Nine months after that, uh, quality time, some of you might get to take home a squashy, demanding human being who relies totally on you and has all the personality of a pet rock. Good thing there’s expert advice to steer you right! But not all recommendations are created equal, even when reputable organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics or the World Health Organization make them:
- Breastfeeding Has Enormous (or Possibly Trivial) Benefits, and Undiscussed Risks
Although it is claimed that breastfeeding has major, longterm benefits such as reducing obesity and improving overall health, the evidence for these benefits is pretty slight. Let’s take a look at a typical set of claims for the merits of breastfeeding:
“Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. What’s more, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. The AAP says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).”
First of all, it is untrue that breastmilk provides all of the baby’s essential nutrients. Exclusively breastfed infants are typically given Vitamin D drops, because unless you want to bake your baby in the sun (hello, skin cancer) the kid is probably going to be deficient in Vitamin D. Secondly, most of these outcomes are correlations from poorly-done studies with a heck of a lot of selection bias.
“COLUMBUS, Ohio – A new study comparing siblings who were fed differently during infancy suggests that breast-feeding might be no more beneficial than bottle-feeding for 10 of 11 long-term health and well-being outcomes in children age 4 to 14.
The outlier was asthma, which was associated more with breast-feeding than with bottle-feeding.” Which is, as you might notice, kind of the opposite of what the WebMD page says.
Finally, almost nobody talks about the risks of breastfeeding. These include the possibility of jaundice (excessive bilirubin levels), hypernatremia (too much salt in the blood), dehydration, and starvation, which can lead to hospitalization or even, sadly, death:
“So far, the scientific literature shows that babies who lose greater than 7% of their birth weight are at highest risk of developing excessive jaundice and hypernatremia to levels that can cause long-term developmental disability. It has also been found that 10% of healthy, term, exclusively breastfed babies undergoing the Baby-Friendly protocol experience hypoglycemia to levels that are associated with 50% declines in the ability to pass the literacy and math proficiency test at 10 years of age, even if aggressively corrected.”
Honestly, this is one area where I think a great deal more research is needed, but in the meantime it sure seems that giving a few bottles of formula to your kid is far less harmful than starving her in the name of keeping her virgin gut “pure.”
Personally, I pumped for two kids and am breastfeeding one. It works for our family. It may not for yours. Fed is best.
- Pacifiers Are Not the Devil
Speaking of breastfeeding, the WHO/UNICEF do not want you to give pacifiers to your newborns, because once you stick a pacifier in your stupid baby’s mouth she’ll be too dumb to suck from your breast. The ninth of their “Ten Steps to Successful Breastfeeding” is:
“Give no artificial teats or pacifiers (also called dummies or soothers) to breastfeeding infants.”
This is a carefully considered recommendation based on high-quality research…no, wait, it’s pulled directly from the organization’s derriere. Pacifiers may cause parents plenty of grief when their kids appear determined to suck them until the kids are eligible for Social Security, but pacis are actually pretty benign. They don’t cause nipple confusion:
“Pacifier use in healthy term breastfeeding infants, started from birth or after lactation is established, did not significantly affect the prevalence or duration of exclusive and partial breastfeeding up to four months of age.”
They might reduce the risk of SIDS:
And unless you’re smearing sugar on them or using them past the age of 3, they don’t screw up palates:
- There Is No Reason to Wait 6 Months to Introduce Food
At some point, your beloved offspring will need more than Mommy juice or formula to meet his nutritional needs. According to the World Health Organization, that point is when your child reaches 6 months of age:
“As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.”
But where did this six-month recommendation come from? It’s hard to track down, because most research concludes that babies should start solids between 4—6 months of age, when children are developmentally ready to do so.
“The best time to start solid foods depends not only on your child’s age, but also on your child’s ability to sit up, support his or her head, and meet other developmental milestones…Introducing solid foods before your infant is four to six months of age may interfere with his or her ability to take in an adequate number of calories or nutrients, and may increase the risk of developing food allergies…Withholding solid foods after your infant is six months of age may lead to decreased growth because children may not consume adequate calories from breast milk or formula alone. In addition, delaying beyond six months may lead to resistance to trying solid foods. Withholding solid foods until after six months does not appear to prevent the development of allergies or eczema.”
