You are here

Home Remedies For You

When you're bitten by the bug that just ran through your kids, do you ever catch yourself muttering, "I wish I had someone to mother me!"? Now you do. Here, tried-and-true tips for handling your own ailments:

"My neck hurts"
Be on the ball(s) Elizabeth Loder, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School (and a mom of two) makes her own self-massager. Cut off the leg of an old pair of panty hose, put in two or more tennis balls, and tie it up. Place it near the head of your bed or on the floor. Lie down, and tuck it in the crook of your neck to release pent-up neck tension.

Sock it to you Try this warm-sock treatment: Fill a tube sock with uncooked rice, tie it closed, and microwave it for three minutes. "It conforms to your neck, and it won't burn, as heating pads sometimes can," says mother of two Allison Scheetz, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Mercer University School of Medicine, in Macon, Georgia. "It works well for back or knee pain too," adds Dr. Scheetz. (If you put it in the freezer, it doubles as a cold pack for swelling and bruises.)

"I get too many UTIs"
Juice it up Cranberries  -- and their juice  -- contain "condensed tannins," which keep bacteria from sticking to the bladder walls and multiplying. For Ingrid Sanden of Alexandria, Virginia, the mom of a 1-year-old, the remedy's been a godsend. She first tried it a few years ago after dealing with four urinary-tract infections (UTIs) in one year. "I drink two glasses a day, with seltzer, and I haven't had any problems since," she says.

Cranberry juice may be preventive, but once you've got an infection, you'll need antibiotics to kill the bacteria and stop them from spreading upward to the kidneys. So be sure to check with your doctor anytime you experience the burning, pain, and urgent need to urinate that signal a bladder infection.

"PMS has me AWOL"
Strike a pose "When I do yoga, it keeps my snack attacks, mood swings, bloating, and cramps at bay, and my weight doesn't fluctuate as much," says Charmian Gutierrez of Compton, California, a mom of four. One of her favorite poses is the Cobra, which also helps tone the abdomen:

• Lie facedown on the floor, arms bent, with your palms beneath your shoulders. Inhale; slowly raise only your head and chest; then press your hands on the floor to lift your trunk.

• Continue to rise up and lean backward, feeling the bend all the way from your neck to your spine.

"I get up before the rest of the family so I can fit in fifteen minutes of stretches and poses four times a week," Gutierrez says.

Look to lavender "When I get PMS, I take a long soak in a tub scented with lavender essential oil," says Stephanie Cottom, a mom in North Bend, Oregon. "It soothes my nerves and headaches, and it smells good."

Stress, Colds, and Nausea

"I'm so stressed, I need a break!"
Rock-a-bye Rhythmic motion is a time-honored treatment for fussy infants, says Dr. Scheetz: "Rocking in a chair is a great stress reliever for adults too; I get so relaxed that I'll fall asleep  -- so it's helpful for insomnia."

Work your body to ease your mind "Exercise helps me sleep better and work more efficiently," says Sybil Biermann, M.D., an orthopedics professor at the University of Michigan. "When my daughter was a baby, I'd put her in a frontpack or backpack and get on my StairMaster, and the rhythmic motion would lull her to sleep while I got a good workout."

It also might help to up your level of exertion. High-intensity exercise reduces anxiety better than moderate workouts, says a new study. Why? Notching up the intensity forces you to focus on the activity itself, not on what's bothering you, suggests lead study author Richard Cox, Ph.D., a professor of exercise and sports psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia. How to tell: If you're exercising at high intensity, you can answer "yes" or "no" questions but won't have the wind to carry on a conversation.

"This cold is killing me"
Seek scentual healing A homemade aromatic rice bag can ease a stuffy nose, says Toni Percival of Perris, California, a mom of two. She fills a long cloth pouch with rice that's been boiled with a little peppermint and eucalyptus oil ("just long enough for the rice to soak up the oil but not soften"), then sews it closed. "Heat it in the microwave for about a minute, then drape it around your neck. The aroma drifts upward to relieve congestion, and the warm, moist heat feels great against the neck," she says.

Get steamed, with a twist When you got sick as a kid, your mom probably filled the sink with hot water, draped a towel over your head, and told you to lean in and let the steam clear your passages. Guess what? This home remedy still works.

For even more cold-conquering power, you can enhance the decongestant effect by adding some eucalyptus leaves or a dab of a mentholated product like Vicks VapoRub to the steamy water, says ear, nose, and throat specialist (and mom of three) Cheryl Cotter, M.D., at Nemours Children's Clinic, in Orlando, Florida.

Unchap your nose When Suzanne Lombardo of Fairfield, Connecticut, finds that her nose is sore from blowing it all the time, "I dab on lip balm to coat and soothe it." Any brand will do, though she likes Carmex. "It's mentholating, so it clears the sinuses, but it's not minty  -- it has a wonderful vanilla smell." Lombardo also uses it on her 2-year-old daughter. But plain old petroleum jelly can work magic as well, experts say.

Get salty The same salt-water nose drops that you use for your baby's cold can help relieve your sinus or allergy problems. "A couple of squirts of saline spray rinses off mucus and gets rid of pollen," says Dr. Cotter. "You can do it all day, and it won't cause any harm."

