Seattle Mama Doc

A blog by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson.

A mom, a pediatrician, and her insights about keeping your kids healthy.

How To Read OTC Medication Labels

reading labels 1Reading and familiarizing yourself with the drug facts label is perhaps more important than it seems before you administer an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine to your children. I think we may get more hands-off at times than is ideal. And I think caregivers who casually help us with our children (grandparents, babysitters, nannies, neighbors) can too. Although it’s inconvenient to fill out forms for medicine administration in daycare, preschool and school, these locations seem to be the environments with the most safety around OTC medicine delivery. Those forms help remind us how important this stuff can be.

With little ones and children all heading back to school, as parents we know it’s time to buckle down and get ready for the shift in schedules and in illness that comes with onslaught of viruses that come with preschoolers and elementary-aged kids back in the classroom. Before the inevitable fall, wintery illnesses resume, it’s a great time to set aside some time to really learn how to read the drug label and learn the ingredients, why or if it’s safe for a child the ages of your kids, why the inactive ingredients matter, etc. In some ways it’s combination medicines that make me worry the most.  Read full post »

4 Things To Know If Your Son Is Off To College

male college prepYou may have already read yesterday’s blog on preparing your daughter for college. Much of my advice for girls, of course, also pertains to boys (and vice versa). I’m writing two separate posts only for the purpose of getting people to read this content, not to differentiate. I added one section here for boys (on alcohol and risks) not because it’s an issue for boys only. In fact, we know that 1 out of every 5 high school girls binge drinks (see below).

If you have a boy heading off to college this fall there are a few things to know to help improve his safety and success this year. Of anything I know from my experience being a previous school teacher, and now pediatrician and mom to boys (still 10 years away from college!) the transition from HS to college-age is one steeped in emotion for all. In addition to the tips I’ve provided for girls, alcohol and the HPV vaccine are topics to discuss to ensure it’s a better and safer year for your son (or daughter) this year.

ONE: Safe Sex & Birth Control – What Your Teen Son May Need To Know:

Read full post »

3 Things To Know If Your Daughter Is Off To College

Prepping for college - female.pngIf you have a daughter getting ready to head to college this fall, holy moly I’m excited for you. In clinic it’s clear to me that the huge transition from high school to college-age brings great joy but also a remarkable sense of unrest for everyone, too. Vaccines, birth control, and suicide prevention may not top your to-do list while packing the car but there’s no question these are 3 things you can check in on to ensure it’s a better and safer year for your daughter. Not only is a brand new meningitis vaccine available to college-age girls this fall, included here are reminders with ways to support your daughter and her health as she heads off to learn even more…

ONE: Birth Control Options For Your Teen Daughter

1. Amazing Resources To Prevent Unwanted Pregnancy

The CDC confirms that as girls head off to college we know over 40% of them have had sex. And although 4 in 5 of them used a form of birth control the last time they had sex, only about 5% are using the most effective forms to prevent pregnancy. Read full post »

Window Falls: Innocence And Curiosity

Window falls are a gut-wrenching topic because they cause devastating and preventable injuries in children. This hits home for me; in just 9 years of pediatric practice I’ve had a handful of patients fall through open windows and screens. Every single fall has occurred because of innocence and curiosity — a child just wanting to see, or be involved in, something outside. So many of us don’t get our 2nd or 3rd story windows secured for children and we often just don’t expect a child to push through a screen… 

Each year in the United States 15 to 20 children under the age of 11 die, and nearly 15,000 are injured, because of falls from windows. A colleague, Dr. Lauren Wilson, is sharing her story, her perspectives while working in the hospital (Harborview Medical Center), and her ideas for preventing injuries as we close out this hot summer in our town deplete of air conditioners. We’ve included some tips on preventing falls in your home below. Don’t wait!


As a pediatrician, I was called four times last week to help care for young children with severe head injuries due to falls from windows.

Each time my pager goes off to mark a potentially devastating injury, I mourn. Not just for the family whose life is changed in that moment, but also for our city’s failure to make basic efforts to prevent these falls. I also know each time I am called that this will not be the last.

