I’ve tried to fight the urge, but my itchy keyboard fingers keep turning to Dr. Google for answers to baby questions. My view: it’s better than harassing my actual GP …
New parents have absolutely no idea what they’re doing (specifically: me). Everything is new. And it’s a lot of responsibility. I’ve killed every plant I’ve owned, but despite this abysmal record I’m now responsible for another human life.
Even though countless billions of humans have raised babies over time, the preparation new parents receive is inadequate. There are in-depth childbirth preparation classes . I spent five weeks gearing up for what transpired to be six hours of labour. But there are next to no baby care classes. It’s no wonder every lump, bump, rash and cry has me pushing the panic button.
I’m a reasonable person. I know GPs are already over-burdened and I don’t want to call them for every hypochondriac parenting moment. So, as a first step I reach for Dr. Google.
I’m clearly not alone. Try typing ‘My baby has …’ into Google and it will suggest ‘a cold / a rash / diarrhea / a cough.’ Not ‘a cute nose / a relaxed attitude with strangers / a wide collection of tinkly lullaby albums.’ In fact, ‘my baby has a cold’ produces almost 16 million search results. The second of these (at time of typing) finishes ‘… should I take her to the doctor?’ There’s millions of us, practicing good doctor avoidance.
I’m know some parents avoid their GP due to bad experiences. One Amsterdam group I belong has a Facebook page regularly deluged with photos of offspring’s spots and blemishes. The moderators keep reminding us that it’s not a medical forum. But many mamas having encountered doctors they felt didn’t take them seriously. So, it’s not surprising they want to:
- Attempt to resolve issues themselves, avoiding a dismissive GP telling them “It’s nothing to worry about. You can give them some baby paracetamol.” (this is the default response in the Netherlands unless your baby’s arm is, quite literally, falling off).
- Get as much information as possible to be more bullish about getting a thorough check-up.
For anyone who’s looked up any ailment online, you’ll understand when I call it the ‘frenemy’. The more credible medical websites can offer reassurance that your complaint is totally normal. Spend too long in obscure online forums, however, and you will inevitably find someone whose baby has died from a rare illness that began with the same symptoms you’re querying. So long as you can keep away from the latter, I think Google self-diagnosis is a harmless way to set anxious parents’ minds at ease.
Here is a selection of the online searches I’ve conducted since having a baby, none of which warranted a GP visit:
Query: Baby has spots on her face / head.
Answer: It’s baby acne. It’s totally normal and should clear up by 8 weeks (it did).
Query: Baby makes a lot of noise when falling asleep
Answer: Babies are very noisy sleepers. Also, 50% of their sleep is REM vs. 20% of adults. So expect to see more waking / sleeping again patterns during each nap.
Query: Baby cries after feeding
Answer: It could be colic. (Note: most newborn baby health roads lead to colic). Burp properly, hold upright after feeding, consider your diet.
Query: Baby fusses towards the end of feeding
Answer: See above
Query: Baby spits up an hour after feeding
Answer: Babies do that. And see above.
In the interests of fair representation, I asked a GP friend their view on self-diagnoses online:
“Reading up online first can be helpful, as people come better informed – or even manage to take their GP out of the equation completely. But, unless you’re reading from a reputable website you can end up worrying about things that don’t exist or anecdotal stories about what happened to other people. Almost everything could be cancer. But even for people using a reliable website – unless you’re pretty certain what’s wrong the Dr instinct is that talking to your GP is the safer option.”
I’m not going to stop using Dr Google. Most of the time I just want reassurance that everything’s normal. And until I think it’s something other than me being a paranoid parent … I can give the real doctor a break.
Are you a secret symptom researcher? Or do you think all things medical should be taken straight to the doctor?