One of the first things on a new parent's to-do list is finding a pediatrician. More than a few moms and dads worry about the well-beings of their little ones from sunup to sundown. The dangers that lurk in the world today can be overwhelming for parents who just want to keep their treasured tots safe. Luckily, today's pediatricians are outspoken about the things they really want mothers and fathers to know.
In her article ""Top 10 Confessions of a Pediatrician", Sara DuMond, MD, wrote, "Ask any pediatrician why she went into pediatrics, and her first 20 reasons will be a resounding 'because I love kids.' While we may not come right out and say it, your child (yes, even when he refuses to stand on the scale, screams and kicks at the sight of the otoscope, or suddenly develops steel-trap jaws at the mention of a tongue depressor) is a special part of why we love what we do."
While there are some obvious dangers parents should avoid, DuMond's message is encouraging. She wants parents to know that when pediatricians make recommendations, they have the best interests of children in mind. In short, parents shouldn't worry themselves sick, but should be aware of a few important things that will help their children be safe and successful in life.
Read on for 15 things pediatricians really want moms and dads to know.
15 Have Your Child Tested For Lead Poisoning
HealthyChildren.org states,"Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement."
Fernando Stein, MD, FAAP, and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has stated, "Pediatricians work every day to ensure children can grow up healthy and thrive, and part of how we do that is to screen and test for lead exposure in children."
According to Jennifer Lowry, MD, FAAP, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health, "There is no safe level of lead exposure for children, and the best 'treatment' for lead poisoning is to prevent lead exposure before it happens. Pediatricians have an important role to play by asking questions about a family's risk for lead exposure."
Lowry continued, "Children can be exposed to lead in a variety of ways, such as living in an older home or a home undergoing renovations, or in a home with lead pipes. Certain toys, hobbies and parents' occupations also increase the risk that a child could be exposed to lead, so it's important to talk with your pediatrician about how to lower your child's risk."
14 Take Steps To Avoid Hot Car Deaths
According to HeatStroke.org, there is an average of 37 hot car deaths every year in the United States, and, since 1998, 712 children have passed away due to heatstroke after being left unattended in vehicles.
Purnima Unni, the Pediatric Trauma Injury Prevention Program Manager at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt told the International Business Times that a baby's ability to cool its body through sweating is not fully developed, because of this, his or her risk of illness or injury due to heat is higher than that of an adult.
President and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide, Kate Carr, said in a statement in 2012, “We are urging everyone to ACT: Avoid hyperthermia-related deaths by never leaving your child alone in a car and always locking doors and trunks; Create reminders and habits for you and your child’s caregivers to ensure you don’t forget your child; and Take action if you see a child unattended in a vehicle by immediately calling 911."
According to Unni, “Many people are surprised to learn how hot the inside of a car can actually get. On an 90-degree day, the temperature inside of a car can rise 20 degrees in as little as 10 minutes and keep getting hotter with each passing minute. Many people assume this is happening to bad parents or that this could never happen to them, but that is not the reality. We all lead very busy lives and this is a tragedy that could happen to any family. I would like to remind parents that no time is an acceptable time to leave their child unattended in a car."
13 Teach Kids About Appropriate Touch
Talks about appropriate and inappropriate touch can be difficult to navigate, but it is crucial that parents talk to their children about this sensitive topic at an early age.
HealthyChildren.org states, "It can be easy for parents to talk with their children about the differences between right and wrong, but it is often more difficult for parents to talk with their children about sexual development. At a very young age, children begin to explore their bodies by touching, poking, pulling, and rubbing their body parts. As children grow older, they will need guidance in learning about these body parts and their functions."
According to the site, it is normal for young children to touch their private parts, show private parts to peers, or try to see peers or adults. Parents should talk frankly with their children about why it isn't appropriate to touch themselves in public or to look at or touch others or allow others to touch them. Moms and dads should be careful to communicate to children that they shouldn't be ashamed of their bodies, but should treat themselves and others with respect.
Parents should talk with their child's pediatrician if they have additional questions or concerns about how to speak with a child about this sensitive subject or if they have concerns about their child possibly being a victim of abuse. A pediatrician will be able to help distinguish behaviors that are normal from those that may signal signs of abuse or are developmentally inappropriate. Parents should never be ashamed or embarrassed to seek help when it is needed.
