Seattle Mama Doc

A blog by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson.

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

No Controversy, No Censorship — When Tribeca Got It Right

Screenshot 2015-02-01 12.30.40We don’t know what causes all autism but we do know vaccines don’t. Continuing to elevate myth does NO ONE any good. That’s why the Tribeca Film Festival got it right when pulling a documentary written and co-directed by vaccine science villain, Dr. Andrew Wakefield. Giving him another platform and more voice just isn’t insightful. To me it’s more noise and less what we need. There isn’t controversy here and there isn’t anything new to uncover. Allowing Wakefield more air time and the catapult generated by a film festival just ISN’T going to help us perfect parenthood and it won’t improve our jobs protecting our families, our children, and our communities. The Injustice of Immunization Interviews continues…

Tribeca Film Festival And Vaccines:

Wakefield is a doctor whose work connecting vaccines to autism was retracted from a medical journal (this is nearly UNHEARD of) and a doctor who lost his license to actually practice medicine. He’s not respected nor is his work something for us to learn from. His work may go down as one of the biggest frauds in medical history. Read: Wakefield’s article linking MMR to autism was fraudulent.

The science, on the other hand, is clear and well established. Vaccines have repeatedly and repeatedly been studied with respect to development of neurodevelopment changes and diagnoses on the autism spectrum. Don’t believe the preposterous things the politicians say. The 2011 comprehensive and enormous report from The Institute of Medicine analyzed over 1,000 studies on adverse side effects from vaccines. They concluded, “the evidence shows there are no links between immunization and some serious conditions that have raised concerns, including Type 1 diabetes and autism.” (read more here)

Ongoing research, motivated primarily because of the distrust and fear for vaccine safety propagated in movies, media, and documentaries alike continue to find the very same thing. Science continues to come out on the side of vaccines. Vaccines have adverse effects (fever, pain, seizure, and fainting, for example) but not autism. Read full post »

Candy Or Medicine? Safe Medicine Storage

candy or medicine

Image c/o Strong Health

The role parents play in poison prevention is paramount. The above image shows just how easy it is to confuse medicine with candy. Especially if we message this improperly. When my boys were young I started calling liquid medicines “yum-yums” in an effort to get them to take acetaminophen or other medicine easily only to realize as I was doing it I was advertising the wrong thing…totally novice move as a mom and pediatrician. Clearly as parents we’re always a work in progress.

Safe medicine storage is one of those obvious things we feel we have under control. But numbers for accidental ingestion in the US prove we don’t. Young children are earnestly dependent on us doing this better.

Check out the above image — the packaging of medication earnestly isn’t any different to most of us than the packaging for candy. Imagine a 3 year-old trying to differentiate between the two in a moment of discovery. Pretty easy to imagine a 4 year-old stumbling upon a skittle and seriously impossible to imagine them over-riding their curiosity to explore/enjoy with their mouth. Chances are, that medication/skittle is going into their mouth.

Medication storage isn’t just for your typical over-the-counter (OTC) medications. With our households changing and many people coming though them, we have to think about prescription medications, liquid nicotine, marijuana and household products that all need to be up and out of reach. To that end, safe medicine storage is an important part of family and household safety. This week is National Poison Prevention Week so the perfect time to perfect our homes a little more. This includes any home your child plays in or stays in. Read full post »

One Image Of Parenthood

Usually I arrive here to write and share things that might help. I mean, my hope as a mom and pediatrician is to elevate research, share vulnerability, toss out the irony in the isolation of ideas trapped in an ivory tower and bring in hope for more understanding. I’m usually here to share because I believe if we swap ideas through narrative we all move towards calm and confidence or knowledge and skill as parents, caregivers, adults, children, and partners.

But today I’m just here at my kitchen counter wanting to share an incredible image. Just wanting to make sure you’ve beheld it, too. I haven’t read a single word about the image and I will keep it that way. I don’t want others’ ideas or personal narratives or their agendas to taint what I see. And my hope here is to do the same for you.

All I can say is that for me the image is a triumphant, loud reminder of the immense privilege, the singular honor, and the wired intuition we hold when we get to parent a child. I mean life happens. In all its messy truths and horrific pains, mistakes and brilliant saves, and in our jubilant discoveries and the small gifts given every…single…day. But there was moment this past Saturday, captured by a lens, that explains so much about what and how we fear, what comes flying at all of us on Planet Earth, and what we can truly handle.

Enjoy this photo worthy of a long stare. I get lost in it.

HPV Vaccine Decreases HPV Infections!


