“That’s how we did it in our time [and you turned out okay]!”
So what DO you say when such fonts of unsolicited advice become more intrusive than you’d like? First, un-grit your teeth and thank the person for her concern. It may be unwelcome, but she usually just wants to help. Second, pay attention to the essence of the free counsel. Try to stifle the natural urge to get defensive; you may pick up something truly useful from the advice.
But what if it is in fact dangerous advice based on what you’ve learned about modern childcare?
Mention that what they say differs from what your child’s doctor prescribes and that you would like to abide by the pediatrician’s recommendations. Bring them along to the next doctor’s appointment if need be. If that still doesn’t go down easy, elaborate on why the rules have changed. Here are some typical points of argument:
When my son Jack first started teething, a friend recommended teething biscuits, while another swore by plopping a piece of wintermelon candy into her baby’s night bottle of water.
My mom advised against guava jelly. I asked what properties of her remedy would stimulate tooth growth and ease the pain, and she said, “Vitamin C.”
Jack’s pediatrician, José Enrique Clemente, finds it better for the child to “gum” ice rings/teethers or use oral analgesics (paracetamol). “Baby Orajel could be helpful in extreme cases,” he adds.
I read that Orajel’s numbing relief only lasts for about 10 minutes though, so I use it with purpose, such as to get Jack to drink his milk when sucking hurts too much. Other teething remedies that work for us: frozen wet washcloth (which Jack used to hate but now loves), teething rings (the little vampire has already bitten too hard into a liquid-filled one, puncturing it), harder teething toys, brushing his teeth/gums with an age-appropriate toothbrush; patient, tough-it-out hugs; distraction… and, admittedly, paracetamol as a super last resort so he can have a good night’s sleep.
Some of our parents probably fed us solid food at as early as four weeks. Evaporated milk formulas had sugar and did not have the vitamins and iron needed by baby. So deficient were these early formulations that solids were required by baby’s first month to make up for the nutrition gap.
Today’s milk formulas are usually iron-fortified. Like breast milk, they give babies enough nutrition for their first six months. Back then, there wasn’t much research done on the topic. Now we know very young babies still cannot control their throat and tongue muscles, making swallowing difficult and trigger choking.
Also, the tongue thrust reflex of young babies is still deep-seated and can make feeding solids a challenge.
Furthermore, eating solids before six months of age heightens the risk of getting food allergies and can cause obesity.
Dr. Clemente recommends the ages of four to six months as the right time to start feeding your child solids. “For as long as the following criteria is met: good head control, with the ability to move food from the front to back of the mouth,” he says. “Clues that they are ready [before six months] are when they watch intently while you eat, move their mouths and are feeding more than 36 ounces of milk a day.”
Different cultures serve up various first foods for baby. In Africa, it’s said that babies are commonly fed meat first. Babies in India get to explore assorted spices in their food early on.
During our time, rice cereal was the token choice. Today, making your own homemade baby food is preferred to boxed or jarred commercial baby food, using organic or unprocessed ingredients as much as possible. Not only is it more affordable, but it also fosters healthier habits.
Says Dr. Clemente, “There are no strict guidelines anymore in the order at which solids should be started. A choice between cereal, fruit or vegetables (except the leafy ones) as first foods is made and fed one at a time and shifted every four days in order to observe for allergies.”
In our household, brown rice and bread are favored over white. Guided by Ruth Yaron’s incredibly indispensable book “Super Baby Food” (superbabyfood.com), we have a freezerful of Jack’s food cubes (frozen purees in tablespoon portions), and I carefully plan his menu mindful of the fruits, veggies, grains and protein allowed for his age.
Whatever you decide to feed, make sure that whoever looks after your baby knows which foods are allowed and which are not. Post it on your ref; a clueless Grandpa might find it cute for baby to gnaw on his chocolate or sip on his soda!
Sleeping through the night
It was once believed that starting solids and adding rice cereal to a child’s bottle will keep baby fuller and, thus, sleep through the night. Now we know that beginning solids too early could bring about gastric troubles and pain that can make baby (and everyone) get up MORE often.
Babies starting to sleep longer is more a factor related to their growth, having a consistent bedtime routine and knowing how to fall asleep on their own, not on how full their tummies are.
“Physiologically, babies do not need to feed in the middle of the night from four to six months of age; they should be able to sleep for six to eight hours if you let them… no extraordinary measures like cereal needed,” says Dr. Clemente.
In our case, Jack started sleeping through the night (up to 10 hours straight!) at seven months, after we applied Dr. Richard Ferber’s cry-it-out method (from his book “Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems”) when other methods did not work for us.
Breast milk or infant formula provides all the nutrients babies need in their first six months, so solids aren’t necessary during that time. Babies’ stomachs are not mature yet and so giving solids before their bodies are ready can be a lot for them to handle.
You may have encountered someone who believes that your baby is not eating adequately and that you must push them to consume more. Force-feeding tampers with your baby’s capacity to evaluate how much food s/he really requires, which can lead to obesity later on.
There is a danger of inadvertent overfeeding, since babies younger than six months generally are not able to signify when they have had enough, like turning their head or indicating disinterest.
During Jack’s early days, my mom would adamantly tell anyone who would listen that babies should be put to sleep on their stomachs. This, despite my telling her that today, babies should be put to sleep on their backs because they are still unable to lift their heads should they have to and they could accidentally suffocate to death in their cribs.
Dr. Clemente agrees: “To decrease the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), it is always safer to put the baby to sleep on his/her back.”
Medical research has proven that this old practice of stomach-sleeping young infants can cause cot death. Since the guidelines were changed, the number of deaths by SIDS has considerably declined.