12 Watch Out For Choking Hazards
Choking is a fear of many parents, but a few simple steps can vastly lower a child's risk of choking. HealthyChildren.org states, "Choking can be prevented. Food accounts for over 50% of choking episodes. Be alert for small objects that can cause choking, such as coins, buttons, and small toys. Check under furniture and between cushions for small items that children could find and put in their mouths."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), babies are at the highest risk for choking when they are under one year of age. Common household items and many food items can be choking hazards. They include: coin, buttons, toys with small parts, balloons, pen or marker caps, pieces of dog food, small button-type batteries, hot dogs, whole grapes, nuts and seeds, hard or sticky candy, popcorn, chunks of peanut butter, raw vegetables and chewing gum.
Parents who are vigilant and careful to keep potential choking hazards away from young children can greatly reduce a child's risk of choking. Many communities offer free or affordable classes where parents can learn the skills that could potentially save a choking child. Those trained in how to do the Heimlich maneuver and CPR could save a little one's life if the worst ever does happen.
11 Beware Of Trampolines And Bounce Houses
The Huffington Post recently reported that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), "Although trampoline injury rates have gone down since 2004, when an estimated 111,800 injuries occurred, 'the potential for severe injury remains relatively high.'"
Dr. Michele LaBotz, one of the authors of the new AAP policy statement regarding trampolines, has boldly stated, “Many injuries occur on the mat itself, and netting or padding don’t significantly decrease the risk of injury. Pediatricians need to actively discourage recreational trampoline use."
Risks for injuries on trampolines are 14 times more likely among small children, and the more people on a trampoline at one time, the higher the probability that someone with get hurt. 40 percent of trampoline injuries occur when children fall, and 20 percent are the result of direct contact with the springs or frame of a trampoline. While supervision of children while they jump helps prevent injury sometimes, many little ones are hurt while being watched by an adult.
The Huffington Post also states, "Parents who decide to have a trampoline in their home despite recommendations are advised to supervise their children on the trampoline at all times, restrict use of the trampoline to one jumper at a time, prohibit somersaults and flips, and verify that their insurance covers trampoline-related injuries."
10 Get Your Child A Helmet
Riding bikes can be a fun activity that the whole family can enjoy. It's a great way to get out in the fresh air, exercise and spend quality time together. Pediatricians want parents to know that it's important to make safety a priority when riding bicycles, tricycles, skateboards or scooters.
According to HealthyChildren.org, "You should only buy a helmet that meets the bicycle helmet safety standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Any helmet meeting these standards is labeled. Check the inside. All helmets manufactured or imported for use after March 1999 must comply with a mandatory safety standard issued by the CPSC."
The site continues, "A helmet should be worn squarely on top of the head, covering the top of the forehead. If it is tipped back, it will not protect the forehead. The helmet fits well if it doesn't move around on the head or slide down over the wearer's eyes when pushed or pulled. The chin strap should be adjusted to fit snugly."
Helmets are even made in infant sizes, meaning a child can be safe and sound whatever his or her age while enjoying an invigorating ride around the town with the family.
9 Hydrate Little Ones And Be Careful On Hot Days
Especially during the hot months of summer, dehydration in children is common. Parents should take steps to ensure their children are getting enough to drink, especially as temperatures rise.
WebMD states, "A child's body surface area makes up a much greater proportion of his overall weight than an adult's, which means children face a much greater risk of dehydration and heat-related illness."
Signs of dehydration include thirst, fatigue, dry lips and tongue and feeling overheated. If children wait to take a drink until they are thirsty, they are already dehydrated. If untreated, dehydration can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heat stroke. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children 88 pounds and under should be drinking around 5 ounces of water every hour or so while out in hot weather.
Albert C. Hergenroeder, professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of the sports medicine clinic at Texas Children's Hospital spoke to WebMD about the dangers of heat stroke and dehydration during the hot months of summer. According to Hergenroeder, "[Children] may be gradually developing a problem, but it won't show up for several days. You should always monitor your child's hydration."
Hergenroeder also warns that children who aren't acclimatized to hot weather are at an even greater risk of becoming dehydrated. He explains, "If a young player isn't in shape and tries to go out and do things quickly to 'make the team' -- or goes to summer practice or summer camp and hasn't been used to that kind of heat and humidity and duration of exercise -- that sets them up for dehydration and heat illness."
8 Be Careful With Melatonin
Everyone likes to sleep, and it isn't uncommon for parents give their children synthetic melatonin in an effort to help everyone get a good night's rest. New research is showing this may be a dangerous thing to do. WebMD explains, "Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland in the brain which helps your body wind down its circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle) so it can fall asleep. Synthetic melatonin is a laboratory created version of melatonin that you can take to assist your natural melatonin response."
