What Your Pediatrician Wants You to Know

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Parents of children of every age worry about their kids’ health and safety. They have an ally and partner in their pediatrician, but they may not know how to maximize this relationship. To keep your child thriving, here are some tips.

Parents of newborns need to pay attention to the Three Fs, poor feeding, fussiness and fever, to recognize what’s a minor condition and what’s a serious illness, said Dr. Mark Schleiss, a professor and Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School. “It’s most important to recognize the importance of fever in a newborn. If the baby is fussy or lethargic for a long period of time, check their temperature. For anything over 100.2º, call the doctor,” he said.

Another serious concern for pediatricians is SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome. Tthe baby’s sleeping position is a factor here. “All healthy babies should sleep only on their backs for the first six months of life,” said Dr. Schleiss. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics started recommending this practice in 1994, deaths from SIDS have been cut in half. Parents also need to avoid soft bedding, crib bumpers, blankets and soft toys in the crib. Parents should not share their beds with their babies but instead can bring their baby’s crib into their bedroom for the first year.

Pediatricians know that it’s easier to avoid serious illness in children than to treat it. “I tell parents that they should let people love their baby, but from a distance,” said Dr. Schleiss. “Keep newborns away from unvaccinated friends and family until their immune systems are better developed. Babies younger than two months–there is no line in the sand here–should avoid exposure to large groups of people to avoid infection. But children of all ages need to avoid unvaccinated people.”

All children should also follow the schedule of recommended vaccines from the earliest age until adulthood. This is one of the most important ways to keep kids healthy, said Dr. Schleiss. Vaccines are not a new science. The first vaccine became available to the public in 1796, developed by a doctor named Edward Jenner. Since then, vaccines for diseases such as polio, measles, whooping cough, tetanus and more have become routine. “People claim, ‘There are too many shots and it overloads the immune system,’” Dr. Schleiss said. “But, in fact our immune systems are experiencing fewer antigens, the protein that stimulates the immune system, from vaccines than they did in 1960.”

Mild infant jaundice is a common treatable condition, especially in preterm babies and in some breast-fed babies, according to the Mayo Clinic. To check for mild infant jaundice, gently press a baby’s forehead or nose during the child’s first week and look for yellow cast to their skin. Infant jaundice can be serious; severe symptoms include listlessness, lethargy, a high-pitched cry, backward arching and poor feeding. If a parent notices any of these symptoms, they should call their doctor.

Toddlerhood brings in a new set of challenges including neuro-development. When making appointments with a toddler’s pediatrician, insist upon a developmental assessment, including speech, social skills, cognitive and physical development. “This is often given short shrift, but book extra time with your child’s doctor and don’t be afraid to ask questions,” noted Dr. Schleiss.
Make sure you have an accident-proof home with no toddler access to poisons, cleaning supplies, medicines and alcohol. The phone number for poison control should be on the refrigerator, where it is easy to find in an emergency.

Since drowning is a leading cause of death from toddlerhood to adolescence, parents should make sure their children know the basics of swimming. Even knowing how to float and mastering the dog paddle can save lives and keep children from panicking in the water. Parents should make sure that all children playing near bodies of water wear life jackets.

Smaller children should never ride in a car without a properly installed child car seat. All children should wear properly fitting helmets when biking, skating or skateboarding.

For the parents of teens, monitoring their child’s mental health now begins to be a primary concern. These children are undergoing physical changes and reaching cognitive maturity. “Older children are planning for their futures, facing self-esteem and psychological issues and possible drug use. They are beginning to respond strongly to messages from the media and from social media. The role for parents is to talk to their children and know what is going on in their lives. They should be ready to provide information to their child’s doctors and listen to their advice,” he said.

“Parents of kids of all age groups need to ask their children’s doctor a lot of questions,” said Dr. Schleiss. “There are no dumb questions. There are just questions you should have asked but didn’t.” ■

Sources: kidshealth.org, globelifeinsurance.com and cdc.gov.