After writing two popular posts recently, 12 Mainstream Pregnancy Lies You Likely Believe, and 12 (More) Mainstream Pregnancy Lies You Likely Believe, several people asked me to talk about baby myths.
Unfortunately, many of the same people who are trying to tell you that pregnancy is bad and scary and that you need to do a million tests and stop questioning your doctor, also believe these things about newborns.
This kind of stuff is really even more important. Regardless of how your pregnancy and birth goes (and yes, it does matter), it’s a temporary part of your life. But raising a baby, that impacts your entire life and more importantly, your baby’s entire life. It’s really important to know the truth here!
Let’s dive into some of the most common baby myths!
12 Baby Lies You Probably Believe
1. “Let your newborn cry it out or he’ll never learn to sleep.”
Sorry, mamas, but this is a total lie. Your baby doesn’t “learn” anything from being left alone to cry, except that no one is coming to meet his needs. That doesn’t make the needs go away, and it doesn’t mean your baby has gained the skill of helping himself fall asleep.
Instead, teach your baby to sleep by holding him, rocking him, nursing him, and showing him various ways to settle himself. We shared our Gentle AP Method to Teach Your Baby to Sleep a couple of years ago. It’s worked on all our kids so far (who co-sleep with us for a year, give or take) and nobody’s been left to cry. And guess what, the older four all fall asleep on their own and sleep all night now! And, nobody’s afraid of bedtime, nobody wakes with nightmares, and we just don’t have any sleep issues. That’s no accident. Babies whose needs are met will learn to sleep on their own when they are ready.
2. “Your newborn is manipulating you/getting spoiled when you answer her cries.”
This one absolutely drives me nuts. It’s setting up your relationship with your baby as adversaries — her vs. you. But mamas, your baby is not out to “get” you. She is not manipulating you. (Heck, she’s not even capable of it — a baby has to understand that she’s a separate person from you, what your wants are, and what her wants are, and be able to deliberately play your emotions to get her way in order to manipulate. This is far too sophisticated for a baby. Kids aren’t capable of this until at least 2 or 3 years old.)
Your baby cries because she needs something. Period. That need may be to be held; it may be to be fed, changed, be warmer or cooler, etc. But she cries to communicate her needs because it is nearly the only way she can communicate as an infant. As she gets older you’ll notice more of her subtle communication — looks, squirms, grunts, rooting behavior, and so on.
The more quickly you notice her communication and the more quickly you meet her needs, the less she’ll cry. And, if you always meet her needs, she won’t (often) try to manipulate you even when she’s finally capable because she’ll trust that you’ll be there for her! This isn’t “spoiled,” either, this is trusting. And trust is so important to a healthy emotional life.
3. “Add rice cereal to his bottle so he’ll sleep longer.”
Sorry, mamas, another lie.
First of all, young babies should not sleep too long. Their tummies are tiny and they need to eat often because they’re growing so rapidly. Rice cereal does make babies feel fuller sometimes, but it can also make some babies wake more often because it upsets their tummies. Young babies can’t digest grains and aren’t getting any real nourishment from this practice. It’s best to stick to only breast milk (or formula) and not add anything to it.
Even when it’s time to eat food, it’s best to avoid grains, and always to let baby decide if he wants to eat and how much. He can’t do that when it’s in his bottle.
4. “Limit breastfeeding to ___ minutes per side so she doesn’t make you sore or eat too much.”
There is so much bad breastfeeding advice out there, and this is one of the most common. There is no need to limit a baby’s time per side, or total nursing time. It will not help you to be less sore. (Using a high-quality breast cream, which we’ll talk more about in a week or so, and making sure your baby is properly positioned, will help avoid soreness.) And, your baby cannot eat too much when breastfed. She will naturally stop when she has had enough, or when she needs to burp. If baby pops off, try burping and offer the other breast. She won’t overeat.
By the same token, a baby who is offered the breast whenever she seems to want it won’t undereat. She doesn’t have to nurse a certain number of minutes to get enough — some babies are more efficient than others. Just forget the clock altogether when it comes to babies, and follow your baby’s cues.
5. “Your newborn has to be supplemented with formula because _____.”
First, there are legitimate circumstances where a baby requires formula supplementation. In some cases, moms can’t produce enough milk no matter how hard they try (insufficient breast tissue, hormonal imbalances, certain autoimmune conditions, etc.). This isn’t to say that formula is never necessary.
But. A lot of women are told they have to supplement in circumstances where it’s not necessary. For example, when baby wants to nurse very frequently. This is normal for new babies and is not a sign of low milk supply (as long as baby seems satisfied after eating, however briefly).
Other women are told they “have” to supplement because their milk is ‘bad,’ or because babies can’t get what they need from breastmilk alone, or because they need to sleep, or because others need to feed the baby in order to bond. These are all wrong!
6. “Jaundice is not normal and requires aggressive treatment.”
