Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Barf-O-Rama: How to cope when a stomach virus hits your house

On Sunday night we were up all night with a vomiting toddler. Tis the season. Aside from pregnancy, dealing with stomach bugs has always been my least favorite part of parenting. I've suffered from emetophobia (a phobia vomiting) all my life and having kids certainly exposes me to that fear on a regular basis!

My biggest fear these days isn't dealing with a sick child in itself, but the idea of myself, my other child and my husband all catching it and being ill at the same time with nobody to help out. I've seen it happen to other families countless times, so I do everything in my power to prevent it from spreading once it's in the house. Here is how I cope...

While they are still getting sick

For a baby/toddler I lay a large towel across the crib. Every time they throw up I toss the messy towel into the laundry and lay down a clean one. This is much easier than constantly changing the sheets (or worse, running out of clean ones).

Keeping a toddler in a crib or playpen keeps them from wandering around the house wiping germs on everything, or from touching their healthy siblings. I do this until I'm sure they are done vomiting. For my older child I lay her in bed or on the couch with a bucket lined with a plastic bag. Every time she gets sick I just replace the bag.

After handling vomit I wash my hands thoroughly with soap and hot water AND sanitize using a foaming hand sanitizer containing benzalkonium chloride in concentrations of 0.13% or more. Wet ones also contain this concentration. Alcohol based hand sanitizers DO NOT KILL norovirus, the virus responsible for most stomach bugs.

Please don't tell yourself 'I don't have to worry, I got the flu shot'. The flu shot does NOT protect against stomach viruses. The flu is a respiratory virus (influenza) causing fever, aches, headache and cough and the 'stomach flu' is caused by norovirus, which is a completely different illness that does not currently have a vaccine. It's massively contagious and has an incubation period of 36 hours. That means most people tend to get sick a day and a half after being exposed.

It hasn't been proven, but drinking large amounts of grape juice around the time of exposure can cut down on the risk of catching it. But if it doesn't work it would be horrible to barf back up all that purple liquid!

Once they have stopped vomiting for good

Wash your child! Get them in the tub and wash their hair, hands, face and body with a good soap. Scrub their hands well! Once you drain the water rinse out the tub with the shower to make sure all of the germs are washed down.

Mop any hard floors they have been sick on with bleach. Make sure you use a new bottle, an opened bottle isn't as effective. If they have thrown up on carpet make sure you steam clean it or scrub it with bleach solution. Norovirus can live for up to 2 weeks in carpet.

In any room that someone has thrown up in, wipe down the walls, surfaces, crib slats, etc. with lysol wipes. Projectile vomit sprays invisible droplets up to 15 feet and remains living and contagious on hard surfaces for days sometimes.

Wash any soiled linens and clothing in hot water and dry on hot heat. Wipe out the inside of the laundry basket with a lysol wipe or solution to kill any germs that may have been on the linens before putting the clean clothes back in the basket. You don't want to contaminate the clothes you just washed!

For any stuffed animals that have been caught in the crossfire I put them in a mesh lingerie bag and throw them in the washing machine. If they are the singing kind full of wires and batteries I give them a sponge bath with dish soap, hot water, wash cloths and a toothbrush. I either put them in the dryer or hang them to dry. Any toys that aren't completely sterilized should be kept aside for a couple weeks so no living germs remain to infect other children in the house.

If an older child (or adult) has been sick in the actual bathroom MAKE SURE YOU CHANGE THE HAND TOWEL AND TOOTHBRUSHES IN THE BATHROOM. I actually keep my toothbrush in my bedroom to avoid this and keep my own hand towel in another room to dry my hands on.

Over the next week or two

Your child with still be shedding large amounts of the virus in their feces, so be extremely careful when changing diapers. Wash and sanitize your hands as thoroughly as possible after every change. This will be extremely challenging if the vomiting turns to diarrhea. I try to bathe them after a very messy change, but keep in mind that can just end up covering their entire body in germs. Make sure you clean their hands AFTER their bath.

Your child will be extremely contagious for 48 hours after recovering, very contagious for 5 days after and potentially or mildly contagious for up to 2 weeks after. Please don't be that asshole who brings your child to a birthday party or event the day after they've been sick because they are 'all better'. You're pretty much going to infect everyone there, and yes, people will blame their own miserable experience on you for the rest of their lives.

