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Peanut Brittle For Preggers

Photo from Edwart Visser Flickr Creative Commons

Photo from Edwart Visser, Flickr Creative Commons

“Children appear to be less at risk for developing peanut or tree nut allergies if their mothers are not allergic and ate more nuts during pregnancy,” according to a study published today in JAMA Pediatrics. And although this doesn’t mean that you need to run out for the peanut brittle the minute you’re pregnant, it may mean we can reassure pregnant women that if they have no allergies themselves, what they eat during pregnancy should contain nuts, among other things.

As you’ve likely heard, children with peanut allergies have more than tripled in the United States this last 15 years. Food allergies affect 1 in 13 children in the United States and up to 40% of children have had a life-threatening or severe reaction. Any family with a food-allergic child will tell you this is a BIG deal.

The rapid rise of food allergies is incompletely understood, but more and more research suggests that waiting to introduce “high allergy” foods (traditionally thought of as peanut, egg, or shellfish for example) may have actually caused more allergies than prevented them. As this was being discovered this last decade or so, flip-flopping recommendations on what to eat ourselves when pregnant and what to feed our babies have left many of us confused.

When Should I Start Baby Food?

New recommendations really encourage introduction of a variety of foods, including nuts, eggs, shellfish, wheat, and soy within the first year of life. The theory is that early introduction of the components of these foods allow a child’s developing body to create a tolerance to them, thus potentially avoiding any allergy or reaction to them later on. Read more »

Arriving Early: World Prematurity Day

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I think about the essay Welcome to Holland by Emily Perl Kingsley a lot. Her explanation of what it’s like to raise a child with a disability helps approximate (for me) the unexpected realities that ensue for families who encounter significant pediatric health challenges. Although her essay is not about prematurity and it’s not new, when I sat down to write about World Prematurity Day I couldn’t help but think back to her words and her metaphor. What’s marvelous, of course, is that her essay is built of love so all of us have a chance to understand it.

Sunday, World Prematurity Day, is a day to think cautiously, bravely, and empathetically about the opportunity to improve the lives of children born prematurely, all around the world. When a child arrives early there are obviously significant health challenges not only to survival but to a long life thereafter, sometimes with significant disability. Parents all over world suffer and learn to thrive with and after prematurity every single day. In fact,

Prematurity is the leading cause of death in newborns. Although some risk factors are known for preterm birth, we don’t know very much about the cause.

None of us will really ever know what it’s like to survive and thrive in someone else’s experience. So we share stories, quotes, photos, and moments as best we can to help others understand. As I’ve met and been invited to help care for parents, families and children who are born prematurely, one thing is certain — it’s a journey. It starts often with surprise and evolves individually. The essay by Kingsley is clearly about the journey, not about the diagnosis of prematurity at the time of birth.

Here’s what a colleague and friend, Kim, shared with me about her experience with her twin daughters who were born over three months early: Read more »

No More Clean Plate Club

Some new advice allows us to do less, not more. Turns out, new research finds that controlling parenting styles may hinder children’s healthy eating habits. New data published in April 2013, finds that not only are controlling, food-related, parenting practices common, they aren’t helping teens maintain a healthy weight. In the Pediatrics study, researchers found that parents often encourage teens of healthy weight to finish all their food, providing pressure to eat. While parents to overweight teens ban some foods and encourage restriction. Neither practice is proven to improve teens’ habits or improve their health.

We really want our children to self-regulate their energy intake (food) and mounting evidence reports that controlling habits hinder this essential skill.

