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Frequently Asked Questions About Children's Health

  • Will breastfeeding make a big difference in my child's health?
  • Answer:

    You bet breastfeeding will make a difference, says James Sears, MD, a pediatrician at the Sears Family Pediatric Practice in San Clemente, Calif., and author of several books, including The Baby Sleep Book: The Complete Guide to a Good Night's Rest for the Whole Family. It will also make a big difference in a mother's health.

    For starters, he says, breast milk boosts immunity and helps protect your baby against certain diseases and infections, including ear infections, allergies, pneumonia, and wheezing. Breastfeeding may also prevent SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome. 

    For moms, breastfeeding may lower the risk of breast cancer, lower the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, and build strong bones. It is also said to increase bonding and help shed those remaining pregnancy pounds, according to Sears.

    But that's not to say it's easy or that it is for every new mom. There are some medical as well as personal reasons why a mother may not breastfeed, and infant formula is an acceptable alternative. Together with your partner, you can make the decision that is right for your family.

  • How can I prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)?
  • Answer:

    While SIDS remains the leading cause of death for infants up to age 1, claiming the lives of approximately 2,000 babies in the U.S. each year, the good news is that there are ways to dramatically reduce your baby's risk. Always place your baby on his or her back to sleep for naps and at night. You should also place your baby on a firm sleep surface and keep soft objects, toys, loose bedding, and crib bumpers out of your baby's sleep area. Another no-no is smoking around a newborn. 

    The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding and immunizing your baby in accordance with CDC guidelines as additional ways to prevent SIDS.     

    The National Center for Health Statistics has reported a more than 50% drop in SIDS death rates since 1990 and a decrease in stomach sleeping from 70% to 15%. This is the equivalent of saving more than 3,500 American infants each year.

  • Can immunizations cause autism?
  • Answer:

    The immunizations and autism debate doesn’t seem to go away. As of today, the scientific evidence does not support the hypothesis that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine causes autism, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development in Bethesda, Md. In fact, the initial study implicating vaccines has been retracted and its author has lost his medical license. Some groups still contend that the preservative thimerosal, which contains a type of mercury, is responsible for the rising rates of autism. However, Congress banned the use of thimerosol in all regularly used childhood vaccines in 2002.

    To date, there is no evidence that any vaccine can cause autism.

  • How can I prevent my child from getting sick at day care or school?
  • Answer:

    There is no magic bullet to keep your child from getting sick at day care or school, but certain precautions may make a difference. The main one is regular hand washing. Use warm, soapy water and rub vigorously for at least 20 seconds -- about the amount of time it takes to sing "Happy Birthday."

    When choosing a day care center, be sure to check into the facility's hand-washing policy, the actual hand-washing practices, and the availability of sinks, says Neil Schachter, MD, medical director of respiratory care at Mount Sinai in New York City and the author of The Good Doctor's Guide to Colds and Flu. Ask to make sure surfaces are being cleaned regularly. Research presented at a media briefing by the American Medical Association showed that nearly 50% of those teachers surveyed report they regularly clean and disinfect their classrooms themselves.

  • How can I tell if my child has a cold or the flu?
  • Answer:

    This can be difficult, but in general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, fatigue, and dry cough are more common and intense. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. Neither the flu nor the common cold require, or are cured by, antibiotics.

  • What can I do about my child's chronic ear infections?
  • Answer:

    Some children do get frequent and painful middle ear infections. 

    You may have heard about ear tubes. These are tiny tubes that an ear, nose, and throat specialist inserts into the eardrum while the child is under general anesthesia. They usually stay in place for six months to more than a year to prevent the collection of middle ear fluid, preserve hearing, and assure timely speech development (by avoiding long months of muffled hearing caused by middle ear fluid). Talk to your pediatrician to see if this may be the right remedy for your child.

     

  • How can I prevent obesity in my child?
  • Answer:

    Childhood obesity is an epidemic in the U.S., but parents can -- and should -- do their part to lead by example. Make time for the entire family to participate in regular physical activities that everyone enjoys, suggests the American Obesity Association, and limit the amount of TV watching. As far as eating is concerned, try to set the same healthy diet for your entire family, not just for select individuals. Eat meals together at the dinner table at regular times. Minor changes can help your children develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.

  • I think my child has ADHD? What should I do?
  • Answer:

    Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects as many as one in every 20 children. It is marked by difficulty paying attention to tasks like homework, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness, such as trouble staying seated in class or letting others speak without interrupting.

    If you notice these symptoms in your child, he or she should be evaluated by a pediatrician, school psychologist or mental health professional. The evaluation should include psychoeducational testing, observation in the classroom and at home, and often involves both parents and teachers filling out special scoring forms. The good news is that treatment for ADHD can help most children. The most effective treatments for ADHD combine medication with behavioral therapy, parental support, and education. 

     

  • How can I tell if my child is depressed?
  • Answer:

    Children and teenagers can be depressed. It is not just a grown-up's illness.

    Signs of depression may include:

    • Frequent sadness, tearfulness, crying
    • Hopelessness
    • Decreased interest in activities; or inability to enjoy previously favorite activities
    • Persistent boredom; low energy
    • Social isolation, poor communication
    • Low self-esteem and guilt
    • Extreme sensitivity to rejection or failure
    • Increased irritability, anger, or hostility
    • Difficulty with relationships
    • Frequent complaints of physical illnesses, such as headaches and stomachaches
    • Frequent absences from school or poor performance in school
    • Poor concentration
    • A major change in eating and/or sleeping patterns
    • Talk of or efforts to run away from home
    • Thoughts or expressions of suicide or self-destructive behavior

    If you notice any of these signs, talk to your child's pediatrician about getting a referral to a mental health provider. Early diagnosis and treatment for depression can make all the difference.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Daniel Brennan, MD on February 22, 2014

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