Pacifiers in babies and children: Encourage or discourage?

There’s a lot of debate about pacifiers and since it’s Children’s Dental Health Month I thought I’d tackle the issue. Many parents are apprehensive to start one with a baby, yet many babies need to suck. Sucking is a natural reflex. Sucking on thumbs, fingers, pacifiers or other objects may make babies feel secure and happy and help them learn about their world. They can even be sucking on a hand or arm when still in the womb. Many babies find their thumb or a finger to suck on and self-soothe if not offered a pacifier.

Baby friendly?

pacifiers, thumb suckingI personally was unhappy to hear of the “baby friendly” initiative at our local hospitals that discourages any pacifier use during hospitalization.  I think it makes parents fear the pacifier even more than they had before and they have benefits as well as cautions.

I’ve seen more mothers get frustrated with breastfeeding when they can’t use a pacifier. I have rarely seen a problem with breastfeeding when babies are allowed to use a pacifier.

Studies do not support the thought that pacifiers affect breastfeeding rates.

This Cochrane Review also failed to show problems.

Things to love about pacifiers:

Babies have a natural desire to suck.

Even in the womb we can see babies sucking. A pacifier allows them to fill this need, which allows parents to have a much needed break.

Pacifiers can help with pain relief.

There’s a natural pain relieving property to sucking. Think about how addicted older kids are to sucking on a thumb or pacifier. It is soothing. Adding sugar to the pacifier for painful procedures helps pain even more.

Don’t give your baby sugar at home. It’s not good for them and can lead to cavities once they have teeth.

Pacifiers help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

We don’t know why they help, but studies show that pacifier use decreases the risk, along with sleeping alone on a firm, flat surface, on the back, without soft bedding.

Parents can control use.

Pacifiers can be weaned gradually and kids tend to outgrow them earlier than thumb-sucking.

Infants over about 4 months of age can develop other self-soothing abilities, so you can use them just for sleep in older infants and toddlers.

Keep them in the crib to decrease the risk of germ spreading from displaced/replaced pacifiers.

 

I like pacifiers better than thumbs

If a baby wants to suck, he will find his hand if something else isn’t offered. Babies eventually find thumbs or fingers if they want to suck on something.

Thumbs are always with a baby and child, so they can suck on them whenever they want, not just in the crib when a parent gives it.

Thumbs can get red, dry, and cracked with sucking behaviors – especially in dry weather. This can be painful to the child. The drive to suck is so strong they continue to do it despite pain. It can also lead to infections of the thumb.

Most kids will stop a pacifier habit by 3 years of age. If a pacifier is limited to sleep time only, kids are already not in the habit of sucking on something all day long. They only have to learn to fall asleep without sucking.

Thumbsuckers continue their habit more often and much longer. Often it’s not until they’re teased at school that they decide they want to quit. Until they make the decision to quit it’s hard to make it happen.

Thumbs are never clean. At least you can wash the pacifier and keep it in the crib. Kids play with their hands and you can’t keep the thumb out easily after they’ve touched everything.

a few cautions to pacifier use:

 

Don’t use them instead of feedings

Don’t use a pacifier to try to limit the number of breast feedings in a day, especially early on. Newborns need to eat quite a bit. Trying to “hold them off” with a pacifier will only limit your milk supply and could cause them to not gain sufficient weight.

Work with your pediatrician or a lactation consultant to be sure your baby is feeding enough if you’re feeling a need to breastfeed less.

Latch problems

I find that most babies can go back and forth from breast to pacifiers easily.

Most isn’t all.

If your baby seems to have trouble latching on the breast after using an artificial nipple (either a pacifier or a bottle) then stop the artificial nipples and focus on breastfeeding. (If you need to supplement, you can use a syringe, a supplementing system, a spoon, or other methods.) Continue avoiding artificial nipples until breastfeeding is going well.

Work with a lactation consultant if you have continued problems.

Pacifiers can spread infections.

Ear infections and other illnesses can spread easily from pacifier use.

Wash them regularly.

Keep them in the crib for babies over 6 months of age to avoid exposing it to germs from other kids.

Choking risks.

Pacifiers can crack and come apart as they age. Be sure to check it regularly to make sure it’s not damaged. You don’t want it to become a choking risk.

What about teeth?

After permanent teeth come in, sucking can cause problems with the proper alignment of the teeth. It can also cause changes in the shape of the mouth.

Both finger or thumb-sucking and pacifiers can affect the teeth in the same ways, but pacifier use is often an easier habit to break.

General recommendations about stopping the sucking habit

Be careful how you approach stopping a thumb-sucking habit or pacifier use. If you are too harsh or negative it will probably make the habit worse.

Use positive rewards.

Have your child come up with goal ideas and things to earn. Rewards don’t have to be expensive. It can be a trip to a special park or the ability to pick dinner or what book to read. You can also get stickers, trinket toys, an

Sticker charts are a great way to keep track of times that there was no sucking!

For thumb-sucking

Think about making it more difficult for your child to suck his thumb. Keep the hands busy with crafts, toys, etc.

For the older child, talk about germs and how important it is to keep the thumb out of the mouth unless she just washed her hands.

Consider sewing socks or mittens onto long sleeve pajama tops. This will keep the thumb out of reach. (Unless your Houdini takes the PJs off.)

