Seattle Mama Doc

A blog by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson.

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

Power Of A Google Search: Community

5-22 Addison

2-year-old Addison Hyatt survived a  pediatric stroke at birth. (Image courtesy: Kaysee Hyatt)

One Google search can sometimes change everything.

After learning something new about our child’s health or condition, especially for worried parents and caregivers, leveraging online search as a resource in diagnosis, clarification and education is typical behavior. Searching out support, camaraderie and tips online just makes sense. In fact, 2013 data from the Pew Research Center finds that 1 in 3 Americans goes online to search for information and support in finding a diagnosis. If you’re a woman, college-educated, or younger (under age 49) the likelihood of searching online increases and approaches 50%. Not only are we searching for health info and connection online, we’re doing it more so with mobile devices. Pew data from April 2015 finds that 64% of Americans have a smartphone and that 6 in 10 are searching for health info on a mobile device.

That smartphone in your pocket can connect you to information yes, but also to others like you. Read full post »

What About You? The Value Of Sleep

The minute we become parents we immediately start to hone in on the value of our children’s sleep. Their growth, their feeding, their development and their sometimes labile temperament quickly illustrate the import of real rest in our lives. Many parents advertise their commitment to their child’s sleep as a huge parenting win. Those of us who struggle with it, we often admit defeat. It’s clear, pretty early in infancy, that sleep transforms who we are, how we think and how we live from day one. Our babies are savvy professors in this regard.

Modern parenting conversations are teasing out the value of child sleep versus the value of adult sleep in multiple ways. In some cases, it’s the tug-o-war and battle-of-minds while discussing data and beliefs around when to let a baby cry-it-out. Working parents often report on their inability to sleep in the early working/baby years. In the U.S. we constantly revere those who don’t sleep a lot  — productivity seems to trump wellness in the hierarchy: there are politicians, profressional athletes and successful business people who brag about their capacity and earnest commitment to their craft via the lens of accomplishing greatness on minimum sleep. All this, despite the mounds of research that find health and performance benefit from a good night’s rest. Read full post »

Allergies Run In The Family


It’s a gorgeous time of year when things are abloom. Many of us suffer from irritation and allergies to these months as pollens and particles float around and trigger allergic response.  Not so beautiful when our families (over)react to pollen. Thing is, there’s also the fact that cold season isn’t quite over and the exact cause of that runny nose your child is dealing with may be hard to decipher. One hint that it’s allergies and not a cold: do you, your spouse or any of your other children suffer from seasonal allergies? Unfortunately if so, there’s a 25% chance your child will too. That said, the likelihood more than doubles when both parents deal with allergies on a seasonal basis. Watch the video above for tips on telling the difference between hay fever & the common cold and when to be on the lookout for the former. Read full post »

Good News & Bad News: Whooping Cough

Two new Pediatrics studies are out this week teaching us more about the effectiveness of the whooping cough vaccine. Lots to learn about how we protect babies and reminders here why we’re immunizing moms during EVERY pregnancy:

  • First, the good news: traditionally we have been trained to tell parents that the first shots we give during infancy aren’t fully protective for infants but rather the beginning of creating immunity against the diseases they prevent. However, a study conducted by researchers at the CDC looked back at cases of infants with pertussis from 1991-2008 and they found evidence that babies who received their whooping cough shot as early as they could, at the age of 6 weeks, were less likely to be hospitalized and/or die from the infection. Wonderful news! The first evidence out there that even that first shot, when given as early as possible, helps protect very young infants who are most at risk from whooping cough. New parents can increase protection, even during outbreaks like we’re having right now, by getting their babies immunized on-time and as early as possible.
  • The not so good (but important) news: the effectiveness of the Tdap shot given to young teens (explained more below) doesn’t always provide long-lasting protection and wanes significantly in the years after the 11-year-old booster dose is given. New research out found after 1 year, about 70% of teens are still protected from the booster, but by 4 years after the shot only about a 1/3 of them are. More:

Read full post »

You’re Not Kate Middleton, Here’s What To Do

5-4 Kate Middleton

Photo credit: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty

On Saturday evening, the newest member of the royal family was introduced to the world. Princess Charlotte Elizabeth Diana made her public debut at 6:12 PM Saturday evening, a mere 10 hours old. But what caught the attention of royal-enthusiasts and moms everywhere was new mother-of-two Kate Middleton’s appearance. That blown-out hair! That perfectly made-up face! The heels! She gave birth to a healthy, term baby girl that same day and looked as if she stepped from the cover of a magazine. And some moms around the world thought, “How does she look like that so soon after having a baby?”

