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Your Teen

Overweight Girls Start Periods At Earlier Age

1.45 to read

Early-onset menstruation is linked to later health problems such as breast cancer, said Sarah Keim, a researcher at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, who wasn't involved in the new study. Girls who get their period early in life are also more likely to have sex sooner than their peers, Keim added, which increases the risk of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.It's nothing new that girls are getting younger and younger when they have their first period, but experts worry that the current obesity epidemic could be fueling that trend.

Overweight or obese girls get their first period months earlier than their normal-weight peers, according to a Danish study. Early-onset menstruation is linked to later health problems such as breast cancer, said Sarah Keim, a researcher at The Ohio State University College of Medicine in Columbus, who wasn't involved in the new study. Girls who get their period early in life are also more likely to have sex sooner than their peers, Keim added, which increases the risk of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. About 17 percent of American kids and teens are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For the study, researchers used information on body mass index (BMI) -- a measure of weight in relation to height -- and age at first period from about 3,200 Danish girls born between 1984 and 1987. The girls started their period just after they had turned 13, on average, which is about half a year later than in the U.S. Keim said part of the reason for this difference may be that African-Americans tend to start their periods before white girls. On average, a girl got her period about 25 days earlier for every point her BMI increased. For a female of about average height and weight, a one-point change in BMI is equivalent to about six pounds. Overweight and obese girls, for example, got their period three to five months before normal-weight girls, said Anshu Shrestha, a graduate student at UCLA School of Public Health, who worked on the study. There has been past research showing a link between BMI and when girls start menstruating. However, since this study was done more recently, it shows that the link is holding up in today's generation, Keim said. The researchers also found that a girl's mother's weight was related to when her daughter started menstruating, but less so than earlier work had hinted. For every point her mother's BMI when pregnant went up, the girl's period came about a week earlier, according to the new study, which was published in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Keim said the Danish findings reinforce the importance of keeping a healthy weight. "It's important for your entire life, starting from very early on," she told Reuters Health. "And it can even affect your children's health." Talking to your daughter about Menstruation. Most girls begin to menstruate when they're about 12, but periods are possible as early as age 8. That's why explaining menstruation early is so important. But menstruation is an awkward subject to talk about, especially with preteen girls, who are often embarrassed by this discussion. So what's the best way to approach this ticklish topic? If your daughter asks questions about menstruation, answer them openly and honestly. Provide as many details as you think she needs at the time. It's OK to let your daughter set the pace, but don't let her avoid the topic entirely. If she's not asking questions as she approaches the preteen years, it's up to you to start talking about menstruation. Don't plan a single tell-all discussion. Instead, talk about the various issues - from basic hygiene to fear of the unknown - in a series of short conversations. Consider it part of a continuing conversation on how the human body works. Remember, your daughter needs good information about the menstrual cycle and all the other changes that puberty brings. If her friends are her only source of information, she may hear some nonsense and take it for fact. To introduce the subject of menstruation, you might ask your daughter what she knows about puberty. Clarify any misinformation and ask what questions she might have. It may be helpful to time your conversations with the health lessons and sex education your daughter is receiving in school, or you could broach the subject before a routine doctor's appointment. You can tell your daughter that the doctor may ask her whether she's gotten her period yet. Then ask if she has any questions or concerns about menstruation. Girls might prefer to learn about menstruation from a female family member, but sometimes that's not possible. If you're a single father and you're not comfortable talking about menstruation, you might delegate these conversations to a female relative or friend. The key is to make sure the information is relayed somehow. The biology of menstruation is important, but most girls are more interested in practical information about periods. Your daughter may want to know when it's going to happen, what it's going to feel like and what she'll need to do when the time comes. - What is menstruation? Menstruation means a girl's body is physically capable of becoming pregnant. Each month, one of the ovaries releases an egg. This is called ovulation. At the same time, hormonal changes prepare the uterus for pregnancy. If ovulation takes place and the egg isn't fertilized, the lining of the uterus sheds through the vagina. This is a period. - Does it hurt? Many girls have cramps, typically in the lower abdomen, when their periods begin. Cramps can be dull and achy or sharp and intense. Exercise, a heating pad or an over-the-counter pain reliever may help ease any discomfort. - When will it happen? No one can tell exactly when a girl will get her first period. Typically, however, girls begin menstruating about two years after their breasts begin to develop. Many girls experience a thin, white vaginal discharge about one year before menstruation begins. - What should I do? Explain how to use sanitary pads or tampons. Many girls are more comfortable starting with pads, but it's OK to use tampons right away. Remind your daughter that it may take some practice to get used to inserting tampons. Stock the bathroom with various types of sanitary products ahead of time. Encourage your daughter to experiment until she finds the product that works best for her. - What if I'm at school? Encourage your daughter to carry a few pads or tampons in her backpack or purse, just in case. Many school bathrooms have coin-operated dispensers for these products. The school nurse also may have supplies. - Will everyone know that I have my period? Assure your daughter that pads and tampons aren't visible through clothing. No one needs to know that she has her period. - What if blood leaks onto my pants? Offer your daughter practical suggestions for covering up stains until she's able to change clothes, such as tying a sweatshirt around her waist. You might also encourage your daughter to wear dark pants or shorts when she has her period, just in case. Your daughter may worry that she's not normal if she starts having periods before, or after, friends her age do, or if her periods aren't like those of her friends. But menstruation varies with the individual. Some girls have periods that last two days, while others have periods that last more than a week. It can even vary this drastically from month to month in the same girl. The amount of blood lost each month can vary, too, usually from 4 to 12 teaspoons (about 20 to 60 milliliters). It's also common for girls to have irregular periods for the first year or two. Some months might even go by without a period. Once your daughter's cycle settles down, teach her how to track her periods on a calendar. Eventually she may be able to predict when her periods will begin. Schedule a medical checkup for your daughter if: - Her periods last more than seven days - She has menstrual cramps that aren't relieved by over-the-counter medications - She's soaking more pads or tampons than usual - She's missing school or other activities because of painful or heavy periods - She goes three months without a period or suspects she may be pregnant - She hasn't started menstruating by age 15 The changes associated with puberty can be a little scary. Reassure your daughter that it's normal to feel apprehensive about menstruating, but it's nothing to be too worried about and you're there to answer any questions she may have.

