERD so severe that she required surgery, but all the while ranked very high on the growth chart. Likewise, as in silent reflux, your baby may scream and arch after feeds, but never actually spits up. Although this is not the typical case, it does happen, so be mindful that your baby may present with GERD without following all of the “rules.”

So you suspect your baby’s spit up is problematic, what can you do?
1) Document. Make note of your observations. Even take video if you can; my smartphone ended up being a useful tool in diagnosing some of my baby’s medical conditions, as babies don’t typically “perform” when brought in to the pediatrician’s office.

2) Consult. A trip to the pediatrician of course so he can review your observations and evaluate your baby for GERD and decide if he may need a study to look for an underlying cause of GERD, such as a hernia.

3) Position. Place your baby upright after feeds, and even while she sleeps. Fisher Price’s Rock and Play was a safe and simple solution to this problem for us, and it folds up easily and compactly so it came everywhere with us. You can also utilize the rollover technique to change diapers instead of lifting baby’s legs over her head, which can aggravate reflux.

3) Experiment. There is much to be said for natural therapies to treat tummy troubles including eliminating acidic foods (from your diet if you’re nursing) and feeding organically when possible, peppermint essential oil (used in a pure carrier oil) probiotics, and chiropractic care. I have safely used both with positive results. Although my youngest ultimately required surgery, it was due to other medical conditions complicating her GERD. Once her surgery was complete, she still went on to need a high dose of anti-reflux meds, which I was disappointed with, but I was able to get her off of these with the use of probiotics. My oldest daughter was well controlled with diet modifications, probiotics, and chiropractic care.

4) Medicate. Anti-reflux medication is another option and something your doctor may recommend if there is concern for your babies health.

Pay attention to your baby’s symptoms and trust your instincts. Many babies have harmless reflux; keep your eye on it until it settles down for your baby. If you are concerned your baby has GERD, educate yourself about treatment options, chat with other moms who have experienced it, and discuss with your pediatrician. Learning about natural therapies was a good place for me to start. I went down the line until I found an effective management plan.

However you decide to treat your baby’s GERD, you have your baby’s best interest in mind, and will make a decision that you are comfortable with. And the good news is GERD typically gets better as baby spends more time in the vertical position. So as the old saying goes, this too shall pass.

Michele Ogniewski is a mother of three, two of which were not happy spitters. She lives and writes in the Saratoga Springs area of New York.



How to Protect Against Winter Viruses

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

The winter is upon us, and what else creates a pit in my stomach besides the thought of sub-freezing temperatures keeping the kiddos stuck inside? The thought of all of the viruses that come with the season. You can’t change the weather, but you can change your child’s chances of avoiding some of the less desirable gifts of the season.

Probiotics are the “healthy” bacteria that exist in your gut. Most people associate with probiotics with gastrointestinal health. Although probiotics do have benefits to a healthy GI tract, what many do not recognize is the importance of probiotics in supporting your immune system. Over half of your body’s immunity is comprised of this healthy bacteria. If your body is lacking, you are lacking the ability to fight off viruses.

Every morning before school, my children receive 1 capsule of a probiotic. They don’t fight me on it, as I remind them every morning that it helps protect them from illnesses, and the repetition eventually sinks in. It has become part of our routine, just as breakfast is. I would never skip breakfast, so I would never skip this important step either. Standard Process makes a few variations of probiotics that I have come to love. I have purchased them through a clinical nutritionist, but they can also be found on Amazon.

A daily multivitamin seems very basic, but it is a good compliment to the probiotics. Even if your children are good eaters, they still are not getting the daily vitamins and minerals necessary to keep their immune system at it’s strongest. Make sure you are buying quality vitamins, and not ones filled with food dye and aspartame that do more harm than good. If you’re taking the time to work vitamins in, you want to make sure they are doing what you set out to intend to do—to improve their overall health. If your kids are picky, go to your local health food store and select ones that will be more appealing to them. There are a variety of textures and tastes for a reason. My personal favorite is Catalyn from the Standard Process line. They make a kid’s chewable which is small and tasty. But If your kids prefer chewy, I like Nordic Berries as well, which can be found in many health food stores.