Honestly? Most newborn jaundice is normal. Almost all babies have a slight yellowish tint to their skin for a few days after birth. While jaundice can become a problem, it’s pretty rare. Biliblankets, formula supplementation, and other interventions are not necessary for most babies.
7. “Co-sleeping is dangerous, your baby needs to sleep alone.”
This is a pretty silly one. In most cultures, babies sleep near their parents. It’s also safer, because it facilitates breastfeeding, helps infants maintain their body temperature and breathing, and more. Co-sleeping is not dangerous, unless one or both parents are on medication, under the influence of alcohol, are seriously sleep-deprived, or have some sort of medical condition which makes them sleep too heavily. A breastfeeding mother is ordinarily a light sleeper who is well aware of her baby’s position in her bed.
Plus, sleeping alone is hard for new babies. They crave the comfort of their mothers and easy access to the breast. They certainly do not “need” to sleep alone to learn to sleep separately later on.
8. “Start your baby on newborn enrichment classes now so he’ll be smarter.”
It’s admirable to want to give your baby the best — every advantage that there is. But the thing is, babies are learning rapidly, all the time. They need to learn everything about life. The best way to teach babies is to talk to them and look at them. They need to learn about you, about human interaction. You can also take them places so they can observe life outside, other people, and so on. There is no need for “newborn enrichment” classes or videos, and absolutely no evidence that they work anyway.
Read: Please Stop Homeschooling Your Toddler (and Babies!)
9. “If your newborn boy is intact, you should retract his penis to clean under it.”
Please, never do this. An intact penis should be left alone. Wipe the outside of it, but never mess with the foreskin. Trying to retract a newborn will tear the foreskin, cause bleeding and pain, and can cause adhesions and future issues. Don’t let doctors retract your baby, either. There is no reason to do so “just to check and make sure it’s all okay” (ever), nor even any reason to do so for a catheter. Find someone who is educated about intact care if your baby needs any medical procedures.
Your baby’s foreskin will naturally retract at some point later — often in the preschool years, but sometimes not until adolescence. At that point, your son should be taught to retract himself to wash in the bath. But never force it, and never do it yourself. Only the owner of the penis should retract it.
10. “Feedings should be scheduled every 3 or 4 hours so baby learns to eat when it’s the ‘right’ time.”
This is really terrible advice and can lead to failure to thrive, as well as sabotaging breastfeeding. A woman who is only nursing every 3 – 4 hours often cannot produce enough milk, because breastfeeding is about supply and demand. When demand is lower due to infrequent feedings, her body won’t get the message to produce more.
As for the baby, most newborns need to eat at least 12 times in a 24-hour period, and many nurse quite a bit more than that. The typical newborn won’t go longer than 2 hours between feedings, on average. (Typically there are times of day that they eat more often, up to every 30 minutes; and they may sleep a 3 – 4-hour stretch at night.) A baby who does not eat often enough will be fussy, difficult to settle, and will sleep poorly. The baby may also gain weight poorly and not meet milestones on time. They could end up hospitalized for hunger or dehydration and be marked failure to thrive.
And even worse, some recommend offering baby water in between scheduled feedings to keep them quiet. Never do this, unless explicitly instructed by a doctor. A new baby’s electrolyte levels are very precariously balanced. Plenty of breast milk or properly prepared formula is good. But water can dilute sodium levels in the baby’s blood and cause lethargy, coma, or even death. Babies have died because of parents watering down breastmilk or formula, or offering too much water in between feedings. Just don’t do it!
Feed your baby on demand. Lessons on “when to eat” and “meal times” can wait until the toddler years. (And it’s debatable even then.)
11. “It’s safe to put the car seat on top of a shopping cart at the grocery store.”
Although it’s a really common practice, it is, in fact, not safe. Car seats on top of grocery carts are very top-heavy, and carts can tip over if you go over bumps unexpectedly or turn too sharply. A few babies each year actually die from falling off of a grocery cart! Since it’s entirely preventable…just don’t do it.
Instead, put the baby’s car seat into the basket of the cart. Or, wear your baby in a wrap or other carrier (which is what I choose to do).
12. “It’s safe/beneficial to start solids at 2 weeks/2 months/3 months/etc.”
Sorry, but early solids really are not beneficial and may be very harmful. Young babies are meant to get extremely nutrient- and calorie-dense breast milk or formula to meet their nutritional needs and rapid growth. And, their intestines are immature and “open,” meaning that undigested proteins can escape into the bloodstream, sensitizing the child and causing allergies. Breast milk actually promotes maturity of the gut and helps it to seal properly, so that baby won’t have allergies later in life.
It’s best to wait to start solids until at least 6 months, but follow your baby’s lead. (Baby showing interest in your food doesn’t mean she’s ready — infants are typically fascinated by everything you do. Being able to pick up the food and put it into her own mouth is a good rule.)
These are just twelve of the lies I can think of! Can you think of more?