Category Archives: Infant

Scheduling Babies

So many parents with new babies are told, “get your baby on a schedule. Things will be a lot easier and you will get more rest.”

The problem with this advice is that it comes too early and without enough information. When babies are born, they schedule us and we do not schedule them. We need to follow their lead. For three months they should be spoiled. After three months children can learn some scheduling. But the first thing to work on is night sleep. After three to four months, children can learn to sleep for longer stretches. So parents can let up on their responsiveness to their children at night and see if they can learn to fall back to sleep again without cues from us.

After night sleep is accomplished, children develop into nappers over time. Napping is usuallly haphazard until closer to 9 months of age. By that time children start developing a natural schedule of two naps a day. By 15 to 18 months those two naps become one longer nap and then you have your child scheduled! But you didn’t do it. Children evolve into that schedule over time. Don’t let anyone tell you to push your child into a schedule before they are developmentally ready.

What The Newborn Nursery Won’t Tell You About Your Baby

Newborn nurseries are magical places. Wonderful people care for new babies and their nervous mothers. Before the pair go home to experience new life together, nursery nurses are able to teach a number of essential tasks to make the first few months go well. They teach mothers how to feed, and bathe their infant. Mothers learn how to monitor for signs of illness in a baby. With these important functions to teach it is no wonder that nurses don’t cover less important worries that new mothers have. Fortunately, that is where I come in. As a pediatrician I get to teach new mothers about their babies too. And in the first visit with me, mothers are often perplexed about many simple things that we as practitioners in medicine take for granted. Over the years I have made a list of worries other than feeding that mothers have at their first check up at two weeks of age. Here they are.

1. How do I stop his hiccups?

Many mothers experience hiccups in their babies even before birth. But it is more disturbing to us to see a baby’s little body shake with hiccups. Fortunately, we don’t have to do anything about them. Hiccups occur as a natural reflex. This reflex tends to subside as babies grow. It may be hard to watch. But remember, babies aren’t bothered by hiccups. We are, but they are not. Just leave them be. They’ll be fine.

2. My baby sneezes and coughs. Is she sick?

Oh, those immature reflexes! They haunt babies for months. Sneezes and coughs are also reflexes that are a bit hyper in babies. These, too, will decrease in frequency over the first several months.

3. My child sounds congested.

Congestion is not a reflex. Congestion is a blockage in the nose that makes it hard for babies to breathe. But babies often sound congested without even having any blockage. Why is this? Babies have narrow nasal passages with loose mucus membranes. Air moving through a narrow space makes a noise. In musical instruments air makes a pretty sound. In babies’ noses, air makes a congested noise as it moves along those vibrating mucus membranes. So a parent only needs to be concerned about congestion they see – not a congested noise they hear. With congestion you see, a few drops of saline solution usually helps clear their little noses.

4. My baby is fussy and hard to console sometimes.

All babies have fussy periods. These occur with more frequency and for longer periods of time at six weeks of age. Babies usually settle down and are less fussy at three months of age. Even though it goes away, that doesn’t make it easy to deal with while it is happening. Keep your baby close, support his belly and have extra people around to help out. That’s how to get through the fussy baby times.

5. My baby has so much gas! Is that normal?

Whether your baby is fussy with gas or not, it is normal for babies to be gassy. It is a natural process for our bowels to develop a flora of bacteria that creates gas in their bowel. Only a small percent of babies have fussiness caused by this gas.

6. What about this green poop he has?

Stool color changes with time even when the baby’s diet does not. Nursing babies progress from brown muconium stools to yellow watery stools to yellow seedy stools to green stools. Bottle fed babies change more rapidly through these color stools and end up with the typical brown stool faster than nursing babies. It might be hard for a pregnant woman to imagine being concerned about the color of poop. But…you will see. It is amazing how much talk there is about poop once you have the baby.

7. Besides pooping the only other things my baby does is eat, sleep and pee! And he sleeps a lot! When will he wake up and interact a little?

