These days it seems everywhere I look I see the words “all natural”. I have to admit that when I am shopping and comparing two products frequently the product that seems less processed is the one that ends up in my shopping cart. This is especially true when it comes to buying products and food for my son. After all, we all want the best for our kids. But, I think we need to remind ourselves that just because something is natural does not necessarily mean it is healthy, safe, or good for our kids.
The word “natural” is actually pretty meaningless when is comes to product labeling. There is very little company oversight for use of the word “natural” on both food and personal/cleaning products. “Natural” products may contain chemicals, processed ingredients, and preservatives. Even foods listed as organic may be heavily processed. It seems every product in the baby aisle is labeled as “natural” or “organic”. Natural fruit snacks? Check. Natural yogurt melts? Check. Organic puffs, crackers, cookies? Check. Hmmm…I bet I would be better off simply feeding my son fruit, yogurt, and whole grains. As it turns out, we have to vigilant about reading ingredient labels.
What about once we have read the labels? Unfortunately, there is still no guarantee that the products are safe or good for our children. A couple of years ago I met a child who had developed multiple corneal abrasions (painful scratches to the surface of the eye). Her parents recalled that she was fine all day and then during her bath began screaming uncontrollably. That evening they had used a new soap at bath time. It was a “natural” specialty soap they were given as a gift. The soap did not fully dissolve in the water and when water splashed onto the child’s face her eyes were “cut” by shards of soap still present in the water. The parents were as shocked as I was that soap could cause such a painful injury.
As a pediatrician I frequently spend time talking with parents about ways to take care of typical childhood ailments such as teething, colds, and upset stomachs. Parents often have questions about the use of natural remedies. In many cases natural or home remedies can be useful. Honey, for example, has been found to be a useful home remedy for coughing (in kids older than 1 year). However, many natural treatments/products have not been well studied and it can be difficult to ascertain the safety of these products in kids. Some teething tables, for instance, contain belladonna. Belladonna is type of plant and its leaves and roots are used for medicinal purposes. Belladonna is thought to provide relief from the pain and inflammation of the gums during teething. Belladonna can also cause elevated heart rate, dizziness, drowsiness, upset stomach, and seizures. It certainly is natural, but it is not necessarily safe to give to babies.
I am certainly not advocating that natural products are bad, only that we need to be careful with all products we use in children. The word natural is not synonymous with healthy and safe. Unfortunately, very little research has been done to ascertain the safety of “natural” products. I always encourage parents to discuss natural or herbal remedies they are using with their child’s pediatrician. As parents it is our job to carefully weigh the pros and cons of using any product/medication and make the best decision for our families and our children.