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The Informed Parent

Busting Pediatric Myths

by Louis P. Theriot, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on May. 28, 2001

Milk Causes Mucus — Myth!

Mrs. X brought her 18-month-old daughter to the office because she had a cold for over a week. Accompanying Mrs. X and Katie was the grandmother. When I was gathering information from mom about what things she was doing to give Katie relief, her grandmother was quick to add that at the first sign of Katie’s cold, she made sure that the baby did NOT get any more milk. “Everyone knows that milk makes more mucus,” she said, authoritatively.

In a tactful and gentle way, I tried to explain to them that this long held notion about milk causing mucus was, in fact, a myth. “While many people felt for years that this was the case, a wonderful study appeared in the ANNALS OF ALLERGY some years back that disproved this theory.” I also explained that this was a well-designed study in a most reputable journal. I didn’t, however, tell them that this article actually was over ten years old.

Katie’s grandmother just shook her head and felt somewhat vindicated, although I don’t think she entirely believed me. This article did prove that milk does not increase the production of mucus in any way, shape or form. The only reason that a parent should withhold milk from their child is if they truly have a cow’s milk intolerance, or if they have a severe diarrheal illness that may have caused temporary lactose intolerance.

Food Makes Acne Worse — Myth!

Mr. Y brought 15-year-old Garrett in for a physical to clear him for the high school baseball team. Garrett was obviously in good shape. When I was going through his review of systems, a checklist whereby we ask about each and every system, dad just shook his head. “Garrett has really been in good health this year. I don’t think he’s been sick once,” he said. He paused, and then added, “There is just one thing. Garrett’s acne is looking pretty bad lately, especially since he started playing baseball. I think it’s from all of the sweating. Doctor, would you tell him he has to stay away from chocolate and greasy foods! When I was his age, those foods made my acne flare-up something terrible… and mayonnaise too,” he went on.

Garrett just rolled his eyes as dad proceeded to talk about his battles with acne when he was a teenager. The truth of the matter is, this '‘myth'’ has been passed on from generation to generation and has absolutely nothing to support it. The scientific research going back to the 1950’s has proven without a doubt that foods do NOT have any bearing on one’s acne. For a discussion of acne, please refer to the archive section of THE INFORMED PARENT, as this was covered in detail.

Cereal Will Help Your Infant Sleep Through The Night — Myth!

Mr. and Mrs. Z. were both present for four-and-a-half-month-old Jake’s well check. Although the baby seemed perfectly happy and content in mom’s arms as we talked, both parents were eager to discuss how miserable Jake was at night in regards to sleep. Dad produced a legal pad with a detailed recording of Jake’s every feeding, bowel movement, wet diaper…and sleep times. The sleep section was highlighted in yellow and bracketed in red.

Mom was breast-feeding, and doing a wonderful job because Jake was at the 90th percentile for height and weight. The problem, it seemed, was that Jake would not sleep for more than 31/2- to-4 hours at a time. Ironically, he was a great napper. Almost apologetically, mom confessed that she had been giving Jake rice cereal at bedtime, hoping it would get him to sleep longer. It didn’t. What I was able to get from mom, however, was that Jake was eating every 2-21/2 hours during the day. He was ALWAYS breast-feeding. In a 24-hour period he was eating on the order of 11-12 times.

I explained to them that THAT was the problem. Jake had become trained to eat small but frequent amounts. Naturally, he would wake up hungry. A big slug of cereal at bedtime wouldn’t change a thing. What they had to do was gradually stretch out the feedings during the day, such that Jake was able to go a good 4-5 hours between feedings. This would enable him to take larger amounts less frequently, and be able to last longer in between feedings. Essentially he would consolidate a couple of feedings. The end result would be that he would still get the same number of ounces per day, and he would continue to grow the same. But by the time he was breast-feeding 5-6 times in a 24-hour period I guaranteed the parents that he would be sleeping throughout the night. This is exactly what happened within seven days.

Doubling a Baby’s Height at Two Years Will Tell How Tall He Will Be — Myth!

Dad came in for Mark’s two-year-old well check. I hadn’t seen him since Mark was a small infant. There was an incredible family resemblance as Mark looked like a smaller version of his father. Both wore matching L.A. Lakers shirts and sweatpants that created an image of Dr. Evil and Mini-Me.

Mom smiled and shook her head. “As you probably can tell, my husband is an avid basketball fan. He knows that if you double a child’s height at two years you can tell how tall he’ll be as an adult. He has been waiting for this visit for a long time.”

Dad interrupted, “My mom looked at my baby book, and at two years I was 3 feet 3 inches. When I was in college I peaked at 6 feet 6 inches.” I didn’t want to take the air out of his sails, so I told him that there was nothing scientific about doubling the height. Sure, there was an abundance of anecdotal stories about how accurate this is…as was in his case. But I wouldn’t put too much stock in the exactness. As I explained to them, a broken clock is correct twice a day. The correct theory is that the height at two years does reflect the parental influence from a genetic standpoint and it will give you an idea about how tall he should be. I assured Mark’s dad that he should be tall just based on the fact that dad was 6 feet 6 inches and the grandfather had been 6 feet 3 inches. That is all dad needed to hear.

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