Many moms are obsessed with the color of their toddler’s poop. But, did you know that the color of your child’s poop can hint at what’s going on in his or her body?
Last year, my 1-year-old son’s poop had changed to an odd, sandy-white color I’d never seen before. I did what all parents do: a quick Google search. As a result, I was convinced that my little boy suffered from a life-threatening liver disease.
Not quite. A call to the pediatrician’s office revealed that the likely culprit was the antibiotic the doctor had prescribed for my son’s ear infection.
Antibiotics kill the bacteria that make you sick. But, ironically, the medicine can also kill the good kinds of bacteria that keep you healthy. That’s probably why my son’s poop had turned an odd color.
The dangers of antibiotics
Before our little poop adventure, I never thought twice about antibiotics. Since then, I’ve learned that antibiotics can have some pretty serious side effects, including diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
What’s even scarier is the growing worldwide health crisis around the misuse of antibiotics and the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. One-third of antibiotics prescribed in Upstate New York are unnecessary, according to data from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
The issue? Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat illnesses caused by a virus: flu, common cold, most cases of acute bronchitis, etc. But antibiotics won’t help people with a virus. They help people with illnesses caused by bacteria, such as strep throat, whooping cough, and urinary tract infections.
As more people overuse antibiotics, the bacteria in your body that haven’t been killed by the drug can become resistant to the medication. This results in “superbugs” that cause life-threatening infections that can’t be treated with antibiotics.
This puts the entire community at risk of having antibiotics that don’t work.
Do you need antibiotics?
So antibiotics can be good – and bad? It’s all very confusing. Here is some advice on determining whether you need (or don’t need) antibiotics.
- Get educated. Learn about antibiotics, the conditions for which antibiotics are often prescribed, and whether the antibiotics are able to help:
- To learn more about whether you should take an antibiotic for ear infections, eczema and pinkeye, go to ConsumerHealthChoices.org.
- To learn more about whether you should take an antibiotic for the flu, colds and other respiratory illnesses, go to ChoosingWisely.org.
- For general information about antibiotics, go to CDC.org.
- Take your medication as directed. One of the most important things you can do if you are prescribed an antibiotic is to take ALL of your medication and don’t skip doses.
“Too often, patients stop taking antibiotics when they begin to feel better and save the remainder of the pills for the next time they’re sick,” explains Matthew Bartels, M.D., chief medical officer at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “This is a big contributor to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.”
- Talk to your doctor. Your physician knows you best and will be able to offer the best advice. Watch this video to learn about four questions to ask your doctor:
- Trust your doctor if he or she says that an antibiotic isn’t needed.
“When the doctor says that an antibiotic isn’t needed,” said Bartels, “know that he or she is making the decision not to prescribe antibiotics by keeping the patient’s health and the health of the entire community in mind.”
A love/hate relationship
A friend of mine recently described her love/hate relationship with antibiotics.
She loved how the drugs cured her daughters’ ear infections, but hated how the drugs seemed to wreck her oldest child’s digestive system. Her daughter suffered from a continuous cycle of ear infections, antibiotic regimens, and irregular bowel movements.
She didn’t know for certain that her daughter’s digestive issues were related to the antibiotics. But given antibiotic’s reputation for causing these issues, it was hard for her not to make that association.
So what do you do if you need an antibiotic, but want to lessen its side effects?
Here are some recommendations from the Cleveland Clinic:
- Probiotics. Talk to your doctor about whether you should take probiotics. Antibiotics can cause people to have stomach problems, including diarrhea, cramping, and gas. The reason? The drugs can kill the good bacteria in your intestines that are critical to digestive health. Probiotics may return that bacteria to your body, potentially curing or lessening your stomach issues. You can take probiotics through supplements or foods such as yogurt.
- Foods. If certain foods upset your stomach even when you’re not on antibiotics, it’s even more important to avoid them when you’re on the drugs. Antibiotics may only worsen your normal stomach problems.
- Take your antibiotics as directed. Carefully read the directions to see whether antibiotics should be taken with or without food. You might get an upset stomach, for example, if you take an antibiotic on an empty stomach when the directions tell you to take the drug with food.
Remember my son and his oddly-colored poop? The nurse suggested I add Culturelle, a powdered probiotic supplement, to my son’s milk, to add more good bacteria back into his body. And within a week, his poop was back to normal.