Breakthroughs in medical research for children dominate the news, but it's not always easy to know which findings deserve your attention. Consider this your cheat sheet.
In a world of round-the-clock news, it can be difficult to keep up with the latest findings on children's health and development. (Let's face it, some days just finding time to floss is a plus.) In addition, it is impossible to decide which study to trust: Should you give your children vitamins? Yes. No. Perhaps. Repeat that.
To help you avoid falling down a rabbit hole, we asked leading pediatricians and medical journal editors to share the latest studies that savvy parents should have on their radar. Of course, research is still ongoing, and scientific consensus can only come at a snail's pace. But these findings highlight important new trends in our understanding of children's physical and emotional well-being – and they can help you raise healthier kids.
Probiotics can alleviate colic.
The research: a comprehensive review of smaller studies found that daily administration of drops of the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri to infants with colic significantly reduced the number of minutes per day they cried and fussed in breastfed infants over a three-week treatment period, compared with infants who received a placebo. Infants who were fed formula and had colic were not found to have the same benefit.
Why it's important: "The microbiome – the mix of good and bad bacteria that live in our gut – is an exciting area of research," explains Dr. Alex Kemper, professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and associate editor of Pediatrics. Probiotics contain microorganisms that are the same or similar to the beneficial bacteria in our intestines that displace disease-causing bacteria and can also reduce inflammation. (Breastfed infants may have a different gut population than infants fed artificial formula, which may be why they didn't benefit to the same degree in this study.).
Some research suggests probiotics can be helpful – from protecting premature infants from serious intestinal infections to preventing eczema in older children – but other studies have found no clear benefit. "We're still a long way from being able to say, 'Take this type of probiotic for this condition,'" says Dr. Kemper. "If your child needs to take an antibiotic, talk to your doctor about choosing a drug with as narrow a spectrum as possible so you don't kill the good bacteria with the bad ones. If you have L. Want to try reuteri for your own fussy breastfed baby, talk to your pediatrician. No harm from the treatment was found in the study, so it might be worth a try.
Strokes cause permanent damage.
The research: in a research report in the journal American Psychologist, a panel of high-level experts concluded that spanking does the same psychological damage to children as hitting, slapping and other ways of inflicting pain. Spanking also doesn't improve children's behavior at home and increases the rate of behavior problems reported by teachers. Adults who were spanked as children are more likely to use drugs, have a drinking problem and commit suicide than those who weren't spanked.
Why this is so important: Giving a child a pat on the butt for misbehaving is still a surprisingly common remedy. One estimate found that 80 percent of parents do it occasionally. "Parents can fall back on how they were brought up. They say, 'This is the way my parents did it, and I turned out fine,'" notes David L. Hill, M.D., Parenting consultant and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). "So I tell them, 'I'm so glad you did it.'! But we now have much more information on how to make things better". Last year, the AAP issued its most clearly stated policy statement, saying that hitting can cause harm and parents should never hit their children. Dr. Hill advises directing children's behavior in a way that strengthens the relationship with them, rather than fraying it. "Praise the behavior you like, especially if your child is having a hard time with it. The more you pay attention to the good things, the more of them you will see".
Marijuana remains in the mother's milk.
The research: fifty nursing mothers who regularly use marijuana donated breast milk samples to the Mommy's Milk Human Milk Research Biorepository at the University of California, San Diego. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, traces of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, were found in 63 percent of samples, up to six full days after the last reported use by the mother.
Why it matters: Now that it's being legalized in more and more states, moms may see marijuana as a relatively harmless way to relieve stress. Also, some pregnant women use it to suppress morning sickness. But THC likes to bind to fat molecules, which are abundant in breast milk. "Almost nothing is known about the effects of marijuana on a baby's growing brain," says Dr. Kemper. "This particular study was one of the first to start finding evidence-based answers". Although THC levels were low in breast milk samples, marijuana remains in the body, so pumping after smoking pot is not a reliable strategy. For now, the AAP advises playing it safe and not using marijuana while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Peanut powder can prevent life-threatening reactions.
The research: by taking a small daily dose of peanut protein powder, severely allergic children ages 4 to 17 were able to gradually build up their tolerance to peanuts. After about 12 months of treatment, two-thirds of children were able to tolerate the equivalent of eating two peanuts with only mild symptoms, according to a clinical trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Why it matters: for kids with peanut allergies, a birthday party or a chance encounter with the wrong cookie can mean a scary trip to the emergency room. The treatment under study is the first of its kind aimed at preventing anaphylactic attacks. "It doesn't mean that kids with peanut allergies can sit down and eat a jar of peanut butter, but it could mean that they don't get a life-threatening reaction if they reach into a bag of Reese's Pieces candy," says Dr. Angela Castellanos, pediatrician and editorial board member at the New England Journal of Medicine. There are still concerns
and issues: some children in the treatment group experienced significant allergic reactions that required medical attention and close medical monitoring. And doctors don't know if children will need to continue peanut protein treatment for the rest of their lives to maintain tolerance. The manufacturer is awaiting FDA approval to market the peanut powder in prescription form, which would be given to children under a special protocol supervised by their doctor.
