When you’re pregnant, nearly everyone who crosses your path will gladly tell you the best way to raise a baby. But following so-and-so’s suggestions isn’t necessarily what’s best for your wee one. We’ve waded through the most common baby-rearing beliefs and gotten input from experts to give you the scoop on what to try—and what to tune out.
The myth: Holding your baby too much will spoil her.
Some parents argue that holding baby too much will spoil her, while others firmly believe in the power of touch to calm and comfort little ones.
According to Harvey Karp, MD, FAAP, author of The Happiest Baby on the Block, you need to look at the issue from your newborn’s perspective. “Babies are held every second of the day in the womb. So even if you hold your baby 12 hours a day, which could be a lot from your perspective, it’s a big reduction from the baby’s perspective,” he explains.
Termed the “fourth trimester,” the first three months of a baby’s life are like an extension of pregnancy—a time when your child craves frequent holding and feeding. So, go ahead and cuddle her as much as possible, says Karp. “When your baby cries and you respond with loving arms or by feeding your baby, and that happens over and over again, it builds a sense of confidence in the baby, and that sense of confidence can last the child’s entire life.”
Indulging your little one’s need to be close has immediate benefits, too. Infants who are held more often throughout the day cry fewer hours at night (an average of two hours less!), indicates a study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Once your tot starts crawling (around 9 to 12 months), you can begin teaching about limits. Until then, enjoy your snuggle buddy.
The myth: Breast milk doesn’t keep babies full.
It’s safe to say that soon after you give birth, someone will encourage you to feed your baby a bottle of formula or even add baby cereal to a bottle at night. Why? Old- timey advocates swear that doing so keeps a newborn full longer, which means more sleep for mama. It’s true that formula and cereal do sit in a baby’s stomach longer, but that’s because it’s easier for their tiny tummies to digest breast milk.
When a baby drinks milk, it reacts with the acid in the stomach and curds form, says Karp. Formula makes big curds, which take longer to breakdown, while breast milk’s tiny curds readily pass through your baby’s system.
In addition to easy digestion, breast milk also boosts your babe’s immunity against disease and infection because it contains antibodies, immune factors, enzymes and white blood cells. If you can provide breast milk, it’s best. If not, stick with formula and forget about adding cereal to your baby’s bottle. Studies show it doesn’t make infants sleep any longer.
The myth: Gas causes colic.
The dreaded “c” word, colic affects up to 20 percent of babies, according to the AAP. It’s defined as unexplained crying for three or more hours a day for at least three days a week for at least three weeks.
“The reason people mistakenly assume colic is caused by gas is because colicky babies … get red in the face and strain when they cry,” explains Karp. A definitive cause of colic has yet to be determined, but the good news is it usually subsides by 3 months of age.
If you’re concerned with your baby’s crying, consult with your pediatrician to rule out any medical issues. Then, try soothing your newborn by mimicking the “symphony of sensations babies have in the womb” with swaddling, motion and a strong shushing sound or low-pitched, rumbly white noise, recommends Karp.
“Babies have a calming reflex that’s like flipping a switch to stop the crying. It’s the same reason we fall asleep riding in trains, planes and cars, and we like to be held and rocked, and we like to swing in hammocks, and we like the sounds of the ocean and the wind. All those are calming because we constantly had it in the womb.”
The myth: Co-sleeping is always dangerous.
After being so close for nine months, many moms find it difficult to be separated from their babies overnight—even if the nursery is just a few steps away. That intuitive tug could also offer protective benefits for your little one.
To reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the AAP advises babies should sleep in the same room as their parents for the first six months, just not in the same bed. This is called co-sleeping.
“There’s a real problem, though, with bed-sharing,” warns Karp. New parents, who are averaging six or fewer hours of sleep a night, are “drunk” tired. Suffering from the same effects as if intoxicated, an exhausted mother can’t be fully aware of her little one’s location in the bed. Bottom line? Avoid bringing baby to bed with you without a secure co-sleeping device. Try a sidecar-style bassinet. One side lowers and attaches to your bed—creating a kind of extension—so you can be close and safe.
The myth: Infants need to be on a feeding schedule.
Some mamas will tell you to stick to a set feeding schedule. Others say following baby’s lead is best. Surprise! They can both be right.
According to Karp, in other, more primitive cultures, babies are nursed on demand 50 to 100 times a day. “That’s what’s normal for human beings. So, doing it every two to three hours is actually a long stretch for babies.” In modern-day America, where our lives are set by schedules and clocks, nursing that frequently isn’t really feasible for most moms.
If you’re breastfeeding, plan to spend the first few weeks feeding your newborn “on demand,” which helps establish your milk supply and a sense of trust between your baby and you.
After those initial weeks, you can begin to follow a flexible feeding schedule, which could mean feeding your baby every two hours or so—while still being willing to adjust as your baby’s needs change at different stages of growth. (If you’re using formula, your baby will likely need to eat every three to four hours.)
As a new mom, you can expect to be swamped with a bunch of well-intentioned advice. But not every tip will be right for you or safe for baby. You may be new to motherhood, but there’s no one else who knows your baby—or what works for your family—better than you.
“Most people get their advice from sisters, friends or family members who have had only one baby,” says Karp. “But you should really trust advice from people who have been around hundreds or thousands of babies.” When you aren’t sure about a decision, take it to baby’s pediatrician. That’s what she’s there for.