Children’s Health

Many babies and toddlers use mobile devices every day

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

You’ve probably seen parents handing a smartphone or tablet to their young children to entertain them when they need to be quiet or patient. A recent study confirms what you’ve probably suspected: that most children use mobile devices every day. But widespread use of these devices cuts into time that kids could spend interacting with adults, which is crucial for brain development. The next time you’re tempted to hand over the smartphone, try a quick game instead.

Is it ADHD—or Autism?

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism can resemble each other. In fact, it can be difficult to tell the two conditions apart, which can lead to delays in the correct diagnosis — and therefore missed opportunities for treatment. If your child is diagnosed with ADHD, ask your pediatrician about testing for autism as well. The earlier a child with autism receives treatment, the better the outcome he or she will have.

Overweight children are at risk for heart disease as adults

Nandini Mani, MD
Nandini Mani, MD, Contributing Editor

In a recent study of nearly 9,000 overweight and obese children and teens, doctors found that these young people had concerning blood pressure readings and worrisome cholesterol and blood sugar levels. In adults, such test results suggest a much higher risk for heart disease — so they are of particularly great concern in children. The good news is that with help and support, kids can lose weight — the results are a healthier, happier childhood and a greater chance of a healthier, longer adult life.

Why some parents don’t follow the “safe sleep” recommendations for babies

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

The very thought of losing a baby to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is terrifying. Safer sleeping practices for infants have greatly reduced the number of babies lost to SIDS, but many parents are unclear on the reasons behind these recommendations and therefore often don’t follow them. The safest way to put your baby to bed is: on the back; in a crib, minus blankets, bumpers, and stuffed animals; and with a pacifier. Another critical factor is maintaining a smoke-free home and family.

Looking for Autism

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Statistics show that one out of every 68 children in the United States meets the criteria for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). What these figures don’t show is that early intervention and treatment can make a huge difference in the lives of these children and their families. Routine well-child visits are important to monitor health and growth, but they also provide an opportunity to keep an eye on a child’s development. While most children do not have ASD, and some kids are just “late bloomers,” others may show signs of any number of developmental challenges or delays — all of which benefit from therapies at home or at school. Of course, all children benefit from mindful observation of their development and advice and support from their pediatricians, should concerns arise.

Edible marijuana — a half-baked idea?

Patrick J. Skerrett, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Health

Marijuana-laced brownies have long been a way to get high. Now a new generation of “food companies” is taking the concept of edible marijuana in a somewhat scary new direction: marijuana-laced foods that mimic popular candies. These sweets could pose a danger to children, warns a Perspective article in today’s New England Journal of Medicine. From a marketing perspective, it’s a cute concept to sell Buddahfingers that look like Butterfingers, Rasta Reese’s that mimic Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or Pot Tarts that resemble Pop-Tarts. But the availability of edible marijuana products has led to an increase in emergency visits to hospitals because of kids accidentally eating edible marijuana products and in marijuana-related calls to poison and drug hotlines.

Children who eat peanuts at an early age may prevent peanut allergies

Gregory Curfman, MD
Gregory Curfman, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Health Publications

Peanut allergies can cause severe and sometimes deadly allergic reactions. A new study holds out the possibility that peanuts themselves may prevent peanut allergies. An international team asked parents of infants who were prone to a peanut allergy to give their children a peanut-based snack called Bamba or peanut butter three times a week until age five. The parents of another group of peanut allergy-prone infants were asked to make sure their children didn’t eat any peanuts, peanut butter, or other peanut-based products until age five. The results were surprising and dramatic. A peanut allergy developed in 1.9% of children who ate Bamba or peanut butter, compared with 13.7% of those who didn’t eat peanuts. This new work suggests that preventing peanut allergies may be a possibility in the near future.

Protecting your children against Enterovirus D68

Nancy Ferrari
Nancy Ferrari, Senior editor, Harvard Health

Enterovirus D68 is a respiratory infection that has been spreading across the country and making some children quite ill. It is especially problematic for kids with asthma or other respiratory issues. Enterovirus D68 can start out looking like a garden variety cold but lead to serious trouble breathing. What’s a parent to do? The same things he or she would normally do during cold and flu season: hand washing, staying away from people who are sick, regularly cleaning common surfaces like doorknobs, not sharing cups and utensils, and coughing or sneezing into the elbow, not the hands. Those who have children with asthma need to be extra vigilant about their child’s asthma care routine. Most upper respiratory infections are the simple cold. Still, it’s important to stay alert for signs of breathing difficulties.

Study: no connection between drinking alcohol early in pregnancy and birth problems

Howard LeWine, M.D.
Howard LeWine, M.D., Chief Medical Editor, Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

In a new study sure to raise hackles and controversy, an international team of researchers is reporting that pregnant women who drink alcohol during the first trimester of pregnancy and possibly beyond aren’t putting their babies at risk for premature birth or low birth weight, or themselves at risk for high blood pressure complications during pregnancy. This goes against recommendations for women to avoid drinking alcohol during pregnancy. The main reason for this is that heavy use of alcohol during pregnancy has been linked to a long-term and irreversible condition known as fetal alcohol syndrome that can cause long-lasting physical and developmental problems. The medical evidence supporting strict abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy is not very strong. Will there be consensus about whether it’s safe for a pregnant woman to have a glass of wine or a beer once or twice a week? I don’t think we will see that any time soon.

12 ways to help a child make the transition to kindergarten

Anne Densmore, Ed.D.

For some children, beginning kindergarten represents a scary transition. They wonder about making new friends and getting used to a new teacher—will they be able to find the bathroom, where will they eat snack, how will they fit in? There are several ways to help make the transition a smooth one. These include acknowledging the child’s fear as real and appropriate while offering reassurance, talking about the transition in a positive way, doing play therapy at home, visiting the school beforehand if possible, and reading to the child about starting kindergarten.