IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Britney isn’t the only mom who makes mistakes

Many parents have misconceptions about the best care for young children. Lisa Bain of Parenting magazine offers solutions for 15 common slip-ups.
/ Source: TODAY

We’ve all seen the infamous pictures of Britney Spears driving with her son on her lap … and the ones with his car seat facing the wrong way. But for all of Britney’s missteps, the celebrity mom has attracted more than just outrage. She’s getting a little sympathy too. In Parenting magazine’s upcoming issue, the publication takes a look at 15 of the most common mistakes all parents make and offers simple solutions. Lisa Bain, executive editor of the magazine, was invited on “Today” to discuss misconceptions parents have and mistakes they make caring for their babies. Read the article, “Health and Safety Mistakes Even Smart Moms Make,”from the magazine:  

Mistake #1: Wearing shoes inside the house
Babies live on the floors and rugs — and right now you’re tracking dirt, chemicals, and street germs on the bottom of your shoes. Babies also put every little thing they find in their mouths.

Smart solution: Invite guests to relax and remove their shoes before entering your home. For those who won’t, keep a high-quality mat outside to wipe off shoes and boots, and a softer mat inside the door to catch extra dirt particles.

Mistake #2: Thinking you have to bathe your baby every day
It’s fine for most babies, but it isn’t necessary. And if your child has sensitive skin, it might be best to give him a bath every other day. For some babies, daily baths can disrupt the skin’s protective flora and cause pH imbalances, leading to an over-growth of bacteria or yeast or making the skin red, irritated, and dry, says dermatologist Sarah Boyce, M.D., assistant professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. If your baby has eczema, bathing can cause flare-ups.

Smart solution: Many infants are fine with a nightly bath, but don’t feel bad if you miss it. If your baby has sensitive skin, dry patches, or eczema, experiment with less tubtime. Trisha Creekmore of Washington, DC, bathes her daughter, Lily, now 3, just twice weekly: “I felt guilty at first, but then I noticed that bathing her too much caused dry skin, so my neglect — or non-obsessive parenting, as I like to call it — turned out to be right for her.”

Mistake #3: Assuming that caregivers understand the health instructions you give them
Be explicit. One mom I know learned this the hard way. Her daughter, age 6 months, needed Zantac, the reflux medication, during the day, so she gave it to the director of the daycare center to administer. But a few months later when she asked the providers if they needed a refill, she got blank stares. They had just stopped giving it long before, without telling her.

Smart solution: Whether it’s the daycare staff, a babysitter, or your own mother, take a moment to write down the instructions in simple, direct language, and be precise. “Don’t say ‘one or two pills’ or ‘only if he looks ill,’ because a caregiver shouldn’t be asked to make these decisions,” says registered nurse Gloria Mayer, president of the Institute for Healthcare Advancement, in La Habra, Calif., which studies medical communication. Ask her to read your directions back to you to make sure you’ve been clear. My friend now puts in writing any health care instructions for her daughter and then gives a copy to everyone on the daycare staff. Plus one for the director.

Mistake #4: Treating your baby’s cold symptoms with over-the-counter medications without calling the doctor
Especially dangerous: preparations that contain pseudoephedrine. “It might make babies feel a little better, but not dramatically better, and the risk of side effects is very real,” says Steven Kairys, M.D., chairman of the department of pediatrics at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, in Neptune, New Jersey. Complications range from simple hyperactivity to high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat. Whatever the medication, read the fine print. Elizabeth Smith of Alpharetta, Ga., swore off Benadryl after it kept her son Ryan awake for 36 hours: “The label isn’t kidding when it says, ‘Excitability may occur, especially in children’!”

Smart solution: Some over-the-counter medications may be fine for babies, but get the green light from the doc first. Always do so before giving infant acetaminophen to a baby 3 months or younger (it can mask a fever, which requires immediate medical attention). For babies older than 3 months, it’s fine to give infant acetaminophen without calling first to relieve teething discomfort, the pain of shots, and cold miseries. And you can make a sick baby more comfortable by giving her fluids, using saltwater drops to aspirate her nose, using a cold-water humidifier, and keeping her head slightly elevated when she’s sleeping.

