The doctor is out or occupied with another patient, and by the time he can return the father’s call the infant has taken a regular feeding and gone to sleep. seemingly quite content. A day or so later the father calls again to apologize for having been so frightened when there was no reason to be. Then, in a manner almost pleading for the key to insight, he asks, “But how can you tell if your baby is sick?” It is a good question. In the foregoing chapters on the newborn, we have encouraged parents to expect good health of their newborn. Furthermore, it has been shown that much or most of what parents regard as abnormal is in fact normal. Rashes. lumps, spitting up, infrequency of stools all may occur in a perfectly well baby.
If we could include all babies and all parents in a generalization, it probably would be safe to say that more anxiety arises from parent? overreactions to the normal deviations of their offspring than from their encounters with actual disease. Nevertheless, there is need to point out that babies can become ill. Sickness serious enough for the doctor to want to see your baby may he infrequent, but it does occur. Our purpose at this point is not to discuss the diagnosis of specific diseases or the management of illness in infancy.
To get down to details here would be inconsistent with the aim of this chapter. which is to give support to the development of a certain overall attitude in the parents of newborns. This attitude is composed, about equally. of intuition and of a willingness to communicate that intuition to the doctor.
TURNING TO THE DOCTOR
Whenever parents become concerned about their babies, they should turn to their doctors or nurses. They should heed the developing intuition that makes them uncomfortable when they observe behavior or appearance that seems odd or out of the way. Many times the observations they make will in fact fall within the normal range of infant behavior. But the ability to discriminate between the normal and the abnormal, the sick and the healthy, the important and the unimportant, does not come to us magically the day our babies are brought home from the hospital.
It is acquired only over a long and sometimes painfully anxious experience of learning. This experience never really ends. Even for the professionals—doctors with children of their own—the process is never complete. We are all in the same boat. Nevertheless, through continuous association with a baby or babies in states of both good and poor health the average parent does develop a great deal of confidence and insight in a relatively short time. But parents must feel able to ask questions! Never be afraid of “bothering” the doctor.
You have a right to ask all the questions you think it necessary or instructive to ask. Do not hesitate for fear the question may seem trivial or even silly or may reveal your ignorance. Some parent before you has already put that same question to your doctor—and has had a civil and informative reply. Without realizing, you may find yourself asking the doctor a certain question over and over again, though in slightly different forms.
The superficial aspects of the question may alter from time to time, but they only conceal a single basic problem. This disguised repetition will suggest to your doctor, when he detects it. that you seem unable to accept or to assimilate certain information, and he should then try to find out why this particular problem should present you with difficulty. What is the doctor’s goat in his relations with you? Of course, it is to deal with the specific health problems of your baby, but his aim should also be to guide you to the point where you can arrive at solutions of your own (within definite, understood limits) regarding future appearances of these same problems.
“Do I need to call the doctor for this? Well. here are the facts. This is what I see. Can I solve the problem presented by these facts or do I need the doctor’s guidance?” To help parents develop an increasing assurance in their ability to assess the baby’s problems should be. at least in part, the aim of the doctor.