Care and Feeding

My Baby Suffered a Febrile Seizure

They’re more common than I knew, and I wish I’d known what to do.

Photo illustration of a baby lying face-up in a crib, with a pacifier, staring at the camera.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Email careandfeeding@slate.com or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

Last weekend, my 7-month-old baby suffered a febrile seizure. It was the scariest moment of my life, and I have been beating myself up for how I handled it since. She wasn’t breathing, so in my panic I performed chest compressions (with the two-finger technique) which, though she ended up being fine, I discovered later may not have been the correct thing to do. Also, I had her on her back and should have placed her on her side in case she vomited (which she did). I did call 911 and am glad I did for the peace of mind.

Before this happened, I had never heard of febrile seizures, though they seem to be somewhat common. I was hoping you could use your platform to raise awareness of these seizures so that other parents reading your column can be better prepared (emotionally and tactically) than I was.

—Not a Doctor

I, myself, am not a doctor either, but my friend Dr. Daniel Summers is! He is a great pediatrician and a fellow Slatester and happily agreed to field this question on my behalf. Take it away, Dan!

Dear NaD,

First of all, stop beating yourself up. It doesn’t sound as though any actual harm came to your baby, and you did what seemed best to you in a frightening moment. While it’s very unlikely she needed chest compressions and it’s advised to put people having seizures on their sides, it can be hard to make perfect decisions at times like those. Let yourself right off that hook.

You’re right that febrile seizures are more common than people might think, and they can be very scary when they occur unexpectedly. Seeing your child having a seizure is really alarming, and when parents come to my office after their child has had one, they often report feeling really panicked in the moment and anxious about whether it’ll happen again. It’s my job to offer them not only information, but reassurance.

Febrile seizures occur in about 3 or 4 children out of every 100. They usually last for a short time, stop without treatment, and cause no actual damage themselves. While it’s hard to predict who will end up having one, they do tend to run in families. The large majority of kids who have them don’t go on to develop any other seizure disorder and eventually grow out of having them. Fever management is the usual treatment, as well as keeping kids safe when a seizure happens. If the seizure lasts for more than five minutes (and though they can feel like forever when they happen, they’re usually shorter than that), calling emergency services is recommended.

It’s never a bad idea to ask your child’s own doctor for information about things like febrile seizures when they happen, but most don’t require much further evaluation. Those that last for longer than 15 minutes or occur multiple times in a row may indicate the need for more of a work-up.

I hope your own medical provider was able to offer you all the information and reassurance you needed after this frightening moment in your child’s life. In any case, I hope you can be easy on yourself about how you handled things when it happened.

—Dan

Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a fairly straightforward question for which I hope you might have a fairly straightforward answer! The background: My son turns 7 in a couple of months. Since the year he turned 5, it has been standard practice for the kids in his class to throw large birthday parties to which the whole class is invited. Usually a couple of parents with kids whose birthdays fall in the same month team up, hire professional entertainment, organize refreshments and decorations, etc.—nothing too crazy. Still, putting together and hosting these parties (including all the interactions with other parents and party/food-related professionals they entail) is an activity I truly despise—though not enough to veto a party for a kid who really wants one.

My question relates to my daughter, who turns 4 about a month before my son’s birthday. She started preschool this year. Some kids in the class celebrate their birthdays in large parties outside of school, but it’s not a uniform practice as it is at my son’s school. I put out feelers to see if my daughter is hoping for a party, and it doesn’t seem to be on her radar at all: She’s completely focused on the celebration that will take place at the school itself (bringing in a cake, everyone singing, etc.). Theoretically, I would love to avoid a class party if possible, at least for another year (given that we started having parties for her brother at age 5). However, I’m worried that if I throw a party for my son this year, she will feel hurt and jealous and question why we didn’t celebrate her big day in a similar manner. (And given her past history, there is a greater-than-zero chance that this will happen.)

My question is do I have to have a party for her? And if I don’t, how can I avoid the potential fallout? I did take a long shot and asked my son if he’d be willing to celebrate his own birthday in a way that does not involve a big party for the entire class—but he seems dead set on one.