Girls' pain is taken less seriously than boys' pain.
The study: adult subjects watched the same video showing a child's excited reaction to a finger prick during a preschool physical exam. The sex of the child was unclear in the film, and those who thought the child was "Samuel" (a boy) rated the child as more painful than those who thought they were seeing "Samantha" (a girl). Yale University researchers attributed this difference to stereotypical beliefs such as "boys are more stoic" and "girls are more emotional".
Why this is important: Ouch. Previous studies have shown that doctors often treat the pain of adult women differently than those of men. Although the study is preliminary, it suggests that this disparity may be starting too soon. And since young children often do not have the vocabulary to describe their pain, it is particularly important that other people interpret their feelings correctly.
While it may take a while to get past the patriarchy. But being aware of this kind of bias can make you a better advocate for your own child, says Dr. Hill. "No pediatrician gets up in the morning and says, 'I'm going to treat a boy's pain differently than a girl's pain'. But doctors are human, and we can bring all kinds of assumptions to the table when interpreting what's going on with an individual patient. One of the most important things parents can do is to tell the doctor, "I know my child, and he's not usually like this. She almost never complains. She's the kind of kid who can fall off a bike and get up laughing again. As pediatricians we put a lot of emphasis on this statement.
A parent's behavior can alleviate or exacerbate a child's anxiety.
The study: More than 100 children ages 7 to 14 with anxiety disorders received cognitive behavioral therapy (to help them learn to combat their worrisome thoughts) or their parents were guided in weekly counseling sessions on strategies for responding to their child's anxiety, such as. B. Reducing the number of reassuring text messages they sent their child. According to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child& Adolescent Psychiatry published, treatment of parents was as effective in reducing their children's anxiety as direct treatment of children.
Why it matters: one in three children will develop a clinically significant anxiety disorder by adulthood. Therapy and medication are very effective treatments, but this study reflects a growing interest in the role parents can play in helping children cope better. "It simply makes sense. Parents have a much greater influence on their children than even the best therapist," says Dr. Matthew Biel, chief of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
The behavior of the parents can alleviate or intensify the fears of the child.
The research: More than 100 children ages 7 to 14 with anxiety disorders received cognitive behavioral therapy (to help them learn to challenge their anxious thoughts) or their parents were guided in weekly counseling sessions on strategies for responding to their child's anxiety, such as. B. Reducing the number of reassuring text messages they sent to their child. According to the study, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child& Adolescent Psychiatry published, treatment of parents was as effective in reducing their children's anxiety as direct treatment of the children.
Why this matters: one in three children will develop a clinically significant anxiety disorder by adulthood. Therapy and medication are very effective treatments, but this study reflects a growing interest in the role parents can play in helping children cope better. "It simply makes sense. 'Parents influence their children much more than even the best therapist,' says Dr. Matthew Biel, division chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C.
Loving parents can inadvertently contribute to their child's anxiety by being too accommodating – an issue raised in the study's counseling sessions. "If your child is afraid of dogs, you may be crossing the street to avoid a dog. If it's afraid of the dark, you can sit with it until it falls asleep," says Dr. Biel. While this can provide immediate relief, it also teaches your child that there really is something to fear – and that they are not capable of handling it on their own. Instead, it is better to help the child get out of his comfort zone: For example, encourage him to approach the friendly Goldendoodle a little, and praise his courage when he does so.
Talking to you promotes your child's language skills.
The research: cognitive scientists at MIT tested the language skills of children ages 4 to 6, recording and analyzing how the children and their parents spoke to each other at home. The determining factor in assessing a child's language skills was the number of conversations they had with adults, rather than the number of individual words they heard at home.
Why it matters: It used to be believed that children learned language only by hearing a lot of it, says Jennifer Lansford, Ph.D., Research professor at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and editor of the journal Developmental Psychology. This study is part of a body of evidence that the good old conversation with your child is most important. "From infancy, children learn grammar, vocabulary and comprehension better when you talk to them than when they just passively listen," says Dr. Lansford. The most enriching entertainments follow the example of the child. For example, if your toddler says "car!" says, answer in a way that builds on it, "Yes, that's a red car. Do you see a blue car too?"
Children who are too young for their age are more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.
Research: In many countries, the 1. September as the deadline for entering kindergarten. That means children born in August, just before the cutoff date, can be nearly a year younger than their classmates who have birthdays in September. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine using insurance data on more than 400,000 children found that children born in August were more likely to be diagnosed and treated for ADHD in those states than their peers born in September.
Why it matters: ADHD rates have risen in recent decades, and experts don't know if that trend is partly due to overdiagnosis. The disease is often not detected until children start school, when their behavior is observed in comparison with that of their peers. "ADHD can be difficult to assess. Teachers, parents and doctors work together to make the diagnosis," says Dr. Castellanos. It can make a big difference whether a child is 6 or 5 years old when they are able to sit still, so a younger child's developmental ant walking can seem like a behavioral problem. "This study suggests that we need to take age into account when making diagnosis and treatment decisions," says Dr. Castellanos. However, the results should not be seen as a reason to wait for all children before enrolling in school.