Thieves Oil is an essential oil blend that is part of my daily preventive regimen. This particular blend is made by Young Living, but you can make your own with clove, lemon, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary. Its properties help your body’s ability to resist viruses and bacteria. Following morning vitamins, my children get one single drop rubbed on their hands. Even my one year old is protected with it, by rubbing it on the bottoms of her feet, so as to avoid the potential for contact with her eyes. Also after having company in our home, I diffuse the oil to eliminate airborne bacteria.

Sounds like a lot of extra steps for a mom to take on in our already busy schedule, but once it becomes part of your routine, it is quite simple. I am able to complete our morning supplements with three little kids in five minutes or less. I want to instill good habits in them, so when they are older and independent they will make good choices. Being repetitious with the basic principal that these are to help keep them healthy is something they are able to understand, and something they have come to value, even at their young age.

Will taking these steps ensure that your child will never get sick? Of course not. But you can rest assured knowing you are doing all you can to best prepare their little bodies for the season. If your child does come down with sniffles, or another sign of a virus coming on, I swear by introducing Echinacea at the first sign. It comes in a liquid dropper form, and given a few times a day has knocked a virus right down several times in my experience. I always have a bottle of it at home, as you never know when someone will start getting sick.

Michele Ogniewski is a part-time social worker and full-time mom of three who lives and writes in Saratoga Springs. She has a passion for healthy living and works for a wellness company.

Finding the Right Playgroup for Your Toddler

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Finding the Right Playgroup for Your ToddlerWhen my oldest daughter was nearly two, I remember sitting in her tumbling class, shocked at the expectation for the little ones to sit and hear the directions for the planned activity, and then wait in line for their turn at each station. I remember thinking, “Wow, this class seems strict for the intended age group!” and at the same time thanking my lucky stars (because it was pure luck) that my daughter handled the sitting and waiting part okay. 

Although we had our other challenges with her, she wasn’t a very busy natured kid.  I recall a few little ones who didn’t handle it so well, and my heart went out to the parents who, week after week, showed up and tried to get their children to abide to the “sitting” rules. When the session expired, they did not re-enroll.

Four years later, here I am with a strong willed 22-month-old who would NEVER sit for such a class. She is the youngest of three, and I am starting feel a bit guilty that she isn’t involved in as many groups and activities as my other two were at her age. Quite honestly, those groups began to intimidate me because I know my daughter. She is busy. She has a short attention span. If she sees an activity, she cannot wait to dive in. Highly structured classes wouldn’t work for her right now.  I wanted to get her involved in activities, but I didn’t want it to be a frustrating, unfulfilling experience. After all, it’s a playgroup; it’s supposed to be fun, right? Thankfully just as toddlers come in all “varieties,” so do play groups and classes, and I set out to find the right one for her.

I considered our local book store and library for “story hour” but upon looking at the description of the class, I knew she would not sit on my lap for half hour while read to by the librarian. She would want to move about and explore the room. However, our library offered a similar class, but it was a musical story hour in which the tots would be up singing songs along and shaking maracas with the weekly story. This class might work for her. I also sought out our local community recreational center and looked at their list of offerings. They had a few structured classes for her age groups. The running in a gym piece sounded up her alley, until I contacted the instructor to get a bit of information about the class, and learned that the children are expected to follow directions and stay with the group. Hmm, my toddler wasn’t there quite yet. There was, however, a class that was more of an open gym hour for moms with toddlers.  They put out tricycles and balls and hula hoops and allowed the kids free range of the gym while an instructor guided and supervised their play.

18-24 months is a great age to get your child involved in playgroups and classes.  It gives them opportunity for their play to move from parallel to interactive play, teaches them to share and other skills that are important for their social and emotional development. Classes and groups tend to lump kids together and indicate appropriateness of a class based on age. However, toddlers learn, grow and develop in different areas at different rates.  So just because the class indicates it’s intended for 18-24 month olds, don’t assume it’s a good fit for your child. Instead of signing your child up and hoping for the best, do your homework. Look into the group and find out what the expectation is and what exactly they will be doing. If there is a description of the class available to you, great, if not, ask. Ask the instructor, or ask other moms who have had experience with the group. You know your child best, so if the group doesn’t sound like a good fit, move on and look at others that will be a better fit for your child’s personality and current developmental level.

