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Health and Wellness series: The first few years are busy for babies

DR. JULIE PAZDERNIK of Essential Health St. Mary's looks over Nora Schons during her 6 month well-baby checkup. (Brian Basham/Record)

Little Nora Schons wasn't completely happy at her 6-month well baby check-up. With a runny nose and red ear, she was looking at an ear infection.

"I'm a new mom, so I have lots of questions," Nora's mom Jessica says.

Those questions and those well baby check-ups are a part of helping to care for babies, a job of Essentia Health St. Mary's Dr. Julie Pazdernik.

During their first couple years of age, babies see their doctors quite often. There are check-ups at two weeks, two months, four months, six months, nine months, 12 months and 18 months.

"They're all pretty standard, going through developmental issues," said Jon Larson, Sanford Health managing physician in Detroit Lakes.

Not only are the babies looked over, doctors make sure the mother is getting sleep and doing fine as well.

Schons said she brings Nora to the doctor for her well baby check-ups "to see that she's developing as she should, and getting her immunizations on time."

Pazdernik had to put off giving Nora her six-month immunizations because of her ear infection, but she'll be back soon to keep on schedule.

"In the first two years, we see them quite frequently," Pazdernik said of babies and their families.

Along with checking over the baby, those ages are vaccine intervals, too.

"Vaccines are one of the most important things we can do for prevention," Larson said.

"Immunizations are the key in preventing illnesses," Pazdernik agrees.

Vaccines are also scheduled for age 5, going into seventh grade and then a tetanus shot every 10 years after that, including adults.

Controversy continues to swirl around vaccines, with some parents and organizations linking autism and other problems with vaccinations.

Larson said, though, that nothing has ever medically linked vaccines and those negative affects.

"It's not in our interest to encourage them if they are going to cause more problems. It doesn't fit with what we want to accomplish," he said.

What the vaccines can prevent, he said, is so much better than the serious, life-threatening diseases children could get with no vaccines.

Because some parents and cultures are shying away from vaccines, some diseases are making a comeback.

Doctors also check weight, growth and discuss child-proofing the house, poison control, etc.

"We have a large list of things we go through," Larson said.

After the initial two years of vaccines, Larson said it's good to bring kids in once a year, not only for a check-up, but to show them the doctor's office isn't just for shots.

"It's nice to have kids come when they aren't sick to get a flavor of just being here," he said.

Pazdernik said it isn't just about immunizations either. She checks babies' hips until age 1 year, and as children get older, she checks their speech and development.

As children get older, the list of items to go over with kids and their parents changes. As they get older, it's about sleep habits, television habits, seatbelt use and bike helmet use.

"We start talking about alcohol, drugs, tobacco and sexual activity" as they get older, Larson added.

Maintaining a healthy weight is also discussed, emphasizing avoiding sugary snacks, reducing screen time and staying active.

Doctors have an age-appropriate list of questions and topics to cover with each age group.

Some of the common reasons doctors see their patients, besides regular check-ups, are for viral infections -- "certainly the most common thing we see" -- and the stomach flu. Larson advises to wash hands, throw away tissues, cover coughs and clean areas where sick people were with bleach-base solutions to avoid the spread of colds and flu.

And for those patients and parents who don't seem to make the needed changes for a healthy lifestyle, all a doctor can do is "keep trying. Keep putting information out there and hope some of it sticks," he said.

It's about educating the parents, not just the children. "I try to spend a lot of time with Mom and Dad to build a rapport," Pazdernik said.

It's important for a doctor and parents to develop trust and a relationship, and know that no matter what the question, parents are always welcome to call.

"Parents know their children well, so we have to trust them, too," she said.

"My job is keeping the children healthy. But, kids are kids and they're going to get sick, so we just try to deal with it the best we can."