Infant Reflux

This post was inspired by a friend who is having a tough time with a fussy newborn, but dedicated to all the parents out there who have ever cared for a baby with reflux, my husband included.

Reflux, colic, gas, milk intolerance, or general demeanor…there are many reasons for an overly fussy baby. Many babies who cry excessively swallow lots of air and always appear to have belly pain or gas, so figuring out the reason for a baby’s fussiness can be challenging. I will focus on infant gastro-esophageal reflux in this post, though many of these suggestions can help a baby with colic. Some babies with reflux are not fussy at all (they just make huge messes with spit-up), while others can have discomfort, poor weight gain and feeding problems. The symptoms of reflux are caused by milk that makes its way back up through a weak muscle at the top of the stomach, into the esophagus, and to the back of the throat or mouth. Infants do not all have the same symptoms, but can have spitting up, frequent hiccups, swallowing or grunting, arching of the back or neck, coughing, wheezing, difficulty feeding or excessive crying. Most infants with reflux act like they are always hungry, this is because they cry and root as a reaction to discomfort – often 1-2 hours after a previous feeding. If your child has been diagnosed with reflux or exhibits these behaviors, there are many techniques you can use to decrease symptoms.

1) Feed sitting upright – with bottle feeding, this is easy; but with breastfeeding you will have to find the most comfortable position for both you and your baby.

2) Burp frequently – with bottle feeding, this means every 1/2-1 oz; with breastfeeding it is still best to burp in between breasts or after 10-15 minutes.

3) If you are bottle feeding, find the right nipple and bottle. Babies who drink too quickly or swallow too much air spit up more. There are many choices and you may have to try several, but I say go with the one that works best for you and your baby.

4) Feed small amounts, frequently. For small infants, this means 1-2 oz every 1-2 hours; bigger infants need 2-4 oz every 2-3 hours and increase gradually. Do not over-feed your baby, this will lead to more discomfort!

5) Keep your baby sitting upright 20-30 minutes after each feed. Easy to say, not so easy to do (especially in the middle of the night or when you are chasing around another child). You do not have to hold your baby, you can use any contraption that works for you – bouncy/vibrator seat, upright swing, head elevating positioner, wedge with a sling, baby carrier/sling, just to name a few.

6) Position your baby to sleep elevated (30-45 degrees). The easiest way to do this is to put a couple of books under the legs at the head of the crib or bassinet. If you are using a co-sleeper or pack and play, a couple of rolled up towels or receiving blankets under the thin mattress works well. They also make special foam wedges for this purpose.

7) Do not lie your baby down flat on their back, especially after feeding. If possible, try to change your baby’s diaper prior to feeding.

After utilizing these techniques, your baby may still spit-up. If they are happy and gaining weight, your next step is to stockpile burp cloths, bibs, and wet wipes. If your baby has extreme fussiness, coughing, wheezing, difficulty feeding or poor weight gain, you need to take them to the pediatrician. They may recommend an elimination diet (for breastfeeding mothers), a formula switch, or medication for your infant. This can be a very stressful time as a parent, so keep in mind that whatever is causing fussiness in your baby will pass with time.

Heather Joyce, MD

Poison Ivy

A huge part of summertime fun is playing outside. Naturally curious, most children love to explore overgrown areas of the yard or park. Unfortunately, poison ivy thrives in these areas. The rash that develops after exposure to poison ivy is a contact dermatitis to the chemical urushiol and can usually be treated symptomatically with home remedies.

Prior to summertime excursions, look at pictures of poison ivy and teach children to avoid it. Tell your children to count the leaves on plants and look for the “three, almond shaped, sharp-teeth leaves” that are classic for poison ivy. Dress your child in protective clothing – long pants, shirts, and shoes with socks for outdoor adventures.

If  your child comes into contact with the plant and you notice prior to the rash appearing, wash the area well with soap and water. Remove the clothing that your child was wearing and wash it in hot water.

