More information might be better for some, but parents often feel completely inundated with information and struggle mightily with sorting out the good from the bad. Further complicating the issue, health organizations and expert panels release guidelines every few years that are sometimes only minor modifications. But other times, they can be huge policy reversals that create confusion when they are not universally adopted or applied. Doctors who don't keep up on the latest information can also contribute to the confusion over what is okay for the baby and what's not.
Humans have been keeping babies alive for hundreds of thousands of years with varying success, but the whole idea of issuing guidelines and pursuing the study of baby care from a scientific standpoint is to keep more babies alive and to help foster the conditions that allow them to thrive. Inconsistent messaging can sometimes cause parents to feel like they're walking through a minefield blindfolded during a hurricane—while holding the baby. Instinct and common sense, in this case, could be seen as guide ropes that mark the safe path through all the buried landmines.
Moms are inventive creatures who are especially good at creating tools that enhance their life experience, but figuring out which of these inventions are good and which might be getting in the way isn't so easy. Here are 15 things that aren't as bad for babies as people think (and 5 that can be so much worse).
Doctors aren't advocating that moms go out and roll their newborns around in the dirt, but they are telling us that we are cleaning and disinfecting ourselves and our families into chronic and life-long allergy and asthma problems, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Researchers say the amazing twist is that babies who encounter allergens within the first year of life reap measurable benefits that they don't see if the allergens are not encountered until after the first year of life. Even inner-city issues like roach and rat allergens can contribute to a more robust immune system if a baby is exposed within the first year of life.
No expert is going to deny that breastmilk is best for baby, but many worry that the backlash against formula has ignored several situations wherein formula is a good and healthy choice. In one study, babies who struggled with early breastfeeding but got small amounts of formula to supplement were readmitted to the hospital less than those who didn't, as per Harvard Health Publishing. Other moms simply aren't able to breastfeed. Moms and babies can experience a variety of health and social issues that hinder breastfeeding success. Formulas are designed to be as close as possible to the nutrition breastmilk provides, and babies can and do thrive on it.
Not so long ago, experts used to warn moms that picking the baby up as soon as he cries or holding him constantly would at best make him dependent on mom and, at worst, would spoil him. Baby nurseries moved to separate rooms and strollers proliferated across the land until the research started rolling in that babies can't be spoiled. Doctors and psychologists are now actively encouraging parents to respond to baby's cues before they get to crying, if possible, as well as reassuring anxious moms that her instinct to pick up and hold her baby is good—she's not hurting him when she holds him, as per WebMD.
Nearly every doctor recommends that babies take a vitamin D supplement, despite the fact that even infants can make their own vitamin D when exposed to sunlight. Many health organizations recommend against baby getting any sun exposure because of indications that excessive sun exposure in childhood greatly increases the risk of dangerous skin cancer, according to Well Adjusted. Many moms question the blanket supplement prescription because the amount of time babies need in the sun to convert vitamin D is not much. The key is common sense: five or ten minutes in the morning is much safer than the same amount of time in the full sun of midday.
Many parents are bewildered by the often-conflicting advice they receive from medical professionals, baby books and the Internet, and the confusion only increases when health organizations modify or reverse their own recommendations. One recommendation that so far continues to stand the test of the most recent studies and research is that babies are less prone to SIDS-related fatalities when they share a room with mom, explains the New York Times. Families may need to make adjustments that allow parents to get the sleep they need, but the health benefits for the baby get clearer with every study—room-sharing is better than we once thought.
Often, parents are interested in spacing pregnancies closer together to have siblings that are nearer in age. Experts indicate that close together—but not too close together—is actually good for Mom's health, as per the Mayo Clinic. Moms should wait at least 24 months after the birth of a baby to go through another pregnancy, but if they wait more than five years, there's a greater risk of high blood pressure and organ damage, as well as developmental disorders in the subsequent child. Most important to note is that these are general guidelines. Other factors like mom's age and health and the nature of her previous pregnancy could alter the risks and benefits that inform those guidelines.
New moms are often warned of the evils of using a pacifier by their own moms—experts weren't always pro-pacifier, even in the recent past. Nowadays, even the AAP is recommending pacifier use for babies as a potential SIDS preventative, according to Mama Natural. Despite the potentially life-saving benefits of the pacifier, some moms still worry that pacifiers will promote nipple-confusion, but experts aren't even united on whether nipple-confusion is real or has anything to do with pacifier use. Pacifiers have gotten a bad rap that perhaps they don't deserve. Doctors tell moms to first establish her breastfeeding routine and then consider pacifier use for naps or night time.
In the US, the average age of women having babies has been trending upwards in recent years despite well-established concerns about the safety of pregnancy in women over the age of 35. While it's true that an older body might not cope with pregnancy changes as well, and older eggs are more likely to have undergone some genetic degradation, other factors also may also influence the outcome of the pregnancy and health of the baby, according to Time. Older moms are more likely to be better educated and have the financial resources, and they may have fewer unhealthy habits as well as a better support network in place.
In one of the most whiplash-inducing reversals modern moms have seen, experts are now no longer forbidding peanut exposure in infants but are instead actively promoting it, reveals Verywell Family. Studies have shown that even those infants once deemed at high risk of developing a peanut allergy instead developed a tolerance to peanuts when fed foods containing peanuts, such as watered down peanut butter. Timing for the introduction of the peanut protein is everything. Introduction of peanuts too early and too late can both have the dangerous outcome of a potentially life-threatening peanut allergy. Some parents are also concerned with peanut oil being used in vaccines. Peanut-containing foods can be introduced in age-appropriate forms as early as six months.
