Conversation with a Pediatrician – Child’s Nutrition, Sleeping Habits and Mom’s Self-Care

Conversations with Dr Ng Yi Ki

Question: Hi Dr Ng, tell us more about yourself-

Dr Ng: Hi! I am a community paediatrician in Kuala Lumpur, currently practicing at Baby and Beyond Child Specialist Clinic, Publika. I have been working with children and parents, caring for their health and development, for more than 15 years. I am also (and if I dare say so, more importantly) a mother to two beautiful young children aged 4 and 2 years old.

Question: What makes you choose the path of a pediatrician?

Dr Ng: I like to joke that it’s because of my petite size and children are the only patients I could physically carry. Haha! But the truth is, I realised that I was much keener in his area of healthcare even from my undergraduate days. I loved being around them and I was always awed at their capability to bounce back to health quickly. Even when they didn’t, their resilience and inner strength inspired me. They are also the purest and most sincere patients that even on the worst days, just one smile from them could fuel me to continue giving my best.

Question: What are the commonly asked questions by parents these days?

Dr Ng:

  • How do I build my child’s immunity? To which I say, eat a variety of nutritious food, play outdoors and sleep well.
  • My child is a picky eater. How can I help him/her eat better? This is actually a very broad and complex question. I typically spend an hour to identify what eating problem the child may have and work with the parents to find a strategy that may suit their family diet and lifestyle. So, while there are some general guidelines, one size certainly doesn’t fit all.
  • Should my 5-12 year old child get the covid vaccine? As I am writing this, the decision to vaccinate this age group has been announced in Malaysia but the program hasn’t started yet. There is still alot of hesitancy (for good reasons), but we are seeing good data for vaccine efficacy and safety in this age group. It is my job to convey the sciences and data honestly to parents to help them make informed decisions.

Question: There are many mothers facing challenges on baby not sleeping well, not sleeping through the night, and fussy eaters. What is your advice to that and how can we help mothers cope with these?

Dr Ng: There are many reasons why they may not eat or sleep well. In their first year of life, much is part of their natural growth and development. It will help to get a good book that gives an overview of a baby’s health and development to get a better understanding of the roller coasters of their sleep patterns and behaviour. For fussy eaters, I do believe in starting right - from our own adult diet and mealtime behaviour that inevitably affects theirs, to introducing solid foods, to establishing good mealtime habits from young.

To mommies who are struggling, I would like to say that you are not alone, so please don’t think you are failing as a mother. Glean wisdom from your close and trusted friends who are also mothers and never be ‘paiseh’ to ask your paediatrician. If you have a trusted small, to moderately sized mommy support group, that may help too. Most importantly, be intentional to take care of yourself. It’s only when you are filled and refueled, then can you care for your baby more efficiently.

Question: New mothers tend to overthink and over-react, what are some tips you can share for them to focus on and watch out for, and let go of the rest?

I think new mothers tend to overthink most until their baby is 1 year old as they would have gone through most of the first experiences by then. So, if I can address a few broad categories, it would be:

  • Mothers with new-born babies: Fed is best. Breastmilk is the indeed the best first food source for your baby, but the struggles of the breastfeeding journey is real too. The scene where babies are hospitalised for dehydration because of poor feeding is also real and all too common. So, if you need to give your baby formula milk for a while, it is OK! Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
  • Unwell baby with fever: Most first illnesses that babies encounter are mild viral illnesses. You can be assured if your baby is still generally active and feeds well. Look out for red flags such as high fever exceeding 39 Degree Celsius, inactive or crying inconsolably and poor feeding. These indicate that your baby needs urgent medical attention.
  • Babies’ growth and development: That’s when the growth charts, regular health checks and visits to your paediatrician for vaccinations come in to help you address your concerns. Don’t overdo it on google.

Question: How do you juggle spending time with your child, and dealing with work?

Dr Ng: Like any mother would say, it is tough, because really, it’s more like juggling time for the children, work, husband, me and activities outside work that matter to me. I have done away with the notion of “work life balance”. It does not exist. But I can learn to UNDERSTAND THE SEASONS of life I am in and do the best I can, accepting that my resources of time and energy are finite.

Secondly, I have learnt that I need to be INTENTIONAL, and that also means that to be mindful to not neglect time with my husband and for self-care.

Thirdly, I am learning to be PRESENT, especially when I’m with my family.

Question: What is the advice you would give mothers who wants to pursue their aspirations, yet at the same time do not want to miss the precious growing years of their child.

Dr Ng: Don’t give up on either one! Both are important. But like I said previously, the trick is in recognising the season of life we are in and the resources we have. For some of us, we may be able to do both simultaneously, but the reality of life is that for some of us, something may need to take the back seat for a time. What we’ll need to do then is to decide what takes priority in THAT season and count our costs. I know it’s tough, even more so for single mommies.

Having open and honest communication with my spouse was instrumental in my career choices. For those who are married, I’d encourage you to speak openly with your spouse about your life goals, how he can support you and work together for the family.

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