Saturday, June 12, 2010

Fixing Normal

Imagine taking your car to the mechanic and asking him to fix the light in the glove compartment. You explain that every time you open the glove compartment the light turns on and then when you close the glove compartment the light turns off. Something is wrong and it needs to be fixed. The mechanic patiently explains that the glove compartment light is not broken. It is operating normally. But you remain skeptical. Maybe you go to another mechanic to get a second opinion. Maybe you search the internet and find a remedy recommended by a lady named Cheryl in Idaho.

Such is the life of a pediatrician. We are constantly being asked to fix normal, and if we can't (or discourage trying) parents often look for answers themselves. A common example is infant gas. I am convinced that being gassy is a normal part of being an infant. Why else would I have 5 parents a day ask me why their infant is so gassy? I typically explain that gassiness is normal and that, if I had an answer for gas, I would have retired long ago. Yet, many parents are convinced that something is wrong and it needs to be fixed. They buy gas drops. They buy boutique formulas "for gassy infants." They buy special bottles and nipples. They try herbal remedies. They watch YouTube videos on massage techniques for infant gas:

There is a whole industry designed to fix the normal gassiness of infants, a whole industry designed to placate parent's anxiety. Anxious parents love it, because they are doing something to make their infant "better" from a perceived problem. The placebo effect courses through the parent's veins. In the above video, who is benefitting from the massage? The parent is probably benefitting more than the infant. Sure the infant enjoys the stimulation and interaction, but is the parent truly fixing something?

In the example of infant gas, parents are most likely doing no harm, but there are examples where parents are so convinced they have to fix something that is normal, that they put the infant at risk.

Understand what is normal. Accept it. Embrace it. Laugh at it. But you don't have to fix it.

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