28 August 2010

Cats and Babies

Did you know that having a family pet helps to reduce the incidence of childhood pet allergies, builds a child's self-esteem, teaches empathy and compassion, not to mention provides undeniable companionship for your child?  With research supporting such positive attributes to having companion animals, it is surprising to me the number of people who refuse to allow their children to be around pets.  But, there is a lot of misinformation out there...

When I was pregnant with my daughter, you wouldn't believe the number of people who told me I would have to consider the possibility of getting rid of my cats, or at least making them outdoor pets.  My response?  "That's NOT going to happen."  I would always acknowledge that bringing a human baby into this world meant that my priorities would, in fact, change.  But, that didn't mean my furry babies would ever be left out in the cold --or in the heat, as the case may be in Central Mississippi.  I am a responsible pet owner and that means my pets will always have a forever home.

I've been an animal welfare advocate for quite a long time, so I've taken the time to educate myself about the myths and realities of pet ownership with respect to pregnancy and parenting.  I've decided to focus this blog entry primarily on households with one or more cats.

One of the greatest myths out there is that a pregnant woman risks her health and the health of her unborn child by having a cat for a pet --the culprit being Toxoplasma gondii.  To say this is a myth is not to say that toxoplasmosis does not occur or that members of the cat family are not the primary hosts of T. gondii.  But, the fact of the matter is that it is relatively easy to eliminate the chances of infection just by using a little common sense.  Cats become infected by ingesting rodents or birds who are infected with the parasite, so just by keeping your cat indoors you can dramatically decrease the risk of infection in your home.  And, since toxoplasmosis cysts are shed in the feces of infected animals, it is important to either wear gloves and/or thoroughly wash your hands after cleaning litter boxes, which should be done twice daily to prevent any cysts from becoming infectious.  If you have someone to help you --such as a spouse--  then it is best to let him take over litter box duties while you are pregnant.

Another perpetual myth is that cats will suck the breath out of a newborn baby as he or she sleeps.  The reality is that some cats and dogs like to cuddle, so it is best to keep the baby's sleep area off limits to pets until the child is older to avoid the risk of suffocation.  The same is true for stuffed animals.

Nearly one out of every five people are allergic to animals, so it is not surprising that another common myth is that having a child who is diagnosed with a pet allergy means the family pet should take a hike.  This is such a heartbreaking suggestion and it is almost always unnecessary.  Before taking such drastic measures, try a few of these more humane suggestions:
  • Make your child's room and/or play area a pet-free zone by keeping the doors to these areas closed.
  • Minimize the amount of carpet (which can trap allergens) in your home by installing other flooring alternatives such as hardwood and ceramic tiles.
  • Use a HEPA filter-equipped vacuum and dust frequently.
  • Steam clean any carpeted areas or fabric-covered furniture periodically. 
  • Use a HEPA filter-equipped air purifier in your home.
  • Teach your child to wash his or her hands after handling the pet.
  • Bathe and groom your pet regularly to eliminate excess allergens that can become trapped in the fur.
  • Note that medications and immunotherapy alternatives exist, as well.
Using one or more of the above suggestions virtually eliminates the possibility of having to rid your home of the family pet, which makes for a much happier family.

For more information, please visit the ASPCA website and other pet-friendly resources.

21 August 2010

Take as Directed

If you are like me, then you hate taking medicine or having to give medicine to your child.  But, sometimes this is unavoidable and we are fortunate to live in an age when such medications exist and various illnesses and discomforts can easily be treated.  However, with this scientific advancement comes new responsibilities.  I have worked for approximately 16 years in a pharmacy setting and cannot count the number of times people have called the pharmacy because of medication safety issues.  Most of these issues could have been avoided with just a little bit of forethought.  Because it is our responsibility as parents and caregivers to insure the safety of our children, I have composed the following list of recommendations for families to follow when taking/giving medications, whether over-the-counter or prescribed.

