It may seem like the advice doctors give parents has been the same since time immemorial. Truth is, however, when it comes to kids and health, conventional wisdom is ever-evolving. Remedies that seem misguided to us now – ice water baths to reduce fever, say, or whiskey to help with teething – have been replaced by practices that would have mystified parents of the past, such as low-carb diets.
Dr. Ann Schroeder Lee of Great Kids Pediatrics is intimately familiar with changing trends in medical advice. The common cold, for one, is an illness fraught with old wives’ tales and misinformation. Dr. Lee hears a range of cold-related myths, from parents who still believe colds are caused by the weather, to those who think green mucus means their child needs antibiotics. “Most colds are caused by viruses. Mucus may change color, but that doesn’t necessarily mean antibiotics are needed,” she says.
But what about fevers? Should parents reduce them by any means necessary, or let their children’s bodies rage against the infection? “A fever means the body can mount a response to infection and isn’t necessarily dangerous in otherwise healthy children,” Dr. Lee explains. “Make your child comfortable by keeping him or her hydrated, and you can use acetaminophen or ibuprofen.” If the fever persists, the child looks very sick, or it’s an infant less than 3 months old, seek medical attention.
Another topic with ever-changing advice? Children’s weight. Dr. Lee sees kids on a variety of diets that fall in and out of fashion: low-fat, low-carb, vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free…
“Most children who are not overweight do not need to be on a special diet. They need healthy, balanced meals and regular exercise,” she tells us. “Children should not be on gluten-free diets unless it’s for medical reasons.” In place of applying adult eating habits to children, Dr. Lee advises parents to stock their kitchens with healthy groceries, not nutritionally valueless snacks.
And what about the recent hubbub about vaccinations causing more problems than they solve? “Vaccinating according to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended schedule is appropriate, necessary, and safe,” states Dr. Lee flatly.
In the end, the piece of advice that best stands the test of time is this: When in doubt, call your doctor.