Most baby care myths are perpetuated in movies and TV shows. Don’t believe the myths. Here’s what parents need to know.
Most people have seen at least one Hollywood baby-care scene that led them to either cringe or roll their eyes in disbelief—maybe even both. We’re talking about scenes like Diaper Genie miracle workers or moms being able to sleep soundly while babies cling for dear life to the side of the crib, crying nonstop because they are not held all night long. If you haven’t witnessed this type of ridiculousness firsthand, ask around; somebody has a cousin who knows someone whose babysitter once tried putting her newborn in a dresser drawer.
If you’re the kind of person who has trouble distinguishing between fact and fiction when it comes to baby care, it’s understandable—there’s so much misinformation out there. Combine that with the lack of realistic portrayals in Hollywood, TV shows, and even parenting books about what life is really like with a newborn, and parents are left feeling confused about what they should be doing for their babies. The result? A lot of well-meaning but super nervous moms-to-be ask every single question under the sun when it comes to caring for their baby—often annoying friends, family members, or healthcare providers in the process.
It turns out some common beliefs about how to take care of your baby aren’t accurate—they’re just good stories. Take, for example, the notion that swaddling helps babies sleep better or that you should never wake a sleeping baby. Those are both myths, according to pediatrician Chris Colby, author of The Baby Sleep Book. “Babies don’t need to be rocked to sleep and they don’t need to eat on a schedule,” he says. Assuming you’re not dealing with any major issues like colic, your newborn can learn how to self-soothe without adult intervention—even if that includes crying her eyes out until she falls asleep.
But despite all the inaccuracies out there about infant care, it’s important not to completely write off everything you’ve heard before as a myth. While some usually harmless pieces of advice can lead to serious consequences or unnecessary stress, a few old wives’ tales about your newborn’s health and well-being can actually be harmful. Below are some of the more common myths that experts say parents should definitely ignore—and what they should do instead.
Myth: Babies need to be “worn” as much as possible to help them bond with their moms.
What you’ve heard is true: Bonding with babies does play an important role in their development, including helping them feel secure and loved by the people closest to them. But there’s no special rule for how often this needs to happen, according to Colby, who adds that many parents worry it isn’t happening enough when really they just don’t have the time or energy. “The reality is that babies need to be cared for, taken care of, and their needs met,” he says. “They don’t need to be worn.”
If you’re not much of a baby wearer yourself, don’t feel guilty about the fact that your infant isn’t spending every waking moment plastered against your chest. Attachment comes in different forms depending on each family’s unique situation. For some, it may mean cuddling in the evening time while watching TV, whereas others do it by taking long walks together daily or changing lots of diapers. The bottom line? Your newborn will find her own way to get close with her mom—and there are no right or wrong ways to make this happen.
Myth: Swaddling helps babies sleep better.
Once your baby starts rolling over, it’s time to say goodbye to your swaddling days—and experts agree that the earlier you do so, the better. Although this practice was once considered essential for keeping infants calm, safe, and sleeping soundly, today doctors know there are safer ways to soothe a fussy baby than tying his arms down with blankets—particularly since these critters can easily use their arms as leverage to flip themselves right on their tummies during sleep. In fact, since 1990, infant deaths from suffocation have gone up more than fourfold in the U.S., according to one study. And while researchers don’t know exactly why this is happening (newborns sleeping on their stomachs isn’t the only potential trigger), they do know that it is.
In addition to making it harder for babies to breathe, swaddling can also make them too hot and thus disrupt their sleep—not to mention what else might be happening if you’re not professionally trained in how to swaddle correctly (for instance, too tight and you may increase the risk of hip dysplasia). It’s better for your baby’s health and safety—and your sanity—to stop this practice as soon as she begins rolling over or showing any signs that she’s trying to move her arms during sleep (which usually happens within three months of age). And don’t worry: Even if your infant hasn’t shown evidence of wanting to move her arms during sleep, you can still stop swaddling at night once she’s started rolling over.
Myth: If your baby takes a pacifier, he won’t be able to breastfeed or take a bottle later on.
You’ve probably heard that if you don’t want your child to have a lifelong dependence on a binky, you need to be careful about when and how often you introduce it into his life. This is usually said with the assumption that babies who use pacifiers are less likely to be successful with breastfeeding down the road—and this isn’t completely wrong. In studies, some experts have concluded that infants who use a soother might not be as readily accepted by their moms as those who didn’t, and a handful of studies have also associated extended pacifier use with a lower likelihood of breastfeeding at all.
But before you panic, keep in mind that while these links aren’t ideal, they’re not set in stone either. In other words, the science behind them isn’t conclusive enough to stop you from using a binky when it seems necessary—and there are some other factors that could help reduce your baby’s chances of becoming dependent on one later on. For instance, nursing your baby within 30 minutes of offering him a pacifier or breastfeeding should help him become more successful with the latter. Also important: only introducing the soother after breastfeeding is well established (around two to three weeks) and limiting pacifier use to times when you think it might be helpful, like before bedtime or for soothing during a bout of colic.
Myth: You need to start solids by six months.
Starting your little one on solid food too soon probably won’t do his body any harm—but neither will waiting until he’s seven months old, which is what the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends. Yes, you read that right: His first foods can even wait until then if he seems eager and ready for them earlier on. In fact, there are some benefits to delaying this milestone as long as possible since newborns depend on breast milk or formula alone for all their nutritional needs for at least the first four months of life. That said, most babies don’t seem interested in trying solids before around six months (it can happen as early as four), and starting with cereal is the only real requirement for good health. So if you feel your little one is ready to eat—be it six or seven months—start with cereals mixed with breast milk or formula before moving on to veggies, fruits, and other healthy foods slowly over time.
Myth: Your child needs a daily vitamin.
In the last few decades, parents have been inundated by advertisements from pharmaceutical companies pushing high doses of supplemental vitamins on their kids because they’re unable to meet all of their nutritional needs through diet alone. But this isn’t really necessary since most babies will usually get what they need from their food alone, especially if you’re breastfeeding. And be careful, because some doctors will suggest that your child needs a daily vitamin just to stay healthy—but if she’s eating a balanced diet of fruits and veggies, dairy products, or other food sources high in calcium, and whole-grain bread and cereals, chances are she has what she needs.
Myth: An eight-month-old who sleeps through the night is well-rested.
We could probably write an entire book about why this is not true (and perhaps we will someday!), but the short answer is that babies need at least 12 hours of sleep each day—and most actually require more than that for optimal growth and development. This means they’ll regularly wake up throughout the night to feed—which is perfectly okay and normal.
So don’t be discouraged if your baby wakes up a lot throughout the night (and don’t worry too much about how you respond, since that won’t impact his future sleep habits), but do make sure you’re setting aside enough time for naps each day to ensure he gets the rest he needs.
There you have it! We hope this helps you feel a bit better about what might be considered “weird” baby behavior.
After all, they’re only doing what makes sense given the world that they were born into. And just think of how weird it would be if you had to burp every three minutes or more while eating a meal!