Parenting

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Is Co-Sleeping Safe? Do You Do It?

The short answer to the title is —- not really, and the risk varies. But I sure get why so many parents want to co-sleep despite most pediatricians urging against it.

I was up early yesterday morning listening to NPR when a story about parents’ love and desire to sleep with their babies grabbed my attention. The headline reads: “Is sleeping with your baby as dangerous as doctors say?” I mean, parents (like me) want(ed) to co-sleep and bond with their babies, of course, especially when their babies fuss and cry and especially when parents are exhausted. Every pediatrician hears and understands the parent who says something like, “By 3am I was just so tired I plopped her in bed with me after feeding and gave up on the bassinet.”

Parents ARE tired and want to make that crying, noise, and a baby’s sadness go away. The piece opened up the challenge in parents feeling judged or insecure about sharing truths with pediatricians who have strongly advised them to separate sleeping spaces. Many parents may feel that if they continue, in overwhelm, or instinct, or in love to bed-share and co-sleep, they have to keep it from their pediatrician.

The rub here is pediatricians want what is best for families and what’s best for the bond between babies and their parents. But they also want to protect babies as best they can with the evidence fueling guidelines and advice.  How we’re talking about this may miss some salient points in American family lives.

Putting babies on their back in safe sleep environments has proved so helpful for protecting babies. But the guidelines may have focused too little on the risk that comes with over-tired parents who just can’t follow the advice and the risks co-sleeping may pose particularly when a tired, working mom co-sleeps out of desperation. Sleep experts have helped me understand that sleep deprivation changes arousal and it may be riskier for an over-tired parent to co-sleep than a better rested one.

Science and data have guided pediatric policies to say that co-sleeping and bed-sharing are not safe and should be avoided. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “it should be avoided at all times.” Bed-sharing and co-sleeping can put babies at risk for SIDS, accidental suffocation, and/or accidental strangulation. About 3,700 babies die each year in the U.S. from sleep-related causes. These numbers and policies have urged pediatricians to help parents find ways to have babies sleep near-by, in the same room, but on a separate surface. But when parents can’t follow-through on the advice or don’t agree with it, they may just be staying quiet.

Parents are tired! Parents want to enjoy their babies! Parents want their babies to thrive! Pediatricians do, too.

But maybe it’s not as cut and dry as this. Maybe there are some co-sleeping scenarios that may be lower risk than others. Maybe we need to acknowledge this and help guide families to some of the nuance in the data and the risks. Eliminate all risks we can but take into account how families want to live (and will live) outside the exam room walls.

This morning, after the story I immediately got on the phone with my friend, colleague, and sleep expert, Dr. Maida Chen to discuss the topic. The guidelines, the need for them, and ways that we might consider supporting families and helping them understand all she does about sleep, risks, family, working parents fatigue, a lack of great maternity leave support, etc.

“Sleep deprivation makes co-sleeping unsafe. I consider full-time, working moms and frankly any mom with obligations beyond their newborn at high risk for sleep deprivation, and I would not recommend they bed-share with their babies. If you’re back at work, or taking care of other children, or going to school, or taking care of family members, you’re probably sleep deprived. In an ideal world we would have 1 year of paid maternity leave, but that’s just not the case.” ~Dr. Maida Chen

Other risk factors that increase dangers with co-sleeping include: having a premature baby, parents who consume alcohol, smoke and/or use drugs that would change their level of arousal or movement in bed.

Oftentimes our maternal drive, love, and bond with our child are what drives us to want to soak up baby snuggles. Or the fact that most babies just sleep better when being held. Or nighttime feedings are easier this way. Or all of the above.

This isn’t a comprehensive post – rather a post to acknowledge how complex sleep guidance can be when the advicde isn’t taken and the truths aren’t then heard. I want all parents to do the best they can and also always eliminate all the risks they can. Dr. Chen and I are thinking of building some digital tools to help families understand the data more, mitigate risk, and incorporate their real-life decisions and realities into decision-making. But we want to start by understanding where we find you, even today. Help us by first just answering this question? We’ll be back with some more (questions, and information). Stay tuned. And please share.

