Baby myths busted!

The truth about our most common misconceptions

I was enjoying one of those rare new-mother pleasures — a take-your-time shower — while my visiting mother kept an eye on my two-month-old daughter, Hayley, who’d fallen asleep after nursing. No sooner had I stepped out of the shower, when I heard my baby start to wail. The crying continued unabated as I quickly dried off, threw on some clothes and finally went to soothe my little girl. She was in my mother’s arms, red-faced and howling.

“Here,” I said, “give her to me. She must be hungry.”

“No,” my mother replied. “Go finish getting ready for the day. She can’t be hungry — you fed her only an hour ago. It must be gas or something.”

Reluctantly, I left my crying baby and finished dressing. Hayley still had not settled down by the time I returned. I gently took her from my mother and put her to my breast. She stopped crying instantly.

My mother was baffled: “How could she still be hungry? It hasn’t been four hours yet.” Poor mom: Like so many women who raised their kids in the ’60s and ’70s, she was a victim of the four-hour feeding schedule myth.

That’s just one of the surprisingly tenacious misconceptions about baby care and behaviour that still linger, causing parents to second-guess themselves and worry about how they’re looking after their little ones.

Fortunately, you can battle these bits of misinformation by arming yourself with the facts. In my mother’s case, all I had to do was explain that the whole four-hour thing was based on formula-fed babies. Breastmilk, I told her, is digested faster and more easily than formula, so babies need to nurse more frequently. Case closed.

Facing down a few myths of your own? Read on for the facts you need to blow them away.
MYTH: Babies will sleep through the night by three months of age.

FACT: Sadly, getting a full eight hours of shut-eye at night will still be but a dream for many of the sleep-deprived set at the three-month mark. “Sleeping through the night is a developmental process,” says Montreal paediatrician Denis Leduc. He explains that for the first three months, babies generally sleep 16 to 20 hours per 24-hour cycle, but they tend to spread it out in one- to three-hour chunks. So they’ll sleep for up to three hours and then be awake for up to three hours throughout the day and night.

Then at around four to six months, babies start to get a sense of day and night, and tend to do a longer nighttime stretch — four to six hours or so. It isn’t until around nine months, though, that most babies (70 to 80 percent) will sleep all night.

MYTH: Starting solid foods early (at, say, three or four months) will help your baby sleep longer as she will stay fuller at night.

FACT: “This is simply not true,” says Guelph, Ont., midwife Karin Terpsta. “In fact, solids at this stage can really upset their little bellies. It’s more harmful than helpful as their gut is not mature enough to handle it.”

Leduc reinforces this, adding that a baby’s kidneys are not capable of handling much more than breastmilk. “Plus, the extra food and associated calories encourage inordinate weight gain and may lead to obesity.”

Beyond that, according to the Canadian Paediatric Society, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life brings real benefits for both mother and child, including: a lower risk of gastrointestinal viruses for babies; easier weight loss for mothers; and the delayed return of the mother’s menstrual cycle, giving her a chance to rebuild her iron stores and avoid getting pregnant again too quickly.

MYTH: If you carry your baby around too much, he will always want to be in your arms.

FACT: “Evidence shows just the opposite,” says Terpsta. “Responding to your baby’s needs quickly leads to babies who are less fussy and easier to calm later on.”

Leduc agrees, adding that there are “vast numbers of countries where babies are carried around 24 hours a day — and that’s no problem.” Holding your infant, he says, will not result in anything other than being close to your baby and forging a loving relationship.

MYTH: Your newborn can’t actually see you — just shadows.

FACT: Infants are far-sighted, says Leduc, but “right from birth, they can follow an object to an arc of 30 degrees. That increases to an arc of 180 degrees at eight to 10 weeks.” He adds that babies will fix their eyes on points of contrast. Some parents encourage this by posting simple black and white pictures baby-eye level at the change table or other places where they regularly put their babies.

On the other hand, as both the pros and many a parent will attest, a baby’s favourite thing to look at tends to be his mother’s face — which works out well since most moms love to look right back.

MYTH: Newborns can’t tell the difference between their mother and any other person.

FACT: “No, no, no,” says Leduc. “There’s lots of data showing babies can recognize their mother’s face and their mother’s smell. For instance, they will turn to root at their own mother’s breast.”

Terpsta adds that a baby’s hearing is also well developed and that, in utero, a baby has been hearing his mother. “Her voice and the patterns of her life — sleeping, doing household chores, caring for other siblings — are familiar to him.”

Another point: Just because your baby doesn’t freak out when you pass her to your best friend doesn’t mean she lumps you two together. At this young age, a baby simply hasn’t developed stranger or separation anxiety yet. Expect that fun development at around eight months.

MYTH: A good cry will help develop your baby’s lungs, so don’t rush to pick him up when he starts to wail.

FACT: “Babies’ emotional needs have to be responded to,” says Leduc. “The more you do that in the first three months of life, the more secure they will feel later on.” So by all means, go with your instinct to comfort and soothe your crying baby to the best of your abilities.

As for their lungs? Leduc scoffs: “Crying doesn’t help them at all.”

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