Under pressure? Why numbers and a descerning mind matter in the word of child-rearing

As a new (and opinionated) mother and doula, it is my job to stay up to date on the science behind baby rearing. While I research every suggestion my doctor gives me about my little one, I consider her advice a baseline. For instance, if she says to wait six months before feeding my baby solid foods, I figure that the research must show six months is a conservative time frame (and I wouldn’t be surprised if studies showed to wait even longer….see Dr. Sears’ Six Reasons to Delay Eating Solid Foods).

However, many parents have gone against the advice of their doctor, or continue to tout the advice of their doctor who was following the status quo decades ago. Many parents will tell you numbers and research are irrelevant…their baby turned out just fine.

Advice can be a source of guilty feelings and confusion. Doctor on one side and every advice-ridden mommy (yah I am on both sides of this table 😉 ) on the other we are turning more to the Internet to get the whole spectrum of possibilities for a given issue (I consider the Internet both a wealth of liberating information and a swamp of BS).

The Common Denominator: what’s the motivation behind doctors’ and parents’ advice?

Well of course their are a variety of motivating factors behind what advice people give and why, but let’s review a couple that keep arising in my interactions with parents and health professionals.

What we have to realize about the medical system is that it is set up to give society, as a whole, the best chance of good health. For instance, the Erythromycin antibiotic eye ointment given to infants at birth is nearly statistically useless to give to a baby born to a loyal-committed couple who have both been tested for STDs (or a C-section born baby as the concern is the baby picking up bacteria in the birth canal). But the public generally can’t be trusted to be loyal or committed (and the alternative is potential blindness if the baby has neglectful parents who don’t recognize the early signs of infection), so the hospital makes it policy to give it to everyone. (That’s one fantastic reason to get a doula by the way, she will help you navigate the medical minefield of choices you will have to make during labour and delivery).

Now the motivation behind parents can’t be generalized as neatly. Many parents from decades past reject modern medical findings due to the fact their children turned out just fine the way they raised them. Putting this in context, these parents are right….somewhat.

Going against medical or research findings on how, what and when to feed your baby, for instance, won’t likely kill him, there are more subtle factors at play. For example, exclusive breastfeeding in early months has been found on average to grant the baby a slightly higher IQ in later years. Now it might not work that way for all people, and one formula-fed person may be smarter because of genetics or upbringing, but on average this is true. You won’t find this result or any solid research result comparing two or ten children, you need to look at hundreds or even thousands of people to see the trend.

Protection against good intentions

I suppose the key here is being humble. If you are the person giving advice to a new parent, consider the great pressure new parents are under to give their children the chance at their best life. Consider also the possibility that you are wrong, or the science will prove you wrong months or years from now. (We all know science is often proving itself wrong.)

As a parent, protect yourself against the onslaught of good intentions and find a source of information that suits your style of parenting and health. As I have mentioned so many times before, Dr. Sears and his family of physicians and nurses are my go-to for information. One day of hurried medical advice and visits with well-meaning parents that sends me reeling can be cured with a visit to http://www.asksears.com or my trusty book shelves and then to the original literature that he cites throughout his books.


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