Media-savvy ‘Mama Doc’ authors parenting manual

  • By Andrea Brown Herald Writer
  • Monday, February 3, 2014 11:41am
  • LifeMill Creek

Dr. Spock, meet Dr. Swanson.

She’s a pediatrician, clinical instructor, TV reporter, mother, author, runner and she still has time to blog about Justin Bieber’s DUI and post 8,000 Tweets.

But to hear Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson tell it, she’s just another mama pushing 40.

“I’m a regular, busy, stressed-out mom, just like the rest of us,” she said.

For this “digital physician,” social media tools are as vital as a stethoscope in patient care.

Swanson, director of digital health at Seattle Children’s Hospital, is known by thousands of online followers as SeattleMamaDoc, which ranked in TIME Magazine’s Best Twitter Feeds of 2013.

Soon, she’ll be on old-fashioned bookshelves with the March debut of her book, “Mama Doc Medicine,” published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Swanson started her medical career at Everett Clinic in Mill Creek, where she still sees patients one day a week.

“What a practice was seven-and-a-half years ago versus what it is today is profoundly different,” she said. “I was one of those people who would bang my keyboard when the computer froze. I’m much more of a technophile now.”

Her blogs, Tweets and segments on King 5 TV cover it all: tummy aches, tanning, vaccinations, flu and fever.

“Bieber Fever” isn’t the norm.

“The Justin Bieber episode was a teachable moment,” she said. “This is a opportunity to have a wake-up call so parents can talk to their kids about alcohol.

“We put up an illustration on Facebook and overnight 17,000 eyes were on it. For me, I can go into the clinic and see 17 kids a day.”

Her book is another way to connect with moms and dads. “Mama Doc Medicine” is a parenting manual on about 100 different topics, from car seats and sunblock to emotional support and work-life balance.

“I would never want to pretend that I’m Dr. Spock,” she said. “He was quite a pioneer. I am indebted to his wisdom and transformation of really bringing parenting and pediatrics together.”

Dr. Spock didn’t have social media to reach the masses of anxious new parents wondering what to do with their bundles of joy.

“There is no easy way to raise a child. It’s a very complicated thing, mixed with all sorts of messaging,” Swanson said.

“We are inundated with information. For most families, it’s not that they don’t have enough, it’s potentially that they have too much. They need help with the curation.”

That’s where she comes in.

“Six out of 10 adults have a smartphone. It doesn’t matter where you live or how much money your have. Most of us have a computer in our back pocket. It’s crazy,” she said.

“We have this opportunity as physicians and experts to join people where they are with their devices.”

This doesn’t replace hands-on doctoring.

“If someone asks me about their child’s recurrent sore throat or enlarged tonsils, I can send a link that I think provides expertise about how to get the care they need,” she said. “Of course, I never provide personal health advice online.”

Swanson was there, in the flesh, for Chad and Reni Ross of Mill Creek after their first child was born four years ago.

“You feel comfortable talking to her and asking her questions,” Reni Ross said. “She educated us.”

Before medical school, Swanson, a Minnesota native, taught bilingual science and math in California with “Teach for America.”

That experience with youth led her to specialize in pediatrics.

She didn’t set out to be a digital doc.

“I was on bedrest with my second pregnancy and I joined Facebook and I thought, ‘Holy moley, this is incredible.’ That was the beginning of my discovery that I could potentially improve the lives of more people than I could see in a clinical environment by using these tools.”

She’s not a digital mom.

Her sons, 5 and 7, have Legos and books, not tablets and gadgets. “I love the basics. The clean, simple toys,” Swanson said. “We hardly watch any television in our home. They just don’t need it.”

Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com

Tips from Mama Doc

1. Forgive yourself in advance for mistakes you’ll make as a parent. Parenting is a wondrous, arduous and high-stakes job.

2. Give children vaccines on time to protect them from having an illness that can be life-threatening.

3. Use a car seat the correct way. An infant/toddler needs to stay rear-facing until at least 2 years old.

4. Half of what you feed your child should be fresh fruits and vegetables.

5. Go outside every single day and move.

6. Your sleep as a parent is as important as your child’s sleep. Consistency may be the “secret sauce” to parenting.

7. You don’t need to buy a lot of things to raise a healthy, bright child. What they need is attentiveness, interaction and play.

8. No TV in the bedroom. It actually impairs their ability to fall asleep.

For more information, go to seattlemamadoc.seattlechildrens.org.

Source: Dr. Wendy Sue Swanson

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