Great news about reducing cancer risk. Nothing controversial here…

There is early evidence from a recent Pediatrics study that the HPV vaccine is doing what it was intended to do: decrease the rates of HPV infection in teens and young adults. The study compared HPV in two groups of teen girls and young women–one group during a time prior to the vaccine being used (pre-vaccine era 2003-2006) and another group of similar girls and young women after the vaccine’s introduction (vaccine era 2009-2012). They evaluated prevalence of HPV infection in both groups (from cervicovaginal swabs) to see the effects of the vaccine on the population. The DNA tests from those swabs identified evidence of HPV infection from HPV strains that have been included in the vaccine and also additional strains of HPV infections not previously in the vaccine. Researchers also had information about the girls’ self-reported vaccine status and behavior (sexual activity).

The results are exciting and hopeful when it comes to protection from HPV vaccine.

The study shows a 64% decrease in HPV strains found within the vaccine in immunized girls ages 14-19 and a 34% decrease in HPV in girls ages 20-24 who had received the HPV shot. In my opinion, there are 2 big takeaways to this progress and learning:

  1. The vaccine is effective in protecting teens from acquiring HPV, especially so during teen years. When the shot was given in younger teens they were more likely to have better protection — likely because they are immunized early and thus if/when exposed to HPV infections during their life, they were already protected.
  2. The earlier the HPV vaccine is given, the better the hope for protection against HPV during teen and young adult years. No safety benefit in waiting to be immunized — the risks are the same from the injection but waiting allows more time when a teen could be exposed to HPV. The data out last month may also reflect previous research that the immune response is better when the immunization is given to younger girls and boys (age 11 for example, over age 16 years).

Read full post »

High Stakes: What Can You Explain To A 6 Year-Old?

IMG_4114A couple of weeks back my mom spent a bit of time with my little love on the sideline of his brother’s soccer game. She’d brought in an unusual pine cone to show him that she had picked up on her way in. It showcased the delicate symmetry and stun of nature — twelve seeds spiraling around a centered seed perfectly nestled in a whirly cone. It’s a marvel to hear her explain how the pine cone works to potentiate future life and it’s instructive with how well she understands it. I couldn’t have explained the process so well but I’m not the naturalist my mama is.

As I witnessed their conversation, his unrelenting questions, and the profound knowledge a parent or grandparent needs to know to satisfy a curious 7 year-old’s natural intrigue, I tripped. Not literally, but almost. I was also immediately reminded of an Einstein quote I’d read the week prior that has been STUCK in my head ever since. When you read it, you’ll know the loud truth in it. And it has me reflecting on the enormous task and wild skill it takes to raise a child. I mean our children are exceptionally creative (unclipped, if you will), wildly ready to learn about the sights and sounds around them, and innocently unexperienced. As parents and their obvious anchor, our children constantly look to us to explain.

Explaining takes great skill, inordinate preparation, and earnest mastery. Perhaps this is obvious, but the skill it takes mesmerizes me. Einstein’s quote rings out like a bell.

If you can’t explain it to a 6 year-old then you don’t understand it.

~Albert Einstein

Read full post »

New Birth Control Laws: Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy

Birth ControlEasy, confidential access to affordable birth control is essential if we’re going to decrease the rate of unplanned pregnancies. The dynamics of birth control access are changing, thank goodness. As we’ve heard about parts of the world simply telling women NOT to have babies (Hello, Ecuador) we really do have to think about how women and men prevent pregnancy when not ideal. And how we support women getting information they need to make the safest and most reliable choice. This can start way before teens are sexually active.

Things are changing here in the US. As of Jan. 1, 2016 women 18 and older in Oregon can get hormonal contraceptives directly from a pharmacy, without having to go to a doctor for a prescription first. Pharmacists who supply birth control are required to complete formal training before being allowed to write prescriptions. In addition, teens and women must take a 20-question health assessment before obtaining the prescription that details risks and family history. This is why I always want parents to tell their teen if there is a family history of blood clots, family history of migraines, etc. That way, they can answer correctly!

The good news, here in the US, contraception is covered by insurance and protected by Obamacare (Thank you, Mr. President). Birth control options covered by the Affordable Care Act include: IUDs, emergency contraception, implants, pills, patches & rings.

California has also passed similar legislation that will take effect in the coming months to make it even easier for women to access birth control. National work is ongoing as well to make birth control over-the-counter. More on that to come!

When it comes to teaching our teens about sexual education, we know the topic is fraught with contentious beliefs and cultural sensitivities, and we also know that it’s really hard to speak about certain topics openly. But over and over, we are told by our kids that it’s us – the parents – their trusted adult community – they want to hear from most. Even when they squirm in the seat, DO KNOW THEY ARE LISTENING. I’ve written about this before for parents preparing those kids going off to college.