Sore Throat Versus Strep Throat

When you or your child has a sore throat, it can be hard to tell if it might be something that needs medical intervention, like Strep throat. Strep throat is an infection caused by group A Streptococcus (GAS). When you confirm (by throat swab in the lab) that GAS is present, your child needs 10 days of antibiotics. If the test is negative, it’s unlikely you need any Rx medical treatment! More below:

  • Sore Throat
    • Tonsillitis refers to tonsils that are inflamed. Inflamed tonsils (and even when they have white stuff on them) doesn’t necessarily mean your child needs antibiotics. If enlarged tonsils make it hard to swallow or changes the sounds when your child breaths, they need to see a pediatrician.
    • Pharyngitis refers to an inflamed throat. Most episodes of pharyngitis are caused by infections from viruses. Some are caused by other bacteria that live in the throat that aren’t as problematic as GAS and don’t require antibiotic treatment.
    • Viruses, bacteria, allergens, environmental irritants (such as cigarette smoke), and chronic postnasal drip can all cause a sore throat. Most tonsillitis & pharyngitis will typically resolve on their own without prescription treatment.
    • Try acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, throat lozenges, warm beverages, gargling salt water and get lots of rest. In time, sore throats typically improve in a few days.
  • Strep throat is an infection caused by a specific type of bacteria, Streptococcus. Infections from the bacteria can be minor or severe. When your child has Strep throat, their tonsils are usually very inflamed, they likely have a fever and swollen lymph nodes in the front of the neck, a BAD sore throat, and sometimes a headache. Many children complain of lots of pain with swallowing. Strep throat symptoms typically come in isolation from other “cold symptoms.” With typical strep, most children do not have cough, runny nose or hoarseness (changes in your voice that makes it sound breathy, raspy, or strained). No one can diagnose strep throat just by looking at your throat. Instead, healthcare professionals use two tests to see if group A Strep bacteria are causing a sore throat. A “rapid strep test” involves swabbing your throat and gives results quickly, usually in about 15-20 minutes. The test is accurate about 95% of the time meaning only 1 in 20 people (5%) who have a negative test actually may have the infection. If the rapid test is positive, your doctor or provider will prescribe antibiotics. If the test is negative, your healthcare professional may likely send the swab for a full throat culture (to catch the 5% that falsely didn’t show an infection). A throat culture involves sending a throat swab to a lab for 1-2 days to see if bacteria grow from the sample. If it turns positive, then your child should be treated with an antibiotic for 10 days.

Great information from the American Academy of Pediatrics on the differences between a sore throat and strep.

E-cigarette Studies In Teens Bust Safety Myths

Two new studies out today on e-cigarettes showed e-cigs remain a significant concern for teen users. E-cigs were found to pass along carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals) to those who used them and are associated with future tobacco cigarette smoking in teens. Data out today in Pediatrics finds that teens who used e-cigarettes had up to three times greater amounts of five volatile organic compounds (carcinogens) in their urine compared to teens who did not use e-cigarettes at all. Teens using fruit flavored e-cigarette products, often the preferred choices for teens, produced significantly higher levels of acrylonitrile (a volatile organic compound, known to be toxic). Teens who used both e-cigs and tobacco cigs had even higher levels of the carcinogens overall.

Let’s be clear, e-cigarettes are not “safe” nor do they provide health benefits for teens. It’s our obligation to help teens and parents everywhere understand that…the data keeps accumulating as more and more teens use e-cigs across the country. E-cigs tend to increase smoking of traditional tobacco cigarettes, too. My worry is many teens believe e-cigs are safe to use. More and more, I’m certain they are not.

Relevant E-Cigarette Statistics:

  • About 95% of adult tobacco users started using before they turned 21 years of age. In the study out today, E-cigs were positively and independently associated with progression to being a regular, established smoker. Researchers conclude, “data suggest that e-cigarettes do not divert from, and may encourage, cigarette smoking” in teen population. Especially in those who have a tried a few cigs but not yet established a smoking habit. Rather than being a “safer” choice e-cigs enhance the choice to smoke traditional cigs in teens.
  • Use of e-cigarettes rose 900% between 2011 and 2015. And between 2014 and 2016, US middle and HS students used e-cigs more than any other tobacco product.
  • 85% of e-cigarette users ages 12-17 use flavors. In the study out today, carcinogens and toxic substances were increased in teens’ urine in those who used e-cigs compared with those who didn’t. Added risks may be in fruit-flavored e-cigs preferred by teens; even higher levels of a specific toxin (acrylonitrile) was detected.