If you end up catching it too

Take the same sanitary precautions yourself, especially if other members of your family haven't been ill. Whatever you do, don't prepare food for people outside your family. This goes double for any uncooked foods such as salad or cake frosting. If you make a veggie platter for a school party or a batch of cupcakes for the school bake sale you are very likely to infect a large group of people. Most outbreaks of food poisoning are actually caused by someone who was recently sick handling large amounts of uncooked food. Once again, just don't be an asshole.

Hang in there, spring is coming soon.

Friday, February 21, 2014

That smells awful! 7 tips for cooking with morning sickness

During both my pregnancies the worst symptom by far was the smell aversions. It would kick in long before I even got a positive test, that unmistakable bionic nose that could smell someone smoking a mile away. It was awful.

While the smell of cleaning products and toiletries topped my list, I also had issues with food smells. During my first pregnancy it wasn't so much of a problem- I didn't feel much like eating in the early days and my husband could fend for himself. I gave him an earful the morning he decided to fry up a big batch of onions and eggs without telling me first, but otherwise we made do.

Second pregnancy... not so much. The second time around I was so much sicker, yet I had a small child to care for and feed, one with a big appetite. I had a husband who took over so many other household duties for me after work that he didn't have time to cook anymore, and I myself was still breastfeeding and needed to eat badly. Like it or not, I had to cook. Here are some tips I discovered on how to survive cooking for your family when the smell of everything is making you retch.

1. Get powdered.

The smell of garlic or onions frying is usually delicious, but when you're pregnant it's not only awful, it permeates the entire house for days. I discovered that while not exactly gourmet, that substituting with onion and garlic powder in recipes gave it similar flavor but created no extra smell.

2. You can cook outside the kitchen.

The kitchen is the hub of the house, and smells can travel everywhere from it. I started setting up my slow cooker in the basement to cook meals and the smells didn't reach the rest of the house. You can plug in a toaster oven or slow cooker, or use a camping stove in other parts of the house such as the basement, garage, back deck or even an out of the way bedroom.

3. Eat more meatless meals.

Meat is the biggest culprit when it comes to pregnancy smell aversions in the kitchen. Meatless meals not only smell less, they are also less expensive and often packed with fiber. I made a lot of bean burritos while pregnant.

4. Make your side dishes at home but outsource your meat.

We bought a lot of rotisserie chickens during my pregnancies. They are inexpensive and you can make a lot of things with the leftover meat. I had no trouble cooking the side dishes to go with them which kept costs down and was much cheaper (and healthier) than buying an entire take out meal.

5. Get grilling.

I was unfortunate to have my first trimesters in the winter (the only downside of having summer babies), but many friends who had morning sickness in the summer made the most of their BBQ to keep the smells outdoors.

6. If you're TTC, consider getting a head start stocking your freezer.

As soon as we started trying for our second daughter I started cooking up huge batches of meat to freeze. I roasted chickens to pick apart the meat, fried up ground beef, grilled chicken breasts and then stored it all in the freezer to use when the morning sickness kicked in. If you get pregnant instantly like I did you're all set, if it takes you a few months well you've got lots of meat in there for quick and easy dinners!

7. Try poaching

If you find yourself pregnant and sick without any advanced warning you can always do what I did the first time around and poach your chicken, then add it to recipes after. This cuts down on the smell by a lot. Just boil the chicken until it's cooked and then chop it up and add it to whatever recipes call for chicken. I make so many things using chicken breasts!

Hang in there! The aversions won't last forever and soon you'll get to the fun part- the cravings!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Let's lay off the sugar already

Yesterday afternoon my 4 year old daughter came home from school with a paper bag full of Valentines. When we dumped out the bag on the living room floor to look at them I heard the familiar sickening thunk. It wasn't so much a pile of cards as it was a giant pile of candy.

I wasn't surprised in the least- this is the 3rd year in a row it's happened. At both preschool and daycare she also received a similar haul. Somehow it's not enough anymore for kids to just give cards, and adding a sticker no longer makes it special. Most boxed cards now come with an attachable lollipop, and most mothers also go the extra mile and stick a grab bag of candy to each card. What was once a simple holiday for exchanging cards is now another giant sugar fest. I wonder how every Hallmark holiday has become associated with candy? I guess it kind of just crept up on us.