For the first few weeks after birth most babies just eat, sleep, pee, and poop. This can be surprising to parents who expect an expressive baby. Many parents start longing for more interaction. It becomes difficult to be at the service of an infant and get little of the warm and fuzzy things in return. The interactive time will come. By two months of age babies are usually focusing on parent’s faces and smiling back at them.

8. Well, before two months what is my baby seeing?

It is hard for babies to tell us what they are seeing. However, physicians have studied the visual preferences babies have in the first few months of life. At first babies prefer sharp contrasts between light and dark objects. This is likely due to the fact that the color interpreting cone cells of the eye develop over the first month or so. After the first month babies prefer to look at oval objects similar to the general shapes of faces. This leads to the focusing on particular faces by two months of age. By four months babies will be able to see across a room. And by six months any stray object that you didn’t see such as a small toy or a bit of fuzz will be picked up and thrust into their mouths.

9. When do they stop burping, gagging and spitting up?

Babies are messy little creatures. They drink and gulp their meals. Belch frequently. They gag on almost anything at the beginning. And often spit up or throw up what seems like half their meals. It sounds awful but is quite natural. Since most of their food is liquid and taken in by sucking, burping is a natural consequence of this form of feeding. If babies didn’t burp they could become more bloated and more gassy. Burps will come if they need to. Not all babies burp after all feedings. Spitting up happens with burping. It is of no consequence so long as the baby gains weight on the amount of food they keep down. And gagging is helpful for babies to protect themselves from aspirating their liquid food. Due to a baby’s gag reflex, it is rare for any baby to actually aspirate food into their lungs. So even though these issues are messy, they help our babies stay healthy. They do become less frequent after nine months of age.

10. My baby breathes in a funny way. Sometimes she even stops breathing for a second. Is that okay?

Babies do breathe in a funny way. They can breathe ten times rapidly, then take a deep breath and not breathe for five seconds. If we traced newborn breathing patterns on paper we would have nothing but squiggly lines. Their breathing patterns smooth out and become more regular at three to four months of age. Until then, their irregular respirations can startle parents until they recognize how normal their baby’s abnormal breathing is.

These are the most common normal body habits of babies that disturb new parents. Some of these cause real fear and concern for first time moms and dads. Having some knowledge about these nuances of newborns can help parents relax. And that is good for parents, good for baby and good for the new family. It would be nice to hear about all these issues in the newborn nursery but it would just be too much to handle at that special time. Having some reference for these issues after you go home is more appropriate. So it is with that in mind that this was written for expectant parents.

I hope you can relax and enjoy your new baby.

The Parent’s Journey

Being a parent is such an incredible experience that it is hard to remember not being a parent even after only a  few weeks of being one. The responsibility is great. To  have a newborn so dependent on you is on the one hand very  gratifying and fulfilling and on the other hand very scary.

I came across a quote by Richard Carlson, the author  of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Mr. Carlson says, “We are  given the opportunity to be responsible for children for a  relatively short period in their lives, to guide them until  they are ready to find themselves”.

This quote speaks of the dilemma parents face in  loving, caring, and protecting their child, at the same  time giving up control, letting them grow, and allowing  them to become themselves. How we do this over time is a  very personal part of parenting that cannot be taught. It  must be lived and experienced. Facing this conflict is one  all parents must do whether we get blind sided by it or  face it openly.

When we become parents we get lulled into the idea  that we control so much. We are satisfied by feeding our  child and hearing satisfied burps coming from him or her.  He falls asleep on our chest and we feel the awe of having  our child sense the security of our arms. It takes some  time, many months, for us to see a personality in our  child. Then we see our child’s desire to call some shots.  At some point we turn against our child’s will by saying  “No, I can’t let you do that”. We see the resistance the  child puts up when their will is crossed. We watch further  as we see their will develop into interests, and their  interests eventually into who they are. We help by  promoting their interests while continuing to say “No” to  some of their desires. We strive to balance discipline and  permissiveness. We recognize their skills, sometimes  before they do. Sometimes we don’t see it until long after  they have been using it. We worry. We have fears for them  that they don’t see and don’t want to hear about. We give  them attention; they take some control. We try to stay out  of some parenting traps and dig our way out when we fall  into them. We lift them up when they have fallen. We  recognize their emotional outbursts and help them through  them. We listen to their dreams, realistic and far-fetched. We acknowledge their successes (hopefully as  theirs and not ours) and we feel their pain in their  failures.

