Seattle Mama Doc

A blog by Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson.

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

Only One Decision

When becoming a parent, we make a big choice. One enormous decision. Hello, understatement of the century. I remember my father-in-law saying, “There’s a freight train coming,” just before F was born. Yes, thunderous and steamy, I was ushered into a new world December of 2006, when my first freight train hit. And although I now may be billowing steam and coal, motherhood is the most astounding segment of my life thus far.

This weekend I read a blog post written by an OB I don’t know. She calls herself The Skeptical OB. We may hum on the same wavelength. She says that “Mothering is about choosing motherhood, and not about mothering choices.”

When I read her post, I nearly held my breath. Then I re-read it again a few times. So much of what she says makes sense to me and hits on my recurring theme about parenting in the world of opinion–the reality that there is no manual, no right or correct way to parent. There is no needed judgment and guilt about our choices. Love and commitment to our children may be the only pre-requisites for success. I found Dr Amy Tuteur’s blog post about choosing parenting on a popular medical blog this past weekend.

I felt like she was channeling my thoughts.

At one point she says, “My fundamental objection to the philosophies of natural childbirth and attachment parenting is not the emphasis that they place on mothering; I object to the fact that they privilege specific mothering choices over others.”

Hallelujah. Read her entire post.

3 Things That Won’t Help Babies Sleep

There is a lot of information (and opinion) about how to get your infant to sleep through the night. Cry it out/don’t cry it out, rocking/no rocking, co-sleeping/crib sleeping, white noise/no noise, breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. Everyone has an idea about what works. Like I said earlier, there is very little data to support one technique over another.

Auspiciously, there is new data that may help us know what NOT to do. Researchers found 3 things to avoid while helping your baby learn to sleep through the night.

A study (summary in Journal Watch) refutes an urban legend: feeding rice cereal keeps babies asleep.

Read full post »


That’s no typo. I meant Stammina.

Dr Stanley Stamm is retiring this month after a 57 year clinical practice at Seattle Children’s. F-i-f-t-y-s-e-v-e-n year career. His wonderful nurse, Marlene, is retiring, as well. They have been caring for children together for decades. Yesterday I had the privilege to attend one of their retirement parties. Lovely, inspiring, humbling. I was silenced by it all; I was among giants. Working in medicine has granted me a unique window to witness exceptionally compassionate people who devote their lives to care for children. Dr Stamm and Marlene exceed the margins as they shine brightly through the window panes.

Dr Stamm has done incredible things for children: Read full post »

If It Were My Child: No Feeding The Dog

“If it were my child: No kids feeding the dog.” Don’t allow kids to play, handle, or touch the dog bowls, dog treats, or supplements, either. You have to be vigilant and organized. I’m not always both, or either, for that matter. I have found my boys basically bathing in dog water, and dipping their hands/face/sippy cup into our dog food bin many times. News today informed me to change the rules around here.

Pet owners, be aware. Not, “beware.” I’m not trying to scare. A study published yesterday in Pediatrics found that a large number of salmonella infections between 2006-2008 were linked to contaminated dry dog/cat food.  Salmonella infections cause abdominal cramping, bloody stools, and in some (often the very young), more severe infections. I read about dog food as a possible cause of infection back in 2007 when my son (4 months at the time) came down with Salmonella gastroenteritis. Yes, it’s a real story. Bloody diarrhea, cramping pain, lots and lots of crying–poor little guy. I felt it was all my fault. He was an infant and I was controlling everything he ate, after all.

But F didn’t get Salmonella from dog food, he got it from a more predictable route. Read full post »

Parenting, As Seen On TV

I’ve had some recent indiscretions; I’ve been watching multiple episodes (near seasons) of Weeds and Mad Men on my computer. All in one sitting. It’s been a a perfect retreat. While others are off camping in the mountains, I’ve been holed up, late at night staring at a screen. I’m not a big TV person, but watching the torrid lives of fictional families is good for some little piece of me.

Because of my recent over-consumption, I’ve been a little skewed, off kilter, and stuck between TV and real life. Fact: last Tuesday, I opened the door to a patient’s room and jumped (as in startled) when I thought one of my patients was a character out of Weeds (crazy resemblance). True, and scary, I know…Too much TV.

The great thing about all of this time spent sedentary is that the worse the parenting model I observe, the better and more relaxed I feel about my real life. These shows puts the, “Well my children are good listeners” type comments from other parents in perspective, especially while your child tantrums. And yes, this is why we watch television. To be off the hook, off duty, non-eligible. This working-our-butts-off-to-parent -as-perfectly-as-possible-while-earning-wages-to-save-extra-money-for-kids’-college-while-also-cleaning-and-grocery-shopping life, is Ex-haust-ing.

So I have turned to the boob tube. And have focused on two women, in particular: Betty Draper (now Betty Francis) and Nancy Botwin. They are both remarkably flawed. And they make no apologies. It’s wonderful. Read full post »

Navel Gazing?

You want navel gazing? Read a Blog-ter-view of my experience working in social media and medicine.

If It Were My Child: No Tylenol Before Shots

Earlier this year there was a massive Tylenol recall. The recall included Infant Tylenol drops, Children’s Tylenol, as well as many other children’s medications. I’m not exaggerating when I say massive, but generic medications (liquid acetaminophen made by Walgreens or CVS, for example) were not included. The recall was a great reminder that generics are just as good as brand-name medications.

The recall also serves as a great reminder that giving medications to children is never risk-free. Recalls like this remind us to use medications only when absolutely necessary. There is always risk when you intervene.

Tylenol (acetaminophen) is a great medication. It has a place in our medicine cabinets and in keeping children comfortable in the face of fever or pain. Teething, viral infections, ear infections, and minor injuries are great times to use Tylenol. But prior to shots is not. Or afterward, as it turns out. After shots, Tylenol will help prevent fever, but may also prevent the desired immune response. There is new data to support this that has changed the way I think and counsel families about Tylenol. Now when parents ask, I say,“If it were my child, no Tylenol before shots.”

Fever is a “normal” immune response to a trigger (medical school and residency taught me this). But being a mom has certainly shown me that fevers in my babies don’t feel “normal.” When we pediatricians say it’s “normal,”we neglect to connect with the experience of parenting a feverish child. I understand why so many parents reach for the Tylenol. I did; after F’s 2 month shots, he developed a low-grade fever and cried his little face off. I gave him Tylenol twice that night. I wouldn’t have, had I known this: Read full post »

A Divide Between Doctor And Patient: Protocol

There are things we (the providers) do to health care that are hurtful. We make protocols and rules that divide us from our patients. Protocols that sometimes make patients feel alone, distant, and disconnected from their doctors. I don’t mean algorithms of care (safe, standardized ways of how and why to treat pneumonia, for example), I mean clinic rules for helping patients schedule and get in to see doctors appropriately. Triage pathways, if you will.

I hear about these protocol-type irritations from patients all the time. Because I’m a part-time practicing pediatrician, it’s often hard for families to see me when they want. Yesterday, a patient informed me about calling one time while in route to her daughter’s appointment. She had been at a trauma hospital with a family member who was receiving care for a life-threatening condition. She was trying to make it on time to the appointment, but wanted me to know she’d be a few minutes late. She called the clinic and the receptionist said, “No, Doctor Swanson won’t see you.” Of course, this is untrue on some level. In her state of stress, I would always love to make allowances. I work in clinic to help families, precisely when life is upside down. But because of a script and protocol, she was pushed away. Of course, if we saw everyone who arrived late, we’d never be on time or reliable, ultimately rendering us less useful. Protocols do make sense. But they don’t take outliers (life) or individual patients into account.

Many things clinics do in efforts to improve care for all, hurt individuals. The utilitarian-like clinic doctrines I tend to hate. I think of these protocols as walls. Tall structures built up to protect us all from the abuse that only a few people will commit. On occasion, these walls break down the relationship that exists between doctors and patients. Read full post »

Guns In Your House?

Asking friends about guns is like asking about their underwear. Not in the pediatric office, but at home, on the street, and in the neighborhood. Hear me out…

My next-door-neighbor (NDN) is a stay at home dad (SAHD). On most days, he runs his household and wrangles 8 and 6 year-old boys until his wife joins him after work. The three (or four) of them seem to weave and pedal through life, on and off their bikes. I can see them coming and going throughout the day; it’s my crystal ball of sorts as to what life with 2 boys may look like about 5 years from now…

Last Friday, NDN approached me from his porch. We often talk, porch-to-porch, about life, the trees, our favorite noodle shop, or the weather. Last Friday, it was different. He said, “You should write a post about gun violence.” I said, “Yah, I know, I should write about 2 million posts…”

But then he framed the issue for me. And I knew he was right.
Read full post »

A Sunday Drive

Out for a Sunday drive. Just two little boys and the open road…