In this episode, we’re talking to Dr. Stephani Liu, the creator of Life of Dr. Mom and By Dr. Mom, about how to deal with sickness and keep ourselves healthy this winter! Originally I had hoped we could go more in depth about the covid vaccine for kids, but do to an influx of negative backlash we decided not to cover that in this interview. However, I always strive to bring you fact based information to help empower you in your decisions and have included several links that can aid you in your research when making these decisions.
Give our episode a listen to learn about tips for dealing with colds, Covid, and boosting your immune system, and check out the Resource Link section for articles and studies related to the covid vaccine.
Dr. Stephanie Liu is a family physician and Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Alberta. She graduated from Columbia University with a Masters of Science and completed her Doctor of Medicine at the University of Alberta. Dr. Liu is the creator of the evidence based parenting blog “Life of Dr Mom.” Her goal is to provide parents with accessible and credible medical information. She is also the founder of “By Dr Mom,” a company that creates functional and educational children’s products. Outside of her work, Dr. Liu loves spending time with her husband Graeme and their two children, Madi and George.
In This Episode We Talk About
1:07 – COVID and it’s impact on families.
2:15 – Dealing with round 2 of COVID.
5:59 – Dealing with mental health in COVID.
13:25 – How to step back as parents when it comes to our kids and staying healthy and safe.
14:53 – What to do when our kids need to stay home from school.
18:24 – How to boost our kids and our own immune systems.
19:35 – The Importance of Vitamin D
Listen to the Audio
This week our episode is only available in audio or written format.
From the Episode
UM Club Waitlist
Interview with Mom Brain Therapist Bryce Reddy
By Dr. Mom
Life of Dr. Mom
Kids Activities Pinterest Board
Baby and Toddler Activities Pinterest Board
Regarding the Covid Vaccine
This link is from Johns Hopkins Medicine. I found it helpful for describing the vaccine trial process, and why these vaccines were able to be developed so quickly.
This article from the US FDA explains the emergency use authorization process that the covid vaccines have gone through.
This article from Johns Hopkins explains the history of mRNA vaccine technology.
This Q&A style article from MIT answers questions about the impacts of covid and the risks of the vaccine specifically for children.
This article from CTV News explains how the children’s vaccine differs from the one given to adults.
- What way are you leaning in your decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate?
- What questions would you still like to be answered before being comfortable making a decision about vaccinating your kids?
Read the Full Conversation
So COVID – It’s been going on for a while, it, as we know, has been impacting families hard. So I would really like to just dive into COVID and the impacts on families. So what have you seen?
Yeah, so you know, in general, this isn’t even a medical term, I think COVID sucks. I think everyone’s been affected, you know, the elderly, families, single people, children – everyone in our community has been affected. As a healthcare provider, I’ve seen a rise in mental health problems, I’ve seen increased substance abuse, I’ve seen worsened behavioral changes for children. In my own family, I’ve found that I’ve been more stressed out, I found that my kids struggle with being in and out of school. And you know what, I’ll be honest, it was hard in the beginning, because during the first lockdown, I don’t even think me and my husband were used to spending that much time together. So it’s definitely been a bit of a crazy past almost two years now.
Yeah, it’s been such a wild roller coaster. And yeah, at the beginning, it was like a shock. We’re all confined with these people or family that we’re not used to spending that much time with. And then we’ve gone up and down with different lockdowns. Now we’re headed into winter for the second time with COVID still going on. And I know, for me, I hit my worst mental health period around December/January last year, and many people deal with seasonal depression. What do you see for people heading into this second round? How are we going to be dealing with it? And do you think it’ll be similar to last year or maybe a little bit different? Because I know I see it going two ways; we already know what to expect on one side, but it’s also that marathon and it’s been going on for so long.