It doesn’t end. Parenting continues for life and  beyond. (Even if our child happens to die before we do, we  continue to think of them as our child). Without a doubt,  parenting is the hardest job we will ever have. Few of us  succeed at it without the support of others. It takes  faith in ourselves as parents. It takes faith in them as  individuals. We need to have courage to allow them the  space to become themselves. As Jack Kornberg says in his  book, The Art of Forgiveness, Loving, Kindness and Peace,  “Peace requires us to surrender our illusions of control.  We can love and care for others but we cannot possess our  children, lovers, family or friends. We can assist them,  pray for them, and wish them well, yet in the end their  happiness and suffering depend on their thoughts and  actions, not on our wishes.” And so it becomes very  important for parents to learn what we have control over  and what our children have responsibility for. That quest  defines the short term and long term aspects of each  parent’s journey.

The Emergence Of Permanence

Your nine month old wants an electric cord but you distract him with a stuffed animal and he takes the bait.  Even at one year of age distraction to another object  replaces a desired one. At fifteen months, your methods of  distraction to an object you favor over one your child  favors may take longer but still works. But by eighteen  months your child persists after the TV remote even though  you try to distract him with two or even three different  fun items. What has happened? Why was it easier to  distract your child to a new object at nine months to a  year of age but at fifteen to eighteen months your method  isn’t working?

The problem is not with your method. The problem is  with your child’s development. By eighteen months of age  your child has developed the idea of permanence.  Permanence is when your child knows the object you are  hiding behind your back is still in existence and is the  object they want. Before this age your child might  “forget” that the remote or the electric wire ever existed  once you hid it from them and introduced a new item. This  is an important piece of information for parents to  understand. Without knowledge of this many parents fall  into a trap.

The trap goes like this. We as parents are used to  using distraction for over a year to give a child something  else rather than something they want. But as a child  develops permanence and persists after the hidden remote,  parents often continue to try distracting them by offering  them bigger and better choices. The offers continue until  something that pleases the child is offered. If this  pattern continues then a child learns to persist and act  out and something good will come their way. Does this trap  sound familiar?

If parents of fifteen to eighteen month olds recognize  this risk of using distraction, they can avoid this trap  and avoid feeling like your child is ruling you by their  behavior. If your child starts persisting for an object  you don’t want him to have, get that object way out of  reach and out of sight. Your child will start acting out  in frustration and disappointment. You may try one or two  simple attempts at distraction but if they don’t work, stop  trying. Allow your child to experience disappointment  without a response from you. The child will learn to move  past this emotion in a very short time. They will learn  that you are in control and they can’t persist in behavior  to win something. This age is when children want what they  want but can’t have everything they want. Since they have  learned about permanence, it is time for them to learn  about disappointment.

Parents Role In Reading

There has been a growth of programs to increase reading. The American Academy of Pediatrics has a program  to increase reading at home. Libraries have always  emphasized reading. Radio programs are plugging reading  programs. A recent study showed that when adults have  books at home the more literate the household becomes. It  has been suggested that Pediatricians ask mothers during  office visits “How many books do you have at home?” as part  of an effort to increase reading. Certainly, reading is  important. But why all the effort to increase reading?

Some troubling statistics answer the question. Today  many college graduates in America cannot read and write  well. Many high school graduates fail reading and writing.  Americans, in general, are reading less. Book sales in the  U.S. have decreased. Books are losing to computers and  T.V. and as a result 30 percent of our high schoolers are  dropping out nationwide. It is a shame that it has to be  emphasized anew. Many years ago it was assumed that  Americans had high literacy and high education levels. But  today we are dropping. This is a cause for every parent to  take up. What can parents do?

