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5 Old Wives' Tales About Babies Debunked

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Updated on Jan 11, 2012

Babies don't come with an instruction manual—even though parents often wish they did. But new moms and dads quickly find out that when it comes to their little bundle of joy, there's no shortage of people just waiting to pass on their pearls of wisdom. No matter how well-meaning the advice might be, you can't always trust everything you hear. Granny's secret sleeping system probably sounds good in your sleep-deprived haze, but how can you be sure it's really safe? Recommendations have changed since you were a baby, and your mom's advice isn't always what doctors recommend.Check out which old wives' tales are outdated, quirky or downright dangerous.

  • He'll get a flat head if he sleeps on his back. Well, yes. In theory your baby could develop a flat spot by sleeping in the same place every night. But this is easily fixed by rotating his head when he sleeps, changing the direction you lay him in the crib or giving him several minutes of tummy time—playing while laying on his front—during the day. But the critical information you need to know is that placing baby on his back is much, much safer for him. Since the start of the "back to sleep" campaign in 1994, the number of infants who have died from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) has been halved. Always lay your baby on his back when he dozes off, and let any other caretakers—including babysitters, family and daycare personnel—know to always have him sleep on his back.
  • He needs real food. He'll starve if you only give him milk. When are you going to give him solid food? A few bites won't hurt. Everyone seems to have an opinion on when—and what—you should feed your child. Don't listen to anyone who tells you milk isn't enough. Breast milk alone is ideal for all your child's nutritional needs for about the first six months of his life. Even once baby is developmentally ready for solids, the Center for Disease Control advises these foods should complement—not replace—breastfeeding, which will ideally continue until at least 12 months of age.
  • Putting cereal in a bottle will help him sleep. This myth is one that parents want to believe—after all, the promise that your baby will sleep through the night just by adding a spoonful of cereal to his bottle sounds like paradise to a tired new mom. Unfortunately, there's absolutely no evidence to suggest that a tablespoon of cereal—a mere 12 calories—makes any difference whatsoever to how long your infant sleeps, and it doesn't have any nutritional value either. Dr. Bill Sears, a noted pediatrician, author, professor and parenting resource, says that cereal is "neither necessary or nutritious for young babies." Keep your expectations in check—sleeping is a developmental stage and even "sleeping through the night" is defined as five hours for young babies.
  • Let him cry it out. A very young baby can't manipulate you—he doesn't understand the concept. So when he cries, your task is to figure out what's wrong, not ignore the noise until he falls asleep. Dr. Sears says advice to let your baby cry it out "is the number one myth parents should never listen to." Sears emphasizes that only the parent can decide whether—and how long—to let a baby cry, suggesting that if you're told to ignore your instinct to soothe your tearful infant you should "cross that person off your list" for any future baby advice.
  • Holding your baby too much will spoil him. Don't pay attention to advice that holding or snuggling with your baby will make him spoiled, create bad habits or get him "too used to it." It's not possible to spoil an infant too much, especially at this early age, and in fact the reverse is true—babies need to be held. Dr. Sears sums it up in The Discipline Book, telling parents that "children, like food, spoil when left alone."

Just because your cousin has had kids doesn't automatically make her an expert. Never follow a random relative's advice on a medical matter without checking with the real expert—your pediatrician. Even on non-medical matters, remember you know your baby best. Trust your own instincts—if you want to snuggle with your baby, you should, regardless of advice that says you'll cause separation anxiety (for the record, it won't—that, too, is a natural developmental stage).

The top parenting tip Dr. Sears gives new moms and dads is to "put yourself behind the eyes of your child and ask yourself how you would want your mother or father to react." By considering your little one's perspective, you'll almost always get it right.

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