"How can I get over morning sickness?"
Take it gingerly Ginger has long been recommended to quell early pregnancy's queasiness (those nauseated feelings aren't just in the morning, either). Stephanie Cottom, who just had her second child, relied on the strong-flavored Reed's Original Ginger Brew. You can also eat candied ginger, drink ginger tea, or take ginger capsules. In one recent study, two-thirds of newly pregnant women who took 250-milligram ginger capsules four times a day felt better within a week. (Three-quarters of those who took placebos still felt sick.)

It's all in the wrist "Sea-Bands worked great for controlling my nausea when I was pregnant," says new mom Kathleen Van Gorden Morse of Little Compton, Rhode Island. "I wore them like fashion accessories  -- I had all the colors." The wristbands, originally intended to suppress seasickness and available at pharmacies and travel-goods stores, put continuous pressure on the inside of your wrists at a point that controls nausea and vomiting, say acupressure proponents.

But remember: If you're unable to keep down liquids for a period of 24 hours, call your doctor or midwife. Once you become dehydrated, you may need an antinausea drug in the form of suppositories, dissolvable tablets, or intravenous fluids.

Gas and Other Unmentionables

"I feel bloated and gassy"
Attack with acidophilus Hormone fluctuations, whether from monthly periods or pregnancy, can slow down your digestive system, leading to extra gas, bloating, and stomachaches. Supplements of acidophilus, beneficial bacteria, can improve digestion, says Alyse Bellomo, M.D., a gastroenterologist in Troy, New York, and a mom of two girls. "I took one or two pills before meals when I was pregnant, and it did the trick for intestinal problems both then and postpartum," she says. "There's no set dose, so follow package directions." It's safe to take if you're pregnant or nursing.

Prefer yogurt? Make sure the brand you like is made with active cultures, especially acidophilus  -- check the label to be sure  -- and try one serving a day.

Steep a flower Chamomile tea is gentle and stomach-settling, says herbalist Peeka Trenkle of Denville, New Jersey, a mom of three boys. According to the Food and Drug Administration, it's accepted as safe for pregnant women. But always consult your health care provider before using any herbs or supplements if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.

"My nipples are too sore to nurse"
Dab on your own milk Mothers' milk is not only healthy for a baby  -- its antibiotic qualities are also healing for the mom, helping to prevent or treat sore, cracked nipples, says Michelle Sang, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Oregon Health & Science University, in Portland, and a mom of two.

"After I finished nursing, I'd express a little extra milk, rub it over my nipples, and let them air-dry," says Eileen Wiseman of Sleepy Hollow, New York, who breastfed her two sons without problems.

Hop in the shower "When I'd feel my milk ducts start to plug, I'd pop into a hot shower and massage my breasts until milk started to squirt all over the place," says Wendy Holdman of Minneapolis, a mom of one. "I never got an infection." A hot shower alone won't do the trick, says Dr. Sang; massage is essential too.

Make a cabbage patch To relieve engorgement while weaning her older daughter, Amy Hendricks, a mom of two in Allentown, Pennsylvania, reached for cabbage leaves. "This was suggested by a friend who tucked cold leaves into her bra," she says. Some scientists believe cabbage leaves have anti-inflammatory properties, notes Dr. Sang. A recent study suggests that massaging the cabbage leaves against you may provide the most relief. And gently crushing the leaves' veins will release more of their soothing ingredient  -- whatever it is!

"Ever since I had my baby, I've had hemorrhoids"
Borrow your baby's Boppy Those unseen, incredibly annoying varicose veins are especially common during and after pregnancy. And they can make just sitting down on a couch a painful experience. "When I was pregnant, I didn't want to keep one of those horrid hemorrhoid pillows around that declare your condition to guests, so I used the Boppy pillow I got at my baby shower," says Suzanne Lombardo. "I'd leave it on a couch or chair, and when visitors came, I'd 'accidentally' plop down on it and proclaim, 'Wow, this is actually kind of comfortable.'"

A padded ring  -- whether it's shaped like a toilet seat (the hemorrhoid pillow) or a doughnut (the Boppy)  -- helps take pressure off painful hemorrhoids, so you can sit more comfortably, says Dr. Bellomo. At her home, she has a toddler, a baby  -- and a Boppy.

Get into hot water Doctors often advise a warm soak in a sitz bath  -- a toilet-fitting basin available at medical stores or pharmacies  -- to reduce swelling. But simply sitting in a tub of hot water also worked wonders for Renee Carlton of Atlanta, a mom of two who had a bad case of hemorrhoids during a recent family holiday. "I was determined to sit at the dinner table with my family, so every hour for several hours beforehand, I lowered myself into a tub of water so hot that it turned my skin bright red," she says. "And it saved the holiday  -- I'd been in agony early in the day, but I made it downstairs for dinner." Doctors say it's safe for a pregnant woman as long as the water isn't so hot that you start to sweat.


Rachelle Vander Schaaf contributed to the Doctors' Guide to Chronic Pain and writes regularly for Parenting.