Despite reporting on these injuries, children continue to be injured at alarming rates. Since January 1 this year, Harborview Medical Center has treated 42 children with fall-related injuries in the hospital. Dozens of other fall-related injuries are cared for in primary care clinics and emergency departments. Read full post »

It’s Gotta Be Screen Time Somewhere

Illustration by David Rosenman

Illustration by David Rosenman

My boys always want it to be screen time. I don’t think that is changing anytime soon. These apps, shows, games, and devices are only getting smarter at capturing their attention.

It feels like there isn’t a giant list of new advice to share regarding “screen time.” But because of the recent media focus and deluge of content on “screen addiction,” coupled with recommendations for dealing with screens while parenting this summer, I’m here with a few responses and observations. It seems to me, parents (all of us) are looking for a couple of things in the content we read about parenting with screens: permission and hacks for simplicity. This post will perhaps offer neither. Until the end.

Most of us acknowledge that not all screens are the same, nor is all programming, nor are the stages of life where apps and screens are enjoyed (infants versus an 8 year-old). “Screen time” is an issue layered with complexity. Parenting during this explosive device development era demands simple rules and dictums for limiting their use help, but the rules by themselves limit the development of full-on zealots. No one follows the rules like religion. Parents, grandparents and caregivers aren’t devout to recommendations because we claim the rules just don’t fit into the context of our lives. Most of us figure out a way to make justifiable exceptions. It’s simply too easy to pull out your phone, especially when it delights your child the way it does, and entertain. But no question that with the rules out there stressing non-use and limits, we’re left feeling a little guilty anytime we left our children indulge. Imagine knowing that screens before bed interfere with the “sleep hormone” melatonin (the light emitted from the screen limits secretion) but even so still choosing to let your children “chill out” with a video for a 1/2 hour before bed each night. Or imagine following the no-screen-time-before-age 2 religiously for your first child but then breaking this rule routinely when you have a second one! This just happens all the time. Read Why No TV Before Bed Is Better. Read full post »

Yes, Little Boy, You Belong

piano 2This morning I got up early to work so I could carve out an hour for something special before I took the boys to camp for the day. You know the drill if you work outside your home: I powered through emails as the sun came up, responded to some other requests in the inboxes, packed bags for camp with lunches, reminded kids to wear shoes (!), applied sunscreen and we hauled out the door. By 8:00am we’d arrived at the park with donuts and I’d arranged for my mom to meet us in time. I really wanted my 8 year-old to have the opportunity to behold this kind of day from the top with music. A magical little program, Pianos In The Park, made it possible to spin a daydream into reality. There are pianos beautifully planted in parks around Seattle and I knew playing a duet with Grandma would be something special for me to see.

I don’t think my son has any idea that playing a duet with his grandmother, on a cloudless, shimmering new day, in front of Mount Rainer alongside Lake Washington is anything all that special. I really don’t think he knows it’s unusual, which ultimately is a privilege. And as we make experiences for our families we’ll never know what sticks. For me this one will. As his regular day unfolds today I’ve shelved the memory of this morning into longterm storage.

Thing is, we all work so hard to perfect how we execute parenthood. And we all beat ourselves up at times along the way. Often we may not feel good enough. In parenting, the blend of worry, thrill anxiety, guilt, joy, intrigue, and the pure unconditionality of this all generates something very high-stakes. We sometimes don’t even feel the seemingly herculean strikes (piano in the park before camp) are ever enough entrenched with all the demands stemming from work, from our heart and from our hopes. And while I loved the space carved out today for my family and the memory we spun, the minute I dropped them off at camp I started to feel a little behind. Just late to getting to the inboxes again and maybe 10 minutes frame-shifted to the left. Thing is, I mess up all the time with the boys just like every other parent in the universe. We all spend times fretting about competing demands and how we falter; we all worry. I heard an interview on NPR yesterday afternoon where a soon-to-be dad said he just doesn’t worry about anything anymore to which the host wisely responded something like, “Get back to me after you have your baby!” We do just want to raise steady children and the potency of our dreams is immense.

