Dr. Nicole Ellerine of Peachtree Park Pediatrics provides sage advice from the cradle to age 21. “I had to decide to go to medical school at 17 because in South Africa, one goes directly from high school into medical school!” said Ellerine, who trained at Baragwanath and Emory University hospitals.
Here she airs many of the issues facing families today: infant sleep training and tough love, starting healthy diets early, the vaccination controversy, and anxiety in teens.
“A lot of what I do is parental counseling regarding a wide variety of child-rearing issues. Parents have lost confidence in their ability to “parent” without consulting pediatricians, the internet or books … I’m also seeing a lot more overt LGBT teens and an increase in same-sex couples having families.”
Jaffe: What’s your take on trends putting newborns on strict sleep schedules?
Ellerine: A lot of Atlanta parents follow the “mothers on call” schedule in the hopes of getting babies to sleep through the night at too young an age. This is pretty rigid and doesn’t work for everyone. It puts breastfed babies at risk for insufficient weight gain and makes parents feel guilty when they stray from the schedule. On the other hand, babies have to be sleep-trained. My concern is that many parents won’t let their children cry – fearing the child will feel abandoned. I recommend sleep training by 4 months, and often the only option is “tough love.” Sleep training is always stressful for parents who often need permission to do it. Babies can experience sleep regression, and training often needs to be repeated.
Jaffe: Any diet advice?
Ellerine: Feed babies correctly from the beginning by minimizing exposure to juices, fast foods, processed foods and sodas. I don’t like pouches, which have become very popular (for our busy lives). They are sweetened with fruit and don’t teach your child to eat vegetables. Kids have to experience colors and textures so they are desensitized and enjoy wide varieties (starting at six months). “Eat the rainbow.”
As children age, have family meals. Make dinners with teens a priority. Electronics are banned from the dinner table. They then become a captive audience!
Jaffe: What are your observations regarding teens?
Ellerine: I have noticed a significant increase in anxiety and depression. One of the reasons is social media, and teens feeling socially isolated. They see photos of their friends having fun with other friends, which makes them feel isolated. I remind them that their friends are only sharing positive moments. Another cause for anxiety/depression is competition to get into good colleges; as there are not enough. School sports and extracurricular activities have become a necessity. Also, their schedule is so rigorous; they may not get sufficient sleep and are chronically tired, which doesn’t help with anxiety. When they get sick and miss a few school days, they think, “My world is ending.”
Parents are too involved in the children’s lives. Our kids need to make more mistakes, fail and learn resilience.
Jaffe: How do you respond to the vaccination debate?
Ellerine: Immunizations have been an issue of contention. A bogus study came out (1990s) that supposedly linked autism to the MMR [measles, mumps and rubella vaccine]. This has subsequently been disproved! In fact, immunizations are probably the most researched topic I deal with. The negative outcomes related to immunization have been so extensively studied that in our practice, we won’t accept un-immunized patients. This puts younger infants (too young to get their immunizations) at risk. I believe the outbreak of measles in California has resulted in the pendulum swinging the other way.