Seattle Mama Doc

A blog by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson.

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

The Link Between Vaccines And Optimism

Yesterday morning there was a public Freudian slip. It was perfect. During an interview on the Today Show about “hot button” health issues the team addressed concerns about myths related to the causes of autism. Autism spectrum disorder, now estimated in 1 of 68 children, is a brain condition causing challenges with how children communicate, behave and relate with others. Autism spectrum disorder is thought to be caused by a mix of genetic risk, potentially starting inutero, and potentially influenced by environmental factors. There is so much more research needed to understand causes (for cures). In the past some have pointed to vaccines as a cause of autism although that theory has been debunked, disproven, and refuted again and again. But here’s what happened on the show. The interviewer addressed the topic and said, “We hear a lot about it in the media, that is, vaccines causing optimism….”

Now it was a misspeak, which of course happens to us all, all the time. But it got me thinking, we need to share this real link  like wildfire — the link between vaccines and optimism. We moms, we dads, we pediatricians, we nurses, we family doctors, we community members, we must speak up. Share this incredible fortune, peer-to-peer, the reality that indeed living now in the 21st century that yes, vaccines are linked to optimism.

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What To Do With That Old Bottle Of Meds?

Drug-Take-Back-InfographicRaise your hand if you have a cupboard full of partially used medications, expired acetaminophen, and old anti-histamines. We do! Conveniently, there is a way to safely get rid of the unused medications in your life. Don’t leave them around the house and don’t put them back into the water supply (via flushing them or putting them improperly in the garbage)….both carry risk.

April 26 is the DEA’s National Drug Take Back Day. Conveniently, this is the perfect time to quickly clear out some of that clutter. As we ready our lives and our homes for summer (yes, please!) it’s a perfect time to clean out the medicine cabinet. No question getting rid of medications isn’t as straight forward as we’d like (ie it’s not like getting rid of an old banana peel).  And we really don’t want Cousin Judy’s anti-depressive  in our drinking water nor do we want any antibiotics in our soil. And who really wants a guest rummaging through your medicine cabinet at next year’s holiday party looking for drugs!

When we buy over-the-counter (OTC) medications at the pharmacy using them safely for our family demands 3 skills:

  • Reading and following the labels, dosing them properly for our kids.
  • Figuring out what is actually in the bottles of meds! Knowing the active ingredients in OTC medicines really matters.
  • Safely disposing of expired or unwanted medicines when we’re done with them.

The FDA provides clear instructions on getting rid of your unwanted OTC meds:

  1. Mix unwanted over-the-counter meds with other substances like coffee grinds or kitty litter. The meds will bind up in the coffee and/or kitty litter and be less likely to disperse, leak, or get out of the garbage. In addition, kids, pets, and those in the garbage looking for meds will be less likely to get into them.
  2. Place them in a sealable bag (think Ziploc style) or an empty can before disposing of them.
  3. Throw your combination in the trash.

If you’re uncomfortable disposing of medications with the above instructions or have a large volume of OTC or any prescription meds to get rid of, this Saturday between 10am and 2pm April 26th there will be sites all over the US where you can just drop off unwanted meds in bottles or packets. Just click here and search for a drop-off site (by zip code) near you to find the National Take Back Collection Site. Show up between 10am and 2pm and they will take all of your unused OTC or prescription medications. Voila — you’ll be clutter free come Sunday morning!

OTC_Official_Ambassador_KB
This post was written in partnership with OTC Safety.org. In exchange for our ongoing partnership helping families understand how to use OTC (over-the-counter) meds safely they have made a contribution to Digital Health at Seattle Children’s for our work in innovation. I adore the OTC Safety tagline, “Treat yourself and your family with care all year long.” Follow @OTCSafety #OTCSafety for more info on health and wellness.

Earth Day: My Mom’s Great Lesson

purple skyMy parents were never hippies but when I detail what they’ve done with their lives most people eventually inquire if they were. This isn’t a post about how my family’s deep respect for the planet made me an awesome environmental steward. It’s Earth Day and I’m here to say I haven’t done enough. I feel I fail nearly every day in regards to my role in conserving renewable resources but I certainly didn’t lack great modeling. In fact, I’d suggest I work hard to do things on a daily basis that protect the planet and I do think I am above average in my efforts (here in Lake Wobegon) but I do know I can still do more. I’m fairly certain the actions of my mom are the primary reason I think about the earth when I do. Perhaps this is a nod to parents everywhere.

