As a parent, you don’t always have all the answers. And that’s okay! That’s why you have a pediatrician who will help you navigate the confusing and sometimes scary world of children’s health issues. They’ve seen it all, and there’s no judgment once you walk through their door (or call their phone...or flood their email…). “The pediatrician is really there to help and guide you,” says Dr. Alison Mitzner, a board-certified pediatrician in New York. Here’s what you should know before your next visit.
Your pediatrician isn’t judging you.
You should never be embarrassed to ask a question or divulge information about your child’s health. “Every patient and family is different, and what might be normal for one isn’t for another,” Dr. Mitzner says. “You should be going to someone that you trust and feel comfortable with.” Plus, a pediatrician is typically with a child from birth, so they have a full picture of your child’s health. “No one is born a parent,” says Dr. Victoria Yang, a pediatrician with Children’s Health Pediatric Group in Dallas. “We are 100 percent the parents' partner, and here to help with any sort of questions or concerns they have about their child.”
Don’t feel bad about bringing your kid in when it’s just a cold.
If your child is sick—whatever the symptoms—never feel unsure about bringing them to the doctor. “Sometimes illnesses can evolve over days or weeks,” Dr. Yang says. “Sometimes it can take multiple visits to that same doctor to get a whole picture of what's going on and figure out the best treatment.” That said, before you head to the pediatrician’s office, know that if your child looks well enough and is acting like themselves—despite minor symptoms like a sore throat or a headache—they’re probably safe to rest at home, Dr. Yang says.
Always call if you’re worried.
“I always tell my parents, ‘If you're concerned, I'm concerned, because you know your child the best,’” Dr. Yang says. “I want to hear any sort of concerns, however insignificant or embarrassed the parents might feel, so we can have a dialogue together.” How to reach your doctor depends on the individual practice, but you should always ask so you know what to do. “Some physician offices give you a central line to call after hours, and they'll have a nurse who will pick up and help troubleshoot your child's symptoms with you,” Dr. Yang says. “Other times, the on-call doctor will call you back directly. There are some practices like concierge practices where the doctor will text with you directly.”
Don’t freak out about fevers getting worse at night.
When the thermometer ticks higher at night, you don’t necessarily need to rush to the doctor. “Normal body temperature fluctuates with usually higher temperatures in the afternoon and evening time, and lower temperatures before dawn,” Dr. Yang says. If your child seems happy and acting like themselves, there’s no need to worry, Dr. Yang says. But if your child seems uncomfortable due to their fever, Dr. Mitzner says ibuprofen, like Children’s Advil, works best for fevers. Be sure to use it according to the label, and if your child does not get any relief within the first 24 hours, or if child’s fever gets worse or lasts more than three days, take them to a doctor.
Colds are actually pretty normal.
“Kids have six colds a year in the first few years of life, which, if you look at just the winter months, that’s every month, really,” Dr. Mitzner says. It’s also not unusual for kids to catch viral colds back to back, Dr. Yang says. “I'll see a parent who brings in their child for four weeks coughing, which is totally appropriate, by the way, because we want to make sure they don't have pneumonia. The vast majority of the time, it's because a young child was around another child who was also coughing, so they're just kind of swapping viruses back and forth.”
Be mindful of antibiotics.
“Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, but they’re ineffective against viruses, including colds, sore throats, coughs, fevers, and viral ear infections,” Dr. Yang says. If your pediatrician does prescribe medication, educate yourself. “If you are not sure why your pediatrician has prescribed antibiotics for your child, ask them why,” she says. And make sure you’re following the instructions carefully. “Antibiotics take time to work, and your child may not show improvement for a few days. When they do start to feel better, though, don’t stop giving them the meds—make sure to give your child the antibiotic for the full prescribed amount of time.”
You can’t get the flu from the flu shot.
“A lot of people are very concerned that they can catch the flu from the flu shot,” Dr. Yang says. “It's literally impossible for you to get the flu from the flu shot, so I'm never worried about that. I make sure to tell that to all my patients.” Plus, getting the flu shot doesn’t just help your child. “You're protecting babies who are too young to get the flu shot, you're protecting the elderly who are particularly at risk for the serious complications of the flu, and kids with asthma, who can have very serious complications from the flu. Not only are you protecting yourself, you're protecting your community. That's very important.”
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