7 things grandparents do that aren't safe for kids

Grandparents mean well, but with new research coming out all the time, you might need to update them on these baby safety guidelines.

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When Alanna was about 37 weeks pregnant, she was talking to her dad about how she was nervous to go on a road trip, in large part because she hadn’t gotten around to installing her car seat yet. Don’t worry, he told her: Car seats are only required for babies born in emergency situations. She was so shocked, she didn’t even know what to say. But she understood it was just a generational gap—especially, she says, once she watched the 1982 video of Princess Diana driving away from the hospital holding Prince William in her arms, when car seats weren’t yet mandatory for babies.

That’s not the only safety guideline that has changed dramatically over the past few decades. Updates to safety guidelines are good news for parents who can rest assured that they’re following the best, evidence-based practices, but they can cause a bit of friction with grandparents, who are used to doing things the old way, and insist their kids turned out fine. Here are seven key safety recommendations that have changed since your parents had babies.

1. Putting babies to sleep on their stomachs
Doctors used to tell parents to place babies on their stomachs to sleep, so the 1999 Back to Sleep campaign, which said putting babies on their backs would lower the chances of SIDS, was a shock to some, says Richard Stanwick, chair of the Injury Prevention Committee at the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) and chief medical health officer for Island Health in BC. Canada made the move after similar campaigns in the UK and elsewhere resulted in a dramatic drop in the rate of deaths. Research since then has shown that it was the right move: Since the Back to Sleep campaign started in 1999, SIDS rates in Canada have declined by more than half.

Grandma smiling while holding baby girlGrandparents' old-school ideas on parenting could be bad for kids2. Using drop-side cribs
Aunt Judy might have one of these in the attic, ready to be handed down to the next baby born in her family, but over the years, millions of drop-side cribs have been recalled due to safety issues, and they have been linked to hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths. Because drop-side cribs are less likely to be structurally sound, babies have been strangled and suffocated from being caught in them. So, at the end of 2016, Health Canada made it illegal to sell them—new or used—or even to give them away. And inside the crib, Health Canada and CPS recommend putting only your baby—no pillows, blankets, stuffies or bumper pads—to ensure a safe night’s sleep.

3. Spanking
Remember when spanking was the ultimate parenting threat? You’re not the only one: In the early 1990s, Statistics Canada found that about 50 percent of parents spanked their children. Since then, research has found that the discipline tactic doesn’t work in changing kids’ behaviour, and it can actually be harmful. A meta-analysis from 2016 looked at 75 studies, and found that in all but one of them, spanking was associated with negative outcomes, including aggression and mental-health issues.

4. Using baby powder
Baby powder used to be ubiquitous, but the American Academy of Pediatrics and Canadian paediatricians now recommends against it, because the powder can get into babies’ lungs. That’s especially worrisome for preemies and babies who have asthma. And in December 2018, Health Canada released a draft of a report proposing that talc, an ingredient in baby powder, should be added to its list of toxic substances because it can lead to breathing problems when inhaled and may lead to ovarian cancer when used near the genitals.

5. Not following car seat rules
Babes could ride in their caregivers’ arms (à la Prince William) until the early 1980s—but Stanwick holds no nostalgia for that era. “I did my residency in the late 1970s, when kids used to sit on their parents’ laps, and I saw a lot of kids die,” he says. Nowadays, car seats are taken for granted, and paediatricians urge parents to keep toddlers rear-facing until age two or beyond, because rear-facing seats spread the impact of a crash along their entire body rather than letting the head fling forward—a motion that’s especially damaging to toddlers and babies whose heads are larger and whose spinal cords are more flexible.

6. Introducing solids early
What mom hasn’t fought with a well-meaning grandmother who secretly slipped her baby a bite of applesauce? (“He looked hungry!”) It’s not surprising because, in the late 1960s, mothers started giving their kids purées as early as one month old, and in the 1980s, they were told to start giving their infants solids at three or four months. Today, doctors advise parents to wait until around six months old. Starting earlier than that might make a baby consume less breastmilk, which is more important to their diet because it reduces the risk of infections and anemia. Starting solids earlier also increases the chances of choking, and a baby’s gut flora isn’t well developed enough to process foods yet at that age.

7. Using teething gels
When you were teething, your mom probably relied on teething gel that numbed your gums to soothe the pain—and soothe your crying. But over-the-counter teething gels often contain Benzocaine, which can cause methemoglobinemia, a rare but serious condition that can dangerously lower oxygen levels in the bloodstream. Teething gels are approved for toddlers over age two, but for a baby, stick to a chilled teething ring.

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