Four Golden Eating Rules

  • Divide responsibilities. Parents have the job of purchasing and serving healthy food. Infants, children, and teens have to choose what to eat and how much of the food that’s offered. The division of responsibilities allows you less of a role. Every parent knows that you can’t force a child to eat–the best thing to do is stop trying. Let mealtime be about feeding your body. If they don’t eat much, wait until the next meal to offer food. Children eat for themselves, not for their parents. Turn the TV off and let children feel their fullness when it arrives. 
  • Eat when your body is hungry. Stop when your body is full. Infants do this naturally when breastfeeding and when starting solids. We have to do our best to maintain that natural habit throughout toddler to teen years. This skill of responding to natural hunger and normal cues of satiety can be a huge asset for children for their entire lives. Do your best to stop engineering how much your children eat and let them learn to feel necessities.
  • Don’t make children Clean The Plate. There’s absolutely no reason to provide pressure to eat for children with normal development and normal health. Don’t reward children for finishing their dinner with more food (ie dessert) as children will often eat past their fullness. New research also finds that using smaller plates can also help control portion sizes and ultimately will reduce number of calories eaten. The benefit: it will also trigger less need to ask them to clean their plate, they’ll do so naturally on a smaller plate.
  • Eat together. The most potent education we give our children comes from our modeling habits and behaviors we think are most important. Eat together with children at meals from infancy until they leave home. Make a goal for at least one meal a day, and it doesn’t need to be dinner. That being said,  I love the book The Family Dinner by Laurie David. There’s no reason to cook special food for your children. Involve them in any part of meal prep you can, eat the same foods, and share your love of eating.

Home Births: Polarizing Views

baby OLike so many controversial parenting topics, discussing home births brings out dynamic opinions. These controversial topics unfortunately often tear us apart from one another. This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement on home births that will hopefully help inform. In general, the policy statement identified data confirming it’s safer to have birth in a hospital, but outlined ways to decrease risks for moms and families, midwives, and doulas that want to partner with moms to have their babies at home, as safely as possible.

  • Home births only occur in about 1% of births here in the United States although interest in increasing. Distance from the hospital matters~ if it takes more than 20 minutes to get into a hospital from home, risk of complications including infant mortality are higher. Data shows that home births carry at 2-3 fold higher risk for infant death when compared to hospital births. 
  • The AAP states home births should only be considered if no maternal health problems, if it’s a term baby (after 37 weeks and before 41 weeks gestation), labor started at home spontaneously or as an outpatient, and it’s a single pregnancy that isn’t breech. Having had a previous C-section makes a home birth a no-no in their mind.
  • The AAP recommends having at least 2 people attending the birth with at least one person at the birth who’s sole job is to care for and tend to the baby after the birth. They outline that the baby’s caregiver needs to know how and why to resuscitate a newborn. The team caring for mom and baby need access to consultation with obstetricians and pediatricians and a well-planned way to access the hospital or medical team easily if needed.
  • The AAP says, “Every newborn infant deserves health care that adheres to the standards highlighted in this statement.” Care described includes warming the baby and initial transitions, glucose monitoring, infection monitoring, feeding assessment, jaundice checks, vitamin K shot, Hepatitis B shot, eye infection prevention, hearing screen, newborn blood screen, and follow-up care plans.

I believe we each have the right to make health care decisions that are best for our families. We also must have access to un-biased information on safety. Every single health decision we make is a process where we weigh risks against benefits. Home birth versus hospital birth is no exception.

My disclaimers: I had 2 hospital births which required all sorts of intervention and intensive care—2 C-sections, a bedside resuscitation for my newborn, and a short NICU stay for one of my sons. I would never have wanted to have a home birth after my training in pediatrics. That being said, there were aspects of the hospital care that really upset me. I didn’t have a birth plan, per se. I wanted this: a healthy baby and to survive the delivery without complication. I got both, thank goodness, but it wasn’t perfect. The beginning of motherhood was a challenge for me both times around and in part, I’ve always looked back feeling I should have been a stronger mom in the hospital… Read more »

Why Do Babies Wake Up At Night?

Most babies wake up at night. And although some superhero babies sleep 10-12 hours straight starting around 3-4 months of age, most infants wake up during the night and cry out for their parents. There are scientific reasons and some developmental and behavioral explanations for these awakenings. I spoke with my friend Dr Maida Chen, a pediatric pulmonologist, mother to three, and director of the Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center to put a list together regarding why babies do this. Leave questions and comments below if we can explain more. I’ll author a follow-up blog on ways you can help your baby when they wake up, too.

