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Taking Baby to the Doctor

pediatrician with baby

iStock

So your baby's bawling as if there are fire ants in his pajamas. His diapers are a mystery (his last poop was green!), and you've been hearing a lot of scary stories about worrisome ingredients in shots. But can you really bring up all this stuff to your pediatrician?

Don't worry: You're far from the first parent with a long list of questions, and most doctors have heard it all before. Here's what pediatricians want all new parents to know and to keep in mind during those crazy days.

All-night feedings and constant caretaking mean that fatigue and new parenthood go hand in hand, but that doesn't mean you need to suffer solo.

Laura Jana, MD, coauthor of Heading Home with Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality (American Academy of Pediatrics), recommends talking to your pediatrician about what you're going through since he'll want to rule out any medical problems with your baby and may be able to offer solutions to make life a little easier. If your baby is having trouble sleeping at night, for instance, her doctor might suggest using a white-noise machine to create background sound (infants find this soothing) or trying a new bedtime routine. Or she may recommend massage, gas-relieving drops, or dietary changes for persistent crying.

Even if crying or sleeplessness turns out to be caused by something that you'll just have to soldier through -- like colic, which can't always be fixed but will eventually go away on its own -- just knowing you have a partner in dealing with the crisis will help. After all, many doctors are parents too. "When I went on my first maternity leave, I had all these high hopes for what I was going to be able to accomplish," Dr. Jana says. "Turns out, I was so tired, I was lucky if I got a load of laundry into the washing machine. Not folded, not put away, just in the washing machine."

When Kathy Jameson, of Lansing, Michigan, had her first baby, she says, "I felt I was wasting the pediatrician's time asking about all these silly little things like whether drooling and cold hands were normal." That's a common fear among new parents, who may feel intimidated by the doctor (aka the expert in charge) or assume he's just too busy.

But good pediatricians know that they and the parents are on the same team, with the shared goal of helping a child grow up healthy and happy. "When I first meet with families," says Alan Greene, MD, author of Raising Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Guide to Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Care (Jossey-Bass), "I tell them there's no such thing as a bad or a dumb question -- let's talk about whatever is on your mind." Sometimes new parents feel embarrassed, or they worry about appearing overly anxious -- for instance, about a baby who's not crawling "on time." And the toughest issues to bring up may be when you know you haven't followed doctor's orders, like getting your child off the bottle at age 1. But if it's gnawing at you, please ask. That way your pediatrician is aware of your concerns, and the two of you can brainstorm solutions together.

A pediatrician might have limited time during a standard checkup, especially in these days of rushed managed care. Write down your questions ahead of time so you're prepared. If you know you have a lot of concerns to discuss, inquire about scheduling two consecutive appointment blocks when you're setting up the visit, advises Robert Sears, MD, a pediatrician and a prolific author of parenting books. That way, the doctor can bill for a more complicated consultation, and you'll get more time to talk about what's on your mind. (Be sure to ask whether this will affect your insurance coverage or co-payment.)

Since you will probably have questions that come up after you leave the office, be sure you know how to get in touch with your doctor between visits. Some practices may have a specific phone-in period when patients can call with questions, Dr. Jana says, or they may have a trained nurse who is available by phone to help you figure out whether your baby needs to be seen. Some pediatricians have an office e-mail address or will even give you their home number or personal e-mail. It's also a good idea to ask what resources the doctor recommends, since a good book or Web site can answer a lot of the nonemergency questions that come up.

From Google to Grandma, most parents get an eyeful and an earful of conflicting advice about their baby's health. And it can be intimidating to ask your pediatrician about a controversial topic -- whether it's the safety of shots or when a sick baby really needs antibiotics -- especially if you think the two of you might disagree.

"I'd heard all these scary reports about mercury in shots," says Jamie Hennessy, of Nashville, "but I was afraid that if I brought it up to my baby's doctor, he'd think I was a troublemaker or kick me out of the practice or something."

You may be pleasantly surprised by how open your doctor is to discussing your concerns -- and by the information you learn. For instance, mercury is no longer used as a preservative in most childhood vaccines, although some versions of the flu vaccine still contain it, says Dr. Sears, author of The Vaccine Book (Little, Brown, and Company). If this is a concern, you can simply ask your doctor for a thimerosal-free version (call ahead of your next appointment in case this version isn't kept on hand).

Hopefully you've found a doctor with whom you share similar philosophies on the issues that are most important to you, but realize you probably won't see eye to eye on everything, Dr. Jana says. "It's crucial that you have trust in your doctor," she adds, but don't take it personally if you have a difference of opinion on something, whether it's when to start solids or how long your baby should sleep.

Talking to your child's doctor about your concerns gives the pediatrician an opportunity to share his medical perspective -- which is why you've hired him, after all. Just because your pediatrician doesn't agree with you on every decision doesn't mean he thinks you're a bad parent, Dr. Jana says.

The bottom line? Your child's pediatrician won't be insulted if you do some of your own research and it brings up concerns. "Parents deserve to have answers to their questions, and there are plenty of pediatricians who love hearing questions from parents," Dr. Greene says. If your doctor dismisses your questions or won't take your concerns into account -- or if you simply can't find common ground on some of the big issues -- it may be time to look for a new pediatrician.

Automobile Safety

consumerreports.org
Search the Cars section of the Consumer Reports Web site for information on the safest new cars, complete with an analysis of how well each one handles and protects its passengers during a collision.

Babysitter Training

American Red Cross
redcross.org

American Safety & Health Institute
ashinstitute.com

Both of these organizations offer courses to train babysitters in basic childcare for infants and toddlers, as well as emergency-care strategies and first-aid techniques.

Fetal Health Crisis Support

Hospice Care Network
hospicecarenetwork.org
800-2HOSPICE
Hospice Care Network offers a support program for parents whose unborn child is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and who want to continue their pregnancy. Ask for Mary Gravina.

Ringling Bros. Circus

ringling.com
Kids 12 months or younger can experience the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for free.
Check for showtimes at ringling.com/schedule and order your voucher at ringling.com/offers/baby.aspx.

Skeletal Dysplasia

The Luca John Foundation
lucajohnfoundation.org
Established to raise money for skeletal dysplasia research, the Luca John Foundation also provides financial assistance for funeral expenses for families who have lost a child 12 months old or younger.


Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the February 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.


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