I hear you. And you know, one of the things that I think, for our family – you kind of mentioned this, it was a bit of a shock to us early on, we didn’t really know what to do. And at the beginning of COVID, we spent a lot of time indoors. And I think that was really hard on our family because we liked doing things, we like going out, we like taking the kids to activities. And we felt quite bored and quite socially isolated. And I think when that happens, we get kind of a little bit frustrated with each other. So this time around, what we’re planning on doing is really making sure even though it’s really cold (I live in Alberta) we’re doing our best to try to stay outdoors as much as possible. So we made big investments, I think towards the end of winter, we bought really good snow equipment, really good snow pants, really good snow jackets. And so we’re going to try our best to make sure that we’re outside at least once a day or once every other day, because I think that is really beneficial for our mental health and it lets our kids burn off some energy too.
Absolutely. I find that the challenging component of it all is having kids not burning off that energy. And so they’re bouncing off the walls, and it can be more overwhelming to us, and you just start butting heads that way. So when we can find ways to get that energy out and get outside, it can be really helpful.
And I love that you decided to invest in the gear, because winter definitely has different challenges to be outside consistently. But luckily here on the West Coast, we don’t have to deal with all that big snow, it’s a lot of rain. So it’s not quite as cold but it is wet – but it’s still nice to get out.
And I’ve been trying my best to think of Silver Linings, and to find things that we didn’t do before. So one hobby we picked up was cross country skiing, and that really helped. And with our kids, you know, before last year we didn’t really spend much time outside the winters, we go to more indoor play areas, we go swimming, we go visit family or travel during the winters. And one thing that we started doing was thinking of more creative outdoor activities that we could do in our backyard. So we do scavenger hunts in the snow, we make sure to build a snowman every week, you know, we even made a jumbo snow fort too. Yeah, doing things that we wouldn’t normally do has really helped.
Yeah, that’s a good idea just to get creative, think outside the box and find new things to do so it’s more interesting. I’ll try and get a list together that I can post with this for some different kind of out of the box ideas.
I love that.
Any other tips for kind of dealing with the mental health struggles that come with being so isolated?
Yeah, so, it’s not the same, but I recommend trying to connect with friends and family. The phone and FaceTime, it’s not the same. But touching base with the people you care about is a good way to kind of recharge. I also think that, for myself, I realized how important it is during COVID to cut myself some slack. So you know, if the kids were watching a little more TV than I normally would allow, that was okay. If we’re doing takeout more than I would like, that’s okay, too. And if, you know, we’re just having a little bit of frozen pizza a few times a week, more than I would like, that was okay, too. And I think you do a great job talking about this stuff, you talk about how important self care is. And I think that that’s really important during this pandemic, for families to know that, you know what, things are not going to be perfect, and that’s okay.
Absolutely. I say that something I’ve even personally been really working on over the last few months is being more intentional about the balls that I do choose to drop. Because when we’re just so stressed, we need to cut ourselves some slack. And so I’ve started with dinners – I used to be really on top of making home cooked meals most nights out of the week. And I’ve scaled that back, and I found it really helpful. So. things like soup and toast nights, or cereal nights. And I was talking with Bryce from Mom Brain Therapist yesterday, and she said paper plate nights, which I think is a great idea. It just helps take that mental load off of you, makes things a little bit easier. And we can all use more of that.
And I like how you touched on the connection piece too. Because that’s the biggest challenge, for me, is I’m used to being more social and talking to people and having playdates. And that was really hard last year. But I did a few Zoom hangouts, and I’m happy within the UM Club that we have that space every week. Because it might be a bit different from what we’re used to, but having that regular connection with friends, even if you’re just watching a show together – I just thought last year too – it really does fill up your cup and help recharge you.
So again, heading into the winter season, COVID is going around, it’s cold and flu season, lots of germs are going around. What have you seen in schools in terms of sicknesses being passed around? I guess last year, there were quite a bit of closures, which kind of helped bring flu numbers down, but I have been seeing in the news the concern for flu as well as COVID starting to increase. Do you have any thoughts on that?