I think this just brings light to the variant experiences we have with childbirth and the differential circumstances that we bring children into the world. I certainly wasn’t ready for heels a 1/2 day after giving birth but that may have to do with complications I endured and the C-section I had to undergo. Many women labor for days are are thoroughly exhausted by the time they start skin-to-skin and feeding their newborn. Many of us would have no interest in being in front of the world’s cameras 1 day after child birth. Some of us would, of course… Read full post »

Disneyland Success Story During Measles Outbreak

baby-O-e13075541951481There’s a beautiful story of success tucked away in the recent measles outbreak in the United States. Sometimes we forget to talk about it. When measles popped up at Disneyland in December 2014, it made headlines as the public remained thirsty for the media’s support in understanding who was at risk and why. I spoke to dozens of media outlets about the outbreak, under-vaccinated populations, the MMR vaccine, and how to protect those most vulnerable during an outbreak. We all emphasized those at biggest risk: infants too young to be immunized, those who were unvaccinated, or those too ill to be vaccinated. Measles is an illness I would be terrified to get — and I don’t like that people who aren’t protected are at risk for both catching the disease and spreading it. I think the public gets this in new ways although I hate that it takes outbreaks to capture attention and drive this education and understanding.

Measles virus, and the vaccine we have to prevent it, form a unique pair because although measles is wildly infectious and can be life-threatening the immunization is wildly effective and life-saving (>99% of those immunized are protected for life). It is a safe vaccine with minimal side effects. What a fortune and a triumph in prevention medicine. A terrible disease, once thought to be eradicated in the U.S., is swiftly prevented by a vaccine that nearly everyone in the population can get after their 1st birthday.

The beautiful story from the outbreak is this: Read full post »

Pale4Prom: Indoor Tanning And A Hashtag

Image courtesy: @mdub686 (Original source found here)

Image courtesy: Melissa Walling (Original source found here)

It’s prom season and we all know it’s the season where teens feel pressure (and sometimes giddy delight) to prepare to look entirely fabulous for the night. Full of pressure or full of glee, this is without a doubt the time of year when teens I see in clinic talk most about tanning.

A 2014 JAMA study found 19% of teens (under the age of 19) have used a tanning bed, with 18% of them stating that they’ve used one in the last year. That’s in every teenagers still feeling that “bronzed is better” and a thing of youthful beauty regardless of the known consequences. We have to do a better job, both as parents and as doctors and health educators, explaining the unnecessary risks teens take on when changing the color of their skin. Recently, a hashtag surfaced on social media encouraging teens to be “#pale4prom.” Thoughtful critics have raised concerns about the racial implications this campaign could ignite, I do feel this campaign can do good for those teens exploring indoor tanning. We all want to feel beautiful in skin that is protected from the sun. In my mind, the easiest word to market the idea of skin without sun is pale. I’ve urged teens to enjoy the beauty of pale skin (sometimes unsuccessfully, in clinic and in my personal life) and hope the shift from bronze to pale is a trend that continues to grow as years unfold. There’s no question we can do a better job valuing what beautiful skin really is. 5 reasons why: Read full post »

Maybe This: “I Wish My Mommy And Daddy Knew”

I’ve watchedWish Mommy Knew the viral #Iwishmyteacherknew campaign with earnest intrigue. If you haven’t read about it or followed along this past week, know that the campaign started when Denver 3rd-grade teacher, Kyle Schwartz, honed listening and asked students directly what they wished she knew about them. They wrote out responses and she started to post them on social media with the above hashtag when she realized the goldmine she’d discovered. In my mind this has captured the nation’s attention because of the empathy we feel reading about perceived (and real) short-comings in children’s lives and because the raw power that third-grade words provide in understanding inequities for US children. As a previous inner-city middle and junior high school teacher I think this teacher’s tactic and insight-seeking is profound. Reminds me so much of Momastery’s post last year about a teacher who finished each week in the classroom asking children to write down who they’d like to sit next to in school. She asked not to stir up the seating chart, but to determine immediately which children were being left out. She honed listening to facilitate and build connection for children who may be silently struggling.