If the urushiol absorbs into the skin, a red, itchy, blistering rash may appear. It usually appears in straight lines because of the way the plant comes into contact with the skin, but may be diffuse and appear spreading. The rash does not spread with itching or breaking the blisters, but if your child’s skin comes into contact with urushiol again (from clothes/pets/repeat exposure), it will continue to spread. Urushiol will continue to occupy any surface if it is not washed off, including dead poison ivy plants.

Home remedies to try if your child develops a rash:

1) Cool oatmeal baths

2) Calamine lotion

3) Vaseline

4) Cool compresses

If itching is severe and keeping your child from sleeping you may try diphenhydramine (Benadryl) or 1% hydrocortisone cream to the red areas.

The rash typically lasts 1-2 weeks, but may last as long as 8 weeks, depending on how your child’s skin absorbs the urushiol and reacts to it.

The rash may become infected with bacteria if you child is itching it, so seek medical care if they develop fever, yellow or white drainage, yellow crusting, severe swelling or warmth to the area. Also, your child may require strong antihistamines or oral steroids if the rash spreads to the face, mouth, eyes, genitals or involves the entire body.

Heather Joyce, MD

Bike Safety

Did you know that more children are seen in emergency departments for injuries related to biking than any other sport?  On average, over 500 kids a day are injured due to cycling related crashes!  Bike safety is something the whole family needs to learn about to avoid potentially serious injuries.

This first and cardinal rule of bike safety is obvious.  Every time you and your child ride a bike, wear a helmet.  It’s that simple.  Younger kids are more apt to make this a habit, while older kids tend to steer away from helmets because of the “cool factor.”  But don’t let this rule slide … it is clearly shown to save lives.

Helmet fit is crucial.  A helmet should sit on top of the head in a level position, and shouldn’t be loose enough to rock side to side or forward and backward.  It must always be buckled, but not to the point where your child can’t breath or feels like her or she is going to choke.  Don’t forget – helmets aren’t just for biking.  It is just as effective for preventing injuries in activities like riding a scooter, roller blading, skateboarding, and riding an ATV.

I like the “eyes, ears, and mouth test.”  This is a good test for helmet fit:

Eyes:  Look up and you should see the bottom rim of the helmet.  It should be 1-2 finger widths above the eyebrows.

Ears:  The straps of the helmet should form a “V” under your ears when buckled.  Remember, it should be snug and comfortable.

Mouth:  When you open your mouth as wee as you can, the helmet should hug your head.  If not, tighten the straps.

Click here for a video of a demonstration showing proper helmet fit.

Just like for adults, making sure the bike actually fits the child helps avoid injury.  When sitting on the seat, the child’s feet should be able to touch the ground.  Of course, it’s helpful if the gears, brakes, and bike components work properly.

Adult supervision and modeling bike safety will help your child learn to ride safely from an early age.  Riding as a family can be very fun and enjoyable – obey the rules of the road (ride on the right side of the road, use hand signals when applicable, and stop before entering an intersection, etc), and your child will understand how to ride a bike safely!

Rachel Brewer, MD


Hives are very common in children. The rash is itchy, red, raised welts that often move from one location to the next within minutes. If you are like most parents, your first thought is an allergic reaction and you rack your brain trying to figure out what your child may have eaten or touched. However, hives have many different causes, the most common in children being illness, either viral or bacteria. Allergen exposure is second on the list. Allergens may be food, medications, lotions, insect bites, soaps, detergents, fabric softener, clothing …just to name a few. In many cases, it is difficult to figure out the exact cause.

Hives may last for hours to weeks, but most often 1-2 days. If they are due to an allergen exposure and the substance is taken away, the hives usually resolved within 24 hours with treatment. However, with illness, you may have to wait until the illness resolves for the hives to fully go away.

Most often, symptomatic treatment for hives is the best course of action. Antihistamines, like diphenhydramine  (Benadryl) are very effective at treating hives, however this medications may make your child drowsy or hyperactive. Your doctor may recommend a long acting antihistamine like loratadine (Claritin), fexofenadin (Allegra), certirizine (Zyrtec), or desloratadine (Clarinex) if the hives last longer than 2-3 days.

Home remedies to make your child more comfortable include placing your child in a cool bath (with or without oatmeal to sooth the skin) and dressing your child in light, airy clothing. Do your best to try and keep them from itching!

