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Four Surprises for Dr. Spock

Michal Eisikowitz

Babyhood truths now & then — what’s new, what’s changed, and what hasn’t

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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RINGS TRUE The first line of his book reads: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do”

G asp!

“In my days, we never did that! Dr. Spock said….”

If you’re a 20-, 30-,or 40-something-year-old raising kids, you’ve likely heard this line more than once — from an older, loving female relative aghast at your blatant disregard for a Dr. Spock credo. Who was this wise expert, so revered in his time?

Born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1903, Benjamin Spock was a Yale-educated pediatrician who changed the lives of millions through his groundbreaking book, The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care. First published in 1946, the manual — revolutionary in its compassionate, child-centered parenting approach — sold more than 50 million copies and was translated into 39 languages by 1998. According to the New York Times, it was the second-bestselling book throughout its 52 first years, surpassed only by …the Bible.

Unlike previous childcare experts who talked down to readers, dismissing the powerful parental instinct, Dr. Spock attracted mothers with his empathetic, noncondescending, and empowering tone. Famously, the first line of his book reads: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” As the years went by, the unapologetic physician was criticized for espousing views that over-relied on anecdotal evidence, but for millions of mothers in the last half century, he remained the go-to source of advice.

So much has changed since Spock.

Thanks to an ever-growing body of research, some tenets our mothers held sacrosanct just 30 years ago have been turned on their heads. In other areas, Dr. Spock’s views — radical at the time — were further buttressed by evidence, becoming completely mainstream. Here are four baby care trends that would make Dr. Spock and his fan club smile — or swoon.

Bye Bye, Bumper

What was: Cozy, inviting, and available in all sorts of endearing patterns and colors, crib bumpers have been used for decades. These padded fabric wraps encircling the interior crib walls were originally created to prevent babies from bumping their heads or falling out. The news: They’re not safe.

This cushy accessory can be deadly: between 2006 and 2012, at least 23 US babies died from bumper-related accidents. Some got stuck in the fabric folds and suffocated; others became entrapped between the bumper and another object (like the crib mattress); still others choked on bumper ties or were strangled by them. Babies do not have the motor skills to wriggle out of a breath-obstructing situation.

What’s more, some bumpers reduce the flow of fresh air into the crib, considered a contributing factor in SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

In 2005, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued guidelines stressing that bumpers must be thin, firm, well-secured and not “pillowlike.” But after reviewing more detailed studies and facing growing evidence, in 2011, the AAP declared bumpers potentially hazardous and urged parents to stay away.

In 2012, the voluntary industry standard was revised to significantly reduce bumper thickness, in hopes this would render the pads safe. But even the thinner bumpers caused three infant deaths. Some places, like Chicago and Maryland, have outlawed the sale of traditional bumpers entirely. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CSPC) is working toward achieving a nationwide ban on the fluffy — but not-so-benign — trimmings. In light of these unequivocal warnings, why are bumpers still so popular?

To a great extent, the fact that the beautiful sets are readily available makes parents think they’re safe — why would major retailers sell something dangerous? Many parents also worry that Baby will (a) clobber her head in an unexpected roll against crib walls or (b) get her head, arm, or leg trapped between the slats.

He is crying because he needs something, not because he wants to control his parents

In truth, Baby’s dearth of motor skills proves helpful here, because she’s not strong enough to fling herself against the slats in a way that would cause serious injury. To date, there’s no evidence that bumpers prevent injury. And recent regulations are mandating narrower spaces between crib slats. Some manufacturers have begun producing mesh bumpers or alternative cushioning options called “crib liners.” But since the whole genre hasn’t been proven beneficial, and it’s unclear whether these “breathable” types are safe, AAP’s no-bumper guidelines remain unilateral.

The recommendation: Bare is best. The safest crib has a tightly fitted sheet — and nothing else. If you’re still worried about Baby’s hands or feet getting stuck between slats, a sleeping sack is a good way to keep limbs safe.

Stomach Slumber Suspicions

What was: Along with most 20th century physicians, Dr. Spock urged mothers to sleep babies on tummies. He offered two reasons: a baby who sleeps on his back is “more likely to choke on the vomitus” (if he spits up), and “he tends to keep his head turned toward the same side... this may flatten the side of the head.” Spock’s theory was almost unanimously accepted until the 1990s — at which point it was rendered problematic.

The news: In 1994, on the heels of research showing a worrisome correlation between tummy-sleep and SIDS, the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) launched a “Back to Sleep” campaign, advising parents to eschew the long-held tradition of tummy-sleep. Similar initiatives were launched in the UK, Australia, and other countries — and in just several years, SIDS incidence in these countries dropped by over 50 percent.

In fact, evidence of the tummy-SIDS link came to light in 1970. Some public health advocates claim that as many as 50,000 infant deaths in Europe, Australia, and the US could have been prevented had Dr. Spock’s advice been altered as soon as initial evidence emerged.

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