Daily Dose

Brown Spots on Your Baby?

1:30 to read

I was examining a 4 month old baby the other day when I noticed that she had several light brown spots on her skin. When I asked the mother how long they had been there, she noted that she had started seeing them in the last month or so, or maybe a couple even before that.  She then started to point a few out to me on both her infant’s arm, leg and on her back.

These “caramel colored” flat spots are called cafe au lait macules, (CALMs) and are relatively common. They occur in up to 3% of infants and about 25% of children.  They occur in both males and females and are more common in children of color.  While children may have a few CALMs, more than 3 CALMS are found in only 0.2 to 0.3% of children who otherwise do not have any evidence of an underlying disorder.  

Of course this mother had googled brown spots in a baby and was worried that her baby had neurofibromatosis (NF).  She started pointing out every little speckle or spot on her precious blue eyed daughter’s skin, some of which I couldn’t even see with my glasses on. I knew she was concerned and I had to quickly remember some of the findings of NF type 1.

Cafe au lait spots in NF-1 occur randomly on the body and are anywhere from 5mm to 30 mm in diameter. They are brown in color and have a smooth border, referred to as “the coast of California”. In order to make the suspected diagnosis of NF-1 a child needs to have 6 or more cafe au lait spots before puberty, and most will present by 6 -8 years of age.

For children who present for a routine exam with several CALMs ( like this infant), the recommendation is simply to follow and look for the development of more cafe au lait macules. That is a hard prescription for a parents…watch and wait, but unfortunately that is often what parenting is about.

Neurofibromatosis - 1 is an autosomal disorder which involves a mutation on chromosome 17 and may affect numerous organ systems including not only skin, but eyes, bones, blood vessels and the nervous system. Half of patients inherit the mutation while another half have no known family history.  NF-1 may also be associated with neurocognitive deficits and of course this causes a great deal of parental concern. About 40% of children with NF-1 will have a learning disability ( some minor, others more severe).

For a child who has multiple CALMs it is recommended that they be seen by an ophthalmologist and a dermatologist yearly,  as well as being followed by their pediatrician.  If criteria for NF-1 is not met by the time a child is 10 years of age,  it is less likely that they will be affected, despite having more than 6 CALMs.

The biggest issue is truly the parental anxiety of watching for more cafe au lait spots and trying to remain CALM…easier said than done for anyone who is a parent. 

Daily Dose

Baby's First Foods

1:30 to read

Have you heard of “baby led weaning” (BLW)? Many of my patients who have infants that are ready to start “solid foods”, also called complementary foods, have questions about this method. Most babies begin eating foods along with breast milk or formula somewhere around 5 - 6 months of age.  So BLW is not really “weaning”,  as your infant will continue to have breast milk or formula in conjunction with foods…so this really should more aptly be named “baby self feeding”. 

In this method you never offer your baby “mush” or pureed foods, but rather offer them foods from the table.   While I am a huge advocate of self feeding (old term is finger feeding), I also think that early on offering a baby “mushy” food on a spoon is an important milestone. In fact, for most babies at 5 -6 months, it is difficult to pick up a small piece of food to self feed as the pincer grasp has not developed. So, a baby is trying to get food to their mouths by cupping it or hoping it sticks to their hand while pushing pieces around their tray. Some parents will put the food into their baby’s hand.  But, by 8-ish months most babies have developed their pincer grasp and the finger feeding should be preferred.  

