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Daily Dose

Brown Spots on Your Baby?

1:30 to read

I was examining a 4 month old baby the other day when I noticed that she had several light brown spots on her skin. When I asked the mother how long they had been there, she noted that she had started seeing them in the last month or so, or maybe a couple even before that.  She then started to point a few out to me on both her infant’s arm, leg and on her back.

These “caramel colored” flat spots are called cafe au lait macules, (CALMs) and are relatively common. They occur in up to 3% of infants and about 25% of children.  They occur in both males and females and are more common in children of color.  While children may have a few CALMs, more than 3 CALMS are found in only 0.2 to 0.3% of children who otherwise do not have any evidence of an underlying disorder.  

Of course this mother had googled brown spots in a baby and was worried that her baby had neurofibromatosis (NF).  She started pointing out every little speckle or spot on her precious blue eyed daughter’s skin, some of which I couldn’t even see with my glasses on. I knew she was concerned and I had to quickly remember some of the findings of NF type 1.

Cafe au lait spots in NF-1 occur randomly on the body and are anywhere from 5mm to 30 mm in diameter. They are brown in color and have a smooth border, referred to as “the coast of California”. In order to make the suspected diagnosis of NF-1 a child needs to have 6 or more cafe au lait spots before puberty, and most will present by 6 -8 years of age.

For children who present for a routine exam with several CALMs ( like this infant), the recommendation is simply to follow and look for the development of more cafe au lait macules. That is a hard prescription for a parents…watch and wait, but unfortunately that is often what parenting is about.

Neurofibromatosis - 1 is an autosomal disorder which involves a mutation on chromosome 17 and may affect numerous organ systems including not only skin, but eyes, bones, blood vessels and the nervous system. Half of patients inherit the mutation while another half have no known family history.  NF-1 may also be associated with neurocognitive deficits and of course this causes a great deal of parental concern. About 40% of children with NF-1 will have a learning disability ( some minor, others more severe).

For a child who has multiple CALMs it is recommended that they be seen by an ophthalmologist and a dermatologist yearly,  as well as being followed by their pediatrician.  If criteria for NF-1 is not met by the time a child is 10 years of age,  it is less likely that they will be affected, despite having more than 6 CALMs.

The biggest issue is truly the parental anxiety of watching for more cafe au lait spots and trying to remain CALM…easier said than done for anyone who is a parent. 

Daily Dose

Breastfed Babies & Diaper Rash

1:30 to read

I was shopping at Target just the other day and happened to be in the “baby aisle” looking for one of those snack cups with the lids to let little fingers get in and not let the puffs fall out.  I needed it as part of a baby gift basket.  Useful for sure!!

So…while I am browsing, I see a young mother and her mother looking at diaper creams and obviously trying to decide which one to buy. I could’t resist offering help (always worry about being intrusive). When I asked what they were trying to treat the mother said, “ my new baby has this raw and red diaper rash right around his bottom”.  “He is just 12 days old and I change his diaper all of the time….how could he possibly get a diaper rash? What am I doing wrong?”

As we say in Texas, “bless her heart”!!! I asked if she was breast feeding,  and she was,  then I immediately knew what she meant. A breast fed infant will poop ALL OF THE TIME.  Many times you change a new diaper and as soon as the next diaper is put on the baby stools again. There are many times when your infant may poop a bit of stool during sleep and when you get them up they have a dirty diaper…all normal. No new mother guilt!!

The good news is that a newborn who is stooling a lot is probably getting plenty of breast milk as well…and that means they are gaining weight too!  The flip side is that it is not uncommon for a newborn to get that raw red bottom during the first month or so of breast feeding.  After that time, the stools do slow down a bit and diaper rash is less common.

The best remedy I have found for treating that tender new bottom is a combination of a diaper cream that contains zinc (Destin, Dr. Smith’s, or Boudreaux’s Butt Paste) and a bit of a liquid antacid (Mylanta, Maalox, Gaviscon). I put  a blob of diaper cream in my palm and then pour a bit of the antacid into it and mix….you can’t use too much of the liquid or it will run off.  Then I take that combo and coat the baby’s bottom. You can’t over do it. Use it with each diaper change.   It seems to do the trick and is easy. Several years ago I told a mother about the concoction (she had 4 children and was very sleep deprived) and I  just said use some antacid if you have some. She called later in the day and said she had tried to crush up the tablets and mix it with diaper cream and it wasn’t working.  I have since learned to be a bit more specific about a LIQUID antacid.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Daily Dose

Baby's First Foods

1:30 to read

Have you heard of “baby led weaning” (BLW)? Many of my patients who have infants that are ready to start “solid foods”, also called complementary foods, have questions about this method. Most babies begin eating foods along with breast milk or formula somewhere around 5 - 6 months of age.  So BLW is not really “weaning”,  as your infant will continue to have breast milk or formula in conjunction with foods…so this really should more aptly be named “baby self feeding”. 

