The false and downright stupid things new parents are told

Written by lesley henton
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Experts weigh in on baby care myths

The false and downright stupid things new parents are told
(Hemera Technologies/ Images)

In the rare situation of a broken water pipe, when authorities announce that we should boil our water until the problem is fixed, that goes for baby bottles too.

— Dr. Marc Tanenbaum, pediatrician

New parents may be short on sleep but usually not on advice. Family, friends, co-workers and even strangers are eager to share their tips on how to care for babies. They all seem to know the best way to feed a baby, ease teething pain and procure the finest-looking belly button. We asked real mums for those bits of “wisdom” bestowed on them and then checked with experts to separate fact from fiction.

Bottles and dummies

Myth: Babies need dummies.

“A pacifier is simply one tool to calm the self; another might be the baby’s wrist, thumb or fingers,” said Dr. Marc Tanenbaum, a 30-year veteran of pediatric medicine. “Once you help your baby learn that a calming tool is at the end of the arm, with any luck he will put it in his mouth long before he learns to put a dummy in his mouth.

"keep putting the part of his hand he likes best in his mouth to soothe him. This ritual of calming is given up as the toddler ages and is always gone by the time they are children.”

Myth: Baby bottles should be boiled.

“Although there are parts of the world where this is true, we’re fortunate in the UK to have a water supply that is the envy of the world,” Tanenbaum said. “Cleanliness, not sterility, is the goal, so the dishwasher will suffice.”

If you wash by hand, use a bottle brush with warm, soapy water. Rinse and then dry the bottles upside-down in a dish rack. Don’t let leftover milk dry and harden in the bottom of the bottles.

Unusual circumstances might require you to boil bottles, Tanenbaum said. “In the rare situation of a broken water pipe, when authorities announce that we should boil our water until the problem is fixed, that goes for baby bottles too.”


Myth: Thumb-sucking causes buck teeth.

“Digit habits or extended dummy use can cause flaring, or buck teeth, but it depends on the age of the child if it will be temporary or permanent,” said Dr. Ketan, pediatric dentist.

“For example, if a 2-year-old child has a digit or dummy habit and stops by age 4, the flaring will probably be temporary. Once the habit is eliminated, the flared teeth will naturally reposition because we’ve eliminated the source of the flaring. As kids get older and permanent teeth begin to erupt, the flaring can become permanent and require orthodontic treatment to correct.”

Myth: You don’t have to worry about cavities in baby teeth because they’re going to fall out anyway.

Primary, or baby, teeth need to be cared for with regular brushing and visits to the dentist. “Primary teeth serve many purposes, including chewing and speech, and they hold the space for permanent teeth," Sukkawala said. "Cavities in baby teeth can lead to pain and infections, which can disrupt school attendance, overall development and self-esteem.”

Children should be seen by a dentist six months after they get their first tooth or at 12 months. This visit usually involves an exam of the child's oral cavity and teeth as well as oral hygiene instructions and education for the parents.

Myth: Use whiskey on the gums to soothe teething pain.

Sukkawala does not recommend using this method or putting aspirin on the gums either. “There are several options for teething pain," he said, "including teething tabs, cold teething rings and over-the-counter medicines such as baby acetaminophen.”


Myth: Put rice cereal in the bottle and babies will sleep through the night.

“Maybe they will and maybe they won’t, but what they will do is take in more calories than they should,” Tanenbaum said. “Our No. 1 health problem is overweight and obesity, so rice in the bottle is not a good idea.”

Myth: Putting a baby to sleep on her back is bad because she might choke on spit-up.

That was the rule until 1996, when it was recommended that babies sleep only on their backs. Since then, “Incidences of SIDS [Sudden Infant Death Syndrome] in the have fallen by more than 50 percent,” Tanenbaum said. “Healthy babies don’t choke on spit-up lying on their backs; they die in their sleep lying on their stomachs.”

The National Institutes of Health defines SIDS as the unexplained death of a baby less than 1 year old. While SIDS cannot be prevented, there are ways to reduce the risk. In addition to putting baby to sleep on her back, use a firm mattress, remove pillows and other soft items, and don’t allow the baby to become too warm. Don’t smoke before or after birth, and visit a pediatrician for well-baby checks.

Improving ventilation in the baby’s room is also effective: In the October 2008 issue of the "Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine," researchers reported that running a fan in a baby’s room was associated with a 72 percent reduction in SIDS risk.

Soft spot

Myth: The soft spot on a baby's head is easy to penetrate.

“Sure it is, but not more than the eyeball, abdomen or genitalia,” Tanenbaum said.

“The baby’s skull is not hard bone for a while after birth, but a parent can touch the soft spot in a loving way. Gentle contact to your baby’s body is always appropriate. Any other type of contact never is, regardless of which part of the body we’re talking about. Gently brush the hair, wash the scalp and enjoy parenting.”

Nappy rash

Myth: Put a tea bag in a baby’s nappy to get rid of nappy rash.

“A wet tea bag in a nappy is likely to cause an irritated rash and tea-stained skin," Tanenbaum said. "A dry tea bag is also unlikely to help, and I bet it won’t stay dry long.” Instead, ask your baby’s doctor what is recommended and take Tanenbaum's advice: “Enjoy that tea bag in your favourite tea cup.”

Myth: Expose nappy rash to sunlight.

Allow air to reach the rash, not sunlight. "Exposure to the air on occasion helps the skin dry out and heal," Tanenbaum said. "Don’t trade diaper rash for sunburn. Use sunblock on all exposed areas when outside, and avoid the peak sun of the day.”

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