10 Reasons Babies Wake Up At Night:

  1. Sleep Cycle: Babies wake up during the night primarily because their brain waves shift and change cycles as they move from REM (rapid eye movement) sleep to other stages of non-REM sleep. The different wave patterns our brains make during certain periods define these sleep cycles or “stages” of sleep. As babies move from one stage of sleep to another during the night, they transition. In that transition, many babies will awaken. Sometimes they call out or cry. Sometimes they wake hungry. It’s normal for babies (and adults) to wake 4-5 times a night during these times of transition. However, most adults wake up and then fall back to sleep so rapidly that we rarely remember the awakening. At 4 months of age, many parents notice awakenings after a first chunk of deeper sleep. This is normal, and often due to development of delta wave sleep (deep sleep). The trick for parents is to do less and less as each month of infancy unfolds during these awakenings; we want to help our babies self-soothe more and more independently (without our help) during these awakenings so that sleeping through the night becomes a reality. Read more »

When Should I Start Baby Food?

first foodsWhen to start baby food? The timing on starting baby food may seem confusing. If you survey your neighbors, your own moms, the doctors you see, and the child care or daycare providers who help you, I bet you’d get about 4 different answers backed with 4 different theories and rationales. The reason is, the pendulum on when and how to start baby food has changed. Bits and pieces of old data mixed with contrasting new research findings are getting tossed around. Most new parents I talk with are a bit puzzled on what is truly best.

It’s okay to start your baby on baby foods or “complementary foods” when they show signs of readiness if they are at least 4 months of age. Signs of readiness include watching you eat (following your spoon’s every movement at a meal), lip smacking and licking when they smell food, and opening their mouths when you present them with a spoonful of food. Most babies ready to eat have also doubled their birth weight and started cooing and laughing, sitting up with assistance, and rolling over.

I used to advise families to wait until 6 months to start baby foods but new research over the last couple of years has caused me to change my tune. Read more »

Is It Really An Ear Infection?

Screen Shot 2013-02-26 at 9.46.22 AMEar infections cause significant and sometimes serious ear pain, overnight awakening, missed school, missed work, and lots of parental heartache. For some children, infections in the ear can be a chronic problem and lead to repeated clinic visits, multiple courses of antibiotics, and rarely a need for tube placement by surgery. For most children, ear infections occur more sporadically,  just bad luck after a cold. Fortunately the majority of children recover from ear infections without any intervention. But about 20-30% of the time, they need help fighting the infection.

Ear infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria when excess fluid gets trapped in the middle portion of the ear, behind the eardrum. When that space fills with mucus or pus it is put under pressure and it gets inflamed causing pain. Symptoms of ear infections include pain, fever, difficulty hearing, difficultly sleeping, crankiness, or tugging and pulling at the ear. This typically happens at the time or soon after a cold—therefore the fluid in the ear can either be filled with a virus or bacteria.

The most important medicine you give your child when you first suspect an ear infection is one for pain.

Antibiotics only help if bacteria is the cause. When a true infection is present causing pain and fever, antibiotics are never the wrong choice. Often you’ll need a clinician’s help in diagnosing a true ear infection.

Three’s been a lot of work (and research) over the last 15 years to reduce unnecessary antibiotics prescribed for ear infections. There has been great progress. Less children see the doctor when they have an ear infection (only 634/1000 in 2005 versus 950/1000 back in the 1990’s) and they’re prescribed antibiotics less frequently. Recent data finds that less than half of children with ear infections receive antibiotics (only 434 of every 1000 children with ear infections). However, the far majority who go in to see a doctor do still receive a prescription for antibiotic (76%).

The American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) just released new guidelines to help physicians do a better job treating ear infections. Sometimes children really benefit from using antibiotics and new research has led to an update on the 2004 previously published recommendations. Over-use of antibiotics can lead to more resistant and aggressive bacteria so we want to use them at the right time. These recommendations may help improve care for children.

