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Fever and Non-Intervention: A Mother’s Hand


by Kelly Brogan, MD

docmom3A mother’s hand is the finest-gauged instrument available when it comes to assessing the presence of a fever in her child. When I felt my daughter’s head this morning, I knew her body was in a state of inner turmoil, and my mind leapt to my pantry of herbs, homeopathy, and nutrients.

You see, I haven’t entirely unlearned my “fix it” interventionist ways that I spent the better part of a decade having drilled into my mind, heart, and body. That said, I’ve put a tremendous amount of effort into “unlearning” the one illness, one drug model of modern medicine, and have come to appreciate just how little we do know about the intricate mechanisms set up to optimize our survival in a hostile world.

Here are some of the pearls that I bring to my day-to-day interfacing with my children’s health:

#1: DON’T BE SCARED

Harm befalling our children is hard-wired to inspire fear and vigilance. It is natural.

In fact, “fever phobia” has persisted for decades according to this article in Pediatrics, driven by innate parental fearfulness and collusion by doctors in recommending interventions for pediatric fever. This is why it’s so hard to truly sit back and allow the dance of the immune system and nature to take its sophisticated, but ultimately limited course, when it comes to run of the mill illness in childhood.

This is easier for me to say because I have been trained to determine when a presentation constitutes an emergency and when it doesn’t. Part of releasing the fear is appreciating that our bodies have evolved to eradicate pathogens, and to detoxify themselves, and that, in the setting of a generally supported immune system (nutrient-dense, low sugar diet, adequate sleep and movement, pure water and air), our children’s bodies will take care of themselves.

I encourage my older daughter to think about the power of her body to heal itself. At night, before bed, we give the “soldiers” (aka her white blood cells) a list of minor tasks to manage, like scrapes and cuts. It is challenging to cultivate trust in our bodies, particularly because we want to do something, which inherently implies that our bodies are inadequate and need help.The something that we do; however, can take the form of supporting the body or interfering with its processes in the name of symptom eradication.

#2: SUPPORT RATHER THAN MEDICATE

My children have never taken medication or antibiotics.

I believe it to be at odds with their growth and development, and view these interventions as those recruited for life or death scenarios after failure of natural alternatives, which in many cases are as effective without side effects or prolonging illness, such as elderberry for the flu.

The study of “complementary and alternative medicine” treatments is hindered by lack of standardization and quality control of products, suboptimal dosing, and heterogeneity of patients.

The medical establishment is also biased against natural supplements and focused on demonstrating harm while they routinely apply intended-for-adult pharmaceuticals to children for indications without an evidence-base for safety or efficacy.

Anti-inflammatory medications like Motrin and Tylenol disrupt the body’s sophisticated immune response and may promote onset of chronic atopic illnesses such as asthma because they deplete the body’s most powerful antioxidant, glutathione.

Antibiotics are becoming increasingly maligned for their overprescription, their ability to disrupt the microbial balance in the gut, and for their cellular toxicity.

I know that moms often need to “do something”, and I can relate to this. This is why my preference is to support the body’s innate immune response, and to recognize that fever and other symptoms that may arise, are signs of appropriate repair.

For this reason, I turn to:

  • child-friendly botanicals, which communicate with the body on sophisticated levels without risk of adverse effects at conservative doses,
  • homeopathy which is an energetic medicine that uses nanoparticles to shift and educate the body about a more adaptive response,
  • immune support nutrients such as zinc, vitamin A, D, C, and probiotics, and
  • comfort measures like essential oils, vaporizers, baths, and rubs.

You can even look to traditional therapeutic foods for their healing value, going no further than a homemade chicken soup for its antibiotic activity!

My favorite go-to resource is this one by Andrea Candee, a natural healer who recommends household foods and herbs for treatment.

#3: LEARN TO TRUST YOURSELF RATHER THAN YOUR DOCTOR

The more holistically-oriented moms I know have the same desires – to protect and nourish their children – and the same fears – of missing an opportunity to intervene or choosing the wrong intervention – as more conventionally-minded moms.

The difference is in where we have vested our trust.

After many years of unlearning what I thought to be “the truth” about health and illness, I have come to understand that most physicians get their information from a pharmaceutically-driven model that focuses on symptom suppression at all costs.

“Evidence” is ill-equipped to examine inter-individual differences, and long-term immune and inflammatory effects.

It makes a lot of sense to start with a more gentle, less-side-effect-prone intervention to support the body, and this requires an appreciation of more traditional approaches to health and wellness and the wisdom of our relationship with our natural surroundings.