- Cloth Diapers Are Not Necessarily Friendlier to the Environment Than Disposables
I love buying diapers online so that I don’t shamefacedly have to admit to killing the environment with my giant packs of plastic diapers that won’t decompose until the sun swallows the Earth. I hate scrubbing excrement off my kids’ clothes, so I selfishly contribute to the ever-growing pile of noisome plastic polluting our landfills and oceans. However, my guilt is not unbearable, for it’s not completely clear that cloth diapers are friendlier to the environment than are disposables.
“Research has suggested that both disposable and cloth diapers affect the environment negatively — just in different ways. For example, disposable diapers require more raw materials to manufacture. And they generate more landfill solid waste that can take an extremely long time to degrade. But cloth diapers use up large amounts of electricity and water for washing and drying. Plus, commercial diaper service delivery trucks consume fuel and create air pollution.”
Clearly, we should all be practicing elimination communication with our babies. Or we could implement a traditional Chinese solution and just stick the little poopers in a big bag of sand.
“In parts of northern China, infants were encased in sandbags, which was both diaper and baby sitter.”
- Crying-It-Out Will Not Harm Your Baby (If She’s At Least 6 Months Old)
At some point, every bleary-eyed parent is going to want to leave their crying brat outside for the wolves to take care of. But because babies are expensive to replace, instead they’ll drag themselves out of bed for the 80th time that night. We don’t want their stressed-out infants to grow up into idiot psychopaths, which letting them cry it out will surely do! Look at this article from The Huffington Post:
“Cry It Out: The Method That Kills Baby Brain Cells”
“CONCLUSIONS: Both graduated extinction and bedtime fading provide significant sleep benefits above control, yet convey no adverse stress responses or long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions and behavior.”
I will never tell anyone what to do to make their baby sleep. Crying it out worked for my second child, and I think will do so for my third, but my first simply screamed until she threw up the few times we tried it. She seems to be pretty securely attached anyway, and if we killed off brain cells I don’t think any of them were too important.
- Developmental Milestones Are Overrated
“There’s one basic rule you should remember about developmental charts that will save you countless hours of worry and heartache in case your child hasn’t been studying them as closely as you have, or is feeling rebellious and has decided to follow his own developmental schedule. The fact that a child passes through a particular developmental stage is always more important than the age of that child when he or she does it. In the long run, it really doesn’t matter whether you learn to walk at ten months, twelve months or fifteen months — as long as you learn how to walk.”
Does this mean you shouldn’t ever get your child screened or tested for problems if he’s “late”? No. If the kid needs some sort of intervention to ensure that he does eventually master a skill, earlier is better. If you think Something Is Wrong, it’s better to get it checked out than to let it go. But please please please don’t stare into your month old baby’s eyes and Google “signs of autism,” like I did. (I have notes from that time: “[Daughter] doesn’t seem to be interacting with the world very much.” NO DUH, GENIUS, SHE WAS FOUR WEEKS OLD.)
- There is No “Best” Way to Parent
I was amazed that the hospital let clueless me go home with this incredibly fragile human being. But the truth is that babies, although they’re not easy to deal with, are pretty simple. If you feed the baby appropriate food (ie, no vodka martinis), hold her sometimes, don’t beat her up, and interact with her, she is most likely going to do well. We are an incredibly adaptable species, and thrive with all kinds of parenting.
“Although it may feel like there is only one best way to raise a child, a survey of global parenting reveals that child-rearing practices in different cultures are actually quite diverse in form, and the influence culture plays is profound.”
Translation: Relax. You don’t parent like the !Ngo of the Kalahari, or the French or Danish or Chinese or whoever is totally much better at raising their kids than Americans, apparently? Your baby is going to be FINE. Just make sure he’s fed, warm, cleaned once in a while, and loved.
Now, I have to add a caveat here: To the best of my knowledge, none of my kids have medical problems or special needs. I can’t speak to the challenges of parenting children with complex conditions or “atypical” development. But the parents I see who do have children with these extra needs display a pretty great diversity in how they choose to parent–and because they all love their children and give them what they require to thrive, their kids are doing well.
I don’t have any magic formula to ensure that my kids are going to be successful, moral, compassionate, intelligent adults, but at least I can take comfort that I’m probably not screwing them up too badly. And hey, at least my messups will provide extra income for my kids’ therapists in future years, thereby financing their kids’ support and education. It takes a village, right?