This ubiquitous worry is why an article I stumbled upon yesterday (read: my mom sent it to me) provided such profound relief: The Gift of The Good Enough Mother. When I shared it on Facebook last night it was crystal clear it resonated with nearly everyone else, too. In it, Dr. Naumburg writes, Read full post »

Hot Days: Why Children Are At Particular Risk

Hiking on a hot dayEven here in the cool Pacific Northwest the summer months can send temperatures soaring into the 80’s, 90’s and 100’s. Hot for any average adult, but potentially even more dangerous for young children. Our country is currently experiencing rolling heat waves. Thing is, children heat up faster than adults (five times faster) because they have fewer sweat glands, their body-to-surface ratio is different (their sweating would never do as much good) and this combination makes it more difficult for children to regulate internal temperatures. Couple this physiology with children’s inability to tell us they’re HOT (infants/toddlers) or the instincts of a child or teen athlete (who may not know limits or want to regulate activity) and it can sometimes lead to overheating.

Heat is different for children than adults. They are at particular risk for two reasons: their dependency and their judgment.

Frankly, I worry most about children being left or trapped in hot cars this time of year. Ten children have already died this year in the U.S. after being trapped in a car that can heat up like a cooking oven. Yesterday, with millions of Americans on heat advisories, NBC national news showed footage of bystanders this week breaking glass to save a child left in a hot car. Even though everyone seems to believe it won’t happen to them, about 3 dozen children die each year (primarily during the summer) after getting forgotten or trapped in a car that heats up. If you think you’re too smart for it to happen to you or your family read this — a piece I’ve called the most devastating article around. Read full post »

3 More Things To Know About E-cigarettes


My goal here is to educate people about the risks and realities of e-cigarettes amid an environment full of popular misconceptions and half-truths. Talking about e-cigarette use in adults will NEVER be the same as talking about e-cigarette use and dangers for children and teens. Different groups, different realities, different risks, different use, and different vulnerabilities. Period.

E-cigarette use tripled among high school students last year alone. This is happening RIGHT NOW. Read full post »

Core Memories: Staggeringly Powerful

Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Joy ... from Pixar's "Inside Out"

Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust, and Joy … from Pixar’s “Inside Out”

Over the weekend we saw the movie, Inside Out, with our boys. After reading previews of the film, I expected to be moved and somewhat thrilled by the look at mental health and emotions. But I walked away with a somewhat unexpected emotion: motivation.

Motivation for presence and for patience with my little boys. To me, the movie felt like a whisper, a gentle reminder in my ears to the power of each and every early experience our children take in. A prompt into the profound opportunity good — or even challenging — moments have to shape the foundation of a little developing human. Yes, we know this instinctively, but sometimes it takes a cartoon to jolt us back into focus. I’m motivated to remember that we can’t always carry the heavy load that EVERYTHING we do with our children matters all the time but it is nice to know some of these experiences really will stick forever. Read full post »

Storing Medicine Safely This Summer

How to Store Medicine More Safely

Storing medicines safely seems like a “no-duh,” I know, but it often isn’t…little mistakes here can have big consequences. Safe medication storage is an especially important topic in the summer when children are in their homes during more of the day and sometimes curiously exploring the house. Routines are shaken up and fortunately there’s more travel in the summer (yippeee!) which consequently leads to medicine in purses and travel bags, grandparents coming to visit (with their own medication), or families traveling to other homes where medicines might not be stored safely. This is not meant to be finger-waggy….I’ve just seen too many “if only I’d thought of that” moments after unintended medicine ingestion.

Do 2 things today quickly perhaps — make sure meds are up and out of reach in your own home and car (in a locked cabinet if toddlers around) AND have a designated place for summer guests to store their meds. This won’t take too long.

Check out the Know Your OTC Safety Infographic (here on the left) for data support: children mainly discover household medications when misplaced or on the ground (27% of the time), in a purse (20%), on the nightstand (20%), or in the pillbox that’s in arm’s reach (15%). Who’s coming to your house this summer that may mess this up? Can you make a place to put those lovely purses and beach bags when people walk in that’s up and out of reach? A hook reserved for guests only?


What You Need to Know About Safely Storing Medicine
:

Read full post »