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'There are no stupid questions about your child's health' (Expert interview)

Written by Dr Zinal Unadkat |Updated : March 20, 2015 5:45 PM IST

Madhumita, 29, was elated with the fact that she was pregnant, but the fear of not being a 'good enough' mother was eating away at her. Her well-meaning friends and relatives were bombarding her with advice. Atleast three of her friends were pregnant and all they could talk about was their pregnancy. Her husband got her all the pregnancy books he could lay his hands on. With this glut of information, poor Madhumita was badly confused and stressed.

While most mothers-to-be worry about how they will be able to take care of their infants, our expert Dr Zinal Unadkat, says that worrying is normal. But listening to that 'mother's instinct' is essential. In a casual t te- -t te with the leading paediatrician, we asked her some of the most common questions parents have.

Pavitra: What are the most common queries parents ask you about their babies?

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Dr Zinal: Some of the most common queries I get are that, 'is my baby normal?' I had one parent who asked me, 'my friends baby had a heart abnormality, I am afraid that my child will also have a heart abnormality, should I get a 2D echo done?' It is important to remember that every baby is not going to be unhealthy. It is important to use your instincts when it comes to your baby. Go regularly to the doctor, and ask him or her all the questions you might have. Remember that there are no 'stupid questions'. To you they may sound silly, but every question can be important to your child's health.

Pavitra: Doctor, what are the most common myths you come across in your practice?

Dr Zinal: The most common myth that I have come across is when parents ask me, 'Doctor, I want to feed honey to my baby as soon as it is born, can I?' There are some communities in India that believe that whichever person feeds the child honey , the baby grows up to be like that person. What I try to tell all my patients is that please don't follow all these myths blindly. It is not possible for a child to become like a person by just feeding it honey; it takes years of nurturing for a child to become like someone. Moreover by introducing honey you are introducing infections and bacteria into the baby. Honey has very toxic bacteria called Clostridium botulinum that can be fatal to babies.

Another common myth that most parents have is about the first milk or 'colostrum'. They say it is the heaviest (unhealthy) milk and should be thrown away. This is absolutely wrong. In fact that colostrum is the boost your baby needs to improve his/her immunity, build a stronger body and research has shown that it even makes your baby smarter.

Pavitra: What are the dos and don'ts right after childbirth?

Dr Zinal: The most important thing that you should remember is that the baby should be allowed to adapt from the intrauterine environment to the outside environment. There are 5 things that are very important.

1. Colour: This means that the baby should look pink after birth. This shows that the baby's circulation is good. The best way to ensure that is to provide the baby warmth.

2. Doctor's examination: The doctor should check for the breathing, heart rate, etc. and see that the baby is doing fine.

3. Breast feed: Once the baby is stable, he/she should be put immediately to breast (given a breast feed) because for the first one hour they are most active and will learn to suckle immediately.

4. Maternal warmth: It is important to place the baby on or near the mother. When the baby is kept on the mother, it automatically warms the baby through the mother's body heat.

5. Minimal handling: There should be minimal handling of the baby. This means that the child should be carried, changed or fed by the least number of people, to avoid infections.

Pavitra: What tips would you give to new parents?

Dr Zinal: I think the most important thing for new parents is that the mother should be in a positive frame of mind. It is up to the mother to decide the health of the baby. If she is always going to be a critical and doubtful, she will have an unhealthy baby. The bottom line is that a mother has to be healthy both in the body and mind to have a healthy baby. What new parents need, is a mix of positivity, and the right balance of love and medical knowledge, she will be able to go through motherhood very well.

Pavitra: What is the father's role in the life of a newborn?

Dr Zinal: I feel that a father's role is very important, because pregnancy is a very stressful time. The mother goes through a lot of negativity, fears and a large number of inputs coming from various well wishers. In this situation, the father should be her support since that's what the mother needs. It is important to know that she is going through a lot of changes including those in her life style, job. Her time gets more devoted to the child rather than to the husband or to the family. The husband has to be supportive of the fact that she needs to devote that time to the baby. I feel that if the mother devotes the first six months solely to the child's care, it forms a strong base for the baby's future health. The kind of psychological help that a father can provide the mother, nobody else can. He should also spend time talking to the baby and spend time playing with it. This way the baby will feel like the part of a complete family.

Pavitra: What is the ideal weight of a newborn?

Dr Zinal: There are different standards in different countries, but in India we assume that a healthy baby should weigh anything above 2.5 to 4 kilograms. Anything above that may not be very healthy. A baby heavier than 4 kilograms indicates that the mother has had some problems during her pregnancy. That being said, I always believe that weight is not everything, it is the overall health of the child. I have seen babies that are just 1.8 kilograms and are perfectly healthy. The baby should feed well, should gain weight well and respond well to you.

Pavitra: How can a parent gauge if something is wrong with their newborn?

Dr Zinal: Mostly babies cry excessively when they have to indicate that something is wrong. This is because they have only one way to express their feelings. There are basically two tell-tale signs that there is something wrong -if the baby is crying too much and if the baby is too quiet. When the baby does not cry at all, is not feeding well, is listless and lethargic, that is when you have to worry.

To know exactly what I mean, let me contrast it with the definition of a healthy baby. A normal thriving baby sleeps enough, drinks enough milk, passes enough urine and stools and reacts well to stimuli. Even though newborn babies cannot see very well, they can feel and understand. So when you talk to them they will immediately become quiet, or if you pick them up, they feel your warmth and become quiet. So if you try all of this, and the baby does not get quiet and continues to cry, then you need to take the child immediately to the doctor.

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