We’ve lost that inner compass, but it can be cultivated. Parents can learn to sit in a place of cool, calm, collectedness, watch their children, be present with them, and offer their bodies gentle, natural healing strategies – like putting an arm around them and supporting their limp rather than pinning them to the front of a 4X4 truck and blasting them forward. Pharmaceutical interventions are aggressive and that aggression comes with a price.

#4: IF YOU NEED GUIDANCE, FIND THE RIGHT KIND

I refer my friends, family, and patients to Fearless Parent expert, pediatrician Larry Palevsky’s site, with tremendous pointers and data-driven tidbits. He believes, as I do, that there is a complexity and beauty to the body and mind that is not encompassed by the allopathic model. He shares my concerns about pharmaceutical products and patterns of current pediatric care. There are others around the country who embrace this model of care, and you may find one near you at this site.

The unfortunate truth is that our children are the sickest in the developed world, and are suffering from chronic diseases that used to be rare and limited to the adult population. Our model of care and our lifestyle choices are promoting sickness, compromised immunity, and chronic inflammation, and we have to take a step back and critically examine our practices as a population.

Perhaps if we embraced acute illness as a part of health, we would not be creating so much chronic disease.  We might just have the opportunity to witness our children’s capacity for self-repair if we start to practice non-intervention…a radical form of medicine.

Kelly doesn’t own a thermometer and has quite a lot of valuable pantry real estate devoted to natural remedies.

 

13 Comments

  • Joy Davis

    Dr. Palevsky was so amazing at keeping me calm when my daughter was having febrile seizures. I truly wish all parents were able to have a resource like him.

  • Courtney

    I agree completely with your post! However, my daughter had a febrile seizure during her first ever fever when she was 11 months old. It was horrible. The worst experience of my life. So what do we do for kids who are prone to febrile seizures. I’m so scared of it happening.

  • Kelly Brogan MD

    Hi Courtney
    This is *completely* understandable and natural. I think that even Joy’s comment might help to demonstrate that the proper support can go a long way. There is also some suggestion that febrile seizures are more likely after fever suppressing medications (not sure if this was relevant in your case) and that low blood sugar plays a role, so that sips of dilute organic juice may help. I think it’s important to try to get in touch with the fact that her body can handle healing itself. This makes some of the fear dissipate.
    Warmly,
    KB

    • Courtney C.

      Courtney, my daughter has also had febrile seizures since she was 2. She’s now 6. I find Kelly’s statement to be absolutely true. I had never given medicines to my other children for fevers but did give them to her after the terrifying experiences of her seizures. What I ended up discovering was that the seizures seemed to always occur as the medications wore off, before the next dose could be taken, causing her fever to spike back up. Now I use other natural tools like essential oils which don’t take her fever down as far and allow it to run its course without spiking while keeping her calm. She is doing so much better now and the difference is drastic. When I would give her the medicine, she would always be sick exactly three times longer than her brothers who had not taken anything except natural remedies. Since I stopped giving her medicine, she now gets well as quickly as they do. It has been a very eye-opening study in what Tylenol and Motrin can do! Now she has gone two fevers without any seizures and we are praying her body has healed. It is a terrible experience, and I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through it!

    • Courtney

      Thanks for your responses. When she had the seizure, I had not given any medication at all. I didn’t even attempt any natural remedies because I wanted her body to do its work. She had the seizure and was taken to the ER, and I was completely berated that I hadn’t given her Tylenol. The docs and nurses tried to make me feel like it was my fault she had the seizure. Despite them, I still don’t trust or use medications, but I’m a terrified, nervous wreck when she gets a fever. I’ve searched everywhere for natural info on this, and everyone says they’re ok. I just can’t ge on board with thinking a seizure is ok. The fruit juice/low blood sugar info is the first valuable info I’ve heard, so thank you!

  • Monique Wijbenga

    So great to read something like that! I have had for children and I would hardly ever use any medication, Lots of love ,Fluids and bed rest fixes a lot of sickness! I do believe there are a lot of scare tactics being used regarding your health and your families health.

  • Kristina

    Hi!
    I’m all about natural, but have a child who suffers from febreil seizures:( so I quick on the meds to lower the fever as it spikes quit high quit quickly… Any suggestions? Thanks!

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  • Andrea Candee

    Hi Kelly, Got a book order from a mom in Honk Kong who read about me in your article. Thank you so much for spreading the word. I’ll do the same for your wonderful article.
    Blessings of health, Andrea Candee

  • Andrea Candee

    Found out about your article just in time to share with a worried mom…thanks!

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