In this method you never offer your baby “mush” or pureed foods, but rather offer them foods from the table.   While I am a huge advocate of self feeding (old term is finger feeding), I also think that early on offering a baby “mushy” food on a spoon is an important milestone. In fact, for most babies at 5 -6 months, it is difficult to pick up a small piece of food to self feed as the pincer grasp has not developed. So, a baby is trying to get food to their mouths by cupping it or hoping it sticks to their hand while pushing pieces around their tray. Some parents will put the food into their baby’s hand.  But, by 8-ish months most babies have developed their pincer grasp and the finger feeding should be preferred.  

Parents are also concerned about starting solid foods and the possibility of choking.  I am always discussing how to make sure that your child avoids choking hazards with foods. In other words, no whole grapes, or hot dogs, or popcorn or chunks of meat.   Other hazards are raw carrots, apples, celery and any “hard” food that your baby might be able to bite a chunk of and then choke. But, if you cook the carrots and then cut them in small bites they are easily handled by a baby who is self feeding.  It is really all about the consistency of the food as once your baby has lower teeth they can easily bite/pry off a big “chunk” of food that could lead to a choking hazard.

Interestingly, there was a recent study that looked at the incidence of choking in children who started with self feeding vs those fed traditionally with pureed foods from a spoon. In this study of about 200 children between 6 - 8 months of age the incidence of choking was similar, while there were more gagging events in the BLW group.  Fortunately, “the choking events resolved on their own”. Gagging is quite different than choking. Some children will gag on pureed foods just due to texture issues. 

I am an advocate of what I am going to call parent led feeding followed by early self feeding of appropriate foods. By the time a child is 9 months of age they should be able to finger feeding the majority of their meals. But there are some foods that are just not conducive to finger feeding at all….yogurt, apple sauce, puddings…and they will be spoon fed until your child is capable of using a spoon which is anywhere from 12 -18 months.   But as a reminder, whenever you offer your child a finger food you should remember two things, #1 is the piece small enough that my child cannot choke and #2 is the food cooked well enough to not pose a choking hazard.  

Several years ago there was a 1 year old in our practice who was given a piece of an apple to chew on… she bit off a chunk of the apple, aspirated and died. It was a terrible accident.  I will never forget that….and re-iterate to all of my patients…a pork chop, or chicken leg or any number of foods can become a choking hazard if your child bites off a chunk. Children really don’t chew until they are around 2 years, they just bite and try to swallow so I pay a great deal of attention to what foods they are offered.

Old school and new school…the combo seems to make sense to me. 

Daily Dose

Breaking Bad Habits

1:15 to read

Do any of your children bite their nails or suck their thumbs? If so, are you always saying, “take your fingers out of your mouth, they are dirty”, or “if you keep biting your nails you will get sick due to all of those germs on your fingers”!  I was guilty of saying those very things to my own children, and I also remember being a nail biter and my mother saying the same thing to me.

Well, who would have thought that a study just released today in the journal Pediatrics might make us parents eat our own words (it wouldn’t be the first time).  The study, “Thumb-Sucking, Nail-Biting and Atopic Sensitization, Asthma and Hay Fever” suggests that “childhood exposure to microbial organisms reduces the risk of developing allergies”.  Who knew that there might be something so positive coming from a “bad habit”.  

This study was done in New Zealand and followed over 1,000 children born between 1972-1973 (dark ages) whose parents reported that they either bit their nails or sucked their thumbs at 5,7,9 and 11 years old. The participants were then checked at ages 13 and again at 32 years old to look for an allergic reaction ( by skin prick testing) against at least one common allergen.  And guess what…at 13 years of age the prevalence of an allergic reaction was lower among those children who HAD sucked their thumbs or bitten their nails.  Incredibly the the findings persisted almost 20 years later!  This study even looked at cofounding factors including sex, parental history of allergies, pet ownership, breast feeding and parental smoking… none of which played a role. 

