Parenthood is hard enough without us making it harder on ourselves -- and yet we always do.
As pediatricians and friends, we talk about this all the time. Every day, we talk with distressed parents -- and often parents stress out when they don't have to. Some of the concerns are common misconceptions. Some come from other parents who innocently pass on misinformation they've heard. And then there's the Internet. Everyone from your neighbor to your mother-in-law to your sister has an opinion. All this makes parents (including those of us who are doctors!) worry more.
Here are a few worries we hear the most -- and what we tell our patients to keep in mind:
1. Your baby's soft spot.
As Wendy Sue wrote in her post on this (3D image included), "I think we all conjure up crazy worries about an errant flying pencil landing in it. Or pushing too hard and squishing something important." When you have a newborn, it really does feel like his or her brain is a little too close for comfort.
It turns out, though, that the "soft spot", or anterior fontanelle, is pretty tough. Sure, you don't want to go poking or pushing it hard. But it's okay to touch it, and if your baby gets a little bump there, chances are she'll be fine. The fontanelle actually helps cushion the brain, as it gives some space between bones to allow the brain to grow. The soft spot closes between 9 and 24 months of age -- then no more worry at all!
We're not saying that you should never worry about a fever, as fever is a sign of illness. We all worry when our kids are unwell. But the fever itself is a natural response, and it's part of how our body gets rid of the germs that cause illness. Claire reminds patients that taking a fever away doesn't make your child heal quicker; in fact, the opposite may be true.
Most illnesses in childhood are not the scary kind. Most fevers come from viruses and go away by themselves. Here's one rule of thumb with fevers: Treat your child, not the number on the thermometer. If they are eating, drinking and acting fine, there's usually no reason to get that number down.
Here's when you do need to call the doctor about a fever:
• High fever (102 or higher) for more than a day
• Any fever 100.4 or higher in a baby less than 3 months old
• Your child is acting sick -- for example, they have trouble breathing, severe pain, are not drinking, there is lots of vomiting or diarrhea or there is a strange rash
• You're worried and don't know why (that's why you partner with a pediatrician!)
3. Which solid you should give your baby first.
People have strong opinions about this, but the reality is there is no one way to transition a baby to solids. At 4 months of age, a baby is on a strict liquid diet. By 1 year of age, it will be a solid diet. How they get there is different for every child.
Here's what we tell parents: Introduce a new food, whichever you want, every few days (check with your doctor if food allergies run in the family). Start with purées and cereals, and gradually add new textures and mushy table foods. Don't ditch any food and offer tons of variety. It can take many attempts before babies realize they like things! However you do this, it's the right way.
4. That your child isn't eating enough.
We hear this over and over, especially from parents of toddlers. And indeed, there are days when it seems like your toddler eats three bites of cereal, two bites of fruit and three bites of air. And yet somehow, kids grow. We like to say, "No child starves in a house with a full refrigerator."
Your job is to offer food; your child's job is to eat it. Learning how to eat when hungry and stop when full serves your child for a lifetime. So take a deep breath -- and then back off. Offer three healthy meals and a couple of small healthy snacks (like fruit or yogurt), and don't let them fill up on milk or juice. If you are worried, make an appointment with your doctor to get your child weighed and measured. We bet you'll find that he's doing just fine.
5. What other parents think of your parenting.
We refer to this as "competitive parenting." It's hard not to compare yourself to the parents you meet and wonder if they are doing things better than you -- especially when they say as much.
But here's the thing: every parent, every family and every child is different and has different needs. There are as many ways to parent as there are parents -- and children. That's what we love doing most as pediatricians; helping each family find their way. You know your child and your circumstances best. When it comes to your family, you are the expert.
6. Getting things perfect.
Perfection isn't possible. We all mess up. But more importantly, perfection isn't necessary. We're all for striving for perfection, and doing things like making your own baby food is great -- but it's not great if there's no time to play with your baby.
We all want to do everything we can to keep our children healthy and put them on the best path for life. But perfection shouldn't be the point. Your child doesn't need to read when she is 3, potato chips and cartoons are great sometimes and it's okay to buy the cheap shoes. It's all about moderation and about learning when to let your child lead the way. Most importantly, it's about enjoying your child and your life along the way, too.
There's no way to take all the worry out of parenthood. Use love as a guiding principle, ask for help when you're stumped, and we promise (hope) you will worry less.
Follow Wendy Sue Swanson, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@SeattleMamaDoc