What every grandparent needs to know about today’s recommendations to keep babies and kids safe and healthy.
As any new parent can attest, there is no shortage of sage advice that arrives with a bundle of joy. From the proper way to burp a baby to expert insight on soothing teething pain, nearly everyone seems to have an opinion that they are more than eager to share about their preferred parenting tips and tricks. And who better to confer with than your own parents – after all, they successfully raised you!
There are certainly many pieces of parenting advice that have withstood the test of time – it’s still true that you can’t snuggle a baby enough — but a few key recommendations have changed over the decades. That’s critical because grandparents, including some who provide child care themselves, may not realize that some old-school techniques have fallen out favor in the time that has passed since their own children were tots.
A recent study featured on CNN found that grandparents tend to practice the same methods they did decades ago, even in the face of mounting evidence that suggests those practices could be putting children at risk. For example, among more than 600 grandparents surveyed across the United States, almost 25 percent were not up-to-speed on the new guidelines on infant sleep, according to the research presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academics Societies meeting. An additional 44 percent wrongly believed that ice baths were an appropriate treatment for high fevers.
With recommendations changing as often as every few years, it’s important for grandparents and parents alike to stay abreast of the latest medical advice to ensure that babies and children remain safe and healthy.
Babies should always be placed on their backs to go to sleep, never on their stomachs or sides.
The guidelines regarding safe sleep have changed over the decades, but in the last 25 years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has strongly encouraged parents to place their babies on their backs on a firm mattress in their own crib. Infants under the age of one face the highest risk for dying during their sleep, but in the years since the safe sleeping campaigns have launched, the rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and other sleep-related deaths have fallen dramatically. According to a recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics, SIDS deaths dropped 29 percent in just a decade.
The latest advice says that infants should sleep in a crib or bassinet next to their parents’ bed, but according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, small children face higher risks for entrapment, suffocation, strangulation and even death when they sleep in the same bed with an adult, and that risk is even greater in confined spaces such as couches and chairs. In addition, babies should always be placed on their backs atop a firm mattress covered by a fitted sheet in a crib or bassinet that is free of any loose or heavy bedding and soft objects, such as blankets or stuffed animals.
Whooping cough vaccines are recommended for anyone who will be in close contact with the newborn.
For years, obstetricians have recommended that pregnant women receive a vaccination for pertussis, commonly known as whopping cough, in the latter half of their pregnancy to provide their fragile newborn with some protection between birth and their first immunizations at two months old. The guidance has certainly caught on, with vaccination rates among pregnant women rising from just 1 percent a decade ago to more than 87 percent in 2015, according to an article in WebMD.
A recent study of more than 149,000 California infants found that those whose mothers got vaccinated had a 91 percent lower risk of developing cough in the first two months after they were born. Those first 6 months are especially critical for infants who have not yet developed strong enough immune systems to fight it off. For some, a case of whooping cough can lead to hospitalization and even death.
But moms aren’t the only ones who should consider getting their Tdap.
“Although most adults received the vaccine when they were younger, the protection wears off over time and adults can easily spread whooping cough without even knowing they are doing so,” said Dr. Pamela Berens, an obstetrician/gynecologist at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and McGovern Medical School at UTHealth.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, babies infected with pertussis often catch from relatives, so consider getting vaccinated at least two weeks before the baby’s big arrival.
Car seats are lifesaving. Children should remain rear-facing until at least two years old, perhaps longer depending on the specifications of the car seat.
Research has shown that babies and very young children buckled into a rear-facing car seat are much more likely to survive a crash and avoid serious injury versus those who are forward-facing. Many parents used to turn their babies around following their first birthday but in recent years, the American Academy of Pediatrics has updated its guidance to encourage parents to continue placing their toddlers in rear-facing seats at least until they reach their second birthdays, or until they exceed the height and weight limit for the seat (information that can be found in the car seat’s manual or printed on the back of the seat).
“For very young children, rear-facing car seats are certainly the safest option so even though it may look like they may be uncomfortable when they are facing backwards, especially if their legs bend or touch the seat, we still urge parents to provide the best possible protection for their little ones,” Dr. Berens said.
The AAP recommends continuing to place the child in a rear-facing position even after their second birthday if he or she has not yet reached the car seat’s weight or height limits.
New parents need time and space to bond with their newborn.
Before you rush into the delivery room eager to meet your newest grandchild, keep in mind that experts now recommend that new parents engage in a solitary period of one-on-one bonding with their baby immediately after birth, often referred to as “the golden hour.” It’s during this time that mom and dad are encouraged to snuggle with their newborn and enjoy some skin-to-skin contact, which has been shown to have benefits for babies and moms.
“Some extended family members want to know the weight and height immediately about the arrival of the newest little bundle of joy, but that can wait a little bit longer as they give the new family this important and magical time to get to know each other,” Dr. Berens said.
While grandparents are often eager to help out once the baby arrives, Dr. Berens said they should consider letting the new parents take the lead when it comes to learning how best to care for an infant.
“While it’s definitely more fun to feed and play with the baby, mom and dad need those experiences to develop their parenting skills,” she said. “Sometimes the most helpful thing grandma or grandpa can do is help out with the chores that new parents may not have the time for, such as preparing meals, picking up clutter, or helping out with laundry. I try to tell all my postpartum moms the same thing: Wonder Woman is a fictional character. If the baby is sleeping, they should be sleeping too, and leave the household chores and entertaining to somebody else.”
Memorial Hermann offers classes that help educate expecting parents about how to care for a newborn. To learn more or find a class near you, visit www.memorialhermann.org/classes-events.