Top Health Tips for Families
Local experts address everything from infant care to healthy diets
We’re inundated with health information that too often can be confusing, unreliable and even downright contradictory. TulsaKids went to the local health experts to ask them to provide basic tips and advice for healthy families. Sometimes it’s not the complicated trend of the moment, but the science-based, straight-forward advice from professionals that can help us get healthy and stay that way.
Top Infant Health Concerns
Parenting an infant is never easy, especially when it comes to keeping them healthy! Dr. Courtney Sauls from Ascension Medical Group St. John Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine has seen it all when it comes to infants, and she can help you understand whether or not it’s time to call the doctor. Here are the five most common concerns she sees from parents and the best way to handle them.
- Pooping. Commonly talked about in the pediatric world, pooping is often a concern of new parents and toddlers. A good rule of thumb is that it’s not the timing that so much matters as long as each poop is soft. Infants can have a hard time figuring out how to poop in the early days, and they may look uncomfortable or even cry and strain, but if it’s soft then no need to worry. Concerning issues you should always bring to your pediatrician’s attention are black, red or white poops or if they are hard like pebbles.
- Congestion. The bane of every parent’s existence in the winter months. There are not any approved medicines for infants under 2 months for cough and congestion. The best you can do is frequent nasal suctioning with nasal saline and a nasal aspirator such as a blue bulb or Nose Frida. Above 2 months there are all natural cold syrups like Zarbees, or infant chest rubs without menthol. I also recommend honey if they are older than 1 year. A cool mist humidifier will also help. The biggest things to look out for are too fast or troubled breathing, prolonged fever or dehydration.
- Reflux. Spitting up is a common issue among infants. Some babies spit up more than others. It becomes problematic when infants are not gaining weight well or having so much pain with spitting up that they refuse to eat. Projectile spit ups after every feeding are concerning and you should see your doctor. Otherwise, if your child is growing well and healthy, spit ups are most likely more of a laundry problem than a problem that needs medicine. Children typically start spitting up less when they start eating more solids around age 6 months and most grow out of it entirely by age 12 months. If your child ever vomits blood or dark green bile, see a doctor immediately.
- Crying. Crying is a way for new babies to communicate and often the only way they know how. Periods of inconsolable crying can start to increase around 4-6 weeks of age and is called The Period of Purple Crying. This is a social developmental stage and often confused with colic. Make sure your baby is comfortable, has had a diaper change, is fed and swaddled. Gently rock, sing and take shifts with another caregiver. Never shake your baby.
- Fever. In infants younger than 1 month of age, fever is very serious. The best way to take a temperature in an infant is rectally. If the reading is 100.4 or above and your infant is less than 30 days old, see a doctor immediately. Fevers in infants can be from something as simple as a cold to something as serious as meningitis or sepsis. If you ever have concerns about fever in your child, a quick call to your doctor’s office is always welcomed.
Tips for a Healthy Pregnancy
Expecting a baby is an exciting time but, let’s be honest, it can also be a worrisome time. If you’re pregnant or thinking of getting pregnant, here are some basic tips from Dr. Taniesha Buffin, an OBGYN with Utica Park Clinic, to keep you healthy during your pregnancy.
- Dr. Buffin suggests that if you’re thinking of getting pregnant, it’s a good idea to make a preconception visit with your physician. That way, you can get all these great tips and more as well as identify and discuss any risk factors before you and your partner get pregnant. And, once you’re pregnant, the earlier you start getting prenatal care, the better.
- Prenatal vitamins are an important way to ensure that you are getting the appropriate amount of folic acid. Folic acid decreases the risk of birth defects to your baby’s spinal cord and brain. Dr. Buffin suggests that women of child-bearing age take a prenatal vitamin because it’s important to have the folic acid before pregnancy and during early pregnancy.
- Stay Active. Dr. Buffin encourages women who have been active before pregnancy to remain active. If you’re not active, don’t do something intense, but mild to moderate exercise will help you maintain your energy level and keep your blood sugar stable. Talk to your healthcare professional about exercise during pregnancy.
- Maintain a Healthy Diet. Talk to your provider about eating. Avoid soft cheeses and unpasteurized food and drink. If you eat lunchmeat, remember to heat it before you eat it. A couple of servings of fish a week is part of a healthy diet, but doctors recommend limiting fish with high mercury content such as salmon or tuna. Making sure you’re eating regularly, like every couple of hours, will help with nausea and keep your blood sugar level.
