How becoming a parent changed me as a pediatrician


In my early days as a pediatrician, I felt a little bit at a loss when parents asked specific parenting questions. Of course, I could offer them advice and refer resources, but it was as a physician unaware of the nuances of parenting.

For example:

The tactile temperature

A thermometer gives one measurement, not a range. When parents respond, “Yes, at least 102-degrees,” I was initially puzzled. The clarification, “I could feel it. My child felt really hot, not like a 99-degree fever but closer to 102-degree fever.” Ah, the tactile temperature.

After becoming a parent, I realize there is some merit to the tactile temp.

One can differentiate various levels of “feeling hot” although it may not always correlate with a fever. It is not a replacement for a measured temperature, of course, but knowing now that parents can associate tactile temps as fevers without the child having an actual fever (100.4 degrees or more), these are good educational points to review with families.

Feeding issues

So many ways to feed a baby. Let’s take breastfeeding. The benefits are many and well documented. But, does anyone tell you how hard it is and that willpower alone may not be enough for exclusive breastfeeding? Moms can be recovering from a C-section, baby not latching, delayed milk production or low supply, baby losing too much weight, etc.

I was empathetic before I had my own kids. But now having experienced some of the challenges with feeding, I take extra time to tell the parents, especially moms, that they are doing a great job and to hang in there. I want moms to know that this may be a few rough days, not to give up on breastfeeding if that is their goal and that it is OK to supplement with pumped or formula.

Wait — did you say formula? Yes, I did. Breastfeeding is great, but formula is a friend, too. It can help reach goal of breastfeeding despite an initial rocky start. When it comes to feeding — or parenting, or anything really — no need for extremes. Read more on natural ways to help improve milk supply, make breastfeeding easier and things to know about pumping.

“Not a good sleeper”

There seem to a lot of different ideas about sleep and parents worry that something is wrong with their child. I like to reassure parents that each child is different and a single set of rules may not work for everyone. Generally, kids respond to a predictable bedtime routine and sleeping through the night changes with age. Also, it is OK to soothe the child. If the child is crying, it is because he or she needs something, even if it is just your presence. Parenting doesn’t end at bedtime.

Regardless of whether parents choose to safely co-sleep, room share or let the child sleep in an independent room, I like to empower parents with safe sleep options to give the child the closeness he or she wants and still allow the parents to get some sleep too.

The meaning of being tired

I thought the sleepless nights of residency were tough. Then, I had children where one is on call 24-7 and no sick days or post-call days to rest. I think back to my fellow residents and attendings who were pregnant or had little ones in residency. I wish I had known to bring them a cup of coffee, give them a hug or just let them know they are awesome. Read more on the truths and challenges of being a doctor mom.

Being chronically sleep deprived and having to function pleasantly and proficiently is no easy feat, regardless of if one is working at a job or as a stay at home parent. Parental burnout is real.

I recommend that parents try to rest when the baby rests. Though it may seem that using nap time (or bedtime) to squeeze in extra chores or catching up on work is efficient, it just compounds the exhaustion. Two kids in, I realize that nap time doesn’t mean time for more work, it means a scheduled guilt-free break for yourself. You do enough during the day. Let this be your time for self care.

Prioritizing things that are important

The hours in the day don’t change and neither do the responsibilities.

However, my perspective on how to handle these demands have changed. I prioritize mindful living and focus on having enriching experiences with the people who are important to me. Regular decluttering rids of extra stress: mentally, literally and figuratively. I recommend parents decrease stress by doing less and not doing more. Figure out what adds joy and make that a priority.

Every day is a learning experience

Of note, having kids is not a prerequisite for being a good physician. Nor does the choice to not have kids take away from being a good physician. For me, kids have been the impetus for personal and professional introspection.

In a nutshell, there are a lot of parenting decisions to make. I appreciate the depth to which parents try to make the best choices for their kids and family. Different parental philosophies affect how a pediatrician’s advice is accepted or the challenges at finding common ground if there is a difference of opinion. I knew variations existed before I became a parent, but I didn’t really know what each entailed. Working together as a team is of utmost importance for the health and happiness of the child and their caregivers.

I love being able to educate and empower parents to take the best care they can of their child. I’m right here with you, both as a pediatrician and as a fellow parent. It’s a learning experience and I am glad we are in it together.

Nadia Sabri is a pediatrician and founder, the Mindful MD Mom.

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