Using a “bad” tasting polish or tabasco doesn’t really keep kids from not sucking their thumbs unless it’s only a reminder to stop. If they really want to suck, they don’t care about the taste. But if they do want to stop and need reminders throughout the day to keep it out of their mouth, the bad tasting nail polishes can help.

For pacifiers
Plan a countdown to not using the pacifier any longer.

Make getting rid of the pacifier a big deal, like any other special event. Find a fun name for the day, like “Big Kid Day” or “Give to baby day”.

Put the chosen date on the calendar and do a count down every day by crossing off dates. Or make a paper chain and tear off one chain daily until the big day.

Find a replacement for the pacifier, such as a new stuffed animal or blanket. The stuffed animal can even be from Build-A-Bear. Put the pacifier inside so the child knows it’s there when he hugs his bear. Whatever you choose, be sure it can be snuggled or used to replace the pacifier for comfort.

Fill a box with all the pacifiers on the big day and leave it out for the “binky fairy” to take to new babies. The fairy can leave the new comfort item. Or you can just have your child put all the binkies in the box and seal it shut with tape when he’s ready to earn the new comfort item.

The big thing is you need to get rid of all the pacifiers. If your child finds one hiding somewhere, he will sneak it and return to the habit quickly.

Books that might be helpful

Note: These are Amazon Affiliate links and I do get paid a small amount for the referral.

In this book for toddlers,Little Brown Bear finds some tricks to help him stop sucking his thumb. It can help put the idea into your child’s head.

This is not specific to thumb-sucking, but the Berenstain Bears always teach kids in a fun way. Sister bear has trouble biting her nails in this story.

Thumb Love is appropriate for the older child who wants to stop sucking his or her thumb. If your school aged child has been the object of teasing due to thumb-sucking, he or she will relate.



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Introducing Peanuts

For years I’ve been recommending peanut products to infants who are low risk for peanut allergy due to growing evidence that it’s beneficial.

Studies have highlighted the benefit of early introduction of peanut product decreasing peanut allergy risk, so more parents are wanting to know exactly how to give a baby peanut products without increasing the choking risk.

bamba, peanut
Bamba’s a popular snack in many areas of the world. Photo source: Wikimedia

The study above was done using a product similar to Cheetos, made with peanut butter instead of cheese. Bamba is a snack food that has been sold in Israel for many years is now available in the US.

Parents can of course give a product like this, but what else can you do on a regular basis once your baby’s doctor clears him for peanuts?

Be careful of choking risks!

It’s important that your baby doesn’t get too much peanut butter or a chunk of nut itself because these are choking risks, so a nice thick slab of peanut butter just won’t work.

peanut allergy, feeding infantsSome ideas for introducing peanut products:
  • Look for peanut butter that doesn’t have added sugar – babies don’t need the sugar! I like the peanut powders that are available now, but I don’t think you need to spend the extra cash on the ones made just for babies.
  • Most kids love Cheerios (or other brand oat circle cereal). They do make a peanut butter flavor, made with real peanut butter. Again, look at labels to avoid cereals with high sugar content.
  • Add peanut butter powder or peanut butter to oatmeal – check the texture to be sure it isn’t too thick for your baby, add water, breast milk, or formula to thin it as needed.
  • Add peanut butter  or peanut butter powder to applesauce (or other pureed fruits).
  • Add peanut butter or peanut butter powder to yogurt.
  • Make a peanut butter smoothie. There are many recipes online, but be sure yours doesn’t have honey if baby is under 12 months! If the recipe calls for milk, use your breast milk or formula for infants. Find one that is made with real foods, such as banana + milk + peanut butter. Babies don’t need chocolate or added sugars. If your baby doesn’t like it cold, use water instead of ice and don’t use frozen fruits.
  • Offer an occasional treat with peanut butter cookies. I like this recipe because it doesn’t have added sugar. You can leave out the raisins if your baby would choke on that texture.
  • Another occasional treat would be peanut butter muffins. Look for one without too much sugar and no honey. I couldn’t find one without any added sugar — if you do, please share below!
  • Put a thin layer of peanut butter on bread, cracker, or even your finger. You can add a little water to the peanut butter to thin it out if needed.
  • Chinese chicken with peanut sauce and other foods made with peanut butter sauces can be a treat for babies who can eat solid foods. The whole family can enjoy these meals!

Once you start peanut products, give the equivalent of 1 teaspoon peanut butter three times a week to help prevent peanut allergy!

Share your favorite recipes that can be adapted for babies and toddlers below.

related blog:

Peanut Allergy Prevention

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Flat Heads in Babies

Babies often get misshapen heads from laying on one side or even from being squished while still inside mom. The misshapen head is referred to as plagiocephaly, scaphocephaly, or brachycephaly — depending on the overall shape (see photo under “Diagnosis” below).

 

These head shapes, especially plagiocephaly, are very common. If I knew I’d one day have a blog, I would have taken pictures showing the head shape of my child who had positional plagiocephaly. My baby is now a teen with a normal head shape, so it’s too late for photos.

Positional plagiocephaly

Below is a picture of a baby with positional plagiocephaly. Note the flat left back of the head. In this picture you can’t see the ears, but we look to see if the ear and forehead are pushed forward to help assess the severity of the plagiocephaly.

flat head, plagiocephaly
Flat heads in babies are common from laying on one side too often.

Photosource: By Gzzz via Wikimedia Commons

Below I’ll summarize the guidelines for the diagnosis of as well as treatment options for plagiocephaly with repositioning, physical therapy and helmets from the Joint Section on Pediatric Neurosurgery of the American Association of Neurological Surgeons and the Congress of Neurological Surgeons.

Diagnosis:

Most of the time we can make the diagnosis in the office without any special tests or x-rays. If there is a concern that one of the sutures (growth plates between the bones of the skull) is closed, a skull x-ray or an ultrasound of the area in question can assess if the suture is open or closed. If the diagnosis is still in question after those studies, a CT of the head may be needed. The picture below shows how the skull shape changes if one or more of the sutures is closed (represented by a missing line).

plagiocephalyPhoto source:By Xxjamesxx, via Wikimedia Commons Wikimedia

Treatments:

Reposition

The first treatment used to treat plagiocephaly is repositioning. Repositioning helps with all infants with positional plagiocephaly to some extent.

Repositioning is just what it sounds like: change the position of your baby so the side down alternates when sleeping or laying.

Put fun items to look at on alternating sides when baby is laying on the back when awake.

When feeding, hold baby in alternate arms so when they turn to face you they are looking different directions each feed. (This happens naturally when breastfeeding.)

Use supervised tummy time several times each day and hold baby upright as much as possible to get baby off the back of his head when not sleeping.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a warning against the use of positioning pillows due to risk of suffocation.

Stretching and massage

A stiff neck often is associated with positional plagiocephaly because it limits head movement to one side. The stiff neck is called torticollis.

Torticollis makes it difficult for baby to turn his head to one side, but gentle stretching can help. I show parents how to hold one shoulder down while gently moving the head to stretch the neck – with each ear to the shoulder and then the chin to each shoulder.

It’s important to do a gentle but firm stretch, no jerking or forced movements.

Massaging the neck muscles first can help.

Think of what you do when you have a sore neck and want to stretch it. Working with a Physical Therapist has been shown to be more effective than repositioning alone and as effective as positioning devices (which are not recommended due to safety concerns).
Helmets

Babies with persistent moderate to severe plagiocephaly after repositioning and physical therapy may benefit from a helmet to mold the head to a round shape.

The helmet corrects more rapidly than positioning alone, so is also used if there is significant plagiocephaly in older infants.

I reserve this option for the more severe cases that don’t respond to repositioning and physical therapy since it is expensive and often not covered by insurance.

I don’t know if these recommendations will make it easier for insurance to pay for a helmet when indicated.


prevention is key!

We have significantly decreased the risk of SIDS by placing babies on their backs to sleep, but have seen a rise in flat heads due to their positioning. Prevention of the flatness involves several positioning strategies.

Supervised tummy time

Start supervised tummy time early on – the longer you wait to start, the more Baby might resist it. I see so many parents who are hesitant to put Baby on his or her stomach. Concerns range from the umbilical cord stump still being on and bothering the baby (it won’t) to spitting up will worsen (test it out, for many babies it’s actually better) to “I thought babies should never be on their stomachs” (only when sleeping or not supervised).

Tummy time is an important time for baby to develop muscle strength. It needs to be supervised, but it can be a fun time to interact with Baby. Lay face to face and talk to Baby, encouraging him or her to look up. Grab a brightly colored object and move it around for Baby to watch. Enjoy your play time.

tummy time, prevent flat heads
Supervise tummy time when Baby’s awake!
Back to sleep

It’s important for babies to sleep on their back, but they tend to have their head facing one direction or another. They should alternate which side they face, but many babies have a stiff neck and favor looking to one side. Think of when you wake with a stiff neck – probably from positioning overnight. Many babies are in the same position for quite awhile at the end of pregnancy – of course they’re stiff!

Massage & Stretch

If Baby’s neck is stiff, you can massage his or her neck and shoulder muscles gently. Slowly move the head right and left (chin to each shoulder) and side to side (ear to shoulder). Don’t quickly force the head movement, but think of what you do if you have a stiff and sore neck.

The more frequently you stretch it out, the better it feels, right? I recommend stretching Baby’s neck with each diaper change (before the change or after you wash your hands!) until it isn’t stiff for several days and Baby moves his or her head easily without your help.

For more:

See this American Academy of Pediatrics article on how to prevent flat heads in babies.



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Dry Skin

Dry skin is often called eczema or atopic dermatitis. Whatever you call it, it’s itchy and annoying! We see it year round for various reasons. Managing it can be tricky, but there are things to do to help.

Eczema’s Snowball effect

It’s really important to keep skin well hydrated or it tends to snowball. The dry skin is broken skin, which allows water to escape, which further dries it, which leads to more evaporation…. Broken skin is more likely to become secondarily infected, which leads to more problems….

Itching dry skin also contributes to its worsening by further damaging the skin and allowing more water to evaporate, so try to keep fingers from scratching! (I know this is easier said than done.)

Eczema is not simply dry skin. It can cause significant distress to infants and children. The itch from eczema can impair sleep. It can distract from learning at school. Children with eczema have higher rates of anxiety and depression.

Eczema’s a chronic condition

Eczema doesn’t simply go away with good treatment: it can come and go even with the best treatment. It can therefore be a serious problem for families.

Your goal with dry skin is to hydrate it as much as possible to repair the skin barrier. We don’t always think about skin as an organ (like the heart and liver), but it is. Its functions are to help keep us at a normal temperature, to keep stuff (such as bones, blood, and nerves) inside our bodies, and it helps to keep some things (such as germs) out of our bodies. When skin is excessively dry, there is inflammation and cracking. This keeps the skin from doing its job. We must try to get it back to normal so it can help keep the rest of our body healthy.

causes of eczema

Eczema can be from many factors.

  • There is a genetic component, so if a parent or sibling has eczema, it is common for other family members to have it.
  • It is often worsened by environment, both cold dry air and excessive heat.
  • Clothing can irritate some skin, depending on the fabric and the detergent left in the fibers.
  • Any scented lotions or soaps can also irritate skin. (Don’t be fooled that “baby” soaps and lotions are better for baby. I usually say to avoid any of the baby products because they’re often scented. They make them to sell them, not to be better for baby’s skin!)
  • Allergies can exacerbate eczema.
  • Saliva is very harsh on the skin. Drooling can cause problems around the mouth, chin, and chest. Thumb or finger suckers often have red, thick scaly areas on the preferred finger from the drying effects of saliva.

foods and eczema

Ankles, elbows, and knees are common sites for eczema in babies.

The latest AAP eczema guidelines downplay the need to alter foods to treat the skin. There are some kids who have true food allergies that manifest as atopic dermatitis (dry skin), but the large majority of kids do not. Restricting their diet can lead to nutritional deficiencies without any benefit. Talk to you doctor if you think a food might be exacerbating your child’s dry skin.

My tips for treating dry skin:

Avoid Soaps

Avoid exposures to soaps because they further damage skin. Non-soap cleansers that are fragrance free are much more mild on the skin.

Soaks

Soaking in bath water or in the shower can help hydrate the skin. After bathing the skin should be only briefly dried (remove large water droplets, but allow the skin to still be moist with water) and moisturizers (with or without steroids) must be applied immediately afterwards to prevent water from evaporating out of skin.

Moisturize

Creases of the elbows and knees are common areas affected by eczema.

Moisturizers should be hypoallergenic, fragrance free, and dye free.

A good place to review if a product is good is on the National Eczema Association website.

I really like the moisturizers with ceramide. This has been shown to help heal the skin barrier without steroids.

Use moisturizers at least twice per day, more often as needed on the really dry spots.

Petrolatum Jelly

After the moisturizer soaks into the skin, cover extremely dry spots with petrolatum jelly.

There are studies that show putting petrolatum jelly on infants at risk for eczema daily for the first 6 months of life will decrease their risk of developing eczema. This can save you money since petroleum jelly is pennies compared to the cost of good moisturizers.

steroids

Steroids can be used for flares. They are available in 7 different strength categories. The stronger the steroid, the less often it should be used.

Over the counter hydrocortisone is a very mild steroid and can be used twice a day with mild flares.

Stronger (prescription) steroids should be discussed with your doctor if the eczema is more severe, but they can be safe and effective when used appropriately.

Bleach

Yes, bleach. Like what you use in the laundry or in the swimming pool. The bleach is thought to kill superficial bacteria that contribute to the chronic condition.

Bleach baths have been shown to help in moderate to severe eczema. Add 2 ounces of bleach to the bath water and soak the body (not the face) for 20 minutes a few times a week.

Antihistamines

Oral antihistamines, such as zyrtec, allegra, or claritin (or any of their generics) can help control the itch.

I recommend the long acting antihistamines over the short acting ones, especially overnight, to avoid gaps in dosing leading to the itch/scratch cycle despite the fact that diphenhydramine (Benadryl) works a little better for a few hours. Avoid topical antihistamines due to variable absorption from disrupted skin.

Increase the humidity

Add water to the air during the dry months. If your air conditioner is running you shouldn’t need (or want) to add humidity. If your heat is on, you might have an attached humidifier, which is great. You can also buy a room humidifier or vaporizer to add water to the air. When there’s more water in the air, the skin will have less evaporation.

More water

Use wet water cloths on dry patches. This can help get a child through an itchy time with a cool compress. It also helps hydrate the skin.

Since it might remove the moisturizer, re-apply moisturizer when the wet cloth is removed.

Some kids benefit from wet wraps. This is time intensive, but very effective, so worth trying for more severe eczema patches.

Limit scratching

If your child just can’t stop itching, be sure nails are clipped to help avoid scratching.

Sleeping with socks or mittens helps the inadvertent scratching during sleep. Many kids remove these, so sewing an old pair of socks onto the arms of long sleeve PJs can help. (Don’t forget to put moisturizer on first!)

Remove saliva

If your child drools or sucks a finger, wipe the saliva off regularly and protect the skin with petrolatum jelly.

Oils

Putting oil, such as robathol bath oil, in the bath water can help hydrate the skin.

 

prescription medicines

At times prescription medicines are needed.
These can include steroids, immune modulators, and antibiotics.
If your doctor recommends them, don’t be afraid to use them. Many parents under utilize medical treatments out of fear of side effects.
Yes, there are risks to all medicines, but there are also risks to having eczema untreated.
Discuss fears with your doctor to come up with a good plan that you both agree with. Don’t just not use the prescriptions.

get control!

Get control of your child’s eczema. If you can’t seem to do it alone, schedule an appointment with your pediatrician to see what else can be done.

For more information, see the American Academy of Pediatrics clinical report on eczema management and the American Academy of Dermatology’s Guidelines.

