When Nicole Worsick’s son was born in March, the advice from her mother and mother-in-law started flowing -- and hasn’t stopped. And while their recommendations were well-intentioned, they were not always up-to-date.
Worsick’s mother thought her son should sleep in bed with Worsick and her husband; her mother-in-law told her that babies sleep best on their bellies with a warm blanket and surrounded by crib bumpers.
The new mother held firm, and even showed both grandmothers the safe-sleeping pamphlets she received from the hospital. Following modern guidelines, Worsick puts her son, Ethan, to sleep on his back in a crib without bumpers or a blanket.
“I think they think, they’ve had kids and their information is correct because they got it from their parents and it seemed to work for generations,” said Worsick, 31, of Ancaster, Ontario.
“But I say to them, ‘If there was a car on a lot and it was 30 years old versus a new car, which would you choose?’ It’s the same with advice,” Worsick said. “Things get better as time goes on because there’s more access to information. We have a lot more access to research than they did. They're getting information from their parents, so how old is that information?"
Grandparents are playing an increasingly important role in the lives of our children, with a growing number serving as primary caregivers. But they're not necessarily keeping up with the times.
A small survey found that grandparents lacked knowledge on today's safety guidelines, according to research presented Sunday at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ annual conference in New Orleans.
Forty-nine grandparents who attended grandparent support groups in the Birmingham, Ala., area competed a 15-question survey in 2010, and the results were “not great,” says the lead author, Dr. Amanda Soong, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Most of the 49 were primary caregivers.
“They’re not clear on the most current recommendations on safety practices, so pediatricians need to make sure they’re going over this information and not assuming that because they parented before that they know necessarily know what they should be doing,” Soong said. "Recommendations change as we learn things."
Despite the small sample size, Soong believes that the results would hold true in other areas of the country. “I would assume that this is going to be fairly representative,” she said.
In Soong’s survey, a majority of grandparents gave the wrong answer when asked about the best position for infants to sleep, which is on their backs to help prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Thirty-three percent said stomach, 23 said side and 44 said back.
Slightly more than a quarter of grandparents correctly answered that only a sheet and mattress should be in a crib. But 18 percent thought bumpers should be in the crib, 2 percent said a few stuffed animals, 4 percent said blankets and 49 percent thought all of the above should be the crib.
Nearly half of the grandparents got a question about car seat positioning wrong.
The academy recommends not introducing water to babies until they are four- to six-months old, but 63 percent got it wrong, answering two weeks or two months.
Nearly 74 percent of respondents thought walkers were good devices to help babies learn to walk although the academy advises against them.
Soong noted that if she tested parents, they might not answer all the survey questions correctly either. But she said pediatricians may be more comfortable telling new parents about safety guidelines than they are talking to grandparents.
The grandparents did well on some questions, too. They all correctly stated that the safest place for a baby to sleep is in a crib, and 63 percent gave the correct answer as to when a baby can usually start drinking whole milk: 12 months.
Nearly 94 percent thought crackers were a safe food for an 18-month-old (correct), though 6 percent answered grapes (not unless they're sliced).
The number of grandparents serving as primary caregivers for grandchildren under 18 rose 12.5 percent from 2.4 million in 2000 to 2.7 million in 2011, according to a U.S. Census survey.
Worsick says she tries to stick with just the facts when grandparents question her choices or don't understand why she doesn't allow certain things.
“I try to explain the risks of doing that and that I’m not trying to be mean to him,” she said. “It’s just safer based on the research that I’ve looked at.”
She’s not alone in getting old-school parenting tips.
When Soong’s daughter was born 3 1/2 years ago, her own mother said the baby would sleep better on her stomach, and gave Soong the same book she relied on when Soong, 36, was a baby.
“If you have an experience, it’s hard to change that,” Soong said. “My mom said, ‘Well, I had three children and you all slept on your stomach and you’re fine.’
“If it worked for you the first time, why do you need to necessarily change it?” Soong said, explaining the beliefs of some grandparents. “But more grandparents are raising their grandchildren so it’s important that they be aware of the most current safety recommendations.”
Lisa A. Flam is a news and lifestyles reporter in New York whose older child was born in the age of bumpers.
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