Pediatrician Mickey Lester says that in the 40 years he’s been practising, what ails children hasn’t changed – what has is how parents react.
Busy lives and the wealth of health information online have made the latest generation of parents much more anxious about common symptoms, Dr. Lester says, resulting in unnecessary hospital visits and added cost to a cash-strapped health-care system. “I spend more time reassuring parents that everything is fine … than I do prescribing medication.”
So at 74, the Toronto pediatrician decided to write his first book – Say “AAAH” – hoping to demystify some of the most common health problems in kids under 5, and calm panicked parents who might otherwise rush to the doctor.
So what are the most common problems to which new parents overreact?
The common cold
When a baby starts coughing or gets the sniffles, many parents are too quick to suspect something worse is at play, like pneumonia or an ear infection, Dr. Lester says. “The bottom line is if the baby looks well, the mood is normal, there’s no fever and he or she is eating well, the cold symptoms – whatever they are – are bothering the caregiver and not the baby.” Time, he adds, is the only cure.
Parents who choose to breastfeed often panic that their baby isn’t getting enough food. But as long the baby looks healthy, is sleeping well, has a normal mood and is having five or more wet diapers a day, Dr. Lester says there’s no need to worry.
As the baby gets older, even if he is growing well, parents still bring them in, worried that they’re not eating enough. After four months of age, Dr. Lester says, if your baby is thriving, you should be following your babies cues, not forcing them to eat. “When a child or infant is hungry, he'll eat,” he says, adding it’s important to distinguish needs versus wants at this stage.
Most diaper rashes are the result of irritated skin that’s been left in a wet diaper for too long. But even if the rash is persistent – which, Dr. Lester says, is the reason most parents book an appointment – most often, the solution doesn’t require a doctor’s intervention. Change the diaper often and let the baby be diaper-free for a while, to dry the area out. Try soothing the skin with a warm bath. Apply diaper cream. “It has to be put on thick, almost as thick as the icing on a cake,” says Dr. Lester. If after attempting these solutions the rash gets worse, then a trip to the doctor is in order.