If your child develops swelling of the face, tongue, lips, or joints they need to be seen by a physician. If they develop difficulty swallowing or breathing, vomiting, abdominal pain, or pass out with hives – it is a medical emergency and can be a sign of a severe allergic reaction.

Heather Joyce, MD

The Ins and Outs of Pacifier Use

The decision to use a pacifier is very personal. After one night of my newborn screaming in the hospital, I popped in a pacifier (Binky at my house) and never looked back. Both of my sons took a Binky without hesitation, but letting it go was not so easy – for both me and my children.

Sucking is a soothing reflex for all infants, whether they suck on breasts, nipples, fingers or pacifiers…they find a way. Pacifiers have been used for hundreds (but probably thousands) of years. They were originally made of bone or rock, but in the past one hundred years mostly rubber or silicone. Recently, studies have shown the pacifier use while sleeping decreases the risk of SIDS and while some professionals believe that pacifier use interrupts breastfeeding, recently studies have shown pacifiers can support breastfeeding. I also feel that pacifiers help keep infants from overfeeding, which can cause reflux, gassiness and discomfort.

If you want your infant to take a pacifier, but they seem reluctant. Here are few tricks:

1) Place the pacifier in your infant’s mouth immediately after feeding. If breastfeeding, continue to hold the infant close to you as if you are feeding while offering the pacifier.

2) Gently rub the pacifier along the roof of your infant’s mouth, until he or she starts sucking.

3) Try a couple of different brands.

Though some infants never take a pacifier, starting it is usually the easy part, breaking the habit can be much trickier. My advice is to go in with a plan to take it away (timing and method). You may not meet the goal, but at least you have one to work towards. Few infants or toddlers will walk up to you and hand it back. In my opinion, there are a couple of easy transition times that are good for taking it away.

  • 1 year when you are making the bottle to sippy cup transition. Your child will cry for a few days, but will not try to manipulate or bargain for it. Also, you are already dealing with the loss of the bottle, so the pacifier may not be the bigger deal.
  • 18-24 months, if your infant still seems very attached to the pacifier and seems to need it to calm down, then wait until this time period. Much later and you will be pleading for your child to give it up.

My method of choice for taking it away, is just that…cold turkey. Find them all and throw them away. There may be a couple of sleepless nights/naps, but most toddlers give up by 2-3 days and learn to sooth themselves in other ways. You may also want to offer a new transition object (stuffed animal, lovey, pillow pet) at this time. I have heard of several other methods that work, especially for older children, including:

  • Cutting the tops of the nipple off and saying they are broken
  • Having the child throw them away and offer a “prize” in return
  • The pacifier fairy (comes and takes them away during sleep, but leaves a “prize” in return)
  • Using it only for sleep and gently weaning. However, you will still have to deal with the day that you don’t give it at night.

Pacifier use beyond the age of 2 or 3 can interfere with speech development and tooth positioning, so as hard as it may be, it is important to take it away at some point before this happens. My husband and I chose the age of 18 months with both boys and neither seemed to miss the Binky once it was out of site (and mind).

Heather Joyce, MD

Don’t Forget the Sunscreen!

This blog post is brought to you by guest blogger Dr. Elizabeth Miller.  Dr. Miller received her medical degree from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and completed her residency in dermatology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.  She now works in a multi-specialty group in Austin, Texas, and sees patients of all ages.

Summer is quickly approaching and now is a good time to think about how you can protect your child’s skin from sun damage. We know that the sun damage accumulated as a child and young adult is an important risk factor for several types of skin cancer like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma in their adult life.  It’s never too early to start teaching your child about sun safety!

Here are a few tips for sun safety:

*Seek shade, especially between the hours of 10am-4pm when the sun’s rays are the strongest

 *Look for a sunscreen with an SPF 30-50

 *Look for “broad spectrum” on sunscreen labels (equal UVB and UVA protection)

 *Reapply every 2 hours-even the best sunscreen wears off and loses its effectiveness over time

 *Use sunscreen even on cloudy days. Up to 80% of the sun’s UV rays are transmitted through clouds!

