Outdated Baby Care Advice You Should Avoid

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Parenting advice changes over time, so if you’re a new parent you may be dodging weird advice from your parents. Or if you’re a total parenting know-it-all, some whippersnapper might try to tell you things are different now. Here’s everything that’s changed and why, according to pediatricians and safety experts.

Baby Bumpers Are a Bad Idea

Bumpers are cushions that tie onto the crib rails. They became popular because it seemed like a good idea to protect babies from bonking their heads on the hard wooden or metal rails, and because crib rails in those days were farther apart and parents worried that a baby might fall out, or might get stuck between the rails.

But after investigating deaths related to bumpers, the American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) concluded that bumpers aren’t worth the risk: children were suffocating or getting wedged between bumpers and mattresses.

Go into a store selling baby things, though, and you’ll often find the display cribs overflowing with matching quilts and softies and bumpers. The bumper makers continue to sell them by citing “a recent study” on their safety that happens to have been commissioned by the bumper makers themselves. So, yes, bumpers are for sale, they often come as part of bedding sets, and maybe they look cute and cozy. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to use them. I’d trust pediatricians over bumper manufacturers there.

Babies Sleep on Their Backs (for a Good Reason)

We put babies to sleep on their backs nowadays, to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). This recommendation was publicized by the “Back to Sleep” campaign beginning in 1994, so most of the folks becoming grandparents are now hearing the advice for the first time. And in many cases, their response is “What? We put you on your belly to sleep, and you turned out just fine!”

And that’s true, but some babies did not turn out just fine. Of every 1,000 babies born in 1988, for example, 1.4 died of SIDS. Now that parents are more aware of the condition, and over 75% go to sleep on their backs, the number of SIDS deaths is less than half of what it used to be.

Following the guideline can be frustrating because babies often sleep better on their bellies. And it’s a tough switch for the grandparents because they were probably told that it was dangerous for babies to sleep on their backs. The concern at the time was that babies might choke on their spit-up, but it turns out that fear was unfounded.

Solid Foods Are For Six-Month-Olds

By six months, give or take, a baby will be ready to eat “solid” food—in other words, food that’s not breastmilk or formula. Your baby’s digestive system isn’t ready for new kinds of food earlier than that.

Older guidelines sometimes suggested introducing solids earlier. Some parents are still trying to introduce solids before four months, because they believe it will help the baby gain weight faster or because they want the baby to sleep through the night. That rarely works, but more importantly it seems to put the kid at greater risk of asthma, diabetes, and obesity.

Some folks from the “great-grandparental” generation may even suggest putting finely powdered baby cereal in a baby’s bottle at an early age, but that’s definitely outdated advice. In the olden days, some experts recommended starting solids within days or weeks of birth, sometimes citing a belief that formula and breastmilk were missing essential vitamins and minerals. That was true of the formula of the time—it was missing iron—but it’s not true of formula today and was never true of breastmilk.

The exact right age to introduce solids varies with the baby. The World Health Organization names 6 months as the correct age to start, but some babies might be ready earlier. (One of my sons was swiping bread off the table at 5 months, chewing with his little gums and swallowing like a champ.) Some guidelines suggest “4 to 6 months,” but that doesn’t mean you should be waiting with a spoon and a jar of baby food the second the kid turns four months old.

Instead, organizations like the AAP recommend watching for developmental cues: a baby who is ready for solids will seem interested in putting food in their mouth, will swallow it rather than letting it dribble onto their chin, and will be strong enough to sit up or at least hold their head up while sitting in a high chair.

By the way, water goes along with solid foods: it’s likewise not recommended until six months, even on hot days. Babies get the water they need from breastmilk or formula, and drinking water at such a young age can even harm their kidneys.

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