This is a post about choices, the extreme power of example, and the opportunity we all have to help our children protect planet Earth. Just this past week a lovely article, Raising Moral Children, begged us to remember that our actions scream out loudly during our children’s time growing up. Detailing research about generosity, responsibility, shame, guilt, and opportunity Professor Adam Grant reminds, “Children learn generosity not by listening to what their role models say, but by observing what they do.”

One thing I know for certain: I like being outside more than anywhere else. And I know this is because of how I lived as a child.

One thing every parent can do today for Earth Day is go outside and play with their children. Learning to love the planet will harness an inpatient need to protect it.

Be in a place with no ceiling today for as long as you  can.

My parents have spent the last 20+ years developing and sustaining a business committed to conservation, environmental sustainability, and purpose. Although it’s taken quite a bit away from them personally, it has gifted the world with a profound example: what we do with our time on earth really can change it.

But it may be what my mom did long before she made it to the tropical rainforest that causes me pause nearly every day. It happens anywhere — I think about reusing a bag, refolding a piece of tin foil, turning off the car while it idles in line. She never would buy a juice box (all because of the packaging) and it’s hard for me to do so now.

The reality and impetus for this post is that I remember not a single lecture (as a child) about sustainability, recycling, renewable resources, and “saving the rainforest.” But I really do remember all of this: Read full post »

Go, Dad, Go! Daniel Murphy’s Accidental Heroism

Not that I want these guys to get much more attention, but this is worthy of a mention and possibly a view (see video below). I mean it isn’t every day that we’re teed up to talk about fatherhood. Motherhood, sure, we’re constantly fed information about the elusive “balance” we all seek, but fatherhood and the incredible gifts/mentorship men bring to children’s lives, that seems only to be a sexy topic when it has to do with a sports star [read: I'm guilty of the bait here]. Or it’s Father’s Day.

Enter a new hero.

Earlier this week Daniel Murphy became an accidental hero for child and maternal health. His actions speak far louder than any words (or the words of others). His heroism and moment in time for children’s health is all thanks to these jokers on the radio. Now we get to make note of the incredible decisions parents make every day.

The story is this: a man with a career (he happens to play baseball) took time to support his family. He was at his partner’s side during the birth of his child and stayed there to bear witness, provide support, and be a father. He used time provided to him by his employer (that happens to be federally protected) for paternity leave.

But because Murphy is a real deal professional athlete with an opening season game to be played and because people like to talk on the radio there are numerous reminders for parents everywhere thanks to this story:

  • Paternity leave is a federally protected right. In California, Washington, and New Jersey, there are even laws for paid paternity leave.
  • Elective C-sections for convenience increase health risks to mom and baby. C-section deliveries require major surgery for mom and can put infants at risk for respiratory problems. A 2013 statement from ACOG (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists) outlines the scientifically-backed opinion against these elective surgeries. The suggestion from the radio host is rubbish.
  • Paid parental leave is an area where Americans just don’t do so well; the below example a quirky reminder. Protected parental leave is clearly a place the US pales on the world’s stage (see this infographic on global parental leave).
  • Dads everywhere provide everyday, exceptional value for their children, Murphy’s decision is just one example. Parenting is hard work. The national focus on parenting centers on the work of mothers while fathers play roles of equal impact. All parents, of course, have vital roles in shaping earnest opportunity and health for children. Let it be clear that Murphy says it best, “that’s the awesome part about being blessed, about being a parent, is you get that choice. My wife and I discussed it, and we felt the best thing for our family was for me to try to stay.”

Something In The Air: It’s Measles

Something is in the air right now. There’s a strange mix of vaccine-preventable illness sweeping the country (measles) and a strange bump in media coverage for celebrities and vocal opponents to tested and recommended vaccine schedules. Part of me thought we might be done with that but pageviews, clicks, and views all sell.

