Seattle Mama Doc

A blog by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson.

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

Back to School – Seattle Mama Doc 101

Back to school is an exciting, albeit stressful time.

If your kids are school age, have your kids take the Stress-o-Meter quiz. I’d even suggest you have them take it today and then take it again in a few weeks to compare. The beauty of the test is that not only does the stress-o-meter measure stress symptoms, it incorporates and gives credit for stress-relieving activities.

Like I said in the video, the most important thing you may do around the start of school is listen to your child rather than provide advice and solutions. Tips from the AAP on making the First Day of School Easier and information on helping children with School Avoidance may help you as well.

For more, check out the American Psychological Association’s report entitled Stress in America. Eye opening, indeed.

School start is a great beginning and a wonderful time of year for most children. Carve out extra time with your kids if you can and enjoy the return to school and the start of September!

Online Sabbatical

I’m taking an online sabbatical this month. Consider this an act of both self-reflection and self-awareness but also an act of self-preservation. As any blogger knows, blogging every few days, taking photographs daily, approving and responding to comments 24 hours a day (7 days a week), while authoring content in your head every few paces, is an entirely consuming experience. Blogging has completely changed my life. And this job is an utter privilege. I concur with a good friend from high school who has said, “I’m happy to help and thrilled to be here.”

But I’ve been consuming media, blogging, and authoring content without reprieve since November 11, 2009. That statistic is not a justification, rather an explanation. I simply need a bit of time away from this space. I need to understand the relationship I have with my iPhone, with Twitter, and my blog better. I need to go back outside.

I also need a bit more uninterrupted time with my children. I need some uninterrupted time with myself. I need to go to clinic during the week without being online for a few hours first.

Today, I’m stepping back.  I’ll be working in clinic. I’ll be working at home. But I won’t be blogging, I won’t be on Twitter, I won’t be checking comments every few hours.

My thought is that I’ll reemerge differently. I speculate it may be liberating. I speculate it might be stifling. I have no idea how I’ll actually feel. But I know it will help me understand not only our complex relationship with social networks and digital media differently, it will improve my capacity to share.

I will miss this community. I have come to count on all of you more than you know. I learn from this space daily. I’m a more-informed, better-read pediatrician because of this.

I’ve been given all sorts of advice about how to unplug successfully. That in itself illuminates the nearly universal challenge we have with our devices and our technology. Remember when I said I was a little bit unhappy?  When I unplug, I’ll trust my instinct and I promise to report back. In the meantime, I’ll dig up and re-post blogs from the past 21 months that you may enjoy. And I’ll likely post a few new photographs for you to see from time to time.

Until September 1st, I wish you all well. May you find a little more time to look at the sky, too…

Varicella Vaccine: It Works

I don’t diagnose Chickenpox often. I’ve seen patients with Chickenpox only a handful of times since I started medical school in 1998. Auspiciously, there simply haven’t been many children to serve as my teachers. Varicella virus causes Chickenpox and there’s a vaccine for that. So, like Smallpox or Polio, I’ve been forced to learn a lot about Chickenpox in textbooks. My strongest professor in the Chickenpox department is my own memory; I had Varicella between the age of 5 and 6 years. It was the one week of my childhood where I remember being really babied– my mom gave me a small gift or craft every day while I was home from school. I got to watch TV on the couch. I must have looked pretty awful…But it wasn’t so bad and I was lucky. I was a healthy 5 year old girl who had a case of chicken pox that was “run of the mill”: lots of spots, lots of itching, a week of fever and feeling crummy. Then poof, I scabbed over and got better. The only remaining trace (besides the virus that may live in my nerves) is the scar on my L forehead. You seen it?

The big trouble with Chickenpox is you can’t predict which child will have a serious complication (a brain infection, an overgrowth of flesh eating bacteria in the sores, or a life-threatening pneumonia).

While I was finishing up college, the Varicella vaccination was introduced into the United States. At that time, over 150 people died every year from Chickenpox and over 11,000 people were hospitalized annually. This created a huge economic toll (from missed work to health care costs).

So my apparent lack of clinical opportunity with Chickenpox reflects reality. A study published this week found that over the last 12 years there has been a 97% reduction in deaths from Chickenpox in children and adolescents younger than 20 years of age. There’s been an 88% reduction of Chickenpox deaths over all (kids plus adults). These are staggering statistics. Read full post »

Protecting Infants From The Sun: Seattle Mama Doc 101

Here’s why to avoid sunscreen for babies under 6 months (when you can) and ways to protect babies from the sun.

For more on protecting your baby and children from the sun read:

First Movie With My 4 Year Old


I’ve had media on my mind lately. And Finn McMissile, I’ve got my eye on you.