I am not a stickler for perfect nutrition. Everything in moderation right? But it becomes a bigger problem when 'just a little treat' becomes so frequent and commonplace that it's not just a little treat, but hundreds of little treats trickling in at an alarming rate.

School is the worst culprit, and it's not just the goody bags going home on Valentine's day, Christmas, Halloween and Easter. Last year in preschool and this year in kindergarten they celebrated children's birthdays. In class sizes of 25-30 this has meant at least one birthday a week, complete with cupcakes slathered in frosting and topped with various candies. Her preschool was also very big on celebrating both traditional and made up holidays. They not only had parties (with cupcakes!) to celebrate Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and St. Patrick's day, they also had days to celebrate all the colors (blue, green, yellow, brown, white, red, ect) complete with appropriately colored cupcakes and treats. When it was finally over? My heart sank when I watched a parent walk through the door carrying an enormous tray of multicolored cookies and cupcakes for 'rainbow day'.

I can always tell when they've been 'celebrating' at school. My daughter does not handle large amounts of sugar very well, and on those afternoons she's always very irritable, high strung and short tempered. It does not make for a fun evening.

Why are other parents doing this to the rest of us? Because some of them are really nice people who want to do something nice for the kids, or they don't want their child to be the only one left out on their birthday, or they think that it's expected of them and they don't want to look bad to everyone else. The expectations to attach sugar to every holiday have escalated and gathered with momentum to a point where people don't know how to stop it anymore.

Outside of school it's almost as bad. My daughter gets invited to a couple of birthday parties a month, complete with cake, treats and goody bags full of candy and toys at the end. After these events she melts down into a hysterical screaming monster. On Halloween they go trick or treating- sometimes twice- because there is now a daytime option at the mall and a night time option in the neighborhood. They go to the Santa claus parade where handfuls of candy are thrown at them from every float and organization passing by. My daughter threw up after this event.

Christmas isn't just celebrated as a single holiday anymore, it's now a 2 month season with constant parties with friends, family, neighbors, work, school and other places in the community. Every single one of these parties is packed to the hilt with candy and baked goods.

Then it trickles in from so many other sources- from her soccer class on the weekends, from her school bus drivers, from the bank, from stores at the mall, from restaurants, and even from visits to the doctor's office! There is a bowl of candy at the ready to hand to children at any given time in nearly every business place these days.

After all this, there is still our family. Because their Nana wants to take them out for an ice cream with her on the weekends. Because we celebrate birthdays within our extended family, so they get a slice of cake for every cousin, uncle, aunt, parent, sibling or close family friend and they get a dessert for every holiday we celebrate together with their cousins.

As their mother this makes me sad, because after all this sugar coming at them from the outside, when do I ever get the chance to bake with my daughters? To buy them a treat to give to them myself? To make them the special cookie recipe my own mother used to make for us growing up? Almost never. Someone else has already crowded me out.

Let's also take into account something far more serious than temper tantrums and upset tummies. Half of all children born these days will develop type 2 diabetes at some point in their lives, a totally preventable yet terrible disease. I am doing everything I can in my own home to make sure my daughters are not part of that horrible statistic. I prepare them fresh healthy meals and snacks and send my daughter to school with healthy lunches. I'm not happy that despite my efforts, society begins to shovel sugar down their throats before they are even out of diapers. After the age of 1, any child appears to be fair game, in 'moderation'.

Well moderation no longer exists. Our children live in a culture so saturated with sugar that most people don't even notice how bad it is. But many of us do, and we feel powerless to stop it. We've tried talking to the schools, but the teachers don't want to upset the other parents. We've tried talking to the other parents, but they get hurt and defensive because they were only trying to be nice. We try hiding it from our kids, but it feels dishonest. We try talking them out of it, but their biology screams at them to want it and it's hard to have someone else outright give it to them in the first place and then take it away.

I deal with it by making sure that everything I give them is real and whole and packed with nutrition. I try to give them healthy attitudes and habits toward food in hopes that they will learn more from me than from the outside world. I keep searching for other answers, for other mothers who feel the same way and I keep holding out in hope that something will change. But I know that it will probably only get worse.

I'm begging you, please stop feeding so much sugar to my children.