Ghost Stories vs. Rational Worries

Occasionally I am surprised by some parent’s beliefs.  There are a lot of “old wive’s tales” out there which I am used to: fever curdles milk in baby’s stomachs, fever will cook baby’s brain, blowing cigarette smoke in ears is good for ear pain, etc.  One day, however, a mom asked me “do cats really steal babies’ breath?”  I had a millisecond hesitation that a mom could really believe that, but recovered and answered the question like this:

Cats like to sleep in warm places, and I am sure some time in the past a cat jumped into a newborn’s crib, snuggled up to the warm infant, and accidentally smothered it.  This is how crib death happens- baby smothers by rolling face down in thick bedclothes or a pillow and is not mature enough to be able to roll back.  Once the cat did this, the act became myth- that cats, already associated with the supernatural, have the ability to ”suck” the life out of babies like in horror movies. 

It is natural for people to try to explain how things happen, and make the explanation more supernatural and exciting.  When it comes to child care the explanations sometimes become too exciting and lead to needless anxiety.  One of the main reasons I write this blog is to help parents separate the wild fears that bring them to the Emergency Department from the real worries.  

Here is a quick list of things NOT to worry about, in addition to those already mentioned: children hitting their heads and dying after a long interval of looking well, children choking to death on blood from bloody noses, babies choking to death on mucus, babies and children choking to death on vomit, swallowing tongues during seizures, spotty rashes being measles.  For further explanations of these, look to the appropriate Category on the right of this blog page.

Real trouble looks like this: children getting increasingly lethargic and unresponsive, breathing hard and fast, head injury with loss of consciousness and vomiting, fever in a baby under two months old.  These are the right reasons to go to an Emergency Department, rather than because baby has rattling breathing from a runny nose. 

 Of course, when in doubt call your doctor.  They can help you separate the real worry from the wild fear over the phone.  And besides not sleeping with baby in your bed, keep the cat out of the room too.

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