Yeah, so right now it’s kind of a crappy season, because not only do we have the flu, we’ve got the COVID. You know, we’ve got croup out there and RSV. So this is really the viral season. And the one thing that we know really has some benefits in reducing the spread is hand washing. And so one thing that I get my kids to do is when they get home, wash their hands right away. But I also give them each like a little cool hand sanitizer. It’s one that they like the smell, because you know how there’s different smells of hand sanitizers, there’s a kind of the ones that smell really alcohol-y, and then the ones that smell more fresh and fruity. I let my kids choose which one they like. And I put it in their backpack. And I try to kind of give them a little bit of responsibility and say “hey, this is the way you can protect yourself.” So you know every few times, when you’re at school, just hand sanitize. So we know hand sanitizer helps. My daughter’s school, kindergarten and up, they’re masking. Masking is uncomfortable sometimes, but my daughter really impressed me – she actually has worn it and it doesn’t seem to bother her. I think it bothers me masking my full days at clinic more than it bothers her. I let her choose a mask that she likes. So she’s masking that also helps reduce the spread. And those are really, I think, two things will help reduce the spread – but kids are going to continue to get sick, which I think is gonna be really sucky for families and for the kids.
Yeah, it happens. We’ve already, with my son starting preschool in September, we already got hit with a cold, and had to miss a few weeks of school, because it just happens. Kids are in close quarters, things do pass around. But when we can put in those little safety precautions, we can try and get ahead of it as much as we can. I like how you touched on getting their involvement and making it fun, too. Because that’s something that a lot of people found helpful: get the kids to pick out masks. And I think how we talk about these things is really important for kids too; if we’re talking really negatively about it, they’re probably going to have that negative mindset. But if we can make it fun, and safe and accepted by everyone, they’re going to be more willing to do it. And then it can help keep them more safe and keep all of our family more safe too.
You know, you brought up such a good point, because I think of how I was at the beginning of COVID. And I was – COVID still scares me. And I remember just because – you know, we all love our kids so much – being so scared of my kids touching things. And I remember, we were at McDonald’s picking up food, and my daughter went and touched a surface. And I grabbed her hands and I started spraying them like crazy. And you know, that really scared her. That’s why I tried to kind of put it more in her hands and said, “Maddy, here’s a hand sanitizer, you use it to protect yourself.” And I find that she does it herself. And it’s much better when I say things in a calm way and say, “hey, this is just a way to protect yourself.” Instead of when I got all crazy, grabbing her and sanitizing her hands. And then I grabbed her little brother, my son George, and I started spraying him too. And I realized that I was really scaring them at times, at the start of the pandemic.
Yeah, I’ve been in that position, too. I’m just in the grocery store and they go to touch the shelves. And I’m just like, “no, no, we got to clean.” And you’re right, it’s very similar to when our kids might fall down. And some parents, especially first time parents, I was that parent to at one point, go to rush in to help them. And our reactions really play a role in that. And when you can just step back and let them decide, or empower them to be able to handle things for themselves, you can really help their mindset around it not be so scared and shocked about what’s going on.
Yeah, you know what, it’s funny, I was just thinking when my daughter fell down for the first time, her first big face clap. I’m a family physician, and my husband’s an ear, nose and throat surgeon – and she fell down, she scraped her face and had a bloody nose. And he won’t admit this, but I will fully admit it. We were losing our minds. We were freaking out looking for tissues, I was crying. And it was such a minor thing. If I saw this child or she wasn’t mine, I’d reassure the parents. But when you’re in that moment, and you love someone so much, and it’s so scary and something happens for the first time. It’s, yeah, I can completely relate to what you’re describing there.
Yeah, it’s hard. You just have that whole extra layer of emotional pull that can be really reactive. Do you have any tips as a mom and dealing with your own kids, and how it is different? Any tips to try and step back a little bit?
