The above is exactly what my work looks like, only with smaller patients.
I’ve been a parent for almost two years but a pediatric RN for over four. I've mentioned on here before but I work in an inpatient pediatric unit at a major hospital, and we see some incredibly sick children as well as a large number of more “routine” cases (as routine as any hospital stay can be with a child) like RSV, flu, bike accidents, etc.
I’ve learned a lot in four years of working as a nurse. But I didn’t truly appreciate a lot of the lessons until I was a parent myself. There’s nothing more frightening than when your child is sick or hurt, so I thought I would pass on some of my hard-earned wisdom to all of the other frightened new parents out there.
1. The only thermometer you need is a 3-in-1 digital.
Stand in the medical aisle of any children’s section, and you will be confronted with an impossibly large selection of thermometers. Infrared. Temporal. No touch. Thermoscan. There is even a continuous temperature monitoring patch that connects to your phone. This is all insane and the most obvious example of marketing designed to take advantage of a parent’s fear. You need one kind of thermometer and one kind only, and not only is it the most accurate, it’s also the cheapest. Save some money and buy the good old fashioned 3-in-1 axillary, oral, rectal type. When you have a newborn or infant, you will need to take a rectal for any true fever. That’s the first question a pediatrician’s office will ask if you call. The other kinds of thermometers seem really nifty and impressive, but as a general rule, the more expensive and high tech a thermometer is, the less accurate its read.
2. Avoid home vital monitors.
There are a lot of expensive products on the market right now that claim to keep babies safe by monitoring things like heart rate, breathing, and oxygen levels, whether through a sensor on a sock, onesie or even a diaper. And naturally gadget obsessed, neurotic, freaked out parents jump at the chance for anything that will make them less stressed. However, these products are not regulated by the FDA, and there is zero evidence to suggest they keep babies safe. Moreover, there have been multiple concerns voiced by experts and groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics that they may actually decrease safety. And as far as giving parents peace of mind, false alarms trigged by the devices actually do the opposite. As an RN, I work with legitimate medical monitoring devices, and even those continuously alarm for non-emergent reasons. I can only imagine how often that happens with a device that is essentially a fancy toy. If a baby needs 24/7 monitoring, he or she will either be in the hospital or sent home with a medical grade monitor. The commercially available monitors are simply cashing in on the very common fears of new parents.
3. Stock up on the essentials.
In terms of medical supplies there is very little you need, or can safely use, the first year. However, there are certain over the counter items that need to be in every parent’s medicine cabinet:
-Children’s Acetaminophen. Only for use after your doctor gives the okay, typically around 4-6 months. Out of all the medicines out there, in the hospital acetaminophen is probably our #1 most used. I think parents often overlook how big of an impact this pain and fever reducer can make for a sick or teething baby. As long as you use it as directed and are careful not to mask a fever with it (particularly with very young babies), it can really pack a punch even for something like a common cold.
-Saline. Another oldie but goodie. Nothing works as well for stuffy noses as plain saline. Squirt it into your babies’ nose periodically when they have a cold and it will help loosen up mucous and let them breathe easier. It’s also safe, simple, and cheap.
-Suction device. Use it to suck out all of those boogers after the saline. Again, it’s simple, straightforward, and cheap. But it works.
4. Be very careful about natural remedies.
Just because something is labeled as natural does not mean it is harmless. There are a boatload of products available over the counter for children that are marketed as natural or homeopathic. And it’s very easy for parents to assume these products are a safe alternative to medicine. However, unlike medicine, which is tested to within an inch of its life before it sees the light of day, these products are not nearly as regulated. This was made tragically clear by the hundreds of reports of severe illness and even multiple deaths linked to homeopathic teething tablets containing belladonna. There have been strangulations related to the trendy amber teething necklaces that have become so common. I’ve also seen children in the hospital with severe rashes or other adverse effects from so called “natural” remedies. As a parent, I understand how desperate you can feel when your child is sick or hurting. And I get that this desperation can make you want to buy anything that promises to fix it. But if your gut tells you something seems too good to be true, chances are it is. Trust your instincts and trust your pediatrician.
This one seems fairly obvious, but unfortunately due to the anti-vaccination movement in today’s culture, there are a growing number of children who don’t receive the necessary vaccinations. I understand that parents who choose this route are motivated by a desire to protect their child. They are also sadly misinformed by the hundreds of pseudoscience articles and websites out there. Any healthcare worker who has been in the “trenches” knows what vaccine preventable diseases can do. Every winter children and babies die from diseases like pertussis or influenza down the hall in our pediatric ICU. In four years, I have never seen a child in the hospital with an injury from a vaccine.
And if you still aren’t convinced I urge you to vaccinate if you have any compassion for the parents of children who are immunosuppressed from the side effects of cancer treatment. These children desperately rely on other people to keep them safe. They rely on you and your (vaccinated) children to keep herd immunity alive. The choice to not vaccinate your child doesn’t simply affect your child. It affects your community and the people you see in the aisles of Target or at school pick up. So think very carefully about what you would want if your child was the one who needed that protection.
I'm a thirty-something mom of two, wife, pediatric RN, and writer with a passion for the all the big and little things in life.