Seattle Mama Doc

A blog by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson.

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

Every Teen Needs A Yearly Physical

HPV Vaccine Safety

The current conversation about HPV vaccine is a perfect example that anecdotes about health are powerful. My belief: anecdotes with evidence can be more powerful.

I am going to write a series of blog posts about HPV virus and HPV vaccine. Please tell me what you want to know. What questions do you have about HPV vaccine safety? What concerns do you have about HPV virus in girls and boys, women and men? What can I clarify? I plan to write stories from my own practice, interview adolescent medicine experts, and talk with pediatric vaccine researchers. Who else should I talk to?

In clinic, I recommend HPV vaccine to girls at their 11-year visit. I talk about the shot yearly thereafter with girls and their parents if they haven’t completed the series. Boys can also get HPV vaccine (HPV4) to prevent genital warts. One of the most challenging parts of protecting girls (and boys) from HPV virus is completing all 3 shots in the series. In Washington State for example, over 69% of our girls have received the first HPV shot, but only 45% have completed all three.

For starters, here is a link from the CDC summarizing questions about HPV vaccine safety: HPV Vaccine Safety

And here’s a statement from the AAP about HPV vaccine in the news:

The American Academy of Pediatrics would like to correct false statements made in the Republican presidential campaign that HPV vaccine is dangerous and can cause mental retardation. There is absolutely no scientific validity to this statement. Since the vaccine has been introduced, more than 35 million doses have been administered, and it has an excellent safety record.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend that girls receive HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12. That’s because this is the age at which the vaccine produces the best immune response in the body, and because it’s important to protect girls well before the onset of sexual activity. In the U.S., about 6 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year, and 4,000 women die from cervical cancer. This is a life-saving vaccine that can protect girls from cervical cancer.

Fast-Paced Media And 4 Year-Olds: Cartoons On The Brain

A new study, along with an incredible editorial, was published today in Pediatrics about the effects of watching fast-paced cartoons on the attention and working memory of 4 year-olds. It’s basically a Spongebob versus Crayola versus Caillou show-down. At least it feels that way in the media summaries today. And thus, it’s bound to hit the front pages of every parent’s windshield. First and foremost, it’s a genius study for getting the word out and attracting media attention–media love to talk about media. Especially when it comes to the effects on children; all forms of media are looking for a viable option for longevity. There is just so much competition now.

Also, the study is interesting. Plain and simple, I couldn’t wait to read it. We watch Caillou around here and my husband and I like to dissect and ridicule it (in private)–everything from the outfits to the color scheme to the lessons. As a parent, it’s kind of painful to watch–its just so utterly wholesome and slow. On the flip side because of this goodness in the the content and pace, we feel less “guilty” letting the boys watch it. The result has been a win-win: the boys looooooove it–I mean, love it–and we pat ourselves on the back for the choice. Good media is far better than bad media, we think. Fortunately, the data backs up our instinct. And this helps with our mommy-daddy-guilt. We’re a really low media viewing house, but not the lowest. We have friends whose children don’t see a screen for months at a time. Read full post »

What Can Babies Do At 12 Months? Seattle Mama Doc 101

I found my sons’ first birthdays very emotional. Magical, even. Looking back provided great perspective on how much can happen in 1 year of time. What our children accomplish in the first 12 months is simply astonishing.

Expected milestones at 1 year of age:

AAP’s comprehensive summary of 12 Month Milestones

CDC’s Important Milestones By The End of 1 Year (English & Spanish)

Can We Prioritize Sleep?

I wonder, can we prioritize sleep? I mean this sincerely. Can we really value it? Sleep is one of the essential parts of being human yet unlike some of the other essential things (think food, exercise, oxygen, or shelter) no one seems to give us credit when we sleep. Come about age 11, kids start to be praised for their achievements more than their skills in self-preservation.

Like most busy moms, I speak from an experienced place–I’m up early today after going to bed late last night. With the dog awakening us with vomiting at 2:30am, I clocked in under 6 hours of sleep when the alarm clock broke the silence this morning. Clearly it is our own responsibility to find ways to prioritize sleep. No one will do it for us. So, how we both model sleep and also advise our children as they grow matters. It is well understood that sleep deprivation isn’t good for us. It’s not good for our performance, our driving, our friendships, our mood, or even our waistlines.

In clinic, I ask teenagers what time they go to bed. I ask them if they sleep with their phones, if they wake up to an alarm, and how easy it is to fall asleep. I ask parents and I ask about the little ones, too. But it’s the teens (and parents) I worry about most. Those little 6-month-old-midnight-screamers, they’ll figure it out. The over-subscribed-stressed-out high-(or-low)-achieving teens? They need a little time on this…A study published this month only confirms my concern. Read full post »

August Looked Like This

Here’s a window into the time I had while away from the blog this past month. I’m so thankful I took this break and spent so much time with my boys when outside of clinic. Unplugging has turned into the ultimate luxury…

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: