Parenting: 10 common myths in paediatrics demystified
In my practice, I have frequently encountered various misconceptions and myths that confuse and trouble most parents. Many of these have been propagated by word of mouth, and are widely believed to be true, and I usually have a tough time contradicting these age old beliefs. Below are ten of the most common myths. (Dr. Naveen Kini)
1. Feeding a child ice-cream, or cold drinks, will lead to `throat infection’
This is the most widely believed and followed restriction on children. While not condoning feeding of excessive ice-cream to children, I don’t see any reason why a child cannot have these treats once in a while. The logic behind this recommendation is that whatever the temperature of the food or drink that you consume, be it hot coffee or cold ice-cream, within a few seconds, the temperature of the consumed food item is brought down to normal body temperature i.e., 37 degrees C. In such a short time, it is very difficult for the food item to cause or worsen a condition. Many a time, it is purely coincidence that the child has caught a cold just after having eaten an ice-cream. In fact, the viruses that cause colds and fevers are inhaled, not eaten.
2. A child needs to be given a Tetanus shot each time he/she sustains an injury
This is completely untrue. The ‘T’ in the vaccines DPT, DTaP, Tdap, etc. which are given during infancy, at 1 ½ years and at 5, 10 and 16 years, stands for Tetanus vaccine. Any child, who has received all the doses of the above vaccines appropriate for his/her age, will not need any further doses of Tetanus vaccine even if he/she sustains an injury. After the age of 16, one dose of Tetanus vaccine is necessary only once in every 10 years.
3. Overweight children can easily lose weight later, so let them indulge
On the contrary, the best time to control a child’s eating and play habits is early infancy, and as the child grows, it becomes increasingly difficult to make them lose weight. Most cases of obesity, a major problem of modern India, start from infancy and early childhood itself; mainly due to overfeeding of the child, sometimes forcefully. While agreeing that chubby children look cute and cuddly, there is always a danger that the situation may get out of hand. As the child grows, he/she will be exposed to an increasing variety of high-calorie junk food like pizzas, burgers, chips, ice-creams, etc, just to name a few. This will be compounded by the fact that children nowadays spend a lot of time indoors doing homework, watching TV, playing computer games and so on, and have very little physical exercise to burn the calories that they consume. Limiting a child’s exposure to the above electronic media and ensuring adequate hours of play daily, and at the same time, limiting their intake of junk food will go a long way in controlling and stabilizing a child’s weight.
4. Brushing of teeth is not as important in children, as in adults
This is a totally mistaken belief. Almost half the children I see have teeth in various stages of decay. Tooth decay can be easily prevented by the simple habit of brushing the child’s teeth, and this practice should start as soon as the teeth appear. An infant’s teeth can be brushed gently with a soft brush, and toothpaste (initially non-fluoridated) should be slowly introduced once the child gets used to the idea. A child should brush his/her teeth at least twice a day – early in the morning and before going to bed; and especially after consuming cold drinks and sticky sweets or chocolates.
5. Swimming, hanging from parallel bars, stretching, etc. can increase a child’s height
Unfortunately, this is completely untrue. The height and body structure of a child is largely dependent on the genes he/she inherits from the parents. This cannot be altered by external factors. Only in rare conditions like `growth hormone deficiency’ can the height of a child be made to increase by injecting human growth hormone. Please note that this works only in children who are deficient in growth hormone, and injecting the hormone in a normal but short child would make no difference.
6. Being left-handed is bad for the child, and should be changed as early as possible
Handedness, whether left or right, is inborn. The child starts showing hand preference for routine activities like reaching, eating etc, as early as 1 to 2 years of age. At no time should parents attempt to change the hand preference of the child, as you are going against the natural connections and wiring of the child’s brain. Parents obsessed with the ‘right side’ can take comfort from the fact that the left handed child is actually using the right side of the brain more. Many famous successful personalities like Sachin Tendulkar, Amitabh Bachchan etc. are left handed.
7. Routine examination and care of the penis is not important in a child
This is far from true. The penis and genitalia of the male child should observed early in life for conditions like phimosis, or tight foreskin (which often leads to inability to push back the foreskin, or ballooning of the foreskin while passing urine), hypospadias (where the urinary opening is on the underside of the penis, leading to a bent penis and child constantly wetting his dress while urinating), and undescended testes (where the testes cannot be felt in the scrotum). Any abnormality seen should be brought to the notice of the doctor.
8. A child is not eating because he is ‘addicted’ to breastfeeding, and hence breastfeeding should be stopped
Nothing can be farther from the truth. Breast milk is the most appropriate and complete food for the child, and the latest recommendations suggest that the child should be exclusively breast fed till it completes 6 months of age, and breast feeding should be continued till the age of 2 years, if possible. Breast feeds will in no way affect the appetite of the child, and if anything, help the child in digesting eaten food. In most cases the child is not eating because he/she has not been given sufficient time between two meals to feel hungry again.
9. Fruits esp. banana, milk, tender coconut water and ‘head-bath’ should be avoided in a child with cough
This is yet another controversial, and much debated issue. There is no scientific evidence to support any of these statements, and I do not recommend such restrictions. Most people of the state of Kerala, where people have ‘head-bath’ with cold water daily, should have been constantly suffering from cold and cough, if it was true.
10. Worm medications, or de-worming, should be done early and often
Worm infestations start occurring when a child when he/she starts eating outside food, especially roadside food like chaats, cut fruits etc. De-worming needs to be done once at 2 years of age, and then every 1 to 1 ½ years thereafter.
I would like to include a small disclaimer at the end. I have reached the above conclusions on the basis of my own experiences, and review of literature. Many of my fellow doctors have different views about the same topics, and I respect their opinions too.