Mistake #5: Sharing spoons and toothbrushes, or popping her pacifier in your mouth to “clean it off”
One bite for me, one for you … and you get my mouth germs, too! Moms are a prime source of the germs that give babies tooth decay. But if you can keep those germs from establishing themselves in your baby’s mouth (even before she has any teeth) you may protect her from the most common dental problems. “Anything with saliva on it has the potential to transmit bacteria,” says Washington, DC, periodontist Sally Cram, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association.

Smart solution: Have your teeth cleaned by your dentist regularly, brush twice a day, floss once a day, and consider a fluoride mouthwash. If you chew gum, make it xylitol-sweetened. All reduce cavity-causing germs. And instead of sharing spoons with your child, just pretend to taste the food. When her daughter Laura was starting solids, Judith Basya of Santa Monica, Calif., put the spoon almost up to her mouth and said “Yummy!” Laura’s now 1, and her mom’s still pretending: “At first I did it for sanitary reasons, but now I just don’t want to eat her overcooked carrots!”

Mistake #6: Changing your baby’s formula to stop a spitup problem
Frequent formula changes can make it harder for your pediatrician to identify the true culprit, whether it’s a milk allergy, acid reflux, or something else. When Mary Rose Almasi of Somers, N.J., would feed her newborn daughter, Grace, she would spit up and cry. The pediatrician advised switching to a non–milk-based formula to rule out an allergy. It didn’t help, but eliminating allergy as a trigger let her doctor arrive at a diagnosis: reflux.

Smart solution: Work with your pediatrician to find the cause of the problem, especially if your child’s not gaining weight (or is losing it) or if you see blood in her stool (which might mean an allergy to milk-based formula). Changing the formula may well be one recommendation. For reflux, however, other approaches work better. When she’s feeding, her lips should form a tight seal around the bottle’s nipple so no air gets in; you may want to experiment with different kinds of nipples. Try keeping your baby upright for a half hour after feeding (Almasi found that the car seat worked like a charm), offer frequent small meals instead of fewer larger ones, make sure she’s burping adequately (even if you have to interrupt feedings to burp her), and tuck some rolled towels underneath one end of her crib mattress to keep her on an incline. If your baby’s a spitup artist, Almasi recommends ditching the swing and the vibrating bouncy seat, which she found “jiggled my baby’s little belly and brought up the spitup.”

Mistake #7: Overbundling your baby to keep out the chill
After the first few days, infants are quite good at regulating their own body temperature. Dressing them in too many layers can lead to dehydration and exhaustion, says Trina Austin, M.D., chief of pediatrics at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center, in Fountain Valley, Calif. During sleep, becoming overheated can disrupt the ability to regulate breathing, increasing the risk of SIDS.

Smart solution: Indoors or out, dress your baby in the same number of layers you’re wearing. In the car or at home, set the air conditioner so it’s not so frigid that you feel you need to bundle him up; when the weather cools, set the thermostat around 68 or 70 degrees F, no higher. Summer or winter, when your room temperature is comfortable for you, lightly dressed, it’s fine for your baby. Telltale signs he’s too warm? He may turn red in the face, sweat, or cry because he’s uncomfortable.

Mistake #8: Not taking your infant’s temperature when he seems sick
Parents often skip the thermometer, claiming “he didn’t feel warm to me.” But the clinical sign of fever is an important hallmark for concern in really young babies, says Peter Tesler, M.D., director of pediatric ambulatory care at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. A fever of 100.4° or more in a baby under 3 months means an infection and automatically triggers an office — and usually an emergency room — visit. Always call the doctor.

Smart solution: If your baby seems under the weather, take his temperature with a rectal thermometer, which gives the most accurate reading until a child can hold a thermometer under his tongue (usually around age 2). Karen Dunn of Ardmore, Pa., does so whenever her 5-month-old son, Nolan, seems ill or out of sorts. “Most of the time there’s no fever, and my husband teases me, but on several occasions my instincts were right,” she says.