 *There is no such thing as a “waterproof” sunscreen-reapply after swimming or toweling off

*Wear “rash guards” or other long sleeved swim tops. Broad brimmed hats are also a great way to block the sun, especially on kids with light colored or fine hair. These are becoming easier and easier to find at local stores like Target, but you can also buy them online from companies such as Coolibar. Don’t forget the sunglasses and lip balm with SPF!

 *There are many good brands and types of sunscreen are available, find one that you and your children like best. Spray sunscreens are especially good for kids, but make sure you apply enough—the skin should look wet when you spray it on and then you need to rub it in to make sure you have even coverage. If using a spray sunscreen on your child’s face, spray it on to your hand first and then rub on to your child’s face, never spray directly on their face. Avoid inhaling the sunscreen.

A bit of technical information on the two different types of sunscreens available:

Chemical sunscreens

 * These absorb the sun’s rays in the top layer of skin, preventing damage to the underlying skin

 *Advantages: rubs in easily, most common type of sunscreen available, good sun protection

 *Disadvantages: some people with very sensitive skin develop skin irritation with this type of sunscreen

 *Read the label, the “active ingredients” will have one or more of these sunscreen chemical


-Oxybenzone–>rarely people can become allergic to this sunscreen ingredient    and develop an itchy or painful rash (although this is not a dangerous rash)





Physical sunscreens

These sit on top of the skin and reflect the sun’s rays

 *Advantages: good for people with very sensitive skin, good sun protection

 *Disadvantages: a little more opaque, harder to rub in

 *Physical blocker active ingredients

-Titanium dioxide

-Zinc oxide

The dangers of tanning bed use:

Talk to your child about the dangers of tanning bed use. It is NEVER ok to use a tanning bed, even for special events or vacations

 *The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified tanning beds to be as carcinogenic (cancer causing) as cigarette smoking

 *There is a 75% increased risk of developing melanoma with tanning bed use

Even just 4 tanning bed sessions a year increases the risk of skin cancer by 11-15.  Melanoma is the second most common cancer in women between the ages of 20 and 35, and the leading cause of cancer death in women ages 25 to 30

Elizabeth Miller, MD

Water Safety Tips

Summer is almost here!  Once Memorial Day hits, pools around the country will be filled with young children.  The number of children drowning skyrockets during the warmer months.  Since the beginning of the decade, an average of more than 800 children 14 years and younger have died as a result of unintentional drowning each year.  Also, during that time span an average of nearly 4000 children sustained near drowning-related injuries each year.  Follow these tips to keep your kids safe around water.

*In-ground public pools are not the only places that drownings tend to occur.  Pools that pose the greatest risk of entrapment are children’s public wading pools, hot tubs, or other pools that have flat drain grates or a single main drain system.  Teach your kids never to play or swim near drains or suction outlets.  Install protection to prevent entrapment if you own a pool or hot tub.

*Actively supervise your kids around water at all time.  Even if it is just a small wading pool in your backyard.  Have your cell phone nearby to call for help in an emergency.

*If you own a pool, make sure it has a four-sided fence and a child-proof gate to prevent a child from wandering into the pool area unsupervised.  Hot tubs should be covered and locked at all times when not in use.

*A door alarm to a pool area comes in handy to alert you if a child does wander into a pool area unsupervised.

*Teach your children never to go near a pool or body of water without you or an adult present.

*Teach your children how to swim … whether this is through swimming lessons or you showing them skills, it’s important to teach kids how to tread water, float, and swim to shore or the edge of the pool if needed.

*Learn CPR.  If you learn it and are prepared, you’ll likely never need it.  Don’t find yourself unprepared in an emergency situation.

*If you are gearing up to head out to the lake or another body of open water, always have your child wear a life jacket approved by the US Coast Guard.  The life jacket should fit snugly and not allow the child’s chin or ears to slip through the neck opening.

And here is a great resource of water safety and tips on preventing all types of injuries in kids.  Be safe this summer, have fun … and enjoy the water!!

Rachel Brewer, MD