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What’s The Right Age For A Smartphone?

What’s the right age to get your child a cell or a smartphone? I wish I had a concrete, data-driven, definitive answer for you. I think the answer is a balance between what’s right for your family and when you think your child is responsible enough to manage the risk that comes with opening up an entire new world online and the risk that comes with losing something expensive. Research from Pew Research Center out this month (Feb 2018) finds that when it comes to adults, nearly all of us (95%) have a cell phone and 77% of us have a smartphone. But when it comes to parents specifically, we’re different– we’re all in it seems, 95% of parents with children under age 8 have a smartphone (not just a cell).  What we’re modeling in our own lives with our phones makes this even harder. If we are addicted to our phones what does it mean for our child? When it comes to having a child get a cell or smartphone of their own, Techcrunch reported in 2016 that children, on average, get a cellphone in the US at age 10.3 years. You may have strong reactions to that number.

The biggest reality IMO is that the biggest issue may not be the age of initiation for a phone or device but rather how we help our children use it, follow rules, and sincerely work to avoid “addiction” to it in life. We just don’t want to have our children (or ourselves!) pulled away from life in meaningful ways…this being alive thing is just too precious.

Half of teens feel addicted to their mobile devices, and the majority of parents (60%) feel their kids are addicted, according to a 2016 Common Sense report on tech addiction. A recent study (somewhat contested) of eighth-graders by Jean Twenge, author of iGen, found that heavy users are 56% more likely to say they are unhappy; 27% more likely to be depressed; and 35% more likely to have a risk factor for suicide.

Common Sense Media launched a new campaign to protect young minds from the potential of digital manipulation and addiction. The campaign, called Truth About Tech, aims not just to help us as parents but also to influence the tech industry in making products less intrusive and less addictive.

In my family, I’ve told my boys we can talk about a cell phone at age 12. But we do let them use an iPod and an iPad and holy moly, it’s not easy….nor perfectly executed. When and how you introduce devices to your children will always be a personal decision — for you and your family — and it will always demand your longstanding attention and follow-along. The good news in the overwhelm, you can always change up the rules as you go, especially if the ones you make aren’t followed! The AAP Family Media Plan is a great tool to start the conversation together as a family and allows you to print it out and put it up in the house as an easy reminder of what was agreed upon.

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From The Mouths Of Babes: Read This Twitter Thread

I can’t stop thinking about this tweet thread. I think it may be one of the most precious threads on Twitter. Hopefully that’s saying something since I’ve been plugging along, almost daily, on Twitter since 2009.

Here’s my experience with it…I’m sure you have your own and I’d love to hear about it in the comments if you’d be willing to share:

Yesterday, I woke early with insomnia around 4am-something in the morning. Instead of doing what I should have, I grabbed my phone and found myself on Twitter. Just before 5am I read a beautiful series of tweets from a South African pediatrician who cares for children at the end of life. He’d taken to Twitter in the early morning hours (Seattle time) to share messages from children at the end of life. Distillation of what they enjoyed most. Things they knew. Worries, gratitudes, and love housed within them. Innocent and nearly angelic.

I read it. I cried. I re-read it. I sent it to a few people I love. For some reason I didn’t retweet it. I have no idea why except that I think I held it so dear I wasn’t even sure what to say. I plopped it into a blog post from 2 days ago, I sent it to some smart researchers who work with children and teens and think/study/intervene on ways to improve resilience, happiness, and stress.