Deciding to go back to work after the baby is born is agony for some moms and welcomed by others. In the economy we live in, it's often a non-negotiable, but being away from baby can spark overwhelming guilt and worry. A landmark study might go a long way in reassuring hard-working moms, however. Researchers have determined that the children of working moms are not only more likely to be high achievers at work, but also report being just as happy as the children of stay-at-home moms, explains Harvard Business School. The studies even controlled for mom's level of education and still showed the same results.
Mom carried the baby within her for usually nine months, labored and gave birth, and now may still have a deep physical tie to baby as she nurses him. Meanwhile, Dad sometimes is left wondering how he can be more involved in nurturing the newborn. Well-meaning moms may not even realize when they hand over baby to dad how they're micromanaging or even cutting him out of the picture altogether, as per Parents. This isn't good for baby or the partnership. Letting Dad participate in feeding, diaper changing and kangaroo care is healthier for everyone. He can help her recovery and create and strengthen his own bond with baby.
Babies benefit from any amount of breastfeeding, but more than six months is not just beneficial, it's recommended, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). While WHO does agree with and advocate the introduction of solid foods around six months of age depending on baby's health, it strongly recommends and supports policies that encourage moms to breastfeed well past the first year of life in conjunction with other foods. Babies who nurse the first two years of life reap the full benefits of well-rounded nutrition as well as receiving immune-boosting antibodies from mom. Throughout life, they're less likely to experience negative physical and mental health issues.
Traveling with a young baby might be more about the logistics of hauling the gear around rather than the perceived fragility of the baby, according to BabyCenter. While most experts don't advocate traveling with a newborn due to potential exposure to disease, they don't see a problem with a baby as young as three months heading out for adventure. If baby is healthy, the difference-maker for successful travel is preparation. Parents should make a checklist for all the gear they'll need, which will depend on where they're going—and for how long. They should also make sure to pack an emergency kit with supplies made for a baby.
Attachment parenting has gotten a bad rap on the Interwebs and amongst some pediatricians because there's no clear understanding of just exactly what it means. Moms often think that if they aren't sharing the bed with the baby or can't breastfeed that they have failed at attachment parenting; conversely, other moms recoil from attachment parenting styles that proclaim failure if the baby is formula-fed or placed in a swing, as per Developmental Science. Psychologists and pediatricians explain that developing “secure attachment” is actually the goal, and that can look very different from one family to another. They explain it really boils down to watching the baby for cues and responding to her needs.
Some parents are brave enough to eschew diapers altogether, but for the rest of us chicken-hearts, the decision is choosing between cloth and disposable diapers. Cloth diapers are often touted as the greener choice, and they're almost always the cheaper choice, too—but there are just some situations where a disposable diaper is going to get used. There are some non-toxic disposable options that have less of a deleterious impact on the environment than conventional disposables, according to Non Toxic Revolution. These disposables are easier for caregivers and daycares to use and have fewer of the harsh chemicals that often irritate baby's sensitive skin.
Even though moms have tons of things to worry about with baby already, she's also got to worry about baby lotions and shampoos and the potentially dangerous ingredients they contain. Even popular baby products that are supposedly safe and gentle contain small amounts of hormone-disruptors and neurotoxic preservatives, as per Food Revolution Network. Babies can absorb chemicals through their skin even from products meant to be washed off. Even low concentrations of a common antibacterial preservative have been shown to cause brain cell damage in rats. Potentially dangerous ingredients are usually not clearly labeled or are listed as generic sounding terms like “fragrance.”
The majority of US babies are introduced to some form of solid food well before the recommended age of six months, and a significant amount eat their first solid foods before four months of age, according to Medical News Today. Intriguingly, researchers found that formula-fed babies were more likely to be introduced to solid foods early versus breastfed babies. The danger of introducing solid food earlier than six months is that babies may develop rare but extreme and serious allergies to a wide range of foods. Babies might also miss out on the well-rounded nutrition that milk provides when they cut back on nursing because they feel fuller for longer.
Many parents have heard the AAP's recommendations that babies under the age of 18 months get no screen time, but mistakenly believe that applies only to baby watching a tablet or smartphone. Screen time is a tough thing to regulate because it also includes TVs and the parents' phones, as per Kids Health. Caregivers and daycare workers are also apt to use children's programming or apps in the belief that they help develop a baby's ability to learn and process information, but this may not be the case in very young babies. Experts suggest that, realistically, parents can look at ways to minimize screen time whenever possible.
BPA is only one of many chemicals used in plastics that can harm us, but just try to go a day without touching or using any plastic to see how insidious the problem really is. Bisphenol A (BPA) is still present in many baby products and toys, despite the ban in the US, even though we know that BPA can be absorbed through the skin as well as ingested and is certainly a hormone-disruptor, according to The Guardian. Even products that are labeled “BPA Free” can have trace amounts, and the chemical is everywhere and easily absorbed through touch—and it stays with us for a very long time.
Most US households have some form of acetaminophen—especially if there's a baby—but there's mounting evidence that acetaminophen is far more dangerous than parents realize. Studies have implicated acetaminophen in an increased risk of ADHD diagnosis in children of moms who took it during pregnancy, according to Pea And The Pod Chiropractic. It's also a leading cause for calls to the Poison Control hotline, and even “safe” use in infants can lead to increased risk of asthma. Yet another study linked diminished efficacy of vaccines to prophylactic acetaminophen use. When doctors are the ones recommending acetaminophen use, it can come as a shock to find out all the risks associated.
References: Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard Health Publishing, WebMD, Well Adjusted, New York Times, Mayo Clinic, Mama Natural, Time, Verywell Family, Harvard Business School, Parents, World Health Organization, BabyCenter, Developmental Science, Non Toxic Revolution, Food Revolution Network, Medical News Today, Kids Health, The Guardian, Pea And The Pod Chiropractic