Yeah, so one thing that’s helped me is – I react quite quickly, especially related to my kids, and I’ve now made this thing where if they fall, or even if I feel like they’re touching something dirty and I just want to sanitize them right away, I try to count in my head for like three seconds. I’ll say one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi, and then I’ll react, and I’ll find that that immediate instinct to kind of to go overboard just kind of settles me a little bit. And that’s really helped. So I’ll eat those three seconds before I do anything.
Yeah, I love that you can do counting or a few breaths, or even some sort of affirmation. I found that helpful for when I find myself being very reactionary in different friendship or relationship situations, to kind of talk myself down. So that’s something that you probably do in this situation, too. If you have some sort of sentence that helps you reframe the thought, and just telling yourself that can help you take a step back.
Yeah, that’s a great point too.
And so we touched on hand washing and masks. I think another great preventative measure too is just when sicknesses do happen, how we handle that, and keeping kids home from school and all that sort of thing. Could you expand on that a little bit more?
When my kids are sick, I find it really hard. Well, I just feel bad for parents in general, because we’re so lucky to have childcare at home, we do have a nanny that helps us. But families, when they have to take time off work or work from home when their kid is sick. I just feel like it’s… I can’t imagine how challenging, and what kind of loop it throws you for.
One thing that I do for my kids, and I don’t know if this is perfect or science-based, but I let them have a little more screen time than normal. I make sure that they’re hydrated, that is probably one of the most important things, because dehydration can lead to serious illness in children. And actually one tip that I do have for oral rehydration – I got this from a large study, I can’t remember which journal but it was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, I think. And they talked about diluted apple juice. And this is just normal apple juice, and you mix it with water. And that’s actually an excellent rehydration formula. Because one, kids like juice – of course in a normal setting, try to limit juice, but they are more likely to drink it. And the other thing is in juice, there’s some sugar and some salts, and that actually helps rehydrate the child well. So hydration is important. Making sure that they’re getting adequate sleep, which also helps. When kids are congested nasally, one other thing that helps – and it’s kind of counterintuitive – is saline drops And you actually have to put liquid in their nose, it actually helps break everything up, and will make them actually sneeze and get all that gunk out. So I actually find that that helps a lot with congestion. For certain illnesses like croup, that’s when the kids have the barky cough, letting them outside and getting some fresh cold air can actually help them breathe better. That’s more specifically for croup. And one thing that I do with my kids is – sometimes I find that this helps them a lot, it’s quite calming, and gets them ready for a nap. Sometimes I’ll hop in the shower with them and have a nice, hot and warm shower with them. And the steam actually helps relax them and kind of help soothe them too.
Yeah, warm steam, and even the humidifiers in the bedroom.
Exactly. The humidifiers are great.
And another trick that I learned when the kids were a baby, and when they’re in cribs it’s easier to do, but I’ll actually put a small stack of books just on one end to help elevate their head a little bit.
Interesting. And then that’s a good point too. Under a certain age, we recommend kind of holding off on putting things in a crib.
Yeah, definitely. It’s underneath the legs of the crib. So it’s not within the bed with them at all.
Oh, I see what you mean!
Yeah. So like the crib legs on the ground. Yeah, definitely not within their bed for sure.
You’re so funny. I was just imagining a baby sleeping on books. But no, of course that makes sense! I was like “okay, sure.”
That would be uncomfortable! Yeah, that’s different. Although now my two-and-a-half year old daughter does have books in with her, and she does have a few of that kind of go on the side that she likes to flip through now that she’s older.
Yeah. So I really liked that you touched on the hydration and kind of things to help when they are sick. What are some things we can be doing to boost our immune system? Just in general to help keep us healthy and able to combat these sicknesses a little bit better.
Yeah. So you know, in general, I recommend – when we have a diverse and well balanced life that actually helps, I think, with our immune systems. You know, making sure that you’re eating enough fruits and vegetables, so that you’re not micronutrient deficient, is important. One vitamin which I don’t think of as boosting our immune system, but I think of it being so important for our overall health, is vitamin D. Baby should be taking vitamin D; children, adults, elderly, everyone should be taking vitamin D. And the reason is, especially in northern climates like where I live in Alberta, people are actually quite deficient in vitamin D. And we don’t think about it, but there’s vitamin D deficiency throughout Canada still, and vitamin D is really good for overall health.