Products that I recommend

I only recommend products that I would recommend regardless of where you purchase, but if you use these links I will get a small fee for the referral. They should all be available at local stores too. They are in no particular order.

 

Help! I’m sick and I have a baby at home.

When we have newborns we don’t want them exposed to germs. We avoid large crowds, especially during the sick season. We won’t let anyone who hasn’t washed their hands hold our precious baby. We might even wash our hands until they crack and bleed.

infection precautionsBut what happens when Mom or Dad gets sick? What about older siblings? How can we prevent Baby from getting sick if there are germs in the house?

In most circumstances it is not possible for the primary caretaker to be completely isolated from a baby, but there are things you can do to help prevent Baby from getting sick.

Wash

Wash hands frequently, especially after touching your face, blowing your nose, eating, using common items (phone, money, etc) and toileting.

Wash Baby’s hands after diaper changes too. Make this a habit even when you’re not sick… you never know when you’re shedding those first germs!

Wipe down surfaces

Viruses that cause the common cold, flu, and vomiting and diarrhea can live on surfaces longer than many expect.

Clean the surfaces of commonly touched things such as doorknobs; handles to drawers, cabinets, and the refrigerator; phones; and money frequently when there is illness in the area.

Avoid touching your face

Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth – these are the “doors” germs use to get in and out of your body.

Pay attention to how often you do this. Most people touch their face many times a day. This contributes to getting sick.

Kiss the top of the head

Resist kissing Baby on the face, hands, and feet.

I know they’re cute and you love to give kisses, but putting germs around their eyes, nose, and mouth allows the germs to get in. They put their hands and feet in their mouth, so those need to stay clean too.

Cover your cough

I often recommend that people cover coughs and sneezes with their elbow to avoid getting germs on their hands and reduce the risk of spreading those germs.

When you’re responsible for a baby, the baby’s head is often in your elbow, so I don’t recommend this trick for caretakers of babies. Cover the cough or sneeze with your hands and then wash them with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.

Vaccinate

If you’re vaccinated against influenza, whooping cough, and other vaccine preventable diseases, you’re less likely to bring those germs home. Encourage everyone around your baby to be vaccinated.

If you get your recommended Tdap and seasonal flu vaccine while pregnant, Baby benefits from passive immunity.

See Passive Immunity 101: Will Breast Milk Protect My Baby From Getting Sick? by Jody Segrave-Daly, RN, MS, IBCLC to better understand passive immunity.

Breastfeed

Breastfeed or give expressed breast milk if possible.

Mothers frequently fear that breastfeeding while sick isn’t good for Baby. The opposite is true – it’s very helpful to pass on fighter cells against the germs!

Again see Jody Segrave-Daly’s blog for wonderful explanation of how breast milk protects our babies.

Limit contact as much as possible

If possible, keep Baby in a separate area away from sick family members.

Wash hands after leaving the area of sick people.

If the primary caretaker is sick and there is no one available to help, wear a mask and wash hands after touching anything that might be contaminated.

Smoke-free

Insist on a smoke-free home and car.

Even if someone is smoking (or vaping) in another room or at another time, Baby can be exposed to the airborne particles that irritate airways and increase mucus production.

These toxic particles remain in a room or car long after smoking has stopped. If you must smoke or vape, go outdoors.

Change your shirt (or remove a coat) and wash your hands before holding Baby.

Final thoughts to avoid exposing Baby

It’s never easy being sick, and being a parent adds to the level of difficulty because you not only have to care for yourself, but someone else depends on you too.

As with everything, you must take care of yourself before you can help others.

Drink plenty of water and get rest!

Most of the time medicines don’t help us get better, since there aren’t great medicines for the common cold. Talk to your doctor to see if you might need anything.

Don’t be falsely reassured that you aren’t contagious if you’re on an antibiotic for a cough or cold. If you have a virus (which causes most cough and colds) the antibiotic does nothing.

You need to be vigilant against sharing the germs!

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7 Vitamin K Myths Busted

Social media has allowed the sharing of misinformation about many things, especially medically related things. When the specifics of something are unknown to a person, pretty much anything that’s said can sound reasonable, so people believe what they hear. This happens with many things, such as vaccine risks, chelation, and vitamin K.

I am especially frustrated when parents refuse to give their newborns vitamin K after birth. Since 1961, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended giving every newborn a single shot of vitamin K given at birth. This is a life saving treatment to prevent bleeding.

Life saving.

Vitamin K works to help our blood clot. Insufficient levels can lead to bleeding in the brain or other vital organs. Vitamin K deficiency bleeding or VKDB, can occur any time in the first 6 months of life. There are three types of VKDB, based on the age of the baby when the bleeding problems start: early, classical and late. Unfortunately there are usually no warning signs that a baby will have significant bleeding, so when the bleeding happens, it’s too late to do anything about it. Why parents don’t want to give this preventative life saving treatment is usually based on incorrect information.

This is a matter of a fairly low risk of bleeding if you don’t give vitamin K: 250-1700 per 100,000 within the first week, and 4-7 per 100,000 between 2 and 12 weeks. You might notice that the number is variable – it’s hard to study since the large majority of babies have gotten vitamin K over the years and the risk is low even without vitamin K. However, when there is bleeding it has significant consequences: lifelong disability or death. And we also know that there’s very low risk from the vitamin K and it works very well to prevent bleeding. So why take the chance of not giving it?