In my opinion, NPR published the best article I’ve read covering the new recommendations. I especially liked the balance provided: Read more »

Baby’s Ears When Flying

First off, I have connected with a few engineers and pilots — I may be wrong on one point here: Commercial airplanes typically ascend/climb faster than they descend for a landing. My apologies. I’m clearly no pilot…

That being said, you can help support your baby or child’s potential ear discomfort during flying by having them suck on something like a pacifier, having them breast feed, or offer a bottle during take-off and landing. The motion of their jaw and mouth during sucking and swallowing will help them equalize to the pressure changes. When they move their jaw to suck and swallow this helps facilitate venting in the Eustachian tube that allows your child to equalize pressure from the outside world with the middle part of their ear. That click or pop you feel when you yawn is your ear drum moving back to middle after getting pushed one direction in your ear from a pressure change.

It’s true that discomfort is far greater during pressure changes when there is fluid in our middle ear (from colds to ear infections). Check in with your child’s doctor or nurse practitioner prior to flying if you’re concerned about a potential infection. If that’s not ideal, consider getting Cellscope (an iPhone app that helps you look into your child’s ear, and/or allows you to send the image to their doctor) if you’re a frequent flier and your child is prone to fluid in the middle ear.

Here’s tips for parents about fluid in the middle ear and nice summary about ears & pressure changes from Kid’s Health.

Something For Parents At The Park

Screen Shot 2013-02-16 at 5.37.00 PMThis is post from my friend, Anne Gantt. I love this concept and am inspired by the idea of parents pumping iron at the park. I’m hoping we can move this conversation forward. Please share ideas from your own neighborhoods in comments.

As a stay-at-home mom, I spend a ton of time at our neighborhood park while my 2 ½ and 4 year-old children zip down slides, scramble over the jungle gym, or chase each other in the woodchips. While they’re running around like little olympic athletes, I mostly just stand there doing nothing. A lot of nothing. Sound familiar?

That’s originally why I daydreamed about putting fitness equipment for adults in our park. I’d love to get a little exercise without having to resort to taking a turn on the monkey bars. The interesting thing is that installing adult fitness equipment will improve the park…for kids. This truly can be a win-win.

The park in question is here in Seattle– University Playground— it has a big grassy field, tennis courts, and beautiful new equipment for kids. It also has one of the very few public restrooms in the whole neighborhood–thus attracting a crowd. It sits in a tenuous location, one block from Interstate-5 and smack in the University District, which means the park sees a lot of illicit activity. Even worse, the illicit (I’m talking drug sales, etc) activity tends to happen in the section of the park right next to the playground.

Believe it or not, I’ve picked up more than a couple of used needles out of the woodchips myself.

Our park’s unsavory elements definitely scare some people off. I recently talked with a neighbor who refuses to take his 4-year old grandson to the park out of a concern for safety. This, even though their living room window looks right out onto the playground.

Something had to change. Urban dwelling can be better than this. Read more »

Greatest Hits 2012

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I give thanks every day for friends, mentors, teachers, collaborators, and family like you. It’s been a sincere privilege to share thoughts here. I’m always amazed at the depth of reflection that washes over me as the year comes to a close. However pre-conceived this day seems for reflection, today has me in its grip. The end of 2012 is filled with far more information about being a parent, being a patient, and being a pediatrician than the beginning held for me. More on that tomorrow, but for today I just want to say thank you for reading.

Here’s a list of the “greatest hits” of 2012. The list is based on the number of views and shares but also the impact these posts had on discussions about pediatric health and parenting. One post is included primarily on the number of people who went out of their way in person to discuss it with me. Please accept my sincere thank you for your insights, reflections, contests, partnership, and loyalty to learning and growing into parenting and pediatrics with me.

May you welcome in a beautiful, healthy 2013 tonight.

2012 Mama Doc Greatest Hits

  • TIME Magazine And The Mommy Middle Road This is a reaction/reflection to the TIME Magazine cover with a preschooler actively (potentially) breast feeding while standing on a stool. It’s about motherhood, finding confidence in our choices and knowing that yes, of course, you’re Mom Enough.
  • 4 Reasons Toddlers Wake Up At Night A list of reasons toddlers awaken their parents at night and 100+ comments/explanations for parents seeking the solace of a good night’s sleep. Read more »