  • Medications are not for sharing.  NEVER give a medication to someone other than the person for whom it was prescribed; NEVER take a medication that was prescribed for someone else.
  • If you are prescribed an ANTIBIOTIC (ask your doctor or pharmacist if you are unsure whether your medication is an antibiotic, or not), finish the entire course of therapy to avoid reinfection.  This is usually all of the medication that is dispensed, but sometimes the directions will tell you to toss out any remainder after so many days.  Do this!  DO NOT HOARD ANTIBIOTICS!
  • If you are prescribed an analgesic (pain reliever) or are using one of the many over-the-counter pain relievers, then take/give the lowest dose necessary to achieve the desired pain relief.  The directions from the doctor (or on the package of an OTC product) will usually give a range of dosages and/or time intervals the medication should be taken (e.g., Take 1 to 2 dosage units every 4 to 6 hours as needed for pain).  If you are having to take/give the maximum dose (in this example, 2 dosage units every 4 hours) and are still in pain, then contact your physician.  DO NOT take/give more than the prescribed amount.
  • All medications can have SIDE EFFECTS, which are different from ALLERGIC REACTIONS.  Common side effects are drowsiness or hyperactivity, nausea and/or vomiting, diarrhea, and funny tastes in the mouth.  Signs of an allergic reaction to an oral medication generally include a rash or hives --with or without itching and/or swelling-- and in more severe cases, a difficulty in breathing.  Some allergic reactions are medical emergencies.  Called anaphylaxis, it is identified by a rapid onset of allergic symptoms and can lead to shock, or dangerously low blood pressure.  Without medical assistance, shock can cause unconsciousness, cardiac arrest, and even death.  ALWAYS discuss any previous side effects and allergic reactions to medications with your doctor and pharmacist before taking/giving any new medications.
  • Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all medications and supplements you are taking/giving before starting a new medication.  Using the same pharmacy for all of your prescription needs can help you to avoid harmful DRUG INTERACTIONS because your complete prescription history is available at the pharmacist's fingertips.  I recommend using a pharmacy that is open 24 hours so that it is always available to you when you need it most.
  • Do not take expired medication.  EXPIRATION DATES are on the package for a reason.  While it is true that some medications only decrease in their effectiveness over time, some medications actually breakdown into harmful substances.  This harm ranges from minor stomach upset to kidney damage.  Keep in mind that the expiration date on a medication refers to the date a medication is expected to still be good, provided it is kept at proper storage conditions.
  • PROPER STORAGE is crucial, as mentioned above.  Some medications require refrigeration; some require that they be kept at a controlled room temperature.  Ask your pharmacist if any of your medications have special storage instructions.
  • NEVER give a child a medication that was designed for an adult, even in smaller amounts, except under the advice and supervision of a physician.  Infants and children are not simply miniature adults.  Their digestive systems and the ability to metabolize substances are immature and their growth is obviously incomplete.  Some medications are only safe for adults to take because their bodies are capable of eliminating any toxic byproducts of metabolism or because their growth is complete and therefore will not be adversely affected.
  • Infant formulations are MORE CONCENTRATED than children formulations of similar medications.  For example, infants' acetaminophen (also known as Tylenol®) drops contain 100 mg/mL acetaminophen, but children's acetaminophen liquid, contains only 32 mg/mL acetaminophen.
  • When administering medication to an infant or child, allow only one adult caregiver to be responsible for giving each dose of a given medication for the duration of therapy.  This helps to avoid the possibility of a child receiving a double dose.  This obviously isn't a steadfast rule, but it is good advice because accidents like these happen more often than one would think.
  • Use only a device designed specifically for measuring and administering medication when giving liquid medications.  If a product comes with an enclosed dropper, then use only the enclosed dropper when giving the medication.  The volume contained in household spoons varies widely, but medication directions are very specific.  Use an appropriate measuring device to avoid improper dosing.
  • If you think you may have taken/given too much of a medication, or if you suspect your child has ingested something he or she wasn't supposed to, then contact the Poison Control Center without delay.  The nationwide hotline for poison emergencies is 1-800-222-1222.
  • If you have questions about whether a medication is safe to take while pregnant or nursing, then contact the InfantRisk Center at (806) 352-2519.  Personnel are available to answer calls Monday through Friday, 8am-5pm Central Time.
  • If you have questions or concerns about a medication, then please ASK QUESTIONS before taking/giving the medication.

14 August 2010

Cloth Diaper Review

During my pregnancy, I told several people that I would be surprised if my baby came out weighing more than seven pounds.  So, from the get-go I decided to start my cloth diaper stash with a good number of Kissaluvs Cotton Fleece Fitted Diapers v2.0 in size 0/newborn, and a handful of bumGenius! 3.0 Deluxe All-In-One Diapers in the extra-small size.

One of the selling features of the Kissaluvs included a snap-down front setting to help protect a newborn's umbilical cord stump, not to mention their design was small enough for even a five pound baby.  Kissaluvs were the smallest modern cloth diaper I could find.  It's important to note that these Kissaluvs require the use of a waterproof cover.

On the other hand, the bumGenius! AIOs do not require a waterproof cover.  As such, they are a really good choice for someone who is new to cloth diapering because they are most similar in use to disposables.  They feature hook-and-loop closures (commonly known as Velcro®) and a super-absorbent microfiber terry internal soaker with a suedecloth lining.  They are designed to fit a baby as small as six pounds.