Conspiracy Theories, Misunderstandings, and Science

This is not a governmental conspiracy to somehow kill children. It’s a world wide attempt to help children survive and thrive. The World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines:

  • All newborns should be given 1 mg of vitamin K intramuscularly [IM] after birth [after the first hour during which the infant should be in skin-to-skin contact with the mother and breastfeeding should be initiated]. (Strong recommendation, moderate quality evidence)

Most people look at scientific information and can’t make heads or tails of what it means.

Photo Source: Hemorrhagic Disease of the Newborn

That coupled with the fact that things we read that make us react emotionally (such as fear that something will harm our child) makes us remember and associate with the information that created the emotion, whether it is right or wrong. This can lead parents to make dangerous decisions for their children while trying to do the right thing.

Myth Busting

I’m going to attempt to de-bunk the most common concerns I’ve heard because the best way to combat misinformation is to help explain the facts as we know them.

1. If every baby’s born with too little vitamin K, that’s the way we’re supposed to be.

Babies are born with very little vitamin K in their body. If they don’t get it with a shot, they need to either eat it or make it. Breast milk has very little vitamin K and babies won’t be eating leafy greens for quite awhile. Formula does have it, but it takes several days for vitamin K to rise to protective levels with formula and the highest risk of bleeding is during that first week of life. (Of course if you’re using this argument because you want babies to be all natural, you probably won’t be giving formula at this point.)

Bacteria help us make vitamin K, but babies aren’t colonized at birth with these gut bacteria.

Just because they’re born that way doesn’t mean they’re supposed to stay that way. Inside the mother the baby is in a very different situation. They don’t breathe air. They don’t eat. They don’t have gut bacteria. Their heart has a bypass tract to avoid pumping blood to the lungs. This all works well in utero, but must change once they leave the womb. Change takes time, and during this time they are at risk. Why not minimize the risk if we know a safe way to do it?

2. The package insert has a big warning at the top that it can kill.

There are many reasons why we should not use the package insert of a medicine or vaccine to make healthcare decisions. These have been discussed before so I won’t go into all the details but please see these great blogs on how to read and use package inserts:

It is true that there is a black box warning on the top of the vitamin K package insert. This has scared some parents from wanting to get the vitamin K shot for their newborn.

Screen Shot from Package Insert 

Reactions to IV (intravenous) vitamin K are much more common than IM (intramuscular) injections. The difference is anything given by IV goes directly into the bloodstream and back to the heart. But we don’t give vitamin K by IV to newborns.

IM injections go into the muscle, allowing very slow absorption of the medicine. This not only decreases reactions to the injected vitamin, but also helps the level of vitamin K stay elevated for a prolonged time after a single injection.

I only found one report of a newborn with a significant reaction to vitamin K. The authors of the paper did note that IM vitamin K has been given for many years to babies all over the world without significant reactions and could not explain why the one infant had such a significant reaction.

Since we must always look at risk vs benefit, the very, very low risk of a serious reaction from receiving vitamin K IM is preferable to the benefit of the prevention of VKDB.

Another great resource on this topic is Dr. Vincent Iannelli’s That Black Box Warning on Vitamin K Shots.

3. Vitamin K causes cancer.

Many years ago there was a small study that suggested vitamin K led to childhood cancers. This issue has been extensively studied since then and no link has been found.

Vitamin K does not cause cancer.

Rates of cancer have not increased in the years since vitamin K has been given to the large majority of newborns worldwide. This is reported in the Vitamin K Ad Hoc Task Force of the American Academy of Pediatrics report Controversies Concerning Vitamin K and the Newborn.

4. Bleeding from vitamin K deficiency is rare or mild.

In the US bleeding from vitamin K deficiency is rare because most babies get the vitamin K shot soon after birth. In countries where vitamin K is not used routinely, bleeding is not rare at all. Some communities of the US where vitamin K is being refused by parents are seeing an increase in newborn bleeding.

Early VKDB occurs within 24 hours of birth and is almost exclusively seen in infants of mothers taking drugs which inhibit vitamin K. These drugs include anticonvulsants, anti-tuberculosis drugs, some antibiotics (cephalosporins) and blood thinners to prevent clots. Early VKDB is typically severe bleeding in the brain or gut.

Classic VKDB typically occurs during the first week of life. The incidence of classic VKDB ranges from 0.25-1.7 cases per 100 births.

Late onset VKDB occurs between 2 and 12 weeks usually, but is possible up to 6 months after birth. Late VKDB has fallen from 4.4-7.2 cases per 100,000 births to 1.4-6.4 cases per 100,000 births in reports from Asia and Europe after routine prophylaxis was started.

One out of five babies with VKDB dies. Of the infants who have late VKDB, about half have bleeding into their brains, which can lead to permanent brain damage if they survive. Others bleed in their stomach or intestines, or other vital organs. Many need blood transfusions or surgeries to help correct the problems from the bleeding.

5. It’s just as good to use oral vitamin K.

Early onset VKDB is prevented well with the oral vitamin K in countries that have oral vitamin K available, but late onset VKDB is an issue. Children with liver or gall bladder problems will not absorb oral vitamin K well. These problems might be undiagnosed early in life, putting these kids at risk for VKDB if they are on an oral vitamin K regimen.

