FACT OR FICTION:
Eight commonly held myths about infant health care
It can be stressful being a new mother and not knowing what to do when your baby cries. When it comes to colic, colds and fever, diaper rash, digestion upsets and other common ailments, everyone seems to have a theory about “how to fix the problem”. With this overwhelming amount of information available about infant health, it’s difficult to know what’s fact and what’s fiction. As a pharmacist, author and a new mother, I urge new moms to be aware of the real facts.
I know first-hand about the concerns that new moms have. There are many myths and misconceptions about infant health care and much of this information is spread by well-meaning family members and friends, sometimes from generation to generation. Unfortunately, much of this so-called advice can do more harm than good. As a health professional, I urge new parents to distinguish fact from fiction and replace old wives tales with solid, evidence-based advice.
My son, Phoenix, now 10 months old, has had his share of newborn health issues during his first few months. He is now a healthy and happy little boy. Before I was pregnant, I was often asked by patients to recommend products or brands of supplements to treat their newborns’ various health ailments. The eight most common questions were about colic, colds and fever, diaper rash, thrush, whether herbal remedies are safe, helping the baby sleep through the night and whether it’s better to feed the baby with breast milk or formula.
Below, I take a careful look at these concerns and debunk the myths that surround them:
FICTION #1: COLIC, WHICH AFFECTS AN ESTIMATED 25% OF CANADIAN INFANTS, CAN BE CAUSED BY MOTHER'S ANXIETY OR DIET.
FACT: There are many myths about colic including that is caused by parental anxiety, diet or personality of the infant. The latest research suggests colic is actually caused by an imbalance of gastrointestinal microflora. Colicky babies have been found to have lower levels of beneficial intestinal bacteria, which causes digestive upset and pain. Although may people believe that such remedies as gripe water and Ovol drops can help treat colic, research supporting the efficacy of these products is lacking. Recent studies have shown that giving infants a probiotic supplement containing the beneficial bacteria, Lactobacillus reuteri (BioGaia drops) can significantly reduce colic symptoms and crying time, which means more sleep for mom and baby.
FICTION #2: BABY POWDER IS GOOD TO KEEP THE DIAPER AREA DRY.
FACT: Baby powder may smell good but it is no longer recommended by health care professionals for use on babies because it can cause breathing problems and lung damage if inhaled. This is most concerning with the talc-based powders, which contain very fine particles. There is no evidence that baby powders help prevent or treat diaper rash. The best prevention is to air the area twice a day and apply a cream containing zinc oxid (such as Ihle’s Paste or Sudoderm) which forms a barrier to protect the skin.
FICTION #3: THRUSH IS CAUSED BY PROLONGED SUCKING ON A BOTTLE OR PACIFIER.
FACT: Thrush is an infection by a yeast called candida albicans that thrives in warm, moist environments. It is not caused by prolonged sucking. More commonly, it occurs if the baby has been given antibiotics or if the mom has taken antibiotics while breastfeeding. Antibiotics can negatively impact the natural oral flora and candida overgrowth can occur.
FICTION #4: APPLYING RUBBING ALCOHOL TO A CHILD’S SKIN CAN REDUCE A FEVER.
FACT: Alcohol does cool the skin but its effects are temporary. Actually, cooling the skin fast is not recommended because a child can start to shiver, which signals the body to raise the temperature again. Safer options to bring down a fever include applying a cool washcloth to the forehead, using over the counter acetaminophen/Tylenol or Ibuprofen/Motrin. Aspirin should be avoided in children with a fever because of the risk of Reye's syndrome.
FICTION #5: HERBAL REMEDIES ARE SAFE FOR INFANTS AND CHILDREN.
FACT: Most herbal remedies are not recommended for children because of a lack of safety data. Some herbs can be toxic to infants, such as eucalyptus, peppermint and willow bark. Honey and lemon can be given to infants over 1 year of age for cough/sore throat. Other safe options for children over 2 years include echinacea, chamomile, ginger, and garlic. Cold-FX, which contains North American ginseng, has also been studied in children 3 and above and found to be safe.
FICTION #6: FEED A COLD AND STARVE A FEVER.
FACT: A feverish infant needs nourishment to fight an infection and get better. Encouraging liquids is particularly important to prevent dehydration.
FICTION #7: FEEDING A BABY CEREAL BEFORE BEDTIME WILL HELP THEM SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT.
FACT: Studies have shown that this notion simply isn't true. It is a baby's maturity, not a bedtime snack that dictates how long he/she will sleep. Nighttime waking is common when infants are hungry, teething or not feeling well. Health Canada does not recommend feeding infants any solid foods until 6 months of age
FICTION #8: BABY FORMULA IS JUST AS GOOD AS BREAST MILK.
FACT: Most experts agree that breast milk is the best nutritional choice for infants because it includes vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids that help defend against infections, prevent allergies and protect against a number of chronic conditions. For many women, the decision to breastfeed or formula feed is based on their comfort level, lifestyle, and specific medical considerations that they might have. For mothers who are unable to breastfeed or who decide not to, infant formula is a good alternative.