Grandparents as caregivers are a blessing. Whether they watch your kids regularly or occasionally, the personalized care kids receive from people who love them is a benefit that can’t be quantified.
The problem many new parents run into is that grandparents tend to use the same practices they did raising their own children — many of which are outdated and potentially putting their grandbabies at risk.
“Grandparents mean well, obviously, and the benefits they have to offer a grandchild are enormous,” said Dr. Mark Evans, a pediatrician at Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics in Brecksville. “But because of the changes in infant safe practices grandparents don’t know about, they may be creating a risk that doesn’t need to be there.”
Times have changed. Grandparents may have wisdom of the ages, but some crucial parenting recommendations have changed in recent years that have been proven to be safer practices.
The statistics don’t lie. Infant mortality rates have reached new lows, according to a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since 2005, the infant mortality rate has decreased by 15 percent — and SIDS has declined by 29 percent.
The majority of these changes fall in the feeding, safety and sleep categories.
Just 20 years ago, it was believed it was safer for babies to sleep on their bellies so they wouldn’t drown in their spit up or vomit. Today, studies disprove this notion.
We now know it is much safer for babies to sleep on their backs with nothing else in the crib, such as bumper pads, blankets, stuffed animals, etc., to reduce the risk of SIDS, or death by suffocation or strangulation.
In the ’80s, parents were told to start solids much earlier than today’s parents. Some were even mixing rice cereal in bottles as early as a few weeks old.
We now know feeding infants solids poses a choking hazard and goes against today’s recommendation to only feed an infant breast milk or formula for the first 6 months of life.
“An infant’s GI tract is prepared for breast milk or formula, but it isn’t ready to process other fats, proteins and carbohydrates,” said Dr. Evans. “Also, babies fed solids too early may not get the full health benefits and nutrients from breast milk or formula.”
In addition, parents were told years ago it was safe to give infants supplemental water. However, we know today it’s dangerous to give infants under 6 months too much water because it can cause their sodium levels to drop to dangerous levels, which could cause seizures.
Lastly, car seat laws and recommendations have drastically changed. Less than 30 years ago, car seats weren’t even required.
So for grandparents who haven’t had to stay up to date on the constantly changing parenting safe practices, there’s a lot to catch up on. Whether your baby is the first grandchild or the 10th, it’s important to discuss with them the latest guidelines in baby care to keep your children safe while they’re on duty.
Direct them to informational sources. There’s an abundance of information online from credible sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, and in books and magazines. Also, some local hospitals may even offer grandparent classes.
You could also invite them to come to well visits so they can hear these safety practices directly from the source — your pediatrician.
The question is how do you address your grandparent caregivers without offending them or hurting their feelings?
Dr. Evans suggests using the approach that we simply know more today than we did 30 years ago.
“I think too often it comes across that grandparents did things wrong as parents,” he said. “They weren’t wrong, it’s just that we know more about these practices today. Medicine, safety and education are constantly evolving. Just like there weren’t seat belts before 1970, they’re now required because we know they reduce fatal injuries in car accidents.”