There is no liquid form of vitamin K that is proven to be effective for babies in the US. That is a huge issue. Some families will order vitamin K online, but it’s not guaranteed to be safe or even what it claims to be. This is an unregulated industry. It is possible to use the vitamin K solution that is typically given intramuscularly by mouth, but this requires a prescription and the taste is questionable, so baby might not take the full dose. It would be an off-label use so physicians might not feel comfortable writing a prescription. The other issue that might worry physicians is with compliance in remembering to give the oral vitamin K as directed, since most studies include babies with late onset bleeding who had missed doses.

Most of us get vitamin K from gut bacteria and eating leafy green vegetables. Newborns don’t have the gut bacteria established yet so they won’t make any vitamin K themselves. They may get vitamin K through their diet, but breastmilk is very low in vitamin K, so unless baby is getting formula, they will not get enough vitamin K without a supplement. It is possible for mothers who breastfeed to increase their vitamin K intake to increase the amount in breast milk, but not to sufficient levels to protect the baby without additional vitamin K.

Many countries that have used an oral vitamin K protocol, such as Denmark and Holland, have changed to an intramuscular regimen because the oral vitamin K that was previously used became no longer available.

There are various oral vitamin K dosing strategies that can be reviewed in the linked abstract. In short:

  •  Australia and Germany: 3 oral doses of 1 mg vitamin K are less effective than a single IM vitamin K dose. (In 1994 Australia changed to a single IM dose and their rate went to zero after the change.)
  • Netherlands: A 1mg oral dose after birth followed by a daily oral dose of 25 mcg vitamin K1 may be as effective as parenteral vitamin K prophylaxis.
  • Sweden: (a later study) 2 mg of mixed micellar VK given orally at birth, 4 days, and 1 month has a failure rate of one case of early and four cases of late VKDB out of 458,184 babies. Of the failures, 4 had an undiagnosed liver issue, one baby’s parents forgot the last dose.

When vitamin K is given IM, the chance of late VKDB is near zero. Oral vitamin K simply doesn’t prevent both early and late bleeding as well — especially if there is an unknown malabsorption disorder, regardless of which dosing regimen is used.

6. My baby’s birth was not traumatic, so he doesn’t need the vitamin K.

Birth trauma can certainly lead to bleeding, but the absence of trauma does not exclude it. Late vitamin K deficient bleeding (VKDB) cannot be explained by any birth traumas since they can occur months later.

7. We’re delaying cord clamping to help prevent anemia and bleeding. Isn’t that enough?

Delayed cord clamping can have benefits, but decreasing the risk of bleeding is not one of them. There is very little vitamin K in the placenta or newborn, so delaying the cord clamping cannot allow more vitamin K into the baby.

Still not convinced?

Read stories about babies whose parents chose to not give vitamin K:

For More Information:

Evidence on: The Vitamin K Shot in Newborns (Evidenced Based Birth)

Breast is best… Unless it’s not

We’ve all heard the well-intentioned slogan “Breast Is Best” in reference to supporting breastfeeding. Breastmilk is made just for our babies, so yes, it is a great source of nutrition. But it isn’t the only option and there are many reasons mothers give formula and even with exclusive breastfeeding there comes a time that infants need additional sources of nutrition.

I decided to write on this topic because I see so many mothers struggle to feed their baby and they feel like a failure if they don’t exclusively breastfeed. And then to top it off I saw a blog that encouraged exclusive breastfeeding without any foods or supplements until one year of age. I knew someone had to counter that thought before it becomes popular. It shouldn’t be a badge of honor to breastfeed to the point of potential harm to the infant, and some ultra-crunchy moms are bragging about it as if it is.

You’re not a failure if you feed your baby, regardless of what you feed your baby as long as it’s age appropriate. Your baby needs nutrition and hydration. While most babies under 6 months of age can get all their nutrition from breastmilk, some need a boost, especially at the beginning of life. If you’re not producing enough milk, you’ll need to give your baby some formula as well (or use a milk donor). Usually this is temporary – just until your own milk supply increases or until your baby starts enough solid foods that the supplement isn’t needed. I’m not suggesting that every newborn who struggles at the breast should be supplemented, but if your doctor says the baby’s blood sugar is low or the baby is losing too much weight, it’s not only okay, but it’s necessary to supplement.

Benefits of Breast Milk

Most of us have heard by now the many benefits of breastfeeding for the baby, including:

  • Immune system benefits. (Which means fewer infections, meaning not only helping babies stay healthy, but also leading to fewer lost work days for working parents and fewer sleepless nights for all parents.)
  • Decreased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
  • Decreased risk of asthma in a child who has breastfed.
  • Decreased risk of diabetes when the baby grows up.
  • Decreased risk of obesity as the baby grows up.
  • Decreased risk of certain cancers in the child, such as leukemia.
  • Improved cognitive development of the child.

Benefits for mothers include:

 

  • Less bleeding, both in the immediate postpartum period from contracting the uterus after birth, and fewer menstrual cycles during breastfeeding.
  • Decreased risk of getting pregnant while breastfeeding – though this is not 100% effective! If you’re not wanting to get pregnant don’t rely on breastfeeding alone.
  • Easier return to pre-pregnancy weight.
  • Decreased risk of ovarian and breast cancers.
  • Decreased risk of Type II diabetes.
  • Decreased risk of postpartum depression.
  • Decreased risk of heart disease.
  • Less missed work (see immune system benefits above).
  • Cost – breastmilk is free and formula is expensive. Breast pumps should be covered by insurance.

