Call it mother's intuition, but when our kids are in pain, no one knows how they're feeling more accurately than their parent. What we know to be true about our kids in our gut is now proven to be scientifically accurate through medical research. To best care for our kids, research shows that parents need to be empowered to advocate on behalf of their kids when they're in pain.
For the last year, I've been indoctrinated into a fascinating world of pain research by way of award-winning pediatric pain psychologist and mother of 4, Dr. Christine Chambers. Christine heads up a team of world class scientists who conduct research to better understand how to effectively treat our children's pain. Her team has amassed scads of useful information to help families but there is a disconnect between their academic research and parents who need to access all this information. In fact, I learned it takes about seventeen years for medical based research to slowly trickle down from academia to end users like me and you who actually benefit from the research. To speed up the delivery of her pediatric pain research, Dr. Chambers and YMC have collaborated over the past year to highlight some key learnings. In doing so, I have learned a ton that I can use in my life.
I had no idea that until recently, doctors believed that newborn babies didn't feel pain. Based on that assumption, painful procedures like needles were performed on little babies with little thought to pain control. Can you believe it? But based on research done by members of Christine's team, important information is now available for parents about reducing pain in babies. Breastfeeding a baby while undergoing painful procedures reduces pain. So, the next time you take your baby for a needle, nurse him. And if any doctors suggest it's not neccesary, feel free to correct them by whipping out your breast and letting your baby nuzzle and nurse. This skin-to-skin contact is especially important for babies in the NICU. Watch this video. It will melt your heart.
Getting needles is a big problem for kids (and for some adults, too). I've heard so many stories about kids freaking out in the doctors office because they don't want to get their shots. Guess what? Needles don't have to hurt! Before heading to the doctor's office for a needle, drop into your local pharmacist and ask for an EMLA patch or EMLA cream. Rub it on the area to numb it before the injection and your kids won't feel a thing. There are still some doctors who won't bother with the cream, but if it's going to reduce pain and fear in your kids, why not do it? If you want to have a good laugh, watch this short video about how one mom's bikini wax helped reduce her daughter's pain:
There are other simple things we can do as parents to reduce our kids pain. Distraction is a big one. Playing games on your phone or iPad is medically proven to reduce pain. Watching TV also works. Doctors orders!
Friends of mine have been going through a nightmare in the medical system when their teen daughter started complaining about being in pain but not displaying any physical symptoms. Over two years, she ended up hospitalized on several occassions, overmedicated with pain killers, and ultimately being accused of making up the pain. Her parents were shamed by doctors, accusing them of letting their daughter invent the pain to get attention. The parents didn't give up and were vindicated when their daughter was eventually diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder with severe chronic pain being one of the symptoms. They have learned to help their daughter live with the pain by reducing pain medications and encouraging her to get on with a normal life, a tactic encouraged by pain psychologists. I've watched this girl's recovery and it is remarkable.
And then there's my friend Nicole's story about her five year old daughter Cadence being rushed to the ER with a broken arm (watch their story here). This poor little girl was playing in a bouncy castle and happened to fall on her arm in just the wrong way. The result was a break so severe she had to have a four hour emergency surgery with pins put into her arm. Luckily, the EMS team who rushed her to the hospital in the ambulance were trained in administering morphine, giving this little girl medicated relief for a while. Later at the hospital she was given fentanyl, another strong opiate. Nicole and her family were very worried that a five year old was given such heavy drugs, and concerned about the potential for addiction. In fact, Cadence was very lucky to have been given those opiates so quickly. According to pain research, not getting the proper pain relief can actually increase the likelyhood of chronic pain after the injury. So if you're in this situation, make sure your kids get the pain relief they need as soon as possible.
While the treatment of pain differs in various scenerios, the one common thread is how each of the parents advocated for their kids. And this is a huge piece of the research Dr. Chambers shared with me. The most effective way for a parent to help their kids to to feel empowered and make sure their little patients are getting what they need in every scenerio. It's scientifically proven that parents really do know their kids best, even when it comes to gauging how much pain their kids are in. A doctor just isn't as emotionally tuned in to your child. While medical practitioners are doing their best, the reality is that doctors and nurses can get busy and sometimes distracted. There is so much research highlighting the importance of speaking up on behalf of our kids, even when we feel intimated by medical professionals.
This not to say that parents and doctors should be adversaries. In fact, it's quite the opposite. There is so much positive research showing a direct correlation between parents who participate in shared decison making with their doctors and successful outcomes for their kids. In other words, when you speak to your child's doctor, it's important to ask a bunch of questions.
Listen to their advice. But it's also essential to share your opinion with the doctor. Not only do you know your child better, but it's very hard for health care professionals to guess a patient or family's priorities. There can often be a disconnect with a doctor's advice if he doesn't have a parent's point of view. Getting answers from health professionals can be intimating, but if there's one thing you can do on behalf of your kids, it's be their advocate and create an equal partnership with your medical practioners.
By the way, this research doesn't just apply to kids. My father had to have a very painful eye procedure done for a second time. He told me that the first time his doctor performed the procedure, the anaesthetic injection was more painful than the actual surgery. I encouraged him to advocate for himself and talk to his doctor about somehow minimizing the pain. The second time under the knife was easier after collaborating with his doctor. See? It works!
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what I've learned over the past year working with Dr. Chambers and her research team. If this has piqued your interest, there are so many more practical ways of dealing with your kids pain in a variety of scenarios. If your child seems to be having growing pains, this is what you need to know. We also learned some interesting strategies on coping with tummy aches and menstrual pain. There are some useful tips on how to plan for pain-free immunizations and strategies to help your kids feel better post-surgery.
Don't trust Dr. Google for reputable health information. Here's a couple of sites Dr. Chambers' team recommends for you can learn more about kids' health issues:
Choosing Wisely Canada, Kids' Health: choosingwisely.ca/childrens-health/
The Canadian Paediatric Society: www.caringforkids.cps.ca