We took F (age 4 1/2 years) to his first movie about a month ago. It is something we’ve been talking about for over a year. He’d built up a sense of anticipation that we could have bottled. F is a focused boy. The only movie he has chosen to watch from start to finish his entire life is the original Cars. So with the news of Cars 2 coming to the big screen, we plotted our first big family trip to the cinema. F lost sleep with anticipation. He studied (and slept with) the New York Times synopsis. The NYT review, we didn’t share with him…

What age did you first take your child to a movie? Did you go because of a certain film or because the timing was right?

I’m asking because I think although there is no perfect answer (3, 4, 5, or 6), I wish our first movie had gone better. All in all, our experience was a great success in the eyes of my son, but Pixar let me down. As did Finn McMissile.

McMissile, why the unnecessary ammo? Read full post »

Partnerships In Health Care

I got a parking ticket today. It was worth every penny. The logistics behind why I was in the wrong spot don’t matter (do they??). What does matter is the fact that I made a conscious decision at 10:30am that I was happy to pay the fee that was going to be coming my way if I didn’t exit the building.

I was able to attend a portion of the Pediatric Bioethics conference entitled “Who’s Responsible for the Children” this morning. I was planning to return to other work after a couple of talks. But I couldn’t pull myself away. In perfect form, bioethics’ discussions draw a feisty and varied crowd. In keeping with this, I sat between a lawyer and a nurse, behind a pediatrician, and in front of a philosopher. For someone who has studied bioethics, this is a little bit of nirvana.

Did you know that recent data finds that 40% of children in the US have Medicaid and/or no health insurance?

I’m left reeling, my head spinning webs of thoughts and streams of information together that make me want to do more, speak out, stand on a table and improve health care for children. I’m somewhat humbled and intimidated by the brilliant thinkers I heard. So until all that settles, there’s one thing that came up, and often does, that I must write about. It seems it’s a theme. Read full post »

A View Into Driving With Grandma

Grandma shouldn’t get such a bad rap. A study published this week found that kids were safer riding in a car with a grandparent behind the wheel than with Mom or Dad. Researchers evaluated data from crashes that occurred between Jan 2003 to November 2007. What they found defies my intuition: children were injured less with a grandparent-driver than with a parent-driver. The why behind the surprising finding may be harder to elucidate than the data itself. Researchers reviewed data collected on over 11,000 children involved in crashes with either a parent or a grandparent behind the wheel. Here’s what these prominent safety researchers found:

  • Children involved in crashes were driven by grandparents nearly 10% (9.5%) of the time. Yet those crashes resulted in only 6.6% of the injuries. Read full post »

Seattle Mama Doc 101: Teething and Fever

My take on teething & fever in the above video. What is your baby’s favorite thing to chew on? Do you have any advice for parents with teething babies?

And, do you disagree with the data–do you think your baby has/had fever from teething?

More information on FDA recalls:

Potty Training: Reward Chart Glory

Maaaaaaajor milestone in our house today. O filled up his first reward chart for potting training. Even bigger, last night just before he went to bed, O and I discussed that he only had two spaces left on the chart. Once filled, he gets a special trip to the toy store. Although seemingly unclear about the rules and benefits of the chart last night, he told me he would wait until morning to pee.

Thing is, he did.

He awoke with a dry diaper. We felt like lottery winners! O went to the bathroom, peed in the toilet, and then came to find me this morning. His 4 1/2 year old brother did the reporting:

“O peed much more than we thought he could this morning, Mommy.”

I was astonished. I went to the toilet to see the evidence. Dark yellow bowl of pee. Immense pride….I think my heart pushed out a double-beat. Read full post »

A Single Moment

Consider this an intermission. A moment where I have no wisdom to share, no knowledge or research I’m compelled to report, and no breaking news I feel I have to detail. This is a day where those words don’t come easily for me and thus I’ll give you a brief intermission. The reason? I’ve heard terrible news today about children going missing, children who have been hurt and children who have been killed. It’s left me a bit breathless. I’ve found myself unable to finish 5 posts that I’ve started. This past weekend I flew out to Minnesota for a 24 hour visit to support a dear friend who just lost her father. It’s Wednesday now and I’m still a bit consumed by it. And more, I’ve been sick for the last 7 days, feeling fairly miserable. As I wring myself out and attempt to stand back up after a long week for me personally, I acknowledge this: often we lack control of all that we’d like. Everything from our own health, our family’s health, the safety and vulnerability of our friends and loved ones, and even our own future.

Yet the saving grace can be that our lives can feel entirely whole in a single moment. A single moment of simplicity amidst a slanted sun. The bare bones moments away from technology and away from a clock– those moment surrounded by those we love. Those moments that define and then refine who and what we cherish most. Read full post »