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THE PARENT'S PEDIATRIC COMPANION by Gil Simon MD and Marcia Cohen (Morrow: $17.95; 378 pp.)

September 01, 1985|Mary Roark | Roark is a Times education writer.

Anyone who has tendencies toward hypochondria--and who doesn't--knows that children, especially little ones, can bring out the worst anxieties in what are otherwise rational and reasonable adults. Once home from the hospital and over their initial fears of picking up the newborn, many doting parents are bound to become obsessed with what they perceive as irregularities in their child's behavior and anatomy.

Are those convulsions she's having when her arms and legs periodically shoot out from her sides like the limbs of a mechanical jumping jack? Why does her bellybutton stick out two inches farther than those in all the angelic pictures in baby books? Will her nose, which got pushed to one side of her face during delivery, be back in position in time for her college graduation? And what about all those white scaly spots on top of her head, the ones her grandmother says to ignore and her Salvadoran baby sitter keeps rubbing with olive oil?

On the market today are myriad books that will tell the new as well as the experienced parent how to cope with such problems and whose advice, if anyone's, to follow. The latest was jointly written by a pediatrician from Sacramento who served on the faculty of Columbia University for 16 years and a journalist who specializes in consumer medicine. Organized around the child's anatomy and its developmental stages from birth to 16 years of age, "The Parent's Pediatric Companion" is a home manual explaining with good humor and good sense a spectrum of conditions from yellow jaundice to adolescent obesity that are part of the normal growth and development of a healthy child. In clear, easy-to-find entries, the book offers detailed explanations of every problem--and non-problem--that my child faced in her first seven weeks of life.

I learned, for example, that Alopecia, or hair loss, in a newborn is normal. Thankfully, in our case it was not caused by either spinning on one's head while break-dancing or jogging while wearing heavy headphones--both examples cited in the book as potential difficulties to which parents can look forward. Yet, like all reference guides about child care and development, this guide has its shortcomings. A librarian friend, who has children considerably older than mine, noted that the book contains virtually nothing on either fever or bee stings--both problems most children are sure to face before their 16th birthday.

While there is surely some logic to such omissions (and the inclusion of entries on frostbite and seat-belt burn), few parents will have either the time or patience to grasp the authors' reasoning. Instead, parents would do well to add this delightful book to their library, along with some of the old standbys such as "Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care," T. Berry Brazelton's "Infants and Mothers" and Penelope Leach's "Your Baby and Child." Together, all these books will surely raise parents' confidence and cut down on unnecessary phone calls to the pediatrician.

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