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Grandma don't preach
When Nidhi Kapoor's threeyear-old daughter Saina runs a temperature, she immediately takes off the little one's blanket, turns on the air-conditioner and, sometimes, puts her in a tub of cool water. This strategy often shocks Kapoor's mother who, like her own mother and her grandmother before that, had always dealt with fever the traditional way - swaddle the feverish children, turn off the fan and, feed them hot soups, fried eggs and other 'heatinducing' foods to make them sweat and 'break' the fever. The question of "thandi pattis" (cold compresses) would arise only if the temperature shot up to a distressing 103 or 104 degrees. But that's not what doctors order these days.
"If you cover a hot tea kettle with a tea cosy, it will stay hot, " says Dr Arvind Taneja, a paediatrician at Max Healthcare. "And with a fever that is the opposite of what we want. "
Dr Deepak Arora, a senior paediatrician in north Delhi, agrees. "Children are especially vulnerable. Their brains can be affected if they have high fever and this sometimes leads to fits. So it is very important to bring the temperature down immediately.
"We advise patients to not cover the child with a blanket unless the fever is accompanied by constant shivering and chills, " he adds. "In fact, one should use cold compresses or bathe the child in cold water whether it is June or a cold Delhi December night. "
This suggestion often amazes Arora's patients. After all, it contradicts the advice of the family's elders. It may be the internet age and people may Google every scratch or sore, but grandmothers still have the last word on health issues in many Indian households. Books with titles like 'Daadi maa ke nuskhe' (granny's home remedies) sell like hot cakes on eBay. There is a Bihari daadi sharing her insights on YouTube in crisp Bhojpuri and a Facebook page dedicated to grandma's remedies for added measure. Though the experienced grannies always mean well, sometimes they end up dishing out irrelevant advice. Over the years, doctors have realised that many grandma's remedies are simply illogical and based on superstitions. Studies have shown them to be scientifically incorrect as well. Take colds and coughs for instance. Just a sneeze or cough within earshot of any grandma is likely to bring forth a list of foods to avoid - usually bananas, curd, rice, coconut water and all things cold. Dr Arora says that this makes no sense. "Food goes to our stomach, not our lungs, so what we eat makes no difference, " he explains.
The idea of starving oneself to get rid of diarrhoea is also incorrect. Considering we lose water, saline and glucose through the stools, it is important to stay hydrated and nourished with small meals and lots of fluid intake, say doctors.
BABIES DON'T NEED MASSAGES
New-born care is a field ripe for unsolicited and questionable advice from doting grandparents. And, this starts right from the first feed. "Grandmothers in many Indian families dip a finger in honey and put it in the newborn's mouth soon after birth. This is dangerous because her finger may have germs and honey is not good for babies, " says Taneja. "The best thing for the baby is to latch on to the mother's breast and drink colostrum, the first milk which is full of protective antibodies. In the olden days, people used to throw the colostrum away. That too was a wrong practice. " The daadis and naanis also purchase bottles of gripe water - 555 and Mugli Ghutti are popular brands - the moment a baby is born in the house. They give this to infants every day to aid in digestion of milk but paediatricians say it is a strict no-no. "Firstly, babies don't need water for the first six months because they get enough from milk. Besides, the water supply is contaminated these days and gripe water is are not useful at all, " says Arora. Almost all Indian families also massage newborn babies regularly because grannies believe this helps 'develop' the limbs. Paediatricians say massaging is unnecessary for babies and can actually cause harm. "Regular oiling blocks the sweat glands. Many grannies use mustard oil which contains alkaloids that can cause skin rashes, " says Taneja. Arora adds, "Giving baths after a rub down that has increased the child's body temperature also makes him/her prone to colds and fever. "
Many grandparents also insist on giving babies cow's milk from Day 1 instead of letting them be exclusively breastfeed. This can make the child vulnerable to cow's milk protein allergy, say doctors.
Arora pointed out that nursing mothers are often advised to not bathe or wash utensils if the baby has a cold or cough. "Grannies believe that breastmilk could turn cold during these household chores. That is completely incorrect. The mother's milk is always at body temperature. It does not turn to ice cream if the mother bathes, " he says.
Arora, who has a clinic in north Delhi's Shastri Nagar, says that though such tips are "completely baseless", he faces these questions regarding newborn care very often in his practice even today.
Dr Kushrav Bajan, physician at Hinduja Hospital in Mumbai, points out that the grandfatherly advice of a teeny dose of brandy to bring down fever is also incorrect. "Some families give children a spoon of brandy to drink and even rub alcohol on the hands, feet and bellies if these parts are cold. This can be harmful. The family should rush to a doctor instead as cold hands and feet may indicate low blood pressure, " he says.
Commonly quoted gharelu nuskhe also include wearing metal bands on the wrist to combat high blood pressure and soaking the feet of jaundice patients in hot water to "wash away" the yellow tint of the skin. Dr Jehangir Sorabjee, internal medicine specialist at Bombay Hospital, points out that all these practices are based on anecdotal evidence passed down in families. "There is no scientific proof to back them, " he says.
Of course, one can't deny that in some cases grandmothers have displayed great foresight by using simple home remedies to treat ailments such as eye infections. For decades, grannies have been advising women to put a drop of their breast milk in babies' eyes to cure conjunctivitis. Studies in New Delhi and Spain have now proved that breast milk does indeed combat some of the bacteria that cause eye infections and that babies treated with breast milk heal faster. Taneja says he has also noticed that grandma's prescription for gas and stomach ache in babies - applying a paste of asafoetida (hing) around the navel - is very effective.
(Some names changed on request)
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