Experts Answer "What If" Questions

We're talking about the big, bad no-nos, like going out with wet hair, swallowing gum, or refusing to eat any veggies.

What if my child eats the dog's food?

She'd be fine, as long as she didn't start barking. While pet food isn't recommended for kids, it doesn't contain any harmful ingredients, says Dan Carey, D.V.M., a veterinarian for The Iams Company. Still, try not to leave Fido's food where your kid can get her paws on it.

What if my child drinks bath water?

He might feel queasy or get diarrhea if the water's soapy, but he won't have a problem with germs unless he bathes with someone else, says Philip Tierno, Ph.D., director of clinical microbiology at New York University Medical Center, in New York City, and author of The Secret Life of Germs. So wash kids one at a time, and don't let them drink the water.

What if I forget to burp my newborn after a feeding?

Eventually, he'd do it on his own. "Burping is a built-in, automatic digestion mechanism," says Stephen Knazik, D.O., medical director of the emergency department at Children's Hospital of Michigan, in Detroit. But you'd have one uncomfortable, unhappy baby on your hands in the meantime. So do yourself a favor and give him a pat on the back.

What if my child refuses to eat any veggies?

As long as she ate fruit along with all the other food groups, she'd still get enough nutrients, says Ann Condon-Meyers, R.D., a pediatric dietitian at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. (If your child zips her lips for fruit too, your pediatrician might recommend a multivitamin.) Keep offering different veggies with meals. Who knows? She may eventually try--and even like--them.

What if my child licks a cold metal post during winter?

If your child took a triple-dog dare to lick a flagpole, like in the movie A Christmas Story, the spit on his tongue would crystallize and adhere to the metal post, and he'd be stuck there, Dr. Knazik says. If this happens, pour warm water onto his tongue and the pole to melt the ice. Don't let him pull away. He could rip off the top layers of tissue, causing severe bleeding and muscle damage.

What if my child sticks her finger into a socket?

A standard household current would give her a mild shock, similar to that from static electricity, says Liza DeWitt, M.D., a pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin, in Milwaukee. She'd be startled and probably pull her hand away, but electrical skin burns can still occur. What can be more serious is not pulling away immediately, which can put her at risk of internal organ damage. All children who have received a significant electrical shock need to see their doctor for evaluation.

What if my child swallows a bottle of kiddie vitamins?

He probably wouldn't be in terrible danger. "If the tablets don't contain iron or fluoride, they're considered nontoxic," says Anna Travis, R.N., of the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin Poison Center. Taking too many could cause an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, or funny-colored urine (from vitamin dyes). A toxic amount of iron or fluoride would require immediate medical attention. Have the number of your local poison center on hand, just in case.

What if my child goes out in the cold with wet hair?

You'd have one chilly child. It's a myth that a cold head causes a head cold--only viruses and germs do that, Dr. Knazik says. However, staying out in the cold for 30 minutes or more with wet hair could put your child at risk for frostbite on her scalp or the tips of her ears, or even for hypothermia, so just be sure she takes the time to blow-dry before that long hike to school.

What if my child holds his breath as long as he can?

"This is very common when little kids throw temper tantrums," Dr. DeWitt says. If your kid is especially stubborn, he could do it until he passed out, which is his body's way of getting blood and oxygen to flow back to the brain. It should only be seconds before he's up and breathing again. If five or ten seconds pass and he's still out, call 911 and start CPR as soon as possible.

What if my child swallows gum?

One stick is usually harmless, though it might upset her stomach a bit, Dr. DeWitt says. But a gob-stopper-size wad could cause a digestive-tract blockage, which would make her vomit and would require medical assistance to have it removed. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under age 4 not be given chewing gum at all. Hope that news doesn't burst your bubble.

What if my child swings on the playground as hard as she can?

"It's probably possible to go over the top of the swing set, but I've never heard of it," says Donna Thompson, of The National Program for Playground Safety. More likely, your child would fall off the swing--and, of course, the higher you are, the harder you fall. Sixty-eight percent of playground injuries result from tumbles, so keep an eye on your kid, and when it comes to swinging, be sure he knows the sky is not the limit.

What if my baby sits in a wet diaper all day?

The moisture could cause a diaper rash, but that's about it. Bathe her bottom in warm water and then let it air-dry before rediapering, if possible. Stay away from wipes that contain alcohol or chemicals; they could cause further irritation. Use a protective barrier cream to shield her skin from contact with the diaper.

Copyright© 2004. Reprinted with permission from the November 2004 issue of Parents magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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