Parents are also concerned about starting solid foods and the possibility of choking.  I am always discussing how to make sure that your child avoids choking hazards with foods. In other words, no whole grapes, or hot dogs, or popcorn or chunks of meat.   Other hazards are raw carrots, apples, celery and any “hard” food that your baby might be able to bite a chunk of and then choke. But, if you cook the carrots and then cut them in small bites they are easily handled by a baby who is self feeding.  It is really all about the consistency of the food as once your baby has lower teeth they can easily bite/pry off a big “chunk” of food that could lead to a choking hazard.

Interestingly, there was a recent study that looked at the incidence of choking in children who started with self feeding vs those fed traditionally with pureed foods from a spoon. In this study of about 200 children between 6 - 8 months of age the incidence of choking was similar, while there were more gagging events in the BLW group.  Fortunately, “the choking events resolved on their own”. Gagging is quite different than choking. Some children will gag on pureed foods just due to texture issues. 

I am an advocate of what I am going to call parent led feeding followed by early self feeding of appropriate foods. By the time a child is 9 months of age they should be able to finger feeding the majority of their meals. But there are some foods that are just not conducive to finger feeding at all….yogurt, apple sauce, puddings…and they will be spoon fed until your child is capable of using a spoon which is anywhere from 12 -18 months.   But as a reminder, whenever you offer your child a finger food you should remember two things, #1 is the piece small enough that my child cannot choke and #2 is the food cooked well enough to not pose a choking hazard.  

Several years ago there was a 1 year old in our practice who was given a piece of an apple to chew on… she bit off a chunk of the apple, aspirated and died. It was a terrible accident.  I will never forget that….and re-iterate to all of my patients…a pork chop, or chicken leg or any number of foods can become a choking hazard if your child bites off a chunk. Children really don’t chew until they are around 2 years, they just bite and try to swallow so I pay a great deal of attention to what foods they are offered.

Old school and new school…the combo seems to make sense to me. 

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Daily Dose

Toddler Milestone

1:30 to read

I love doing 12 and 15 month check ups and seeing all of the “tricks” that a child that age has learned. While we routinely have parents fill out developmental questionnaires prior to their check up, I am still old school and like to ask lots of questions and have them demonstrate things that their children have learned while I  am in the exam room and can observe them

 

I sometimes have to laugh as I ask, “can they wave bye bye?”, or “can they point to their body parts?”, and the poor parents are desperately trying to get their child to demonstrate their newest milestone (trick) but alas, the child is just not interested in “performing” at that minute!! I now how frustrating that is for the parent…but it is just cute to me. We parents sometimes act like our children (and grandchildren) are circus acts…and have to perform on cue. But they are smarter than we are and will decide when they want to show off!! 

 

But there are a few times when I am watching a child whose parents have filled out the developmental questionnaire and it seems all is normal…but when I am in the room I have a few concerns that the child may have not reached a milestone yet…despite what the parents say. Again, I am only in the room with the child for 15-30 minutes, but in that time you do get a lot of both non- verbal and verbal communication. In those cases, if my concerns are not great I make a “note to self” in the chart to re-visit the milestone at the next check up. I also know when parents are concerned that I did not see “the trick” and within the next days or weeks they send me the video of their child waving or saying bye-bye or pointing to their nose!!  

 

Remember, we too do not always “perform’ on command and do not to worry if your child picks their pediatric visit as the time to go on a performance strike. There are other days that “the show will go on” and I get to see the cute trick..often just as I am walking out the door.

 

Daily Dose

What Are Breast Buds?

1.15 to read

I received a phone call today from a mother who was worried about the “bump” beneath her 12 year old daughter’s nipple. I do get this phone call quite often and even see mothers and daughters in the office who are concerned about this lump?  First thought is often, “is this breast cancer?”  The answer is a resounding “NO” but rather a breast bud.  While all mothers developed their own breast buds in years past, many have either forgotten or suppressed the memory of early puberty and breast budding.

Breast buds are small lumps the size of a blueberry or marble that “erupt” directly beneath a young girl’s areola and nipple. Most girls experience breast budding somewhere around 10-12 years of age although it may happen a bit sooner or even later. It is one of the early signs of puberty and estrogen effects.

Many girls will complain that the nipple area is sore and tender and that they are lopsided!! It is not unusual for one side to “sprout” before the other. Sometimes one breast will bud and the other is months behind. All of this is normal. 

While a lump in the breast is concerning in women reassure your daughter that this is not breast cancer (happy that they are so aware) but a normal part of body changes that happen to all girls as they enter adolescence.   Breast budding does not mean that their period is around the corner either, and periods usually start at least 2 years after breast budding (often longer).

