Children’s Health

Fewer allergies: A possible upside of thumb sucking and nail biting

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

It’s no surprise that children suck their thumbs or bite their nails. These behaviors are often discouraged, as they can go on to cause damaged teeth, infections, or even elicit teasing from other children. However, a new study suggests that there are benefits for children who exhibit these behaviors, as it makes their immune systems better at attacking germs and decreases their risk of developing common allergies. Although these habits may be irritating for parents, they may improve your child’s health in the long run.

The right reasons to choose a sunscreen—and the right way to use it

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

There are a wide variety of sunscreen products on the market today that can help to prevent sunburns and skin cancer, but in a recent study published in the journal JAMA Dermatology, researchers found that 40% of the top 65 most popular sunscreens didn’t meet American Academy of Dermatology guidelines. When buying sunscreen, it is important to choose a product that is broad-spectrum, has an SPF over 30, and is water resistant. In addition to choosing the right sunscreen, it’s important to use it correctly in order to truly protect your skin from the sun.

Good — and bad — news about today’s teens

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

The results of the 2015 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, suggests that few teens are smoking cigarettes, having sex, getting into physical fights, and drinking less soda. This good news is tempered by concerning trends, for example fewer adolescents use condoms when they do have sex, and more of them are trying e-cigarettes.

A bummer for kids: Nasal flu vaccine not effective

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

For years, many kids could skip the traditional flu “shot” — along with the tears — and still be protected by the nasal spray vaccine also known as the LAIV (live attenuated influenza vaccine). But not this year. Studies now show that the nasal vaccine is quite ineffective, and pediatricians are starting to change their flu recommendations from a nose squirt to a shot.

Can super-sizing start with baby bottles?

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

Research suggests that super-sizing our meals doesn’t just create problems for adults–– when we increase the amount of food that infants and children eat, they gain weight. This weight gain during infancy can lead to over-weight children, and over-weight children are more likely to become over-weight adults. In order to make sure infants and children are a healthy weight, keeping the portion sizes kid-friendly is key.

When treating stomach bugs, the best solution may be the simplest one

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

When your child has a stomach bug, it’s tempting to reach for over-the-counter oral rehydration solutions. After all, doctors have recommended them in the past. But a new study has revealed that most children don’t need them. In fact, juice diluted with water may be all your child needs.

3 reasons your child shouldn’t go “gluten-free” (unless your doctor says so)

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

Recently, many parents have begun cutting gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley) out of their children’s diet in an effort to be healthy. Although children with celiac disease or wheat allergy should avoid gluten, a gluten-free diet is unnecessary for the vast majority of children — and it can even endanger their health. We’ve identified three specific ways this diet can do more harm than good for your child.

New study says that it’s okay to let babies cry at night

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

Just about every new parent has wrestled with the idea of whether to comfort a baby who cries during the night or whether to let him or her “cry it out.” A recent study adds more evidence to what researchers (and our own parents and grandparents) have long known: It’s okay to let your baby cry it out. It won’t harm them — and you’ll get a much better night’s sleep, too!

Should you swaddle your baby?

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

Swaddling a baby—wrapping him or her tightly in a blanket to give a sense of comfort and security—has been practiced for millennia. But it’s not right for all babies. In particular, several studies have revealed that swaddling can potentially cause problems hip problems and can even be dangerous if not practiced correctly. As always, if you have questions about swaddling your baby, it’s best to talk with your doctor.

The latest dangerous “addiction” parents need to worry about: Mobile devices

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

If you’ve looked up from your phone recently — or even if you haven’t! — you may have noticed that many children and teens are glued to their devices. While experts aren’t quite ready to call this an “addiction,” a new survey of parents and teens confirms that many of them suspect they’re too dependent on their devices. We’ve discussed the potential implications of this, plus suggested some “ground rules” for when to ignore those devices.