Probiotics or Antibiotics?

This post is not medical advice and is not intended to replace medical advice.  I’m not a doctor.  I’m just a mother with a story to share.  The last few weeks have been a lesson in parenting my own daughter through medical issues.  Have we figured everything out?  Not really.  We do, however, have another piece of the puzzle.  Interestingly, this piece of the puzzle even has the doctor prescribing more natural remedies.  Here is our story.


It all started with bed-wetting.  My seven-year-old daughter, AJ, usually sleeps well and wakes up dry.  Now she was wetting the bed and the urine had a strong odor.  I asked her if it hurt to go potty.  She said that it didn’t.  The next day she wet her pants right after school.  Time to get a urine sample.  (Check with your own pediatrician about this. Our doctor is happy to simply order the lab test and skip the office visit.)


Probiotics or Antibiotics


If you’ve never had to get a urine sample from a young kid, you are lucky.  Of course, moms are used to their kids’ bodily fluids.  Urine is usually one of the more benign thing we have to deal with.  We got a successful sample on our first try, even though my girl insisted that she didn’t have to go.  Look at that, AJ.  Sometimes it’s good to try to go potty anyway.  She told me then that she felt like she couldn’t get it all out.  I wasn’t surprised to find out that evening that she had a urinary tract infection.


Diagnosis confirmed, the next choice is always the hardest.  Do we go with natural methods or go straight for the antibiotic?  With her first bladder infection, we had used an antibiotic right away and learned four days into it that the lab culture showed the antibiotic to be ineffective.  Even with regular doses of probiotics, no doubt we caused the poor girl some damage with no benefit.  This time, with the doctor’s agreement, we waited for the culture.  This gave me some time to try to help her body heal itself.  We used cranberry capsules, D-Mannose (a type of sugar that seems to flush out the bladder bacteria), probiotics, water and healthy food.


After four days of natural remedies, she was still having accidents and urgency.  The doctor called with results from the lab culture.  Sure enough, the original prescription would not have been effective. AJ wasn’t running a fever, so I probably could have given the natural methods a longer chance.  Instead I became overly worried.  My mom and sister were encouraging me to pick up the antibiotic and make sure the infection didn’t go into her kidneys.  I chose to give her the antibiotic.


Five days later, I ended up at Urgent Care with a very sick little girl.  She had a high fever and two separate symptoms, wheezing and horrible diarrhea.  (We were only at Urgent Care because AJ’s regular doctor wasn’t available.)  I was more concerned about the diarrhea.  The new doctor was more concerned about the wheezing, which he diagnosed as pneumonia.  He prescribed yet another antibiotic.  The clinic was closing and I felt a bit rushed out of there.  I zipped up AJ’s coat and loaded her into the car.  She asked if she could sleep a bit, not a good sign for this usually energetic little girl.


We didn’t pick up that antibiotic.  Instead, I listened to my mommy instinct and drove her straight home.  I knew that the antibiotic would only make her poor tummy worse.  I hadn’t given her the other antibiotic that day either.  My sweet girl didn’t want to eat and barely sipped enough water to stay hydrated.  Getting an antibiotic into her wasn’t really an option.  It was a scary night for this over-worrying mamma.  Fortunately, my girl did great.  By the next morning, I was overtired and sick of cleaning up stinky diarrhea, but relieved that my girl was no longer feverish and even wanting to eat something.  We saw her doctor that same day and submitted a stool sample (much worse than getting a urine specimen).


The doctor called that evening with the news.  AJ was suffering from an infection called Clostridium Difficile (C. Diff.).  No wonder she was so sick.  The treatment?  Stop the antibiotic and start a probiotic.  C. Diff. is an antibiotic resistant bacteria that occurs naturally in a small percentage of peoples’ intestines. It is a very common hospital-acquired infection that causes potentially deadly diarrhea. The bacteria produces toxins that irritate the digestive tract.  There are some seriously toxic antibiotics that can kill C. Diff.  I was glad that AJ’s doctor didn’t want to try them as a first resort.  She suggested cranberry for the urinary tract infection, an inhaler to manage the wheezing and probiotics for the diarrhea.


In a way, we were back where we started, except now my girl had three simultaneous infections to fight.  I added chicken stock, gelatin and lots of love to the healing regiment.  Her doctor gave us her cell phone number to call if things got worse.  I’m thrilled to report that everything is only getting better and better every day.  The cough is gone.  The urinary tract infection is improving.  Best of all, the diarrhea got better right away.  I’m getting a chance to catch up on laundry and the usual deep cleaning that gets inspired when you find out that your child has a highly contagious, spore forming bacteria in her gut.  Yikes!  Essential oils?  Check.  Bleach?  Yucky, but necessary in small amounts.  Soap and water with good hand washing?  Always.


I think that mothers are under a tremendous amount of pressure to do the right thing, and everyone has their opinions of what the right thing may be.  It’s important to have a mutually respectful relationship with your child’s doctor.  You have to speak up and you also have to listen. The reality of the situation is that every individual child is different.  We know our children and their individual needs better than just about anyone.  What is right for my daughter may not be right for yours.  Doctors do the best that they know how to do.  They are stuck in a medical model that doesn’t honor individuality and often doesn’t allow the time to get to know individual patients.


Our individual intestinal ecosystem, with a bacterial community that outnumbers our own cells ten to one, is perhaps the biggest reason for our individuality.  I will never know if things would have been better or worse skipping the antibiotic in the first place.  I’m only thankful that things are getting better now.  Would the second antibiotic have put my poor girl in the hospital or worse?  I think it’s very likely.  Instead, her body got a chance to heal itself.  Her internal ecosystem is getting a chance to repopulate with beneficial bacteria.  These beneficial bacteria will, in time, greatly outnumber the opportunistic pathogens, leading to a long and healthy life.  This is our story about choosing probiotics rather than antibiotics.  What’s your story?



About Stephanie Aegerter

Stephanie Aegerter, a.k.a. Stephafriendly, is a wife, mother, farmers’ market manager and health coach in Janesville, Wisconsin.  She has a seven-year-old daughter here on Earth and a baby boy in Heaven.  She blogs about a variety of topics at Stephafriendly Foods, where food is just part of the journey.  She enjoys natural food cooking, environmental education, activism, gardening, crafting and, of course, writing.  She is studying to be a Health Coach at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.

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