Okay, that’s something I remember coming up when my kids were a baby, but I have to admit I’ve definitely fallen off that train and I don’t think any of us are taking vitamin D right now. So that’s good to know.
Yeah. And you know, there’s those drops – if you have a baby you can put vitamin D drops. I put those in my kids smoothies or in their food. Other things that my daughter actually likes, she’s a bit of a gummy addict. There’s gummies with vitamin D in it. So that’s another way to get your kids to have their vitamin D. And the best part about things like that is my daughter actually reminds me sometimes when I forget, for her vitamin D gummy, so that helps.
Yeah, my kids love the vitamin gummies. Is the vitamin D typically found within multivitamins, or is this something that should be additional?
Yeah, so in general, there should be in multivitamins. It’s just for babies where it’s important to get them the vitamin D, because there aren’t really any multivitamins for babies.
Yeah. So nutrition, exercise, handwashing, and masking. Would you say those are the main things for trying to maintain overall health? Or is there anything else you would add?
I would say those are the main things. And the tough part with cold and flu season is, no matter how perfect we are, our kids will probably still get sick this season. And it’s tough, you know, and I think it’s extra tough with COVID, because I think now colds feel a lot more serious. Anytime my kids have a sniffle, I’m worried; I say, “oh, my gosh, is this COVID?” So I think that adds another layer of complexity and stress to the situation too.
Definitely, that’s something that’s come up, I think, every week on my Mom Truth Monday’s stories, is that people are getting colds, getting sick, and it’s just so much more stressful than it would be otherwise. Otherwise, kids just have snotty runny noses, no big deal, or the bit of cough. But now there’s extra heightened awareness and concern for what it could turn into, and then all of the COVID tests that can go along with that, too.
We did the COVID test for my son for preschool when he got sick, to be able to come back a bit quicker instead of the quarantine period. One thing, it did suck. I’m going to be honest, it was not pleasant, but I found it comparable and better than some of their childhood vaccines. Like I think when they’re around a year, it’s either 12 months or 18 months when I think they get four, and that sucks. I found a COVID test wasn’t as bad as that. So that can be somewhat reassuring too, for families that haven’t had to deal with COVID tests yet.
Yeah, you know, I will say my daughter got COVID tested too. And she just handled it like a champ. I found that I was kind of freaking out more, because I hate it when things kind of get in my nose, and I just start freaking out. But she handled it so well, and I was really impressed.
Yeah, kids are really resilient. And you even touched on it with the masks. I know my daughter, when she sees me put on mine, she asks for hers.
Aw, she’s so smart!
Yeah, she really is smart. And she’s young enough that she doesn’t have to, so I let it go in her hands when we do take her to our small town grocery store. And she likes it. And so it’s nice. With kids, it’s really about how you portray things to them, and make it fun, and they’re pretty good about it.
I think we’ve done a good job kind of touching on the different mental health aspects and what we can do to try and keep our bodies as healthy as we can throughout the season. Is there anything else you would like to add?
No, I think that’s pretty much it.
Great! Well, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me again. And for everyone inside UM Club, we’re going to be diving more into COVID and staying healthy within the Facebook community and poll Thursdays, and our hangout tomorrow night. So make sure you show up for that!
If you enjoyed our conversation with Stephanie, make sure to join our UM Club Hangout! We’re going into a deep dive of everything we talked about today, plus it gives you a chance to talk with other moms and hear their stories! Make sure to also check out Stephanie on her blog Life of Dr. Mom, and her resources on By Dr. Mom! As always, we hope you enjoyed the episode, and can’t wait to see you over at the UM Club Facebook group and hangout!
- What way are you leaning in your decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate?
- What questions would you still like to be answered before being comfortable making a decision about vaccinating your kids?
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