According to Michael Grandner, a sleep researcher at the University of Arizona, "Any person in the sleep world will tell you the same thing: melatonin...is vastly overused and should not be used as a sleep aid to treat insomnia.”
Professor Richard Wurtman, director of MIT’s Clinical Research Center has stated, “…commercially available melatonin pills contain 10 times the effective amount. And...after a few days it stops working. When the melatonin receptors in the brain are exposed to too much of the hormone, they become unresponsive. This can lead to higher plasma melatonin levels the next day, which can cause a 'hangover' effect that leaves users groggy.”
David Kennaway, the director of the circadian physiology lab at the University of Adelaide in Australia has explained, “Extensive evidence from laboratory studies [shows] that melatonin causes changes in multiple physiological systems, including cardiovascular, immune and metabolic systems, as well as reproduction in animals...providing melatonin supplements to children may result in serious side effects when the children are older.”
Clete Kushida, a sleep researcher at Stanford University School of Medicine told the Huffington Post, “Even for adults, the unregulated nature of the supplement gives cause for reconsideration. Although synthetic melatonin is 'chemically identical' to natural melatonin, commercially available supplements often contain fillers, inert and other ingredients that may cause effects that would not be expected with natural melatonin.'"
Side effects of melatonin use in children could include bleeding disorders, depression, diabetes, high blood pressure, seizure disorders and weakened immune systems.
7 Beware Of Energy And Sports Drinks
Sports and energy drinks often aim their marketing campaigns at children and adolescents, but a new clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns about the dangers of the ingredients in these products, especially when consumed by children and teens.
Marcie Beth Schneider, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition and co-author of the report explained, “There is a lot of confusion about sports drinks and energy drinks, and adolescents are often unaware of the differences in these products. Some kids are drinking energy drinks – containing large amounts of caffeine – when their goal is simply to rehydrate after exercise. This means they are ingesting large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, which can be dangerous."
According Holly J. Benjamin, MD, FAAP, a member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, “For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best. Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don’t need, and could contribute to obesity and tooth decay. It’s better for children to drink water during and after exercise, and to have the recommended intake of juice and low-fat milk with meals. Sports drinks are not recommended as beverages to have with meals.”
According to Schneider, “In many cases, it’s hard to tell how much caffeine is in a product by looking at the label. Some cans or bottles of energy drinks can have more than 500 mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of 14 cans of soda."
6 The Flu Can Be Dangerous
While most fevers and colds can be treated at home with rest and fluids, pediatricians want parents to be aware that some strains of the flu can be dangerous and even deadly for children. Parents can protect their children by reminding them to wash their hands often, using hand sanitizer and getting their little ones the flu vaccine.
Dr. Melody Byram, pediatrician at Anderson Regional Medical Center explained to ABC News, "You can usually tell when a child has the flu when you walk in the exam room. They're not playing, or opening the cabinet doors or reading a book with mom. They're lying on the table and they look ill."
Dr. Byram also advised, "I would really encourage parents to immunize their children, especially with the number of deaths that have been on the rise this year."
While spread of the flu is usually at its height in the winter months, Byram also wants parents to be aware that they should be on the lookout for symptoms or signs that their child has the flu, and may need to be looked at by a medical professional, year-round. She explained, "Flu season sometimes ends in March, but sometimes if we have an extended season it does not end in March."
5 Watch For Early Signs Of Autism
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has recommended that children should be screened for autism by as early as 18 months of age. Recent research is making it possible for pediatricians to diagnose autism much earlier than in the past.
According to Patricia Manning-Courtney, MD, FAAP, signs of the disorder can present themselves quite early in a child's development.
Dr. Manning-Courtney explained in a recent presentation to the AAP that the earlier a child is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, the better. Once a child has been diagnosed, crucial learning and behavioral interventions can be implemented.
Early signs of the disorder include limited eye contact, not smiling or laughing, not babbling, no words by 16 months of age or no attempts at communication. Dr. Manning-Courtney told the AAP, "If you have some of these bigger concerns you can and should refer these children. I hope pediatricians leave with an understanding that they may be able to pick up on things in very young children, even further than that appearing on an MCHAT (Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers) or other screening tools."
Pediatricians that suspect autism in a child can refer families to developmental pediatricians, multidisciplinary diagnostic teams, neurologists, psychologists or other healthcare professionals with expertise in diagnosing autism.