So, while not advocating for children to suck their thumbs or bite their nails (which unfortunately I did until high school when I decided to have nails to polish) there may be a silver lining….a protective effect against allergies that persists into adulthood. 

Lemonade out of lemons!!!

Daily Dose

Head Flattening on the Rise!

1:30 to read

A recent study published in the online edition of Pediatrics confirms what I see in my practice. According to this study the  incidence of positional plagiocephaly (head flattening) has increased and is now estimated to occur in about 47% of babies between the ages of 7 and 12 weeks.  

The recommendation to have babies change from the tummy sleeping position to back sleeping was made in 1992. Since that time there has been a greater than a 50% decline in the incidence of SIDS. (see old posts).  But both doctors and parents have noticed that infants have sometimes developed flattened or misshapen heads from spending so much time being on their backs during those first few months of life.

This study was conducted in Canada among 440 healthy infants.  In 1999, Canada, like the U.S., began recommending  back sleeping for babies. Canadian doctors had also reported that they were seeing more plagiocephaly among infants.  

The authors found that 205 infants in the study had some form of plagiocephaly, with 78% being classsified as mild, 19% moderate and 3% severe.  Interestingly, there was a greater incidence (63%) of a baby having flattening on the right side of their heads.  

Flattening of the head, either on the back or sides is most often due to the fact that a baby is not getting enough “tummy time”.  Although ALL babies should sleep on their back, there are many opportunities throughout a day for a baby to be prone on a blanket while awake, or to spend time being snuggled upright over a parent’s shoulder or in their arms.  Limiting time spent in a car seat or a bouncy chair will also help prevent flattening.

Most importantly, I tell parents before discharging their baby from the hospital that tummy time needs to begin right away. It does seem that some babies have “in utero” positional preference for head turning and this needs to be addressed early on. Think of a baby being just like us, don’t you like to sleep on one side or another?  By rotating the direction the baby lies in the crib you can help promote head turning and prevent flattening.  

Lastly, most cases of plagiocephaly are reversible. Just put tummy time on your daily new parent  “to do list”.   

Daily Dose

Ear Tugging & Your Child

1.15 to read

I see a lot of parents who bring their baby/toddler/child in to the pediatrician with concerns that their child might have an ear infection. One of the reasons for their concern is often that their baby is tugging on their ears.  

Babies find their ears, just like their hands and feet, around 4 -6 months of age.  I guess a baby must think “this ear tugging is fun and feels good” as maybe babies have “itchy” ears just like adults. It also seems to be a self soothing habit for other children who seem to pull on their ears when they get tired and cranky.  Maybe it is related to new molars coming in at the back of the jaw line?   

Whatever the cause, it often concerns parents who are told by their friends or relatives, “I am worried, this ear pulling probably means the child has an ear infection”.  So, being a good parent off you go to your pediatrician only to find out that the ears a beautiful and clear! 

Most babies and children do not get an ear infection without ANY other symptoms besides ear pulling.  In most cases infants and toddlers will get a secondary ear infection during cold and flu season. The multitudes of viral respiratory infections that children get in the first 3 years of life, often cause continuous runny noses and congestion. This congestion causes fluid to build up in the middle ear space which connects to the nasal passages via a small canal called the eustachian tube.   

Infants and children have so called “immature” eustachian tubes that are soft, and don’t drain well and the tube gets inflamed and swollen from the viral infection as well.  At times this fluid gets secondarily infected from bacteria that find their way to the middle ear.  Voila....an ear infection ensues. 

So, if a parent brings their child in for “pulling on their ears” and they are otherwise well (no cough, congestion, runny nose and sleeping well) I usually ask if they want to “wager” if their child has an ear infection.  That is really not fair, as this sweet parent is only concerned because typically someone else told them they should be.  But, in this case a quarter bet is usually made and I end up with a lot of quarters.  (they are good for all of the other bets I do lose with parents and kids about all sorts of things). Friendly betting at the pediatrician’s office, wonder if I am going to be investigated! 

Don’t worry about simple ear pulling especially when you see it happening all of the time.   

Lastly, with the new guidelines for prescribing antibiotics for an ear infection parent’s don’t need to worry as much about a prescription for antibiotics and a few days of waiting will not hurt.  

