Why Yesterday’s Newborn Safety Practices Are Inadvisable in Today’s World and Vice Versa?

Safe Yesterday

When decorating the nursery, your parents may wonder why you’re not buying bumpers for the baby’s crib. A few decades ago bumpers were considered a must-have safety item, keeping babies from getting caught between the crib slats. Now crib bumpers and other soft bedding are considered a potential risk factor in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) during the early months. Blankets, teddy bears and other stuffed animals, are also now banned from newborns’ cribs and mothers are encouraged to dress their babies in sleepers.

It may be hard for some people to accept that familiar child care methods are no longer considered the safest, but research shows that making a few changes can keep infants safer.

Current recommendations on safe sleeping practices are the result of many studies into the causes of SIDS. Safe sleeping practices now suggest avoiding blankets, pillows and bumpers or anything soft that might make it difficult for a newborn to breathe while sleeping. Another safe sleeping practice is babies sleep on their backs for the first year.

In 1958 popular pediatrician and author Dr. Benjamin Spock recommended placing infants on their stomach to sleep, but research has since shown that placing babies on their backs lowers the risk of SIDS. When a baby sleeps on his stomach, it can increase the risk of SIDS by as much as 12.9 percent. Babies who sleep on their backs are less likely to get fevers, stuffy noses, and ear infections. If a baby can roll over onto his stomach, you can leave him there, since his risk decreases after the first few months, but parents are advised to continue placing babies on their back until the child is a year old. Research even convinced Dr. Spock to change his recommendations and conform to current safe sleeping practices.

Also, it’s no longer considered safe to use antique cribs, however decorative they may be. Older cribs may not meet modern safety standards, having mattresses that are too soft and slats that are spaced too far apart so babies can get stuck between them

Since safe sleeping practices were first proposed in 1992, the incidence of SIDS has dropped by 40 percent.

Being exposed to cigarette smoke or a person who has recently smoked is now also considered hazardous for babies. It may have been considered acceptable to smoke in a home with a baby a few decades ago, or even for parents and visitors to step out outside to smoke, but we now know that babies can suffer negative health effects from secondhand and thirdhand smoke. Thirdhand smoke is the name for the residual chemicals that linger in a smoker’s clothing. Infants are especially vulnerable to the dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke and exposure makes them more likely to suffer from asthma, respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia, and ear infections.

The way babies are fed has seen significant changes since your grandmother’s day, when formula was the norm and solid foods were often introduced before six months of age. In the 1950s parents were encouraged to wean children early, switching them over to cereals and bone broth. Some experts even recommended that babies be fed starting a few days after birth. During the 1940s and 1950s, the use of formula was aggressively marketed as a safe and even desirable substitute for breastmilk, so much so that breastfeeding experienced a steady decline until the 1970s. After research demonstrated that breast milk offered distinctive health advantages for babies, the next three decades saw a rise in the number of babies being breastfed and in the length of time they were breastfed. The World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends that infants be breastfed exclusively until six months, when solid food can be introduced, then ideally have their solid food diet supplemented by breastmilk until 24 months. Currently, more than eight in 10 mothers in the U.S. breastfeed their babies at birth.

There’s one child care practice once thought dangerous for children that we now consider desirable. That is cuddling your children. Over a century ago psychologist John B. Watson said it was immoral to cuddle a child and doing so would ruin their personality. Watson also thought it was wrong to pick up babies when they cried and said that allowing babies to cry for long periods of time would help them exercise their lungs. Fortunately, we now know that comforting and cuddling babies is good for their development. It helps them cry less and sleep better, which can improve brain development.

Joan MacDonald
Joan Vos MacDonald has written about health and fitness for newspapers, magazines and websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers and the author of two books on health-related topics, "Tobacco and Nicotine Dangers," for young adults, and "High Fit Home," a design book about fitness and architecture. She lives in upstate New York near her children and grandchildren.

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