4 Be Careful With How Often Electronics Are Used
According to a policy statement released at the AAP National Conference & Exhibition in Orlando, parents should keep a close eye on how often their children engage in media. The statement warned that use of media can lead to obesity, lack of sleep, problems in school, aggression and other behavior issues.
The lead author of the new policy, Dr. Victor Strasburger of the University of New Mexico, recommends that children should avoid screens altogether until they are are at least two years of age, and suggests that children over the age of two and teenagers should be allowed no more than two hours of screen time each day.
Furthermore, experts recommend that children should not have access to media in their bedrooms. Dr. Strasburger told LiveScience, "I think that many parents are clueless about media and the impact of media on their kids. If you have a 14-year-old son and he has an Internet connection in his bedroom, I guarantee you, he's looking at pornography."
Lisa Guernsey, director of the Early Education Initiative at the New America Foundation and the author of "Screen Time: How Electronic Media — From Baby Videos to Educational Software — Affects Your Young Child" suggests a more balanced approach. She explained to LiveScience that families are "trying to understand how to navigate media instead of being told, 'no, no keep it away from...children.'"
She continued, "Not only is that unrealistic, it may not be the best way to model good media use with children." Guernsey advised instead that parents should be aware of what their kids are watching at all times, and should make sure that media is used in moderation.
3 Read To Children Often
According to recently released guidelines from the AAP, pediatricians are now recommending that parents should read to their children from the time they are newborn babies. The Washington Post states, "Research shows much development of the brain occurs in the first three years of a child’s life -- and one of the best ways to build a strong base for language and cognitive development is to read and talk to your babies."
Pamela High, a pediatrician and lead author of the policy statement explained to the Washington Post, “Reading to children and with children is a very joyous event and a way of fostering a relationship, as well as [helping] language development. And we don’t have to wait until we’re getting them ready for school. We can make it part of regular routine.”
According to Greg Worrell, president of Scholastic Classroom and Community Group, "Reading is the birthright of every child and a door opener to leading successful lives. We know that the more children are exposed to books, the better off they’re going to be. The unfortunate reality is there just isn’t access to books. Sixty percent of low income families don’t have a single book for children at all.”
Want your child to have a great start in life? Putting them on the path to success could be as simple as snuggling up together with a good book.
2 Keep Medication Out Of Reach
Pediatricians warn that parents should make sure all medications are kept out-of-reach and even in locked cabinets or safes where children will have no way of accessing them. Even a small dose of a strong medication could be fatal to a young child. Parents should be vigilant and responsible when deciding where to keep their medications.
HealthyChildren.org states, "Most poisonings occur when parents are not paying close attention. While you are busy doing other things, your child may be exploring closets or under bathroom sinks, where dangerous household items are often stored. Children are at risk for poisoning because they like to put things into their mouths and taste them."
Many pills and cough syrups look like candy, and if a curious child comes across something that looks fun to eat, he often won't hesitate to put it into his mouth to see how it tastes.
Parents should also be aware of the dangers lurking in the homes of other family members or caregivers. The site also states, "Remember to always keep a close eye on your child. Watch your child even more closely when you are away from home—especially at a grandparent's home where medicines are often left out and within a child's reach."
1 Don't Be A Helicopter Parent
While it's true that the world is often a scary place, pediatricians want parents to know that, sometimes, one of the best things moms and dads can do for their children is to give them the space they need to learn, grow, fall down, get back up and try again. Parents who are always hovering, waiting for something to go wrong, or doing everything for their children, may be crippling them in the long run.
According to pediatrician and mom Sarah Dumond, "What we want to tell you, off the record, is that chocolate cake for breakfast is not always a bad thing, inadvertent sunburns at the beach don’t make you a horrible mother, a pacifier dropped on the ground still tastes good to a toddler, and bedtimes are made to be missed. The list could go on and on, and while we may come across as sticklers on some things, we acknowledge that the reality of life is a far cry from what you might find in any parenting book."
Accidents happen, things go wrong and the fact is, there is no perfect way to parent a child. Mom and dads who love their little ones with all their hearts and take the steps necessary to keep them safe and happy without going overboard are doing everything right. Even on the days when they make a million mistakes.
References: HealthyChildren.org, IBTimes.com, BabyCareMag.com, HuffingtonPost.com, WebMD.com, DailyHealthAlerts.com, AAP.org, Parents.com, WTOK.com, LosAngeles.CBSLocal.com, Time.com, ScientificAmerican.com