A perspective from the front-line-end-line-solid-lines-of-meaning in being alive is an ever-relevant and precious gift. Hard to think of any other advice that matters more. When I read the tweet thread in the early morning hours it had something like 100 likes on it. There are now, as I type this, about 100,000. That’s a lot; clearly I’m not alone in meaning-making with this. Read full post »

Widespread Influenza in US: Ways To Protect Your Family

It’s flu season, no doubt about it, with widespread influenza infections all over the United States (see the CDC updated maps with high-levels of ILI [Influenza-like illness]). Influenza is a virus (there are many types or “strains”) that cause terrible fever, cough, respiratory distress, pneumonia, ear infections, and sometimes hospitalization and death. As you’ve likely heard from the media blitz the last week or so, it’s shaping up to be a pretty nasty year – and some public health workers are concerned not only about this surge or “peak” of flu season coming early, but that it may be bigger and more dangerous than we expected. Washington is still bracing (we have lower levels) but many areas are inundated and hospitals and ERs are full. Any Google search on “flu” will give you headlines like this: Hospitals Face a War Zone, Flu Season is Bad But Might Get Worse (which is true, it might), and this with the data update this week: Flu Season Has Killed 30 Children (which is also true and dreadful).

5 Simple Things To Do During Flu Season To Help Your Family

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How To Treat Lice And When To Ask for A Prescription

This is a follow up post to my recent post on treating head lice. It’s all just a major inconvenience. And worse than having lice is having lice again and again. And even worse than your child getting re-infested may be treating lice with an ineffective therapy. Enter…..”super lice.” Ewwwww. Although please know that their name exceeds their actual scariness. These lice are only different (aka “super”) in that some lice may have developed gene mutations that indicate they are developing resistance to a common class of over-the-counter (OTC) treatments (permethrin).

A 2016 study in The Journal of Entomology that got a bunch of media coverage found resistant lice all over the United States. Lice were sampled from 48 states at well over 100 different centers to evaluate their patterns of mutations that may render them resistant to OTC medications. Do note that the study was funded in part by the pharmaceutical company that makes one of the prescriptions, but nonetheless did find that lice are becoming harder to treat, coast to coast.

Do you have a super lice? It may be hard to know. If you’ve treated your child several times exactly according to directions and aren’t having success, you should explore prescription medications that may work better. But REMEMBER though, that sometimes you child is just getting re-infested from someone at school.  It is sometimes hard to decipher if the OTC medication is ineffective, or if your child has been re-exposed. Working with your school and with others where your child may have been exposed is always a part of this when a child continues to have lice after a treatment. There are some medicines (see section below) that may help if the OTC meds are not working. The chart below shows where the resistant bugs were detected (red is fully resistant, orange shows intermediate resistance, and green showed no resistance to OTC meds). Read full post »

How To Treat Head Lice

As parents, many of us have been there. You’re going about your day and BAM…fear and anxiety start creeping in as soon as you read the email, that perhaps again, there’s an outbreak of lice. Someone in your child’s school has lice and your child may have been exposed…blah, blah, blah. Nothing about this ever feels benign, even though it always is. Lice just feels a gross inconvenience. This post details the lice life cycle, the ways lice spread, and ways you can treat lice with both OTC or prescription medicines.

Lice infestation is common for US children and has nothing to do with cleanliness. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) estimate 6-12 million lice infestations a year in the United States, but something you cross your fingers doesn’t make its way into your home or hair.

How Lice Live And How Lice Spread

Head lice feed on tiny amounts of blood from the scalp and if they are not on a person’s scalp, they can usually only survive about a day. This is good news for remembering that lice won’t crawl around your home for days — ever. They just can’t. Lice lay their eggs close to the scalp and when on the head can live about 28 days. They can multiply quickly, laying up to 10 eggs a day. It only takes about 12 days for newly hatched eggs to reach adulthood. This cycle can repeat itself every 3 weeks if head lice are left untreated.

Remember that head lice usually only survive for less than 1 day away from the scalp at room temperature. Their eggs cannot hatch at room temperature lower than that near the scalp. So once they fall off a child’s head, lice pose very little threat. You don’t have to vacuum the carpet, sterilize the toys, wash the house top to bottom after your child has lice. I mean you can, but don’t do it for the lice :-).