I’ve been snagged a number of times this past week thinking about the #Iwishmyteacherknew, thinking on asking my own children the same question. What do they wish I knew? Would they journal something they wouldn’t say? Would invited words, written out in silence on paper, protect our children from the inevitable judgment/worry/concern/disorganization they may feel in answering a question like this in real-time when something dear is at stake? Something as dear as the bond they feel?

I surveyed a couple of parents and friends in the last few days if I should do it and if they would ask their own children. Most parents I discussed it with had a similar feeling to my own. Immediately our faces wince. We cringe when we think of it, unsure we’re ready to face the reality of where our children may feel we’ve fallen short in listening or unsure we’re steady enough to not just tolerate what we hear but also change things in life to improve the circumstances.

Would you do it? You ready to ask your school-age children or even your teen what they wish you knew about them and allow them time and space and paper to write it down?

Pill Swallowing Sooner Than You Think

4-20 pill tongueAs adults, many of us take or swallow pills out of necessity to manage or prevent a chronic health condition. From a vitamin to even a life-sustaining medicine, you probably don’t hesitate or panic when swallowing the pill, even the biggies. But knowing how to swallow medicine isn’t something that just happens, often it’s a learned skill that may vary widely in regards to timing. During my education I was trained to think that once children hit double digits (age 10 years) it’s appropriate to think of them as “capable” of swallowing pills. But new findings published in Pediatrics cite research demonstrating that learning how to swallow a pill may be easier for younger children to master before they’re facing anxiety that can come from having to swallow something whole. Bottom line in the research: although many children struggle with swallowing pills, five studies reviewed find various techniques to support children with pills really do work! Mastery is possible here, but anxiousness about pill-taking spans childhood for some. Unease about pill taking can be a real barrier in treatment adherence both for children and teens with chronic health conditions.

Pill-swallowing may not come “naturally” to your child. A 2008 survey found more than 50% of children, by parental report (children from birth to age 26), were unable to swallow a standard size pill at some point. This complexity in pill-swallowing or refusal of medicines can be a once-in-a-while battle or a daily barrier at home. Many important medications are taken orally and the illness experience for parent and child is much more stressful when this challenge pops up.

Interventions Do Help

Five interventions were reviewed in the research and all of them proved beneficial for children: Read full post »

Mindfulness In A High Stakes Job

4-17 mexicoWe’re just back this week from a vacation with our children. The 6 days we had together, the variant pace at which we were able to live for the week, and the challenges that bubbled up offered some reminders but also some fears for me. We’re always on quicksand while raising children. Parenting demands exceptional grace but also exquisite flexibility and immediate rapid-fire insight. Our job descriptions, as parents, are ever-evolving; we’re asked to shift what we know as we step from stone to stone and into something new as quickly as our children do. The minute we feel we’ve figured something out — whammo — a new challenge arises we never even thought to consider.

The stakes are high. Of anything that unites us all as parents it’s knowing that truth. Along the way we will fail, fail, fail and have wondrous little successes too, thank goodness. Yet the tasks involved in raising a child will never look just like they did last month. I loved a This American Life (#553) segment I listened to this past week where a mom discussed some of the complexities in the requisite shifts she faced raising a principled little 7 year-old boy named Elias who is vegetarian and very emotional about animal-eaters. He finds himself living amid a family who explores an occasional pepperoni pizza and turkey sandwich. As his parents upend the way they eat at home (they end up banning all meat at home because of their son’s feelings) narrator Ira Glass states,

“If you’re hearing all this and you are feeling judgey about these parents and I know you are, because that is a national pastime — judging other people’s parenting – I just want to say I totally felt that way until I heard Elias….just like she says. Hearing Elias made me realize ‘oh, right, she actually is in a really tough situation. Where she has these two kids and those both have really strong feelings about this and she doesn’t want to crush either one of them.’”

Judging others’ parenting is often just the malaise of parental insecurity. We all have our own shakiness at times, especially as we’re asked to rise to new heights each new day. It’s of course so easy to judge, and so much harder to elevate and emulate others. In my mind, the best we can do while parenting (failing or succeeding) is tease out others’ profound moments. Learn from them but also copy and try those things out ourselves and see how we can make them work in our own lives. Read full post »