- Weight. The recommendation on weight gain is 25 to 35 pounds if you are normal weight, and 15 to 25 pounds if you are overweight.
- Finally Dr. Buffin recommends getting a flu shot.
Common Childhood Emergencies and What to Do
An emergency can cause confusion and panic in even the calmest parent. Understanding what is (or might be) an emergency before you face it can help you know what to do. Dr. Mark Blubaugh, medical director with Tulsa ER & Hospital shared some of the top reasons that parents seek emergency care for their children. Always call your healthcare professional if you are concerned about your child’s health, but here are some common emergency occurrences from Dr. Blubaugh.
- Fever. A fever in a child is anything 100.4 or higher. The degree of fever does not necessarily correlate with severity of illness. Tylenol and Motrin are the usual treatments. Do not bundle your children. Do not use alcohol baths. Most fevers are caused by viruses; however, if accompanied by other symptoms should be seen emergently – such as headache or neck stiffness, altered mental status, severe abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, shortness of breath. The best way for virus prevention is frequent hand washing. This is so important and parents should model this for their children.
- Shortness of breath. This can just mean a faster respiratory rate than usual or labored breathing. Signs include retractions where the space between or below their ribs suck in when children are breathing. This could also mean difficulty getting air in. This always needs to be evaluated emergently. It could be caused by an infection, obstruction, or even metabolic process.
- Trauma. (potential break/fracture/head injury) – An obvious deformity of an extremity or refusal to use an extremity or walk needs to be seen right away. As for head injury, if it is accompanied by vomiting, a seizure, loss of consciousness, or altered mental status a trip to the emergency room is a must. To prevent trauma, wear safety gear when playing sports and a helmet as well when riding a bike.
- Abdominal pain. Most abdominal pain is functional in children; however, if accompanied by fever or intractable vomiting, or bloody diarrhea, the child needs to be seen emergently. Pain in the right lower quadrant could be appendicitis. However, appendicitis in children does not always follow this rule.
- Ingestions. (in small children) – Any ingestions in small children need to be seen immediately. If a child has ingested a medication, the medication should be identified and brought to the emergency department if possible. Ways to prevent the ingestion of objects or medications include childproofing, keeping potentially dangerous items far out of reach, and locking up medications.
Kids in the Kitchen
The best way to teach kids about eating right is to get them into the kitchen to prepare healthy meals together. Cooking is a valuable life skill that teaches children about nutrition and food safety, as well as building math, science, literacy and fine motor skills.
Encourage your child’s interest and excitement in healthy foods by teaching them how to cook safely with this guide of age-appropriate kitchen activities. Here are some age-appropriate cooking activities to try with your child.
The medical experts at the OU/TU School of Community Medicine Culinary Medicine offer these tips:
Younger than 3 years old
- Washing vegetables – this is a great way of teaching them the names of vegetables and sparking an interest which will hopefully encourage them to try different foods
- Stirring ingredients – they should be at room temperature
- Mashing with a fork or potato masher – again watch out for temperature
- Sprinkling – flour, cake decorations and icing sugar, put a tray underneath to avoid too much mess
- Spooning ingredients into scales – you’ll need to help!
Another way to keep young children occupied is to give them plastic containers and utensils to wash in the sink – this can provide lengthy entertainment while you cook.
Young children love helping out, but need very close adult supervision since their motor skills are still developing. Teach these youngsters the importance of washing produce and using clean appliances and utensils.
- Weighing – pouring or spooning ingredients into scales. Using measuring spoons
- Washing fruit and vegetables
- Cutting soft ingredients e.g. mushrooms, strawberries using a strong plastic knife
- Breading and flouring – you can set up three stations with flour, beaten egg and breadcrumbs
- Mixing – using either a spoon or hands to mix together ingredients
- Tearing and squashing – tearing herbs and lettuce or squashing fruit
- Using a pestle and mortar – a light wooden one is better than a heavy one
- Kneading – light kneading can be fun, but you’ll need to step in to complete the task
- Rolling, shaping and cutting dough – choose plastic cutters and a small rolling pin
- Spreading – buttering bread and spreading icing
- Podding, picking and hulling – podding broad beans, picking leaves, tomatoes or grapes off the vine and hulling strawberries
Most 5-7-year-olds have developed fine motor skills, so they can handle more detailed work, but they will still need food safety reminders.
