It’s funny: Parents always think their concerns are novel, affecting only their child and their family—not so! Easily half of my day is predictable, and your problems and worries are the same as those of the parents booked right after you. So to put your mind at ease, here’s a sampling of the most common questions I field.
1. Is it normal that my baby has green poo?
I answer this one many times a day—that’s a lot of poo talk. Breastfed or formula fed, all babies fill their diapers with poo that ranges in colour and texture. It can vary from day to day, poop to poop; it can be yellow, orange, brown or green, and as long as it’s not black or red, I’m not typically concerned. Ensure your baby is hydrated and gaining weight well. If your little one has excessive vomiting, vomit that is green or bloody, or a bloated stomach, see your doctor.
2. Are ear infections caused by swimming?
Yes and no. There are two main types of ear infections: middle ear and external ear (also known as swimmer’s ear). Middle-ear infections occur when a child has a cold or is congested and fluid moves into the ear, just as it does into the sinuses. Where there is fluid, bacteria can grow, triggering an infection. Swimming does not cause middle-ear infections, because pool water cannot pass into the ear canal. But external-ear infections can result when water collects in the outer ear, which leaves it open to bacteria. These irritations are most common among kids who spend a lot of time in unclean water (such as lake water as opposed to chlorinated pools) or who have minor cuts in their outer ear (either from fingernails or cotton swabs). Using ear plugs when swimming isn’t usually effective, but if your child is predisposed (having had two or more infections before), talk to your doctor about using a few drops of diluted vinegar or hydrogen peroxide in the ears after swimming to block the growth of bacteria. Kids with external-ear infections usually need antibiotic ear drops, as well as ibuprofen and acetaminophen to ease the pain.
3. Does my kid need to take a multivitamin?
If your child is healthy and growing normally, a multivitamin isn’t necessary; food is the best source of nutrients. Nutritious meals and snacks should provide all the essentials—even for picky kids. Many parents worry their children will be deficient in vitamins if they don’t “eat a rainbow” every day, but children are covered as long as they’re eating some produce. Remember too that bread and cereal are fortified with important nutrients like B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D and iron. High doses of vitamins—too many multis and supplement drinks, for example—can actually be toxic. See your doctor if you’re concerned about your child’s diet.
4. My kid is such a picky eater—what do I do?
Kids learn quickly that mealtime is one area they have some control over (when they don’t have much in the rest of their lives). Like us, they have preferences too and won’t love every dish. When kids are offered solid food in a calm way, in social settings like family meals, they are less likely to be picky and more inclined to try new foods. Fussiness typically peaks by age two, though some kids show it earlier and some never at all (lucky parents!). But as long as kids are eating at least a small variety of foods throughout the week—stop obsessing over their day-to-day diets—they are unlikely to be missing out on any one nutrient and will thrive. Some keys to avoiding the battle: keep the mood light, try to stick to a routine for meals and snacks, make it fun and ask them to help with food prep and table setting.
5. How can I help my kid kick his summer cold?
Most colds are gone within five to seven days, though some can linger for weeks. There is no cure, but you can do a few things to treat stubborn symptoms. For congestion and coughing, elevate the head of your kid’s bed with a book or pillow under the mattress and run a humidifier at night (add eucalyptus oil if your unit is made for this). To clear sinuses, use a saline nasal spray and then an aspirator. (The turkey-baster type sucks—no pun intended; the best ones are controlled by your mouth’s suction. Don’t worry, there’s a filter in between.) Honey can help soothe sore throats in kids older than one year: It has tons of antiviral and antibacterial properties, and can decrease the length of that pesky cold.
6. I think my child has eczema—how should I treat it?
Kids get all kinds of rashes and skin irritations, but eczema is different from most other rashes, as it is often itchy (along with being dry, red and scaly). The itching may be so bad that it disrupts your child’s sleep, and too much scratching can break the skin and make it vulnerable to infection. To treat eczema, don’t bathe kids more than once a day and keep baths under 10 minutes. Eczema needs moisture, so add coconut or baby oil to the bath water. Pat skin dry and liberally apply petroleum jelly, petroleum-free jelly or an oil-based product (my kids respond well to coconut oil) to dry patches; a prescribed steroid cream can be layered underneath the jelly or coconut oil. Slather the skin several times a day—the greasier the skin, the better.
Dina Kulik is a paediatrician and emergency room doctor in Toronto and mom to three boys who are five, three and sixteen months. Look for her regular column at todaysparent.com/drdina.