If your toddler is “spirited,” as I like to call my daughter, don’t cross playgroups and classes off of the list for her.  And also don’t feel like a failure if story hour won’t work for your child. Use it as an opportunity to help her grow in an area that you know she needs help with. Go to the library in the children’s area, and pick out a toddler friendly book.  Place her on your lap and have her sit for 5 minutes and be read to.  Another day make it 8 minutes, then 10.  Each time, reward her success by letting her up to play and eventually she will be there. Be patient, and remember that the child who is sitting quietly through story hour may be shy during gym classes, which may be equally frustrating to her mom, as was the case for me with my oldest child.

I speak most of the busy child as that is what’s on my plate right now, but for the more reserved/shy type, don’t permanently take busy gym type classes off her list forever.  Instead, expose her to open gym times for a little bit. Get there early before it gets too crowded, allow her to get comfortable in the environment in a casual way.  She will eventually warm-up. The point is, all kids have their things, and finding a group that fosters her current strengths, while giving her time to grow in other areas, is the key to her (and your) happiness and success with the group.

Michele Ogniewski is a mom of three young children who have provided her with a variety of experiences in the toddler years. She is also a part-time social worker with young children and families.

Avoiding Food Allergens at a Holiday Party

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Avoiding Allergens at a Holiday PartySo you have a kid with food allergies, and you’ve got things under control at home. You are very diligent, very careful. You do his grocery shopping, you prepare his meals, you are in complete control of what goes in his body. So what happens when you have an upcoming holiday party? You don’t know what the menu will be, and even if you bring food from home, surely your strong-willed toddler will want what he sees others eating. Tackling the holidays with a food intolerant or allergic kid certainly puts a spin on your daily plan, but it can be managed by planning ahead.

First step, call your host. Find out what the menu will be. When you explain you have a child with a food allergy (they will most likely already know), the host will undoubtedly be as helpful as possible with filling you in. They are your family/friends, so don’t be shy to ask. From there, you have a few options.

1. When at all possible, make a dish to be shared, so your child sees the food is for everyone and not just him. In a young child, it will increase the likelihood that he eats it, and in older children it will make them feel less singled out. For example, holiday meals generally involve casseroles—potato casseroles, vegetable casseroles. If your child cannot have dairy, bring a casserole of your own without the cheese and cream soups. You know your substitutes, so pull them out and make a great dish to be shared. If cross-contamination is a concern, bring your own serving spoon and don’t be afraid to gently remind people of your situation.

2) For bulk dishes (think mashed potatoes) which wouldn’t be a practical make ahead option to be shared, ask your host to keep some plain before mixing in other ingredients and then prepare your child’s with your substitutes. I revert to my family/friend statement. It would be wasteful for you to prepare an entire pot of this. When preparing your child’s plate, grab a serving of the “safe” potatoes that you’ve left aside. Mashed potatoes look like mashed potatoes. They’re on everyone’s plate, including your child’s, thanks to the quick extra step.

3) Offer to bring a dessert. Desserts always seems to be the trickiest part, as it’s a holiday staple, yet poses the most opportunity for allergens to be present—eggs, nuts, dairy. My soon to be 2-year-old lacks the enzymes to break down lactose (sugar found in milk products), and she also has fructose malabsorption, which means her body cannot digest fructose. She cannot eat healthy things like fruit. But it also means she can’t have high-fructose corn syrup which is in most packaged foods, especially desserts. And what’s a holiday party without yummy dessert? The dessert menu is typically less predictable, because it tends to be one of those things that guests offer to bring. Because of this, I offer to bring a few desserts that are in my “secret stash” of recipes that are safe but also a huge hit with my daughter. I exclusively reserve these for situations when desserts she cannot have are plentiful. She loves my no-bake cookies consisting of quick oats, coconut oil, natural dairy-free cocoa powder, and peanut butter (she does not have nut allergies). Did you hear the “no bake” part? I make them in a jif and I freeze a few dozen so I can pull them out for these occasions. Even better, she doesn’t have them often, so when she sees them she wants them! Again, kids gravitate to the main attraction, so instead of making a few to keep in a container tucked away in the diaper bag just for her, I bring enough to have on a platter as part of the dessert presentation. If she sees others grabbing for them, all the better in her little mind!

Do these suggestions require a few extra steps? Of course. Will you be contributing more to the various parts of the meal than the other guests? Most likely. However, you can do most of the prep work ahead of time, and it will save you from watching your toddler have a melt down when he can’t have anything from the table. Will there be a few bumps along the way? Possibly. But you are there, and you’re there as a family, and there will be enough safe foods for your child that are not much different from everyone else’s, and you might even get a compliment on your cookies from an unsuspecting Uncle Fred who doesn’t like healthy desserts. Happy Holidays.