Daily Dose

Why Teens Need Curfews

1.00 to read

While talking to a mother of a teenage patient today the discussion of curfews came up. Does your child have one? They should!While talking to a mother of a teenage patient recently, the discussion heated up when we talked about curfews.  I remember growing up with the TV news coming on and saying, "it is 11 o'clock, do you know where your child is?" At the time I just hated that as it reminded my parents (who always watched the news) to come downstairs to make sure that I was home.

Maybe they would have remembered on their own, but I was convinced that it was the news that kept my parents checking on me. At any rate, the point of this is that I had a curfew and that they checked on me, enforced the curfew and there were consequences for not following the rules. So, the mother today was telling me that her son had a curfew (good for her and an appropriate time too) but that he had broken the curfew twice and he was now upset that she had followed through by having him come home earlier and had taken the car away for a week. Her son was angry that she "didn't trust him" anymore, and she explained that she had trusted him, by giving him a car to drive and a time to come home, but that he had broken the trust by not following the curfew. She then explained that he had to re-earn her trust, and he is just baffled by that. She is doing a great job of setting limits and boundaries, but we talked about how hard it is to follow through and not just give in. On the other hand, I also see a lot of parents of teens that do not have curfews for their kids, driving contracts for new drivers, and those who turn their heads when their teens are not making good choices. It is a hard job, but teens need limits, boundaries and consequences, just like when they were toddlers. If you have a teen keep up the good work and remember, it is 11:00 0'clock, do you know where your child is? Do you have a curfew for your teen? Share your comments & feedback. That's your daily dose, we'll chat again tomorrow. Send your question or comment to Dr. Sue!

Daily Dose

Rice Cereal & Childhood Obesity

Does white rice cereal cause childhood obesity? One pediatrician thinks so.I recently saw Dr. Alan Greene on TV discussing infant feeding practices and how that may relate to the problem of childhood obesity. Dr. Greene, like most pediatricians, has long been a proponent of healthy eating. He recently launched his “White Out” campaign to change how babies are introduced to solid foods.

His argument is that an infant’s first food has long been rice cereal.   Rice cereal is typically introduced to a baby between 5 – 6 months of age when they are just beginning to sit up in a high chair, and may be fed with a spoon. Rice cereal  typically comes in a box and breast milk or formula is added to the dried flakes in order to make it the consistency where the  baby may be  offered a few bites from a spoon. Although rice is a “white grain” there are also other infant cereal products available, and there are no “directives” that say that a brown rice or mixed grain cereal may not  be used. As I understand it, the whole idea is really just to get the baby used to spoon feeding and then I begin introducing my infant patients to vegetables and fruits. So, the idea that the baby rice cereal is somehow linked to the entire problem of childhood obesity seems somewhat shortsighted to me. An infant is only fed rice cereal one or two times a day while still receiving either breast milk or a formula. Remember that breast milk and formulas contain carbohydrates too. Infant cereal whether it be brown or white rice should not be the only food a baby is introduced too, nor should they eat cereal all day long. While Dr. Greene is concerned that babies will “get hooked on the taste of highly processed foods”, I'm more concerned that parents will quickly forgo rice and whole grain cereals, fruits, veggies and meats and begin feeding their children frosted or honey nut cheerios (a favorite early finger food),  as wells as goldfish and puffs, pasta and other white foods.  These are the foods I  am most likely to see in my office, not a bowl fruits and vegetables. Babies really get the  majority of their calories from breast milk or formula until about 9 – 12 months of age. Parents should be encouraged to feed their babies a wide array of healthy foods including cereals, vegetables, fruits and meats.  Dr. Greene is right,  a baby doesn’t tell you he won’t eat brown rice, or oatmeal or spinach or prunes. For the most part an infant happily opens their mouths and will take what is fed to them. The problem occurs a little later as babies start to show a preference for foods , whether that is by making a face, or pushing food away, they definitely show preferences. This is when the idea of getting “hooked on foods” really begins. It is not uncommon for me to hear a parent of a one year old say, “my baby doesn’t like…… squash, or cereal, or peaches.”  Soon thereafter you hear, “my toddler will only eat…..fill in the blank”. Those are the words that send shivers down my spine. Trying to get those parents to buy into the fix the meal and they will eat it if they are hungry is quite a difficult concept at times. The issue is not only beginning a baby on rice cereal, the problem is more complex. It is getting parents to understand that our children will always have food preferences, that does not mean that we need to acknowledge them or submit to them. It means that we need to make good healthy meals for our families, white rice or brown rice is only the beginning of the story. That's your daily dose for today. What do you think? Leave your comments below!

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