Reading must be a factor in your parenting today.  Children need to see books. They need to hear words. They  need to see parents reading. It doesn’t have to be a chore.  Parents do not need to tediously teach their kids to read.  That is a role for teachers and schools. And not all  children learn to read at the same rate. Don’t panic if  you have a late reader. But kids need to see the  importance of books and reading everyday in their home.

Books on tape are a great alternative. It allows  children to use more imagination than videos. They can  play or draw while listening. During a long drive, books  on tape make the ride shorter. If the book isn’t over they  may not want the ride to end.

Keep reading and listening. Take trips to the  library. Use libraries as a resource for books for your  child. Always read a little above your child’s level so  they yearn to read bigger more interesting books. If you are worried about your child’s reading, talk to  your school. There is always extra help available. But  don’t give up at home – keep reading.

Lessons from books are in no short supply. From Greek  myths, to comedies, to English literature, our kids learn  more than words. Life’s lessons are taught through the  experience of centuries. Exposure to books is valuable to  kids and to families – for the lessons and the togetherness  they provide. But in the long run, reading provides an  added value to your child’s education that cannot be  provided in any other way then in their homes.

Our Brand-Name Children

Does your two year old recognize McDonald’s? Does your three year old want Sponge Bob underpants? Does your  six year old insist on Nike sneakers? Does your teen  refuse to wear anything but Abercrombie and Fitch clothing?

There is a disturbing truth at the heart of these  questions. By as young as two years old, many of our kids  are asking for specific brands. Many kids know the name  “Macdonald’s” before they know a name for a vegetable! The  marketing world loves it. They continue to reach farther  and farther into our kids’ world for every marketing angle  they can get, with new ones being invented all the time.  Even video games, for example, now come with products  marketed within the game. In Madden 2005, a football game,  fans drop bags of Doritos as they reach for a ball thrown  into the stands – a not-so-subtle advertisement for a not-so-healthy food.

But our kids live in this culture of buy, get and  receive. What’s the harm? Unfortunately, there is clear  harm. In this era of childhood obesity, literally billions  of dollars are being spent on hooking our kids on unhealthy  foods. Moreover, there is persuasive evidence that the more  children are tied into brand names and our consumer culture  the more likely they are to experience anxiety and  depression during and after their teen years.

I once saw Juliet Schor, an acclaimed sociologist from  Boston College who has researched what she calls “the  commercialized child and the new consumer culture,” speak  to a group of parents. In her most recent book, Born to  Buy, Schor examines the nature of the marketing world and  illustrates how advertisers will accept no limits when it  comes to coercing our children. In her talk she focused on  the negative effects over-commercialization on our  children’s mental health. Dr. Schor is the professor who  found from her research that our children are more likely  to become depressed the more tied in with the consumer  culture they are.

Dr. Schor went to great lengths to show us how the  marketers are using our children to affect all family  purchases from food to cars. It is not enough for marketers  to convince children to buy toys, now companies use  children to influence adult purchases as well.

The advertising industry has created a culture for our  youth that is not terribly healthy even viewed on the macro  scale. “Urban Cool” was chosen by marketers as the theme to  market to kids. Some products such as make-up and sexy  underwear are purchased and used at younger ages today  because marketing groups pushed down the age to which they  were cool and accepted. Some marketing is aligned with an  anti-adult theme. And “nag factor” and “pester power” are  now entwined in advertising lingo referring to how they can  use children to get to the parents. Is this scary to you?  It is to me.

What can parents do? We cannot possibly disassociate  ourselves from all consumer activity. Let’s face it we will  always need to buy food and supplies for our household.  However, I think there is a way to shelter our children  from the pressures advertising firms bear onto our family  life. My wife and I rarely bring our children shopping. We  throw away all store flyers that arrive at the house. We  recycle mail order catalogs before a page is turned. And,  of course, we minimize the exposure to the barrage of  advertising, we receive through electronic media and TV. It  is amazing how this reduces the calls of “mom, I need  this!”.