When Breast Milk Isn’t Enough, Isn’t Desired, or Isn’t Safe

 

Feeding your baby is most important, not what you feed your baby.

Despite the benefits, breastfeeding not always possible or desired. In the US, 8 out of 10 mothers start breastfeeding during the newborn period. Only half are still nursing at 6 months, and less than a third are still nursing at 12 months.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for approximately 6 months, followed by continued breastfeeding for 1 year or longer, as mutually desired by mother and child. Some AAP sources indicate starting foods at 4-6 months. The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) recommends introducing foods between 4 and 6 months to prevent certain allergies.


There are very few contraindications to breastfeeding:

  • Classic galactosemia. Classic galactosemia is a rare genetic condition in which a baby is unable to metabolize galactose. It is one of the conditions we screen on the newborn screen. Galactose is the sugar made from the lactose in milk. When galactose is not metabolized, it will reach high levels in the blood and become toxic, causing cataracts in the eyes, damage to the liver and kidneys, and brain damage. The galactosemic baby will fail to thrive on breast milk or formula based on cow’s milk. The treatment for this condition is to remove all sources of lactose from the baby’s diet and give soy formula.
  • HIV. Mothers who have HIV and are able to feed formula made with safe water should not breastfeed according to current guidelines. However, there is growing evidence that HIV positive mothers who take proper medications can safely breastfeed.
  • Untreated active tuberculosis.
  • Chemotherapy or radiation treatment.
  • Certain drugs. Most medications are compatible with breastfeeding. You can look on Lactmed to learn if a particular medicine is safe or what other options are recommended.

Some mothers do not want to breastfeed for various reasons.

That’s okay. It isn’t for everyone.

No one should say things that make these mothers feel guilty. They brought new life into the world. That alone is an amazing feat. As long as the baby is fed age-appropriate and formula that has been approved for use in infants, it is great.

Babies can thrive on formula. Just be careful of the many alternate formulas and milks that are advertised online. Discuss with your child’s pediatrician if you plan on making your own formula or giving another alternative milk. There are many concerns with these, as discussed in Please Don’t Feed Your Baby Homemade Formula!

Some mothers really want to exclusively breastfeed but they have problems.

Working with a lactation consultant and physicians (both mother’s and baby’s doctors) might help if there is a correctable condition, such as

  • insufficient breastfeeding attempts per 24 hours – not feeding frequently decreases supply
  • tongue tie treatment can improve latch and milk transfer from the breast into baby
  • jaundice, which makes baby sleepy and not feed as effectively
  • identifying and treating hormonal problems in mother
  • identifying and stopping medicines or herbs that might be inhibiting milk supply
  • stopping nipple shields as soon as possible – the use of nipple shields can decrease breast stimulation and lower supply
  • avoid unnecessary supplements – supplementing with formula can decrease supply overall because the mother’s breast makes milk based on how much is used (This does not mean you should avoid formula if it is medically necessary.)

Even when breastfeeding goes well for both Mother and Baby, it is not sufficient to be the sole source of nutrition for the entire first year of life.

There are some mom blogs that support exclusive breastfeeding for the first year of life, and that is not safe. I’m not linking any of them here because I don’t want to promote them, but if you don’t believe me just do a quick search and you will find some.

While breast milk is fantastic for young infants, it does not have the nutritional components to exclusively feed for the second half of the first year. Feeding with food from fingers or a spoon also encourages healthy development of fine motor skills.

It is important for older infants to learn to eat from a developmental standpoint. Once they can sit fairly well, turn away from food or open their mouth in response to food, they are showing signs that they are ready to start eating. They don’t need teeth to move foods around in their mouth and make chewing motions.

They are much less averse to new things typically when they’re younger, so if babies are delayed past a year they are much more likely to be picky eaters and not get the nutrition they need during childhood.

Then there’s the research that shows that delaying certain foods past a year increases the risk of allergy. If you’ve ever seen a child with anaphylaxis to peanuts, you won’t want to increase this risk for your child! See the AAP’s guidance on introduction of high-risk allergenic foods.

Babies need a source of iron after about 4-6 months of age. If they are not eating foods rich in iron (meats, legumes, egg yolk, leafy greens) they will need an iron supplement. Many of the bloggers who support exclusive breastfeeding do not want any supplements at all. Just breast milk. It simply isn’t enough to support the older infant’s growing brain and body.

Vitamin D is important for us all, but it is not passed through breast milk well unless a mother is taking at least 6400 IU/day. Historically we could make vitamin D with the help of the sun, but we now know that sun damages our skin so it is safer to protect against excessive sun exposure. This puts us at risk for vitamin D deficiency. The AAP recommends that newborns begin supplementing with 400 IU/day of vitamin D soon after birth, and increase to 600 IU/day at 6 months of age. The supplement should continue even if they transition to Vitamin D fortified cow’s milk at 1 year of age.

Any problems feeding should be discussed with your child’s doctor

If your baby struggles with feeding, whether it’s breastfeeding, formula feeding, or eating foods, please discuss it with your child’s doctor. There are many reasons feeding might not go well, and we need to insure that your baby is being adequately fed. We will look at your baby’s overall growth and development in addition to discussing the specific details of the problems.

Resources

Related Blogs on Quest for Health

Over and Under Supply of Breast Milk

Breastfeeding: Easier for Working Moms with New Insurance Rules

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