- Cutting using a small knife – children should learn how to form their hand into a claw to keep fingertips out of danger, take a look at our knife skills video
- Cutting with scissors – if you can get smaller scissors or children’s scissors, use them to snip herbs
- Grating – fingers can easily be grated so keep watch and make sure they don’t get too close to the end of whatever they’re grating
- Measuring – even the very youngest children can do this but as children learn to read and do basic math, this is a great opportunity for them to do this with less supervision
- Beating and folding – show children how to beat cake mixture with a wooden spoon or fold in egg whites without knocking out too much air
- Greasing and lining a cake tin or tray
- Peel oranges or hard-boiled eggs – make sure eggs aren’t too hot, run them under the cold tap first and be careful of residual heat
- Scoop out avocados after sliced in half by an adult.
- Deseed tomatoes and cooled, roasted peppers with a spoon
- Snap green beans
- Shuck corn and rinse before cooking
- Setting the table – encourage them to cherish the ritual of family meals
- Load the dishwasher
- Planning the family meal
- Rinse and cut parsley or green onions with clean, blunt kitchen scissors.
- Following a simple recipe
- Finding ingredients in the cupboards and fridge
- Using a peeler
- Whisking, using a balloon whisk or handheld mixer
- Using heat on a hob, oven and microwave
- Making salads
- Opening cans
Food Safety Basics
Before you enter the kitchen, remember to cover the ground rules with children first:
- Wash hands in warm, soapy water before and after handling food.
- Pull back long hair, off the shoulders.
- Keep counter tops and working surfaces clean.
- Teach children to wait until food is cooked before tasting. Don’t let them lick their fingers or put their hands in their mouths, especially when working with raw foods such as cookie dough and raw meat or poultry.
- Avoid double dipping or putting spoons back into food after using them for tasting.
Remember, young cooks need supervision.
Follow the four simple steps:
- Wash hands, surfaces and kitchen utensils.
- Keep raw meat, poultry and seafood separate from cooked and other ready-to-eat foods.
- Cook to proper temperatures.
- Refrigerate promptly to 40°F or lower.
These food safety basics are helpful guidelines for children and adults of all ages.
Sources: Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; BBC Good Food
Tips for Keeping School-Aged Kids Healthy
- Diet: A healthy, balanced diet is always key to a child’s health. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, school-aged children should typically get the following per day: 3-5 servings of vegetables; 2-4 servings of fruits; 6-11 servings of bread, cereal or pasta; 2-3, 2- or 3-oz. servings of lean meat or other protein (beans, peanut butter, etc.); 2-3 servings per day of dairy products. Additionally, try to limit your child’s salt and sugar intake. Learn more at healthychildren.org.
Other ideas for helping your child maintain a healthy diet include discussing their lunch options and choices at school, and letting your child help you plan and prepare meals! Also, avoid watching media at meal times. Watching television while eating can distract your child, causing them to keep eating even after they are full.
For more tips like these visit ShapeYourFutureOK.com
2. Exercise. The Department of Health and Human Services advises children and adolescents (ages 6+) to get at least one hour of physical activity each day. Find out how much physical activity your children get at school through recess, P.E., etc., and think about how you can supplement that at home or by enrolling them in an extracurricular activity.
3. Puberty. Girls typically begin puberty between ages 8 and 13, and boys between ages 9 and 14. Help your child prepare for puberty by researching and discussing ahead of time the changes they will experience. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends tracking your child’s bodily changes—while making sure to respect their privacy. Get some resources for talking to your children about puberty and sex at tulsakids.com/age-appropriate-books-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-sex.
4. Sleep. On average, school-aged children need 9-11 hours of sleep each night. There are many ways to help ensure your child gets an adequate amount of sleep, including: turn off cell phones and electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime; avoid caffeine, especially in the evenings; establish a bedtime routine. This bedtime routine should include brushing teeth and reading time. Get more tips at tulsakids.com/is-your-child-getting-enough-zzzzzs.
5. Media. Spending too much time on screens can have a negative influence on your child’s health. This includes increased risk of obesity, sleep problems, difficulty at school, etc. Not to mention the risk that children could be exposed to cyberbullying, predators or additional peer pressure to engage in risky behavior. To help your child use screens in a healthier way, the AAP recommends creating a Family Media Use Plan, establishing screen-free times (such as meal times and before bedtime) and talking with your kids about online citizenship and safety. Learn more and get additional tips at healthychildren.org.
6. Handwashing and vaccines. Teach your children proper handwashing techniques to avoid getting or spreading illnesses. Talk to your child’s doctor about getting the flu vaccine and make sure other vaccinations are up-to-date. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov.