Baby! How Things Have Changed…
by Susan Miller
It is interesting to compare baby care today with 40 years ago. Many practices and beliefs have changed dramatically over the years; no wonder grandma is so confused! It seems like everything has either been completely reversed or had a major overhaul.
Research in the areas of infant health and development, nutrition and safety has resulted in major changes and recommendations around baby care. Here are 10 of the most significant changes we have seen in the last 40 years.
1) Back to Sleep
Around 1994, North Americans adopted the practice of putting their babies down to sleep on their backs instead of on their tummies. This one change has reduced the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by more than half. Parents and other caregivers still need to be reassured that baby will not choke on spit-up when put down to sleep on its back. In fact, a baby that has consistently slept on its back and then is put to sleep on its tummy has a 20 times greater risk of a SIDS incident because of this change in sleep position.
2) Emphasis on Breastfeeding
Today more than 90 per cent of new mothers plan to breastfeed. The benefits to both baby and mother are numerous and well documented. Breastfeeding infants have fewer illnesses and digestive upsets, and grow into healthier children and adults. Forty years ago breastfeeding was seen as a “lifestyle choice” with the message that it was a nice “Mother Earth” thing to do. Today, exclusive breastfeeding is considered the healthiest choice for infant feeding in the first six months. Along with the addition of a variety of solid foods after six months, baby benefits from continued breastfeeding into the second year and beyond.
3) Rock-A-Bye-Baby and Soothers
“Put the baby down, let him cry-it-out and don’t ‘spoil’ him by picking him up.” That’s what parents were advised to do by the esteemed child development “experts” in past years. Today it is quite the reverse. We now know that young babies need to be held and cuddled to feel safe and they have no conscious thoughts of manipulating us. Babies who are held a lot cry much less and develop a strong security base that will support their future social and emotional development. The use of soothers used to be scorned as well. Today soothers are considered completely appropriate in soothing a baby who has a strong urge to suck between feedings.
4) Co-sleeping and Bed Sharing
Babies also want to feel safe and secure at night and the Canadian Pediatric Society is now advising that babies sleep in close proximity (the same room) with their parents for the first six months. This is called “co-sleeping” and has been proven to be a protective factor against SIDS. Many families have their babies sleep in the same bed as mom and dad. Bed sharing facilitates easier night-time feeds and baby usually settles much better next to his parents while the parents get more rest as well. It is reported that 83 per cent of parents have their young infants in the bed all or some of the time throughout the night. Bed-sharing must only be done if all risk factors have been eliminated. Please check with your local Public Health Unit for information on infant safety when bed sharing.
5) Crib Safety
There are now strict safety standards in place to make cribs even safer. The distance between the bars can be no more than 2 3/8" or 6 cm (the width of a pop can), a firm mattress must fit snugly along all four sides of the crib with no more than 1 3/16" gap at any spot, there can be no decorative knobs or finials on the corner posts extending any more than 1/16", and bumper pads, fluffy quits and pillows are no longer considered safe in the baby’s sleep environment. Cribs manufactured before September 1986 do not meet current safety standards and must be destroyed.
6) Safer Car Travel
Typically, today’s families spend a lot of time with their young children in the car and traffic is more congested and moving faster. Infant car restraint systems are the law in Canada. Parents and caregivers need to know how to use the infant car restraint system correctly and it must meet current safety standards and have a Canada Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (CMVSS) label. Car seats bought in the USA do not meet the same standards and do not carry this label. Car seats that are more than 10 years old are not considered safety approved. Check the date of manufacture on any car seat you plan to use.
7) First Solid Foods
Not too many years ago, babies were receiving their first solid foods as early as two to three months of age. Parents are now being advised to wait until baby is closer to six months before introducing solids. Baby’s immature digestive system cannot digest and tolerate solid foods earlier than six months, and waiting to introduce solids reduces the chances that baby will develop food allergies. A baby is ready for solids when she can sit up supported and is showing interest in family foods. She needs to be able to move the food from a spoon to the back of her mouth and then swallow. At six months of age, baby can chew and macerate her food even if she does not have any teeth yet. Baby’s first foods need only be soft mashed instead of the smooth runny textures that were fed to the much younger babies years ago.
8) Sunshine and Shade
Years ago, parents made sure that children went out in the sunshine to play. Today kids still do play in the sunshine but with some stipulations. As the ozone layer gets thinner and the sun’s rays become more damaging to the skin and eyes, we all need to be protected from direct sunlight. Infants under the age of six months cannot wear sunscreen and must be kept shaded, especially between the hours of 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Babies and children need to wear protective sunglasses on bright sunny days as well. Sunglasses are not just a cute fad as some people believe!
9) A Smoke-free Environment
Smoking and babies just don’t mix. Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke in pregnancy can lead to serious problems such as a smaller, less-developed baby, pre-term birth, other obstetrical problems, and even miscarriage and stillbirth. After birth, babies exposed to second-hand smoke have a higher risk of SIDS, more hospital admissions in the first year and more ear infections, asthma and bronchitis. Smoking during pregnancy has also been correlated with infant colic and irritability.
In the last 20 years many more vaccines have been added to the routine immunization schedule for babies and toddlers. Children in North America need to be protected against various diseases because our world has become “smaller” with increased international travel. As a result of increased infant immunization, we are seeing fewer cases of serious childhood diseases that can result in death or tragic, long-term disabilities.
Susan Miller R.N. BScN is a Perinatal Educator and Certified Breastfeeding Counsellor. She teaches, coordinates and develops prenatal, post-natal and early parenting programs in the Greater Victoria area.