Growing up in a very small family, I had very little exposure to babies until I started my pediatric training. A few years ago, I married into a family that was much larger and became an in-law to many. By then, of course, I had been a pediatrician for many years. What was new for me was approaching a baby in the role of great uncle. And when my grandniece Hailey, by happy coincidence, moved with her family into the community in which I live, I realized how different it is to have a 10-month-old on my knee while I’m sitting on a dining room chair versus on an exam table with my stethoscope on her chest.
Nonetheless, I am a pedi provider by training, and as Hailey approaches her first birthday this month, I couldn’t help coming up with my own wish list for her—a list resulting from years of seeing and reading about one-year-olds. The gifts that follow may not always seem like the most fun presents to give. Yet, due to the impact they have on little ones’ health and safety, they are all a pediatrician could wish for.
- A cup. Offering a cup more and a bottle less after (or even before) age 1 prevents many problems. Nursing bottle syndrome, although mostly associated with a bottle in the bed, can cause dental caries, and there may also be some association with malocclusion (crooked teeth). Toddlers who carry a bottle all the time and are allowed to suck on it can develop Eustachian tube dysfunction, which can lead to ear infections. Finally, there’s a tendency to fill up on what’s in the bottle, leading to decreased appetite and weight problems.
- A child-safe toy for bedtime. I put this in here for two reasons: to encourage weaning from a pacifier (check your provider’s preference on this point), and to give the child a “lovie” that she will associate with bedtime. Sleep problems are common around this age, and something that serves as a sleep cue is sometimes helpful.
- Immunizations. I know, some birthday present this is, right? But it’s worth mentioning with health care having been turned on its ear (no pun intended) during the last 2 years. One-year-olds are eligible for many immunizations, so if you don’t want to bring him in right on his birthday, get him caught up soon thereafter.
- A dedicated special drawer or box. Kids this age love to explore, but we need to keep them safe from hazards: poisons, cords, small objects, and heavy things that can fall, to name just a few. Some people get around this by devoting one drawer to their infant or toddler, with “kid safe” things such as rags or those lids that seem to have no corresponding pot or pan.
- Safety devices. While we’re on the subject of safety, now’s a great time for a check. Do you have poison locks? Stair and pool gates? Outlet covers? Are cords and heavy objects secured?
- Lots of books. How beneficial is reading? Let me count the ways. It encourages love of reading for life, helps with social skills, and jump starts a little one’s familiarity with words. Newer research has even found differences in adult brains of former kid readers. See if your provider is part of the Reach Out and Read program, where you can get age-appropriate books for free.
- An active play area. The childhood obesity epidemic has many causes, and reduced physical activity is certainly one of them. Encourage your toddler to move: If you have room, set up a safe, dedicated play area. No room? At least try for outings to your local park or playground, or look for a play group that has space to move about.
- We all have busy lives, but even a toddler in the “no” stage wants parent time. What you enjoy together will differ for every family, but find ways of incorporating parent-kid time into your daily routine.
Even doing the work that I do, I have a new appreciation as to how special each young life is. You’ll likely be getting your birthday celebrant lots of fun stuff. Don’t forget to fill the cart with these other presents. No gift keeps on giving like the gift of good kid health.