But really, talking to your teens about how to protect their bodies from sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancies, or violence should start much earlier. Normalizing the conversation appropriately for kids as young as five is encouraged in many parts of the world. We can talk about how we time growing our families in age-appropriate contexts. I’m thinking of writing a post, in partnership with a health educator, about what to say to a 5 year-old, an 8 year-old, an 11 year-old, and a 15 year-old. Would that be helpful? Please leave a comment…

I also want to offer a few great resources, thanks in part to my friend, teen advocate and digital educator, Susan Williams (@estherswilliams) for other parents to use as additions to or as guides for helping their kids understand their bodies and their decisions when it comes to sex and relationships.

There are three initiatives underway that I believe are truly shifting how sexual education and access to the right care, contraception, and information is achieved. Being able to get the right information when you need it and then being shown how to act on that information is crucial to preventing unplanned pregnancies and reducing cases of STDs. For adults who love their (our!) kids, we also need resources to help guide how we talk about sex:  Read full post »

Zika, Dengue And Mosquitoes: Info For Women And Men Who Want Babies

zika cdc infographic

Image c/o CDC

 

Zika virus scares continue to worry expecting parents and pregnant moms. In addition, we’re now just learning about a state of emergency in the big island of Hawaii because of the rising cases of Dengue virus, a virus also transmitted by mosquitoes. Shifting lifestyle advice for growing families will continue as researchers and public health officials learn more. We should expect that the recommendations for travel will change and evolve this summer. As of today, news reports from Brazil coupled with public health officials new knowledge and evolving medical research from around The Americas has clarified a number of things for pregnant moms and families thinking about having babies. Some things we DO know:

  • What is Zika: Zika virus is predominately spread by mosquitoes. It is a virus causing joint aches, red eyes, rash and overall yuck feelings in about 1 in 5 people who get it. Typically the virus causes mild symptoms and goes away on its own even in the minority of people who have symptoms. The virus typically clears the blood stream a week after symptoms show up but we know it can remain for longer periods in other bodily fluids (urine, semen). Zika has been around for decades but warmer climate and travel has spread the mosquitoes and the virus around the world. Then it caused a massive outbreak in Brazil (over a million people estimated to have had the virus). During the same period a surge in cases of birth defects worried health officials about a possible connection of serious side effects from the virus during fetal development.
  • zika map voxWhere is Zika: Outbreaks of Zika have been reported in over 30 countries, including some cases (not outbreaks) in the United States. Zika is often found in small pockets of countries who have reported cases (costal areas, low-lying areas with standing water) and not ubiquitously throughout the entire landscape. It’s not a risk everywhere you go in Central America but it has touched every country. Further, even though we expect to have cases of Zika in most parts of the US over the upcoming months, you’re simply not likely to get Zika in most parts of the United States for a few reasons: mosquitoes that carry and transmit Zika typically only live in the gulf coast and Southeastern US, our measures to control mosquitoes in the US are effective, and many of us who live in warm climates where mosquitoes live spend the majority of the day in air-conditioning and have access to repellent if outside.OUTBREAKS ARE NOT EXPECTED here in the US but we certainly have no guarantee. Here is a nice infographic from Vox depicting the distribution of mosquitoes who can potentially transmit Zika in the US.
  • Birth defects from Zika: The long-term effects from Zika remain unknown, however there are serious concerns about Zika virus and the association of a constellation of symptoms on developing babies, specifically life-altering brain and neurologic changes (microcephaly and developmental delays & changes in the eye). More evidence connecting Zika as the culprit has unfolded in recent weeks. Zika has been found in the brains of babies with microcephaly, it’s been found in the placenta of women who have miscarried, and it’s been found in affected babies eyes. These findings don’t yet prove a cause-and-effect relationship between Zika and these defects but it is more data to construct the case. It is unknown exactly how Zika could cause such devastating changes to a developing baby (for example, researchers cannot yet prove that it’s the virus itself versus our own immune response to the virus that causes devastating side effects in developing babies).

Read full post »

7 Quick Tips For Healthy Mouths

oral health 1

Valentine’s Day this weekend….Even if you think it’s a card-store holiday chances are your children LOVE it. So power on Super Mama & Super Papa and learn something that makes it worth it. The American Dental Association declared February National Children’s Dental Health Month (I’m thinking because of the holiday and all those sugar hearts). This may have to do with candy…..but please read on even if you DON’T have a sweet tooth. Setting a good example and teaching children from an early age how to take care of their teeth is worth all of our time. It’s something I’m STILL working on as a parent. This matters because tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in kids age 6-11 and adolescents age 12-19. Additionally, at least 20% of children ages 5-11 have at least one untreated decayed tooth. Flossing and brushing 2 times a day changes the odds. Boom.

