LS: Pediatrician offers motherly answers
Mothers don’t always have all the answers.
Here are some answers to questions mothers ask Dr. Patrice G. Whistler, a pediatrician at Western Colorado Pediatric Associates, a division of Primary Care Partners.
Q: Are there things I can do to help my kids be smart?
Whistler: Yes! The best ways to help increase your child’s intelligence are to talk to them constantly, up to 30,000 words per day. Also singing, playing games, reading out loud, and other together-time activities stimulate brain growth and flexibility. Turn off the TV, computer and video games, and get rid of TVs in the bedrooms. Go out for walks and talks in nature.
Q. Is exercise important for me and my children?
Whistler: Exercise affects every aspect of our lives. When we exercise, we increase our metabolism and burn more calories, build up muscles and digest food more efficiently. We also increase intelligence, and decrease emotional problems such as depression and attention deficit disorders. Exercise improves school performance and grades, and in girls who start regular exercise before age 13, it helps prevent breast cancer.
Q: Is fever dangerous for my child?
Whistler: Most fever is not dangerous for children. Any baby under 2 months old with a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit or greater under the arm should see a physician immediately. Little babies cannot fight off infection as well as older babies and children, so they need to be evaluated for low levels of fever. For other children, fevers from most infections can commonly range from 102–105 degrees. Those children should also be evaluated, but the fever itself is usually not the worry. Babies over 2 months old can be given acetaminophen, and children 6 months or older can be given acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the fever while waiting to be evaluated. The most dangerous fevers come from heat stroke where children are playing or at sports, in the heat, without proper hydration or shade.
Q: Should I give my child vitamins?
Whistler: New evidence shows that most people do not get enough vitamin D in their diet and from safe sun exposure. Therefore, it is now recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that all breast-fed babies by 2 months of age, and all other children when going off formula/breast milk at 1 year of age, be given a multivitamin or vitamins A, D and C (available in baby drops). This recommendation carries to adults, so now we should all take some extra vitamins or vitamin D to promote healthy bones and more.
Q: Can I have time that is just for me, not with my kids?
Whistler: Moms should have some time just to be themselves and renew their own interests and hobbies. This is especially difficult in the first year of a child’s life, but that is what family and baby sitters are for. Find child care you trust, then get those books or knitting needles out, or get on your bicycle or your skis, go for walks or a swim. Even if all you have is 15 minutes to yourself while the kids are napping, take it. Give some time and enjoyment to yourself and you will have more to give to your children and family. Don’t forget, renewing your relationship with your spouse is an important way to have adult time.
Q: Are vaccines safe for my children?
Whistler: Vaccines save millions of lives every year. They have been proven over and over to be safe and effective against diseases that kill infants and children. Despite the controversy, there is no proven association between vaccines and autism. Vaccinations protect against many different types of illnesses, from pertussis, which can and does kill infants and small children, to haemophious influenza type B, a bacteria that used to be the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in children. Now, we rarely see H. Flu type B meningitis unless a child is not vaccinated.
Q: How do I get my child to eat?
Whistler: Children over the infant stage are in control of what goes in their mouths. You cannot win a food fight that way. However, you are in charge of what is in your house. Get rid of the junk food, stop buying candy, make home-cooked meals from fresh ingredients whenever possible (shop our great farmers markets), and avoid the fast foods that addict our children to salt, sugar and fat. Give “no thank you” bites for the foods your kids don’t like, and get the dipping sauces ready: ranch or Italian dressing, ketchup and mustard, etc. When mom and dad refuse the vegetables, so will the kids, so set a good example. Hide veggies in the spaghetti sauce by making purees and mixing them in.
Q: What should I know about sun exposure and my children’s safety?
Whistler: Most skin cancers (basal and squamous cell) come from sun exposure. It is the number of sunburns under age 18 that predict the cancers when you are in your later adult years. Melanomas can occur with and without sun from moles. So using sunblock daily and avoiding sunburns is extremely important. Also, cataracts cloud the lenses of our eyes with too much ultraviolet sun exposure. So, start your children wearing sunglasses as babies, 6 months and up, and keep wearing them while outdoors all your life.
Q: How do I know when to discipline my child?
Whistler: All children need limits and need to learn what is acceptable and safe behavior. Not all children learn in the same way, but we can teach by example and by setting limits on unacceptable behaviors. Most children need to know where the boundaries are (“the rule is there is no hitting!”). A quick, 30-second time-out after stating that rule can be very effective. If we hit to teach no hitting, our children learn by example. They learn what we do more than what we say. If the stove is hot, we move our child before they touch and can say “hot, don’t touch.” If all we say is no, or we slap the hand, the specific message of “danger, hot stove” has not been learned. Also, children need positives, or “time-in,” for every “time-out.” Giving a quick hug and “I love you, honey” gives a positive message of caring after the limit setting is over.
Q: What do I do if I am feeling down or angry or depressed?
Whistler: Many mothers develop postpartum, or after the birth, depression. This can occur right away or months after a baby is born. It is very important to contact your doctor or midwife immediately if you or your family notice you are down and not yourself. Sometimes therapy or even medication will be prescribed to help you through the feelings of depression. Remember, exercise, eating right and rest will help. Of course sometimes getting sleep is difficult with a new baby, so make sure you have a helper or friend so you can occasionally get at least some rest.