When my first son was six months old, he was diagnosed with multiple serious food allergies. You’d think I would have been devastated by the news, knowing that we were suddenly looking at (potentially) a lifetime of food alternatives and allergy response plans and Epi-pens.
But mostly, I remember feeling one thing: relief.
Relief to finally have answers. To know that I wasn’t crazy—that something really had been wrong. The symptoms our pediatrician had waved away for months were finally making sense.
The road to that day had been a long one, full of frustration and doubt, and it taught me a lot of lessons about what it means to be responsible for someone else’s health.
I’m sharing a few of those lessons today not because I think I know everything about children’s healthcare now, but because I’ve realized how much I don’t know—and maybe even more notably, how much no one knows.
1. Even first-time moms have trustworthy intuition
We moms are always told to trust our instincts when it comes to our kids. But when my first son was a baby, I secretly worried that that advice didn’t apply to me. I’d never done this before—what did I know?? I didn’t have a clue what “normal” was!
It helped that my friends had babies too, so we could compare notes, but then we ran into the “every baby is different” disclaimer, and it got tricky separating Normal Different from Concerning Different.
Ultimately, I found myself doubting everything that came from my own head and latching onto every opinion or suggestion I heard from others. BIG mistake.
Intuition is a real thing and first-time moms have it, too. In the case of my son’s food allergies, I knew something was wrong, despite all kinds of reassurances from our pediatrician that “all babies spit up.” I only wish I would have trusted myself.
2. It helps to take notes
I wish pediatricians could assess my kids’ health just by examining them, without me saying a word. I mean, I’m lucky if I remember what day of the week it is—but to have to rattle off details about the number of times my kid ate or pooped or spit up, plus how much and at what approximate times? Please, no.
But the truth is that your story of what’s going on with your child is one of the most important pieces of the “what’s wrong here?” puzzle. Things like behaviors and patterns are extremely important, especially in baby healthcare (because, of course, they can’t just tell you what’s up), and you might be the only one who recognizes when something is out of the ordinary for your kiddo.
So if you have a crappy memory like me, you’re going to need a little more than just your brain to answer some of the super-specific questions your pediatrician will come up with. If you notice something strange, jot it down with a day and time. Then watch for any related symptoms, and jot those down too.
Besides just making it easier to answer questions, it’s much, much easier to make a point when you have actual data to back it up. So when I told our pediatrician “he spits up a lot,” it was pretty meaningless, but if I would have documented exactly how many times a day and how much he was spitting up, I have a feeling we could have gotten to the bottom of the allergy situation much sooner.
3. Doctors are humans
As a society, we have a bit of a God Complex going on with our doctors, but they’re not, in fact, all-knowing. (This is still hard for me to swallow.)
The human body is extremely complicated, and we have to appreciate that. Plus, doctors are like anyone else: they get busy, tired, stressed, distracted, overwhelmed. Thinking “well, she’s the doctor—I’m sure she’s got it covered!” and taking a back seat to the whole healthcare process isn’t good enough.
What this means is that it’s our responsibility to actually help our doctors come to the right conclusions, by paying close attention to our kids and providing good information about what’s happening at home. We’re also responsible for doing our homework and getting second opinions.
4. It’s OK to switch docs
There was an allergist we saw in the beginning of the whole allergy ordeal who, upon seeing my son’s list of diagnosed allergies, recommended that I quit breastfeeding and switch to this super hypoallergenic (super expensive) formula. When I said I wanted to keep breastfeeding, he seemed irritated, like I was just another crazy lady on a “breastfeed ALL the babies!” crusade. I was flustered and confused, and could only assume that he was convinced I couldn’t pull it off.
Now, I’m sure that allergist was well-intentioned. But my point is that if you don’t feel supported by your doctor, you can (and maybe should) look for a new one.
5. Moms have to be pushy
I hate being pushy. Hate, hate, hate it. I can tell when I’m annoying people and they’d like me to just shut up and go away. And in most cases, whatever we’re talking about is not important enough for me to keep pushing.
But when it comes to your kids, you just have to suck it up and be annoying.
When I told our pediatrician that my son was having diarrhea up to 6 times a day, she laughed and said, “guess he’s not constipated!” Then, when I said that I was getting concerned about it, she assured me that breastfed babies often had what “looked like” diarrhea. I felt about two inches tall.
If you’re not comfortable with where the conversation ends, you probably haven’t pushed hard enough.
6. If you don’t know why, ask
Along with my son’s allergies came asthma-like symptoms, which would attack anytime he got sick. The pediatrician recommended what seemed like an extremely aggressive treatment plan, including inhaler treatments every 4 hours (even through the night) at the first sign of a cold, to prevent wheezing. I agreed, but then struggled to actually follow this plan in real life (if you’ve ever tried to give a toddler an inhaler treatment, you’ll understand why).
It wasn’t until another pediatrician gave us an explanation for why this aggressive treatment was necessary that I was able to get fully on board. She acknowledged that it seemed excessive, and that there had been a day when they’d been more relaxed about letting kids wheeze a little bit, but recent studies had shown long-term injury to the lungs as a result of unmanaged childhood wheezing.
Um, that’s not good. I changed my tune about the inhaler business quickly after that.
If you find yourself feeling uninspired to follow your doctor’s suggestions, it helps to ask why. Maybe there’s a really good reason to, say, run the full course of a medicinal treatment even after symptoms clear up. Maybe your doctor didn’t think to mention these details, or thought you wouldn’t care to hear them. Or maybe she breezed over them, making them sound less important than they really were.
Whatever the situation, I’ve found that it always helps to ask why.
Here’s to your kiddos’ health!
P.S. There are SO many families who have endured MUCH longer, more complex medical journeys with their kiddos than I have, and I completely recognize that.
If that’s you, and you have something to add to this list, feel free to share in the comments below!