Lice is typically passed through close person-to-person contact.  Lice crawl, they can’t hop or fly (phew!). Lice mainly move from head-to-head and less commonly move from one person to another on a hairbrush or hat or costume.

Lice At School – Why Kids Don’t Get Sent Home Anymore

The American Academy of Pediatrics and CDC have fought hard against “no nit” policies in schools, in the interest of reducing the school absence associated with head lice. When recurrent infestations occur this can be frustrating but no child really ever needs to miss school for lice. Schools are increasingly unlikely to exclude children for nits, but still, in some schools, the policies persist. The rationale for not sending kids home:

  • Many nits are more than ¼ inch from the scalp. Such nits are usually not viable and very unlikely to hatch to become crawling lice, or may in fact be empty shells, also known as ‘casings’.
  • Nits are cemented to hair shafts and are very unlikely to be transferred successfully to other people.
  • The burden of unnecessary absenteeism to the students, families and communities far outweighs the risks associated with head lice.
  • Misdiagnosis of nits is very common during nit checks conducted by non-medical personnel.

 

Over The Counter Lice Products


Most of the time the very best bet for lice are OTC, easy-to-use treatments. The FDA has approved over-the-counter (OTC) lice products as safe and effective when used according to the Drug Facts label instructions. There are 3 main ingredients used to treat lice: Permethrin, most commonly found in the OTC product Nix or Piperonyl Butoxide and Pyrethrum Extract, most commonly found in Pronto or Rid. Each product has different and specific treatment instructions, like if hair needs to be shampooed first or if dry hair is needed, the age a child has to be for these products to be used on their scalp and if and when a second treatment is recommended. If the thought of dealing with lice makes you light-headed, there are lice-removal services available. They’re not cheap (starting around $100 in the Seattle area), but some parents may find the expense well worth the piece of mind of getting rid of lice manually by professionals. Read full post »

MLK Day, The New Year And Tiny Habits

I’m quieted today by the profound example of Martin Luther King Jr. and one of his many enduring proclamations,

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”

The answer I often feel is “not enough.” While most of us spend portions of our everyday caring for or enriching the lives of others, the enough-ness and potency of feeling we’re doing enough, or giving back in satisfactory ways, can yo-yo.

There’s not a better moment than now to augment who you are and what you do with your days.

We’re halfway through the first month of 2018 and perhaps today is a beautiful moment to pause on what we do each day routinely and how we contribute. Even in the tiniest ways. Resolution season is dying down so I suggest we think less resolutions and more intentional habit formation. More intention for you and your life I believe will likely translate to more for others.

BJ Fogg, a behavioral psychologist and founder and director of the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, created a behavior model (see the graph below) that when dissected and simplified, details that making change in your life and forming a lasting habit is a blend of how much motivation you have for the change, the challenge of actually doing the behavior and the need for a triggering event to get the desired change habitualized. In some senses, if you have high motivation for a new habit or change, even if something is hard to do, you’ll do it with a proper trigger. If you have low motivation for the new habit, even if something is easy to do, you may not. But triggers and other barriers and thresholds can throw this all off. He recommends implementing “tiny habits” to drive change in your life by following 3 steps.

1. Start small. Make it teeny tiny. Read full post »

When Joy & Science Meet In Parenthood

I gave this little talk at Children’s recently about where joy and science meet– a lunchtime chat about life and balance and work and loving up our children. Ultimately, it was a sincere privilege to think of sharing a little bit of science and a lot of stories from my own tightrope walk as a mom to boys. I spoke about about how we get this done while bearing witness to our children and their enormity, while also working on our careers. In my mind it’s a messy palette of colors we use when watercoloring our lives as our children grow and make themselves into adults. We have big chewy highs and bits of beauty all the time. We also feel miserable when we don’t live up to what we’d hope for ourselves as parents. We all worry. It can be a little ugly. We all house doubt about who we are as parents. But joy is abundant in this lifetime with children and teens and little tips may help us connect with it more often…

There was a lot in this talk not included in the slides and images in the above Prezi, but hopefully you can enjoy a few of the lessons if you click on through it. Even Will Ferrell makes an appearance. I hope they invite me back even though I might have used a swear word or something. Read full post »