7 Tips For Healthy Teeth:

Read full post »

Women Who Want Babies: Alcohol And Advice

pregnant belly FASThere’s a swirl of media and pithy opinions that pertain to women of child-bearing age this week that have come off as fairly oppressive. You’ve heard the news — this is about Zika and this is also about alcohol. First, there’s a new report out of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that stitches truths about unplanned pregnancy, alcohol use in child-bearing years and offers advice that has lit women and the blogosphere aflame. The CDC’s goal is valiant: inform women about risks alcohol has on developing fetuses, remind the public that nearly 1/2 pregnancies are unplanned and remind women to make “good choices.” On top of this, women of child-bearing age have been told that not only can we not take a trip to Mexico or Central America while pregnant because of risks from Zika, we learned earlier this week that we can’t have unprotected sex with our partners while pregnant if there is any chance of an exposure to the virus. Women planning on getting pregnant should also take precautions. As a reminder, Zika is a somewhat silent infection (only 1 in 5 who get it have symptoms) so the risk criteria is just based on where you go and where you’re exposed. If we women get the Zika virus while we’re pregnant or at the time of delivery, our babies can have devastating side effects. So the threat can feel very real.

Ooofdah.

Something that has to be said: public health recommendations in keeping families healthy will at times differ for men and women. It’s just the way it’s gonna be because of our differing roles in making and raising children. Nonetheless, I’m here to say I think the advice and the news this past week has felt like a big ton of bricks. Advice has felt unrealistic, sexist, and oppressive by many even though it’s based in smart public health data. For the first time in my life I’m relieved that I’m not thinking about having another baby. I mean it’s just a lot to toss around. That being said: IT’S A WONDERFUL TIME to have a baby. Let me do my best to frame up the alcohol conversation as a mom, feminist, pediatrician and health advocate. The updated recommendations/precautions on Zika will be in my next post:

Pregnancy, Women Who Can Get Pregnant, And Alcohol:

In the report’s summation, it advises women who 1) ARE pregnant or who 2) are TRYING to become pregnant to refrain from drinking. Pretty standard. It’s group #3, the group that MIGHT become pregnant causing a bit of unease. The report recommends that women who MIGHT become pregnant (capable of becoming pregnant) unintentionally & who consume alcohol, to either refrain from drinking altogether or use contraception. This includes women of child-bearing age (15 to 44) who are drinking, having sex, and not using birth control – roughly 3.3 million based on the CDC report. According to a study in 2011, we learned that about half of all US pregnancies are unplanned and, even if planned, most women do not know they are pregnant until they are 4-6 weeks into the pregnancy. Read full post »

Flu Season Update & OTC Medicines

2016 flu KYOTCs

The flu season is in full swing across America although thankfully, influenza activity is mild in most states. If you click on this interactive US map you can see where your state fairs with ongoing influenza (hit “play” and you’ll see all weeks reported this season).

It’s certainly NOT too late for your family to get a flu shot  (or nasal spray) since that’s the best way to protect against severe complications from influenza. There is no cure for influenza (antibiotics don’t treat the virus), but there are over-the-counter (OTC) products that do help ease symptoms & side effects from viruses (including influenza) that cause cold symptoms. Some doctors are calling for a “symptomatic prescription pad” that would first suggest simple aids like humidifiers, drinking fluids, and OTC products before antibiotic use. No sense in using antibiotics if the infection you or your child has is from a virus like influenza or one of hundreds that cause the “common cold.”

It’s awful when our children are sick, especially when multiple symptoms like congestion, fever, body aches, sore throat or cough interfere with sleep. Salt in the wound for parents everywhere. Sleep disruption is normal during illness, especially cough and colds, and especially with infants and toddlers who are unaccustomed to moving mucus around while they sleep. So parents often turn to multi-symptom OTC products out of desperation! Sometimes these medicines really reduce symptoms that can make the whole family suffer but there are cautions we have to take.

First off, cough and cold medicines are not typically recommended in children under age 4 to 6 years of age.

In addition, we have to use our smarts with medicines that contain more than 1 ingredient that treat different symptoms. Being aware of the ingredients in the OTC product you’re using is very important because you don’t want to take another product that includes the same ingredients as another (doubling-up). This can happen if you give your child acetaminophen, for example, for fever and then give a cough and cold medicine with that same ingredient. Read full post »