My hope is the coincidence of coverage and outbreaks is just that, a coincidence. But as a mom, pediatrician, author and media reporter, the view from here is unsettling. We can’t prove that mishandled media coverage is changing the way we immunize our children (or at least I haven’t seen the data) and how parents protect them, but there are moments like this it feels it’s possible that trust is simply being eroded with this 24-hour online/TV/print news cycle. Parents might be vulnerable to bad medicine when gowned as good business. A couple of examples:

Two weeks ago Kristin Cavallari (a wife to an NFL player and reality TV star) went on Fox News to discuss her career (and parenting) and ended up discussing her theories on a group of vaccine refusers and autism. Perhaps talking about medical theories is a really good model for accelerating a career? Next up was Huffington Post where she dropped the bomb, “’I’ve read too many books’ to vaccinate my child.” I suspect she’s yet to read mine. Particularly chapter number 57 entitled Measles In America. Read full post »

New Autism Numbers, Ways To Advocate

1 in 68 from CDCHeadlines soared yesterday with the CDC report that the number of children with autism diagnoses had increased by 30% in the past 2 years. “Reality is there are many children who are having serious struggles because they can’t communicate well and have a hard time being with people,” Dr Chuck Cowan clearly stated to me this morning. Like a bell on a quiet night, I feel parents need to hear this most: we just want to connect children with the resources they need to thrive at home and at school and throughout their lives. Doesn’t matter what we call it, we want children of all backgrounds, of all resources, and all opportunity to be afforded the chance for a connected, lovely life. As a realist of course, I do know that numbers matter because it changes how we screen, how we advocate for children, how we move funds and resources, and how we ensure children get what we need. Numbers help activate.

The new numbers don’t mean anything is different today than it was 2 years ago really. Instead:

The “new” number published this week finds an estimated 1 out of every 68 children here in the US has an autism diagnosis at age 8. Like before, likelihood for autism is more common if you have a family history of autism and 5 times more common for boys compared to girls. Children who aren’t white don’t get identified as having autism as often and we know from numerous studies non-white children don’t get the resources they need like their caucasian counterparts. That’s not new, either. Also, there may be environmental factors at play although data on determining true environmental causes of autism, versus associations, is still unfolding. Researchers are trying to sort out the role for chemical exposures, e.g. how close you live to highways, and what your children eats in predisposing a child to challenges with communication.

Over the past few months I’d say we’ve been bombarded with unsettling news; we’ve heard that autism likely starts before birth, that children born to older fathers are more likely to get the diagnosis and we’ve even heard that taking Tylenol during pregnancy may increase the odds that our children can’t pay attention. I mean, YIPES! Before you entirely freak out, listen to this: Read full post »

Wild Success, Bill To Ban Indoor Tanning

Screen Shot 2014-03-28 at 11.29.47 AMOMG, it’s a good day for Washington. Yesterday Governor Jay Inslee signed Bill 6065 into law. Bill 6065 bans the use of tanning beds for minors in Washington State. The bill will prohibit those under age 18 the right to use an indoor tanning device. Those facilities that break the law — they’ll be fined up to $250 per violation starting in mid-June. Children and teens with a doctor’s prescription can use the tanning bed (this will happen VERY rarely). If I were able to pass for a teen (let’s be honest, that was gone years ago) I’d sign up immediately for the undercover work. :-) I’m that fired up in ensuring this law works…

For data & numbers (if you’re looking for that) on indoor tanning risks read: Clear And Present Danger: Indoor Tanning

I’m emotional about this as a survivor of malignant melanoma. That’s why I cried when I read this news. I cry because I’m excited and overwhelmed about the hope for turning the tide on rising melanoma diagnoses in children, teens, and young women and I cry because I am also reminded by the stories of loss. I never thought my career in medicine would connect me with politics. It’s moments like this that I’m so glad our public health officials and politicians work hard. Legislation helps and does improve the chances of success for us living into old age.

I see this as a big win for public health, but also feel this as a big win for me as a mom. I really do want to survive to see my kids grow old. Just this week I had to catch my breath while reading about the death of movie star James Rebhorn. Once you’ve had cancer this happens all the time. You’re reading something seemingly innocuously and then you stumble. “Holy moly,” you think, “sorry to hear that guy died.” Then you read how he died (melanoma) and the huge lump comes into your throat. “That could’ve been me.” So many unexpected reminders of the fortune to be alive after having a skin cancer diagnosis. Read full post »

Constipation, No Fun For Anyone

Constipation is really no fun for anyone. No fun for baby or child, no fun for the parent who cleans the clogged toilet, no fun for the sister or brother who waits while someone works on solving the problem in the room next door. In general, constipation is a frustrating, sometimes embarrassing, and often chronic problem for young children. Here are a few ideas to get rid of the no-fun part and ways to protect your children, support them positively, and avoid dangers that can rarely come from over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

Before you reach for OTC medications, consider what is normal and what is not normal when it comes to poop. I usually break this down for children (and parents) in visual terms. I talk about things you find outside.

In general, poop in the toilet can look like a pond, a snakea log, or a pebble. When it comes to poop, we’re always looking for snakes. It seems to me that framed this way, school age children can do a better job knowing if they’re constipated or not. We’re looking for  Snakes in the Lake, people! Frame it this way with your child and perhaps they will be more likely to get a glimpse of what they produce in the toilet?

In my experience, parents worry a lot about hard infant or toddler poop in the diaper but constipation sneaks up on many families to school-aged children. After children are toilet trained and wiping themselves (around age 4 or 5) many parents no longer gaze in the toilet bowl. Long gone are the days of staring at every diaper as parents lose track of the daily poops, how often they poop, and how a child feels when pooping. But first, some definitions: Read full post »

A Rocket And Planet Earth

rocket for pocket There are moments that take our breath away. I’ve said before that it tends to be the things we don’t think of that takes our breath away while parenting. Warning: this post will sound as if it’s written by somebody’s mom.

With the two boys I have so many of those moments, the ones so luscious that when they happen I can hardly breathe and certainly don’t see straight. When these wondrous, unexpected child utterances occur, it can feel a little like the earth stops rotating for a just a beat.

Two things recently to report. One happened this morning around 8am. I’ve written about preschool drop-offs previously. After getting over the tantrums and the wretched separation anxiety the drop-offs have really blossomed. It’s now a luxury to get to drop our 5 year-old off at school. O is really excited to be there and saying goodbye while watching him trot off and fold into his circle of friends is settling to me. Today though, he dropped a delicious bomb. We got to his cubby and he sorted through a few things. Then reached up and handed me a little piece of paper just as he was running off.

Mommy, a rocket for your pocket.

He’s a funny little guy and I’ve held onto that piece of paper (ahem, rocket) all day.

And then a moment on being a grown-up. We do this all the time, act our age… Recently we were talking with our 7 year-old about visiting grandparents and travel, the future and where he will live. One set of his grandparents lives in California and so as he was chatting about travel my husband asked,

Where do you think you’re going to live when you grow up, California or Washington?

To which our wise, old-souled 7 year-old replied,

Oh Daddy, there’s a whole planet to explore.

We really can be shortsighted while parenting these brilliant, funny, lovely people who walk around masquerading as the children in the room. We can think dreams to be contained and we can make the bad assumption that school drop-off is routine. All the while our children remind us the world is without margin and a whole lot sweeter and so much funnier than we ever imagined it could be.

Digitally Savvy Parenthood

As a pediatrician, I encourage families to search online for health advice. Yet how you search and where you click matters. Tips for you and your time with “Dr Google” or “Surgeon Bing.”

The Pew Internet Project’s research finds that over 70% of Internet users in the United States say they have looked online for health information in the last year. Furthermore, most health information seekers (ie freaked out parents searching in the middle of the night) don’t start their health search on their pediatrician’s website. More than ¾ of people in the United States start their health search by typing something into a search engine like Google or Bing. Where you click and what you do next is key.

As a mom, pediatrician, blogger and general online enthusiast, here are a few insights to assist you when looking online for health information for your child or family. We parents are active information seekers on our phones and computer ~ I maintain that this is a GREAT thing! For practicing physicians, there is a tricky balance in believing that the Internet can help save lives. Have You Been In To See Doctor Google? A few ideas to improve trust for us all.

7 Tips For Becoming A Savvy Digital Parent:

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