Breast buds have also been known to come and go, again not to worry. But at some point the budding will actually progress to breast development and the continuing changes of the breast during puberty.

Reassurance is really all you need and if your daughter is self-conscious this is a good time to start them wearing a light camisole of “sports bra.”  

Daily Dose

Anemia

1:30 to read

Adolescent females are at greater risk for anemia than adolescent boys. This may due to several reasons including the fact that adolescent girls lose blood each month during their menstrual cycles and many teenage girls eat less red meat than adolescent boys.  

 

While some adolescents with anemia (low hemoglobin and hematocrit) complain of headaches, irritability or fatigue (which are very common teenage complaints), others are completely asymptomatic.  It is recommended that teens have a screening complete blood count around the age of 13 and then every 5 years or so thereafter. At the same time, the AAP recommends more frequent blood counts in those with risk factors for anemia, including diets low in iron rich foods (meat, eggs, fortified cereals) teens who have significant physical activity (especially female adolescent athletes) those with vegetarian or vegan diets and for any adolescent girl with excessive menstrual bleeding. Obese teens also have a higher incidence of anemia and should be screened. This list includes many of my patients.

 

Interestingly, you can have low iron stores without yet being anemic.  I have now started looking at the serum ferritin levels in teens with risk factors for anemia, as I am finding that some of my athletic patients have low ferritin levels, with a normal blood count. Some recent studies have shown that low ferritin may impact athletic performance including fatiguability. While fatigue during exercise is a subjective symptom,  maintaining iron stores is important for overall health.

 

Lastly, iron deficiency may impact cognitive function in adolescents. There have been several studies showing that girls who had higher serum ferritin levels had statistically significant improvement on cognitive tests of verbal learning and memory…so it may be worth looking at levels in a teen who is suddenly having difficulty in school, without previous issues. One blood test!

Daily Dose

Babies & Bow-Legs

1.15 to read

Fact or fiction: if a young baby puts any weight on their legs they'll become bow legged? Dr. Sue weighs in.I’m sure you have noticed, babies like to stand up! With that being said, I still hear parents coming into my office who say, “I am scared to let my baby stand up as my mother (grandmother, father, uncle) tells me that letting a baby put weight on their legs will cause bow-legs!  How is it possible that this myth is still being passed on to the next generation?

If you look at a baby’s legs it is easy to see how they were “folded” so that they fit inside the uterus. Those little legs don’t get “unfolded” until after delivery. A newborn baby’s legs continue to stay bent for awhile and you can easily “re-fold” those legs to see how your baby was positioned in utero. Almost like doing origami. So, how do those little bent legs get straight?  From bearing weight. If you hold a 3-5 month old baby upright they will instinctively put their feet down and bear weight.  A 4 month old likes nothing more than to jump up and down while being held. They will play the “jumping game” until you become exhausted. That little exercise is the beginning of remolding the bones of the leg, while straightening the bones. If you look at most toddlers many do appear bow-legged as the bones have not had long enough to straighten. Over the next several years you will notice that most children no longer appear bow legged. For most children the bow legs have resolved by the age of 5 years. I child’s final gait and shape of their legs is really determined by about the age of 7 years. Next time you hear the adage about bow legs, you can politely correct the myth. Standing up is going to make that baby have straight legs! That’s your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.

Daily Dose

Breaking Bad Habits

1:15 to read

Do any of your children bite their nails or suck their thumbs? If so, are you always saying, “take your fingers out of your mouth, they are dirty”, or “if you keep biting your nails you will get sick due to all of those germs on your fingers”!  I was guilty of saying those very things to my own children, and I also remember being a nail biter and my mother saying the same thing to me.

Well, who would have thought that a study just released today in the journal Pediatrics might make us parents eat our own words (it wouldn’t be the first time).  The study, “Thumb-Sucking, Nail-Biting and Atopic Sensitization, Asthma and Hay Fever” suggests that “childhood exposure to microbial organisms reduces the risk of developing allergies”.  Who knew that there might be something so positive coming from a “bad habit”.  

This study was done in New Zealand and followed over 1,000 children born between 1972-1973 (dark ages) whose parents reported that they either bit their nails or sucked their thumbs at 5,7,9 and 11 years old. The participants were then checked at ages 13 and again at 32 years old to look for an allergic reaction ( by skin prick testing) against at least one common allergen.  And guess what…at 13 years of age the prevalence of an allergic reaction was lower among those children who HAD sucked their thumbs or bitten their nails.  Incredibly the the findings persisted almost 20 years later!  This study even looked at cofounding factors including sex, parental history of allergies, pet ownership, breast feeding and parental smoking… none of which played a role. 

So, while not advocating for children to suck their thumbs or bite their nails (which unfortunately I did until high school when I decided to have nails to polish) there may be a silver lining….a protective effect against allergies that persists into adulthood. 

Lemonade out of lemons!!!

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