Part of the message from Juliet Schor is that our culture is being taken away and replaced by a consumer  culture. We can fight this culture war in other ways  according to Dr. Schor. Bring back family dinners. Take  back the outdoors. Discredit brand names. They are made by  underpaid laborers and overpriced for what they are. Be a  non-brand name family. Communicate with and enjoy the  company of like-minded families. Cook great meals and enjoy  good conversation. Have healthy hobbies and habits. All  these actions take culture back into your hands. You are  doing what you want rather than living a life being coaxed  into buying things you really don’t want or need. And by  all means possible, volunteer and help those who are less  fortunate then you are. Do this in all seasons- not just at Christmas and involve your children. You will be amazed at  the perspective this builds in them. Battling this culture  is a lifelong fight. But it may be a worthy one for you and  your family.

No Need To Fear Vaccines

What a terrible injustice to vaccine makers, and to doctors and nurses who give vaccines. The injustice was that of Wakefield  and his associates when they published a report in 1998 that  linked MMR vaccines with autism. That created a worldwide  furor (yes worldwide through internet scuttlebutt) over the MMR  vaccine and autism. Why do I call it an injustice?

The little told story of this incendiary conclusion of Wakefield  and friends is that their conclusion was false. In 2006,  seven out of ten investigators retracted their support for  Wakefield’s conclusions. Furthermore it was revealed that  Wakefield was funded by lawyers who brought cases against  vaccine companies. This fact has lead Wakefield to court to  defend his falsification of his data. So in fact, there has  never been a verifiable research study supporting an autism-vaccine link. Yet, the rumors and bad mouthing of vaccines  continue.  Many medical groups from different countries have  looked at vaccine data and have concluded just the opposite –  that there is no link between vaccines and autism. There is no  link between MMR vaccine and autism and there is no link between  mercury in vaccines and autism. So why do people still fear  vaccines?

It is easy for a family with an autistic child to conclude that  the autism diagnoses coincided with the end of the primary  vaccine series. That is a coincidence of timing – but not cause  and effect. Yet this makes it easy to perpetuate the vaccine  fear that vaccines cause autism. They do not. There is no  reason to fear vaccines. In fact, there is good reason to fear  not being vaccinated.

In my twenty-five year career in pediatrics I have seen cases  of measles, mumps, meningitis, chicken pox and polio – all  preventable through vaccines. We see dramatically less of these  harmful illnesses through the vaccines we give. Pediatricians  use to do spinal taps weekly on babies looking for meningitis.  Now spinal taps are a rare medical procedure in pediatrics.   Some people think that we don’t need to give these vaccines  as often since these diseases are more rare. Nothing can be  further from the truth. Last year, measles and mumps swept  across part of our country from the Midwest to the Northeast.  Other bacteria that cause ear infections, pneumonias, and  meningitis are still alive and well. Whooping cough still  troubles communities. Even polio is not eliminated worldwide.  The risks of vaccines are minimal compared to one death caused  by one of these nasty illnesses.

If you are worried about vaccines, you need not be.   Nonetheless, talk to your doctor. Bring this article to him  or her. See if your doctor can verify the truths in this  article. The fact of the matter is this, the worldwide rumor  mongering about vaccines has been a great force to battle. We,  in medicine, have not been very good at battling the vaccine  naysayers. But the evidence is clear and more confident  conversations about the great benefits of vaccines have to  occur. In reality, there is little fear. Vaccines save  lives and your child is safer in this world when he or she is  vaccinated.

Navigating Through The Baby Information Ocean

Congratulations! You are going to have a baby. As you  get close to the time of having your child, after going  through nine months of pregnancy you face a new life and a  new world of information. The amount of baby information  is astounding. Just trying to buy the appropriate car seat  may require hundreds of pages of reading. The American  Academy of Pediatrics car seat pamphlet alone is six  pages long! Then there are thousands of newborn books,  magazines, websites, videos and tapes on all the other  aspects of care. By the end of your baby’s first month,  you can find yourself afloat on a virtual ocean of baby  information.

As a Pediatrician who for twenty-two years has enjoyed  counseling new parents, I have a set of guidelines to help  keep you from being overwhelmed by all the baby information  that surrounds us. Here is a guide for new parents to use  to go from novice to good parent.