—Please Don’t Make Me Have a Party

Dear PDMMHaP,

You have my permission not to have a party. I would find something very special for her to do with you in the days surrounding her birthday (a trip to the zoo, a kid’s movie outing, etc.), which you can point to should she later become jealous over her brother’s party.

This is a great moment to recognize that you can’t always do the exact same thing for each child, and to make your peace with that. It’s going to be fine.

Also, I am a FIRM BELIEVER in a nice class celebration with treats provided by the birthday kid’s parents, and no one ever having to throw a child’s birthday party, but despite the fact that I (and apparently you) find them mentally and physically intolerable, the culture is unlikely to change. I just want to make you feel better, and know you’re not alone.

• If you missed Wednesday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

The “best friend” of my older child has the most bananas parents I’ve ever seen. They want us to move to be near them (!) so the dad gave our number to a Realtor in their neighborhood. They have told their swim class, gym class, and dance class establishments that we really want to sign up—and have given our contact information to these places.

They have promised to our children that our families will go to Disney World together and that we will be getting a dog soon (“Mama, Frodo’s mommy said you promised!”). They have convinced my younger child she has to get a haircut.

They also parent in a loud way and say things that we just aren’t comfortable with to their children, including, “If you don’t shut up right now, I’m telling you … !” and “You are on my last nerve and if you don’t stop, you know what will happen!” in very aggressive ways.

So, I lie all the time about why we can’t meet up except at preschool events. And I’m wondering if I can be absolved because kindergarten is coming, and the kids will be at different schools on opposite sides of town.

Will my older one slowly forget about her “best friend” once proximity is no longer possible?

—Just…Stop

Dear JS,

Oh, I would find this exhausting. I am delighted to hear that kindergarten will provide a nice, natural transitional period for ending this mess.

Something missing from your letter is detail on how much your older child enjoys hanging out with her “best friend.” Is this a relationship running mostly on the ceaseless pressure of the other kid’s parents, or are they actually very close and enjoy their time together?

If the former, I would respond more slowly to text messages, turn down invites, talk about how very, very busy you and the family are these days, and begin marking little Xs on your kindergarten escape plan calendar.

If the latter, your daughter is still likely to get over this friendship soon enough, but I would recommend a slow, gentle fade-out period in which your daughter gets to do activities once or twice a month with their daughter—ideally, ones that involve you picking up her friend and thus avoiding her parents and their … honestly bizarre … glomminess.

That may go so well that you never have to totally stop doing it, or the family may up their intensity, in which case, please write back and we’ll tackle that.

Dear Care and Feeding,

My 7-year-old daughter loves all animals, bugs included. When she sees another child hurt a bug, she goes ballistic, screaming about them killing the bug.

When we see a spider or other bug in the house, she insists that we carefully take it outside, which I try to do. She won’t touch them. If there is a worm on the driveway, she announces where it is and tells everyone not to step on it. She won’t actually pick it up or move it.

This morning, while I was mowing the lawn, I ran over an ant colony. She saw that the ants were going everywhere and she screamed at me, saying she hated me because I was killing the ants. To me, it’s just a bug and I don’t want ant colonies in my yard. They bite and it’s painful when they do.

How can I get my daughter to cool off when it comes to bugs? Or is her obsession with protecting them normal?

—Bugged in Georgia

Dear Bugged In Georgia,

Barring the possibility that this will result in a lifelong commitment to Jainism, I suspect this is a (almost cute) phase which will pass in time. It’s also extremely common.

I think what you need to work on (as a disciplinary issue) is her yelling and screaming and berating those who treat bugs like … bugs. That’s not acceptable behavior, and neither is it acceptable behavior to try to control how other people deal with their bug encounters. This should be treated as any other unacceptable behavior, with whatever consequences are appropriate in your family.

I do, however, think it’s reasonable to say that if she wants the worm/spider moved to a safer location, she needs to be the one to do the transportation of said creature. (If a spider: carefully, with a sheet of paper and a glass. I don’t want you dealing with a suppurating brown recluse bite because an internet advice columnist with an English degree told you to encourage your small child to pick up bugs.)

Also, she’s 100 percent gonna wind up a vegan by high school, so just mentally prepare yourself for that now. (This is not a criticism, vegans are great.)

—Nicole

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