My daughter weighed six pounds and nine ounces when she was born, so I was able to try out both types of diapers right away.  I quickly learned to appreciate the convenience of an AIO diaper, as opposed to one that required a diaper cover.  And, the bG! diapers quickly became my preferred overnight diaper, too --not because they were more absorbent; I think the absorbency is probably about equal.  It was because the suedecloth lining of the diapers seemed to keep the moisture away from my baby's delicate bottom --something really important for a restful night's sleep.  I didn't, however, like the hook-and-loop closures of the bG! diaper because the sound made when being unfastened tends to startle a newborn baby.  The Kissaluvs diapers features snaps that aren't so noisy.

My daughter weighed seven pounds and eight ounces at her fortnight visit with the pediatrician.  That was over a month ago.  We haven't had a weight-check since then, but her next appointment is within the next week.  I'd be willing to bet she is well over eight pounds by now because she has outgrown her newborn-sized clothing.  Momma's Milk does a body good!  Now that my baby girl is getting bigger and ready to graduate from the newborn-sized diapers, it is time to put to good use what I have learned about modern cloth diapers, my preferences, and what my daughter needs in a diaper. 

What do I need to keep in mind when making my next cloth diaper purchase?
  • I prefer to not have to use a separate cloth diaper cover.
  • I prefer snaps over hook-and-loop closures.
  • I prefer a moisture-wicking inner layer next to my daughter's bottom.
  • My daughter tends to be a heavy wetter.
  • My daughter will soon be starting daycare.
  • Cloth diapers are an investment, and not a purchase to be taken lightly.
  • My daycare provider is willing to give cloth diapers a trial run.
My husband and I long ago decided that our next step would be to a one-size diaper because that makes the most financial sense in our family.  OS diapers typically boast being able to fit a child from newborn to potty learning, or approximately 8 to 35 pounds.  Because my daughter is a heavy wetter, I became interested in pocket diapers.  Pocket diapers boast having a tailored absorbency through the use of various types of removable inserts.  Other than having a removable insert, pocket diapers are very similar in design to AIOs.  Pre-stuffed pocket diapers and all-in-one diapers are generally more satisfactory to those who are reluctant to try modern cloth diapers, such as daycare providers.

So far, I have test driven the bumGenius! 4.0 OS Pocket Diaper (with snap closures) and the FuzziBunz® OS Pocket Diaper.  The bG! 4.0 OS Pocket Diaper with Snaps, unfortunately, does not live up to its claim of being suitable for a newborn.  It does not size down enough to properly fit my daughter, resulting in inevitable leakage.  It is also extremely bulky.  It is available in eight different colors, and these colors are all pastel.  Given how much I have been pleased with the bG! 3.0 Deluxe AIO, I don't doubt that the bG! 4.0 OS Pocket Diaper is a good diaper.  It just doesn't fit my daughter, yet, so it is not what I would expect from a one-size diaper.  The FuzziBunz® OS Pocket Diaper, however, easily sizes down to fit my daughter.  Although it is not as trim as a fitted diaper, the extra little bit of "poufyness" is kinda cute and hardly what I would consider to be bulky.  It is currently available in fourteen different colors to suit almost any wardrobe or even coordinate with your favorite athletic team.  The only color I feel is missing from the collection is a true green.  I still would like to try the Katydid OS Pocket Diaper before making my final decision, but for now the FuzziBunz® are definitely in the lead.

07 August 2010

National Immunization Awareness Month

August is National Immunization Awareness Month.

In my circle of moms, however, there are several who oppose the routine vaccination schedule given to children.  But, given my experience in the medical and scientific fields, I support the use of vaccines and hold true that vaccines save lives.

Vaccines work by introducing an innocuous amount of an attenuated antigen into the tissue of an individual.  This stimulates the person's own immune system to make antibodies against a given pathogen.  Then, if a person is exposed to the pathogen (and sometimes even related pathogens) in the future, the body's cells will essentially "remember" what to do to be able to successfully fight off the infection.  This remembrance is what we call immunity.  Basically, a vaccine helps to eliminate the element of surprise in the arsenal of disease.  If your body knows what to expect, then it is better prepared to fight back.

Below are conclusions in a couple of the areas of concern among mothers.  I have included the relevant links to articles from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for your reference.

*Studies have concluded that vaccines are not a risk factor for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

*Research does not indicate a link between thimerosal, a preservative used in some vaccines, and autism.  Since 2001 however, with the exception of some influenza (flu) vaccines, the use of thimerosal has been discontinued as a preservative in the routinely recommended childhood vaccines. It is important to note that autism rates have risen during this same time period, which is the opposite of what would be expected if thimerosal had caused autism.

Below are the current immunization schedules as set forth by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and likely required by your State Department of Health for school and daycare:

2010 Childhood Immunization Schedule (Age 0-6 years)