1. There is not one expert that you must listen to.  Even when I advise parents in my practice, I tell  them that what I offer is only advice. Advice can  be used or discarded depending on how it suits you.  With your baby you are the parent and only you will  become the expert on your baby.

2. There is nothing more valuable than a few good  friends. Your friends who have seen through  child rearing may have valuable things to offer to  you. Support from a trusted source such as your  mother or an intimate friend, is as time tested as  pregnancy itself. Unfortunately with our mobile  society, this part of child rearing has become harder  to maintain. Nevertheless, finding the right people  to support you can be critical to your success  especially in the early days of your parenting  career.

3. Trust yourself. Though you will need support as a  new parent, you also need to have faith in yourself.  Most of baby care is using common sense. And I must  say that through all my experience I have mostly  witnessed good use of sense from parents. We all  have to grow into our parenting roles. This takes  time. None of us have parented before and none of us  go through a training program. This gives us plenty  of room for self doubt. But have faith. Many people  have gone before us and learned on the job as we  will. You will do well. Take your time. This is an  overwhelming experience with an overwhelming amount  to learn. Stay committed to learning and you will be  a great parent.

4. Take in a little at a time. We already established  that there is a huge amount of baby care and child  rearing information. But nobody uses all that  information all the time. Having resources at your  disposal when you need it may be a more functional  approach to the information. Have your friends or  your pediatrician suggest some books to have at your  disposal. A few key books, a good local library, and  perhaps a parenting magazine subscription (a good  baby shower gift) may be all you need. Magazines  are good to keep since you’ll never know when that  back issue will be just the answer for the current  problem you’re having with your child. Getting the  information when you need it is practical and less  stressful than trying to know everything there is to  know about babies all at one time.

5. Choose what works for you. When you are facing a  problem with your child you will face a time when  your pediatrician says one thing, your mother another  and your favorite magazine a third. No two people  raise their babies the same way. Likewise, nobody  always has the exact advice you need for your baby.  You are allowed to make a decision for yourself on  what to do with your baby. There is no right or  wrong way to raise a child. Do what your heart says  is right. You have to be the one comfortable with  your own parenting.

6. Finally, the most important thing is to love your  child. Sometimes we can be so worried about whether  we are doing things right that we forget the most  important things. No decision we make will break  our baby’s childhood. Relax. Smile, play with your  baby. With enough support and resources available  we should feel empowered to feel good about being a  parent. We should relieve ourselves of the pressure  we feel. And recognize that the most important  parenting rule is that our children should feel loved  and cared for. So love your child and everything  will be ok. You’ll feel like you are surfing above  that information ocean.

In Their Faces

A one month old looks passively around the exam room and finally meets my eyes. He stops and stares with wonder.  He found something he enjoys looking at – an oval face.

A two month old takes a shorter time to search the room and  find my face. He doesn’t just stare, he smiles and coos –  as if he has things in his head to say but doesn’t know how  to get the words out.

A four month old looks right at me and smiles and coos.  Sometimes he screeches out loud to get my attention. He  doesn’t want me to talk to his mother he wants my total  attention.

At six months of age, a baby looks at me with a frown at  first. He tries to judge my emotion. If I turn to him and  frown, I could make him cry. But I never do that. I know  what he is looking for. As I go over to the exam table I  smile widely. My little friend responds with a beaming  smile and a gurgle.

It gets harder at nine months because at that age they  don’t like any smiling faces, they prefer the faces they  know and love – mom and dads. But that’s okay with me  because as they cry in response to me in the office at  nine months of age, I take comfort in knowing they are  developing well.

I am so lucky to have a job where every week I get to  experience babies. I love to see the changes in their  responses to me as they develop.

Watching children develop is such a joy. I never tire of  seeing it happen. It is something we should all enjoy and  take interest in.

The development in children in the first five years is  absolutely fascinating. They start with responding to  faces with smiles and coos. They progress to knowing their  parent’s faces and preferring those faces to others. They  start learning words in order to interact better. They  fear strangers yet act like the world is theirs to explore  When not getting their way with the world, they start  having temper fits. But as language and understanding  improve the fits go away and sharing begins. Through  sharing and interaction more words and language come. And  when learning more about that language a fascinating world  of the alphabet, letters and labels becomes awakened.  Before we know it, our child is ready for kindergarten.