Mistake #9: Not bringing fresh air into the nursery
A baby’s tiny lungs are very vulnerable to allergens, secondhand smoke, and gases emitted from new paint or furniture. Air fresheners don’t help; they release pollutants that, in one study, were linked with diarrhea, earache, and other symptoms in some babies. And many electronic air “cleaners” don’t clean well and emit ozone, an air pollutant.

Smart solution: Open the windows in the baby’s room for at least ten minutes a day. Houseplants (especially Boston fern, peace lily, and bamboo palms) clear carbon dioxide and chemical vapors. A bowl of baking soda absorbs odors, and fresh-cut flowers add good ones. Also, put high-efficient filters in your air conditioners (like 3M Filtrete, $15). As a last resort, buy an air-purifying HEPA machine, which doesn’t emit ozone.

Mistake #10: A risky ride
“Shortly after Madeline was born, I took her to work to show her off. I was nervous about riding the commuter train with her, so my parents came with me. At the station, we rode an escalator with Madeline in her stroller, and as I reached the top, I raised the wheels and then put them down, missed, and hit the edge of the metal lip. To my horror, the stroller started to go up and over the front wheels as I was being pushed toward it by my mother — and the twenty or so people behind her! Luckily, my father was there to grab it in the nick of time. Madeline was okay, but I still cringe when I think about that incident.”— Lisa; Barrie, Ontario

Smart Solution: Take the time to look for an elevator, even if it's a hassle. Most public places like train stations and shopping centers are handicap-accessible, so they should have one. Escalator steps are too narrow to accommodate both the front and the back wheels of strollers, which makes them more likely to flip, says Robert Tanz, M.D., former chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics' Section on Injury and Poison Prevention. And pushing a stroller onto the escalator prevents you from holding the handrail, so it's easier for you to lose balance.   If there's no alternative, fold your stroller and have someone else carry it. (If you're alone, ask an attendant or a passerby to hold it for you.) Then carry your child onto the escalator; this also keeps shoelaces, drawstrings, and fingers from getting caught.

Mistake #11: Off-balance
“On my first outing with my 4-month-old, I went shopping for clothes at a local store. I placed her in her carrier on top of the bench in the dressing room so I could try on some outfits. As soon as I turned my head, she toppled over onto the floor and the carrier fell on top of her. I was horrified and probably screamed louder than she did. Luckily, she was OK. Now, no matter where we are, I always put the carrier on the floor!”— Gina; Goodyear, Ariz.

Smart Solution: Always put your baby’s carrier down on the lowest surface you can find that's within arm's reach. That doesn't include car hoods! Watch out for couches too, since soft, plush surfaces can be unstable. Unless it's on the ground, the carrier isn't really stable. “An active baby, even at four months, can move or tip it by squirming around in the seat or pushing off on nearby objects with her feet,” says Angela Mickalide, Ph.D., program director for the National Safe Kids Campaign. Most of the time, toppling over is harmless, but in some cases, a fall from as low as two feet can cause brain damage. When you're shopping for a carrier, look for one with a wide, sturdy base and a safety belt.

Mistake #12: A wide reach
“I thought my 2-year-old son, Thomas, was napping in his room while I was upstairs. Then I heard him make some noise, so I went to check and found him covered in baby powder. He’d reached over his crib rails to the changing table, grabbed the powder and wipes, and dumped nearly the entire container of white stuff all over himself. He was using half a dozen wipes to ‘clean up.’ Thankfully, the only damage was the mess he made, but it could've been much worse: He could've put everything in his mouth.” — Sharyn; Athens, Ga.

