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I Ignore My Pediatrician and You Should Too

A pediatrician is examining a child with a stethoscope in a clinic
Photograph by Twenty20

I became a mother in 2014. When I looked down on my daughter's face for the first time, I knew that I would never love anything as much as I loved her. I also knew fear. We were both lucky to survive unrelated complications during labor and delivery.

An eternity passed between her birth and the moment my mother walked over, relieved tears in her eyes, from where the NICU team had resuscitated her.

Our medical problems were only just beginning. The hospital's in-house pediatrician discharged us with incorrect lab results. On our second day home, we were rushed to the emergency room to have repeat blood work done.

A week later, we received a letter in the mail. The hospital had run a routine genetic screening and our daughter's results showed a metabolic mutation. The letter explained that if it was left untreated, she would experience seizures, followed by brain damage and death. It would be another week before the results from her retest were in and we were able to confirm it was a false positive.

At her one month visit, we discovered that she wasn't gaining enough weight. Unable to determine the cause, we returned for weekly weigh-ins. We received tips, tricks and varying diagnoses, but nothing helped. Each visit a different pediatrician would present us with a new theory.

"It's silent reflux," one said, prescribing medication.

"She has colic," another told me, suggesting I let her cry it out. "This is normal." She laughed when I said something seemed very wrong.

I don't take gynecological advice from my primary physician, so why would I take breastfeeding advice from my child's pediatrician?

Finally, we were referred to a specialist. I described her symptoms to the pediatric gastroenterologist while fighting back tears. I felt hopeless and frustrated, just as I had at every other doctors visit I had been to in my daughter's short life. It only took the doctor a moment to review the chart before he diagnosed her with a dairy allergy.

He also confirmed something else that I was beginning to suspect: My daughter's pediatricians didn't know what they were talking about.

He explained to me that most pediatricians don't know much about nutrition or other specialized topics. Just like a primary care doctor, their knowledge is more generalized. Something clicked for me. Up until that point, I had been treating her doctors like all-knowing beings. I treated them like they were experts on all things having to do with my baby, but they weren't. I was the expert on my baby.

I'm not saying that they were always wrong or that I didn't like them. I loved my daughter's doctors (and I cried, years later, when we moved away and had to say goodbye). They were smart and caring and doing their best. But just like anyone else, they were capable of making mistakes and giving bad advice. (Like the doctor who had told me that my breasts were only capable of producing milk every two hours, and that there was no point in latching my baby until exactly two hours had passed.)

I began to think about pediatric care the way I thought about my own. I don't take gynecological advice from my primary physician, so why would I take breastfeeding advice from my child's pediatrician? Sure, they are trained medical professionals, and they know way more about medicine than I ever will. I trust them to prescribe antibiotics, dispense vaccinations and tell me whether or not we're on track to meet milestones. However, when it comes to specialized care or parenting advice, they aren't the authority.

Two kids and several years later, when the pediatrician recommends something outlandish, like using fluoride toothpaste on my 6-month-old, I know to smile, nod and talk to a dentist before I do anything. I may not know as much as a pediatrician, but I know when I'm getting bad advice.

I know that it's OK to ignore it—and you should too.

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