Children’s Health

Can exposing babies to common food allergens help prevent food allergies later on?

DEAR DOCTOR K: In a recent column you said that parents should give babies peanut products to help prevent peanut allergies. Does the new advice also apply to other common food allergens, like eggs or cow's milk?

DEAR READER: To answer your question I turned to my colleague Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary care pediatrician at Boston Children's Hospital. For decades, the standard advice recommended by allergy specialists was to hold off on giving babies foods that commonly cause allergic reactions. Parents were advised not to give egg, dairy, seafood or wheat in their child's first year. And parents were told to wait until two or three years to give peanuts or other nut products. It turns out that was bad advice.

Could my daughter have anorexia?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm worried about my 15-year-old daughter. She eats like a bird. She is very thin, but thinks she is fat. I'd like to think this is just a phase some teenagers go through, but could she have anorexia nervosa?

DEAR READER: As with most illnesses, there is not a magic dividing line between having anorexia and not. In fact, there's a big gray zone where people don't meet the criteria for a disease, yet they're not normal, either. An example is "pre-diabetes." Tens of millions of people in the United States have blood sugar levels that are not high enough to be called diabetes, but also aren't normal. It's important to recognize them, because such people have a higher risk for developing diabetes in the future.

What can I feed my baby?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I thought I knew what solid foods to give my baby, and when to give them. But the recommendations seem to change constantly. What do I need to know?

DEAR READER: To make sure I had the most current information, I spoke to my colleague Dr. Claire McCarthy, a primary care pediatrician at Harvard-affiliated Boston Children's Hospital. She said that most dietary advice has remained the same. For example, wait until your baby is at least 4 months old before starting solids, and introduce one new food at a time.

Can children benefit from yoga?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 8-year-old daughter has expressed an interest in taking a yoga class, but I don't want to waste my money. Can children really benefit from yoga?

DEAR READER: Yes, they can. I spoke to Dr. Marlynn Wei, who is a psychiatrist, certified yoga teacher, and author of the upcoming Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga. She noted that yoga and mindfulness (a related practice) have been shown to improve both physical and mental health in children.

Why are pediatricians screening teens for high cholesterol and HIV?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend of mine just took her teenager to the doctor for a checkup. The girl's cholesterol was checked, and she was tested for HIV. What's going on? Will my teenage daughter's pediatrician do the same?

DEAR READER: The yearly checkup is the perfect time for a doctor to see how kids are growing and give any needed shots. But it's also an important time to see how they are doing more generally, and to help ensure that they grow into healthy, happy adults.

My middle schooler struggles with academics despite his best efforts. Could he have a learning disability?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My middle-schooler spends a lot of time studying. But his grades have dropped, and I see him getting more and more frustrated. What could be going on, and what can I do?

DEAR READER: Many children have problems with schoolwork or homework at one time or another. These problems usually do not last long. But if your son is still getting poor grades (C or below) despite working hard, it could be a sign that your son has a learning disability or some other problem that needs help.

How can I take better care of my children’s teeth?

DEAR DOCTOR K: I just took my 4-year old to the dentist, and she has three cavities! How can I better care for her teeth? And what can I do for my infant son so he doesn't end up with cavities, too?

DEAR READER: Our mouths are home to many bacteria. They live there pretty much all of our lives, taking advantage of one convenient fact: When we put food in our mouth, that's food for bacteria, too. And while we have to work to put food in our mouths, they just sit there. Doesn't seem fair.

Can anything be done to treat childhood tics?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My young daughter will suddenly blink her eyes or twitch her nose repeatedly, for no good reason. The doctor says she has "tics," a condition of her nervous system. Will this go away, and is it serious?

DEAR READER: Tics are upsetting -- both to the person who has them and to the people who see them. We like to feel in control of our world. A sudden, uncontrollable, rapid repetitive movement (called a motor tic) says we're not in control. So it's understandable that both you and your daughter should be concerned.

How can I help my son sleep better?

DEAR DOCTOR K: My 6-year-old son just can't seem to fall asleep at night. He doesn't fuss -- he just doesn't get enough sleep. Is there anything I can do?

DEAR READER: Kids can have many different kinds of sleep problems. Like your son, they can have trouble falling asleep. Other kids may fall asleep promptly, but awaken repeatedly. Others may snore or have breathing problems during sleep. Still others may have abnormal movements during sleep.

How can I protect my daughter from lead poisoning?

DEAR DOCTOR K: A friend's daughter got lead poisoning from paint in her house. What can I do to protect my kids?

DEAR READER: Lead is poison. Although major strides have been made in the past 50 years, lead poisoning is unfortunately still a problem. All of us are exposed to lead, but children are most vulnerable to it.