Smart Solution:  Childproof your home. Toddlers are naturally curious, and this makes it easy for them to put their hands on things they shouldn’t. Every year, more than 1 million unintentional poisonings among kids under 6 are reported to U.S. poison control centers. In Thomas's case, though baby powder isn’t toxic, it can damage the lungs if it's inhaled. To prevent such accidents, you'll want to survey each room from a kid's point of view:

  • Get down on your hands and knees and look carefully for any potential dangers between the floor and about three and a half feet above the ground.
  • Remove items that are within reach from his crib and high chair.
  • Check the carpet for buried items (such as pins, coins, and buttons) that your child could put in his mouth.
  • Keep locked away  —  or at least out of reach  —  household products that may be harmful: cosmetics, art supplies, medicines, vitamins, and alcohol.
  • Leave the toll-free number for the poison control center (800-222-1222) by your phone, and call right away if your child swallows something you think may be toxic.

Mistake #13: Hazardous waste
“After cleaning the shower, without thinking I tossed a disposable razor into the wastebasket in the bathroom. My 12-month-old had just started to walk, and a short time later I found him there on the floor, with the razor in his mouth. Fortunately, he didn’t cut himself, but I don't even want to think about what could've happened.” — Jamie; Merced, Calif.

Smart Solution:  Before you throw anything away, consider whether it would be dangerous if your child got his hands on it. When you have a tot who's just started to walk, everything becomes a risk, even if you assume it's safely discarded. And at 12 months and even up to 4 years, your child doesn’t yet understand potential dangers. To him, a razor blade seems like a new toy. So if the item could possibly be harmful — like a plastic bag (a suffocation risk) or a small object (a choking hazard) — throw it away in an inaccessible trash can, one that's in a locked cabinet or in a room blocked off by a baby gate.

Mistake #14: Watch the steps
“I ran upstairs to grab a load of laundry, and as I turned to head back down, 9-month-old Maggie, who was crawling at the time, was on the third step. I sat at the top and calmly urged her to come to me. She began to crawl up the steps toward me with a big smile. But when she was on the sixth step, she turned away and fell all the way to the bottom. I was powerless to help. I ran down and immediately checked her out. She had a huge bump on her forehead. I put on an ice pack and called the pediatrician, who told me to bring her in. She was monitored for a head injury. She was fine, but I still have nightmares about the helpless feeling of watching her fall and not being able to save her.”— Sabrina; Dittmer, Mo.

Smart Solution:  Put a gate at the top and bottom of your staircase. (The one at the top should be secured to the wall or railing.) Babies can crawl a lot faster than you think, and they often learn to crawl up steps before they develop the motor skills to crawl down. To let your child practice climbing, pad the floor below the stairs with a few cushions so she won’t get hurt if she falls, and keep a close watch.

Mistake #15: Car trouble
“Ethan, who’s 1, was asleep in his car seat when I pulled up in front of the house. I let him sleep while I quickly ran inside to make a brief phone call. It was hot out, so I left the car running to keep the air conditioner on. My husband was standing in the doorway to watch Ethan, in case he woke up and got scared. My husband turned to me to say something, and when he looked back at the car, he saw someone inside — a man was stealing it, with our baby inside! Our worst nightmare had taken place right in front of our own house, in our quiet neighborhood. Thankfully, our little boy was found nearby half an hour later, still asleep in the car. The police told us the carjacker probably got scared when he realized there was a child inside. Now, no matter how much of a nuisance it is, I take Ethan when I get out of the car, even if it’s just for a second.” — Amy; Virginia Beach, Va.

Smart Solution:  Never leave your child alone in a car. Although rare, carjacking is just one risk. The fumes might make your child sick, he might play with the power controls and hurt himself by opening and closing the windows, or he might climb out of his seat and set the car in motion. Even if the engine isn't running, it's never a good idea to leave him in the car by himself — in warm weather, the temperature inside can quickly rise to a dangerous level. “Even when the weather seems pleasant, a child can succumb to heatstroke in minutes,” says David Jaffe, M.D., professor of pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, in St. Louis. At home, always lock the car and keep the keys out of your child's reach.

Reprinted, with permission, from magazine.