The first years of our children’s lives are precious  because of this amazing development that occurs. Ninety  percent of their brain development occurs in those first  five years. But they cannot develop alone. This is why  we need to pay attention to our children. They need us  because they can only develop in these vital years through  interaction with us. We need to remember to turn off the  distractions – the TV’s, the movies, the computers – and  stay in our babies’ faces. By being “in their faces” they  develop the skills they need to interact. And by being  in our children’s faces we get to witness it all unfold.  Parents shouldn’t forget this lesson just because our kids  get older. Almost at any age our children can learn from  us. In order to do that they need to interact with us.  This is what family time should be all about – interacting  and watching them grow before our eyes.

Good News About Vaccines

For the past several years I have found myself on the defensive over a very fundamental treatment I provide as a pediatrician. I have been giving children vaccines according to the American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for 22 years. But in recent years there has been a backlash against the very vaccines we use to prevent known serious illnesses. As a response to this backlash I built a file of articles that supported the use and defended against supposed side effects of the vaccines. In recent days there has been great news about vaccines to add to my file. The news is they are safe and do not cause autism.

In the late nineties two events stoked the fires of skepticism about vaccines. First, in 1998, a well known British medical journal, the Lancet, published a report based on work of thirteen prominent physicians stating that the MMR vaccine was associated with autism. A storm of controversy over the use of the MMR vaccine followed. The second event in the late nineties that caused a furor was the removal of thimerosal from vaccines. Thimerosal, a preservative used in vaccines, contains mercury. It has never been shown to be a health hazard. However, because of the potential for buildup of mercury in the body, it was prudent to remove thimerosal from vaccines. This was done on a voluntary basis by the manufacturers. Just that move caused speculation that vaccine manufacturers were hiding something. Further speculation followed that thimerosal was associated with autism – with no medical evidence proving it.

Through the early part of this decade, scientists and lay people have battled on both sides of the argument. Advocates for parents of autistic children questioned the MMR and thimerosal link while doctors and researchers tried to study the association. Now, within the past two months two news reports help clarify the reality.

First, in April, ten of the original thirteen investigators who published the link between the MMR vaccine and autism retracted their conclusions. It was revealed that the study, which was funded by lawyers who focus on vaccine damage cases, was markedly flawed. The original study that served as a basis for legal cases involving the MMR vaccine around the globe was biased. The lead investigators in the study are currently under legal investigation for conflict of interest.

A second story about vaccines came out in May 04. The Institute of Medicine released a report by its thirteen member panel saying that there was “little credible evidence that thimerosal was associated with autism“. Autism is a complex and difficult problem for parents and children. I know many autistic children and their families. There is still no clear explanation for autism. I wish there was. But at least we can learn some lessons from these two reports.

These two reports are of great value to physicians who promote vaccines for kids. The first report about the authors of the Lancet article takes the wind out of the sails of the MMR – autism relationship. It had been viewed with skepticism and was never supported by other research. But now to have the original authors retract their opinions makes the original article meaningless. Coupled with research disproving the MMR autism association we can now put this speculation to rest.

The thimerosal argument was piggybacked onto the MMR argument for those who wanted to link vaccines to autism. But with “no credible evidence” for such a link we can now be doubly reassured that vaccines have no connection with autism.

The general public never sees the illnesses we seek to prevent with vaccines. The illnesses are awful and often deadly. It is one of the miracles of medicine that we have vaccines for our children. Due to vaccines far fewer children need respirators, spinal taps, intravenous medicines, hospitalizations, ER visits, and intensive care unit treatments. We see far fewer cases of meningitis than we saw even 10 years ago. And in our lifetime – we will see polio eliminated worldwide because of vaccines.

So when I give immunizations to children these days, because of the recent news, I give them with renewed confidence that they are the most valuable preventative care treatments I give to children. I feel so lucky to have them. Now, I just hope more people can be reassured about their safety.