Michele Ogniewski is a mom of a little girl with digestive problems, who works hard at balancing a safe diet with everyday life. 

Harsh Chemicals in Your Laundry

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

When my daughter, Hailey, was 2 years old, we spent many nights listening to her cough so hard she started to sound out of breath.  It was the winter so we thought it was a bad virus at first, but when it persisted we became concerned.  We brought her to her pediatrician and described her nightly coughing fits, and he told us she had asthma. She was put on a medication for allergies and asthma, and we were given steroids to be used in a nebulizer. Wow. What just happened?

My daughter is very sensitive and tends to experience every side effect possible, so I was a little alarmed by this new and sudden medication regimen.  I respect the use of medicine in health care, but I am always cautious when it’s not addressing the root cause of the issue, and I felt like this was one of those times.

I started to research and read that there are many household toxins that can be inducing and/or contributing to a child’s respiratory ailments.  I was a bit skeptical when I found that the most basic household products, such as my laundry detergent, could be causing my daughters respiratory problems.  It’s not sprayed in the air, so how could this be such an irritant that it could cause my daughter to cough so bad that she needed steroids to open her airways? Then I was horrified when I read about the ingredients in such products and the dangers associated.  Common sense told me that Clorox bleach is a potentially dangerous irritant, but I never would have thought the same of my basic laundry soap.

You know those pretty scents you love to smell coming from your laundry room? Well the artificial fragrances are made from petroleum and are linked to allergies and irritation.  Many laundry detergents also use Ethanol, which is linked to damage to the lungs, amongst other health problems–absolutely horrifying. You can find anything you want on the internet, good or bad, so I made sure my research was always through valid sources, including a government website—the Environmental Protection Agency. It doesn’t get anymore legit than that. If the EPA is telling me that bleach is a registered pesticide, and I keep my children away from that when outdoors, I know I don’t want it introduced inside my home.

That very day I went and bought an organic laundry detergent free of artificial fragrances and dangerous irritants. I used a little drop of lavender essential oil to get that nice scent I can’t go without. I started washing everyone’s clothes and linens in it until everything was safe.  At the same time, my daughter had already been on her steroid and anti-histamine regimen.  While we did see a drastic decrease in her coughing fits/breathing episodes, behavior changes including hyperactivity, anxiety and restlessness came with it. Now it was time to put it to the test. I slowly weaned her off all of her medications, and we still had a cough-free Hailey. If she caught a cold, we would see a few breathing episodes, but they were few and far between and nothing compared to the nightly hacking she had been enduring.

As a bonus, as soon as she got off all of those medications that were merely putting a Band-Aid on the problem, she resumed her typical demeanor as well.  As a second unintentional test, upon accidental re-exposure to a basic laundry product, she immediately began coughing at night again.  I never thought about the impact of what chemicals she was exposed to at night when she was sleeping, but it made sense, since she always pulls her blankets up to her face and buries her face in her pillow.

I had so much guilt for what I had caused her, but it was not my fault.  Cleaning products have changed drastically from the baking soda using days of our grandmas.  And now with all the large conglomerates in competition with one another, a quick, inexpensive way to make a cleaning product is to pack a bunch of harsh chemicals into the recipe. They work, they clean, but they also work on our systems to break them down.  I used to feel a certain amount of guilt in passing this information on to the unsuspecting mom, but not anymore.  As moms, we should support each other by sharing our knowledge.  Not one of us knows everything, but if we all unite to exchange information we are a wealth of knowledge amongst us. I don’t judge moms for the products they use, because I was once there. I didn’t know. But now I do, and my children’s health is much better off because of it.

How do your products stack up?

Visit the Environmental Working Group to get a score based on toxicity. They tested more than 600 brands of laundry detergents and additives, and give an easy-to-digest score of A through F to rank them. You can also search for products by name, if you want to see how the items in your laundry room add up, or by ranking if you need to find an alternative product to what you are using now.

You can also find a range of green, eco-friendly and non-toxic laundry alternatives at Mom’s Milk Boutique.

Michele Ogniewski is a part-time social worker and full-time mom to 3 children.  She lives and writes in Saratoga Springs, NY.