By Debra Johnston, M.D.
I don’t know how you feel, but in my opinion, parenting is hard! Someone must have forgotten to hand me the instruction manual when my children came home. I have yet to meet a parent who wouldn’t appreciate one.
New parents can count on getting lots of advice from well-meaning friends and relatives, and sometimes even perfect strangers. Some of that advice is welcome and useful. Some, not so much. And sometimes that advice is downright dangerous.
Many grandparents raised their own children at a time when doctors thought it was best to put babies on their stomachs to sleep. Research in the 1990s showed that this sleeping position significantly increased the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. And all those cute stuffed animals and fluffy blankets increase the risk of suffocation.
Many great grandparents started their newborns on solid food soon after birth. Now we understand more about infant nutrition and recommend waiting until six months for most babies. This helps ensure the baby is developmentally ready to swallow solids and reduces the risk of some health problems that can persist well into adulthood.
My own generation was told to avoid exposure to common allergens like nuts and fish in the hopes of reducing the risk of food allergies. More recent research indicates the opposite: early introduction to these foods reduces that risk. Of course, parents still need to be mindful of choking hazards. Try thinned smooth peanut butter, not whole peanuts. We still recommend avoiding honey, because of the risk of botulism, and liquid milk, because it is more difficult to digest. Besides, formula and breast milk provide more complete nutrition.
Parents today often swear by sleep nests or wedges. These are cushions meant to prop babies in a particular position. Although these devices are popular, they are dangerous and increase the risk of suffocation. Walkers are popular too, but they are associated with injuries, and have not been shown to help babies learn to walk. In fact, motor skills may be delayed if baby uses a walker.
So how can families sort out all this advice? Look for trustworthy sources of information, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics’ on-line resource, healthychildren.org, or the American Academy of Family Physicians’ educational website, familydoctor.org. Best of all, take advantage of regular well-child visits with your primary care provider. Your doctor desires a strong relationship and will work with you to help your child grow up safe and healthy.
Debra Johnston, M.D. is part of The Prairie Doc® team of physicians and currently practices family medicine in Brookings, South Dakota. Follow The Prairie Doc® at www.prairiedoc.org and on Facebook featuring On Call with the Prairie Doc® a medical Q&A show celebrating its twentieth season of truthful, tested, and timely medical information, broadcast on SDPB and streaming live on Facebook most Thursdays at 7 p.m. central.