- Business Insider asked a pediatrician and a developmental psychologist from Mount Sinai Parenting Center to debunk 16 of the most common baby myths.
- They explain how picking up a baby does not spoil them, putting honey on a pacifier is actually dangerous for newborn infants, and teething does not cause fevers.
- They further explain that toys do not make babies smarter, but it's a caregiver's interaction with the object that stimulates a toddler's brain development.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Dr. Aliza Pressman: "Baby walkers help babies walk." Baby walkers do not help babies walk.
Dr. Blair Hammond: "Picking up a crying baby will spoil them."
Pressman: Picking up a crying baby will not spoil them.
Hammond: "Putting honey on a dummy," aka a pacifier, "will help with teething." This is a dangerous myth, actually.
"Teething can cause fevers." I get paged about this myth all the time.
Hi and welcome. I'm Dr. Blair Hammond. I'm a general pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Pressman: And I'm Dr. Aliza Pressman. I'm a developmental psychologist and cofounder of the Mount Sinai Parenting Center. The other cofounder.
Hammond: The other. We did it together. Today we're going to be actually talking about debunking myths with babies. Ready, Aliza?
Pressman: Let's do it.
Hammond: All right! First myth.
Myth 1: Babies who walk and talk early are the brightest of their peer group.
Pressman: Even though an early talker may tend to do better in language skills later in life, it doesn't mean that children who are not early talkers aren't going to equal or rise above those talkers. And with walkers, which is a different thing, that's motor development. Motor development is better at predicting delays and associations with other issues that may arise. So if you notice there's a delay in walking, that's an important thing to talk to your pediatrician about. But it is not necessarily true or likely true that an early walker is going to get you into Harvard.
Myth 2: Never wake a sleeping baby.
Hammond: And this is a myth in particular in the first few weeks of life. So, newborn babies really need to feed frequently, and if you happen to have a sleepy baby, you would actually wake them every three to four hours to feed at that time.
Pressman: That's right. Between five and six weeks of age, day and night sleep is organized. So if they're sleeping more than three, three and a half hours during the day, at that point, you really want to give them a little nudge so that you can get them nice, consolidated sleep in the nighttime.
Hammond: As children get older, you can let them sleep longer periods of time.
Myth 3: Lullabies help babies sleep."
Pressman: [laughs] This one is actually sort of a myth, but not completely, because the act of singing a lullaby, that calming music, can calm both you and your baby. But it isn't a magic pill that is going to make sure that your baby falls asleep. Finding ways to soothe your infant, especially using music and touch is, of course, going to relax them and induce a sleepier state.
Myth 4: Naps aren't necessary.
Hammond: In young children and babies, naps are necessary.
Hammond: I always say that people who are like, "I'm gonna keep my baby up all day so they sleep all night in that first year of life," you're going to have an angry baby, and that is not going to be a fun baby to take care of. And, in fact, in this young age, especially that first year of life, we really do focus on naps to help your baby actually learn better, control their behavior, and fall asleep better. Because an overly tired baby is actually going to sleep worse.
Pressman: You really need to keep even one nap. You don't want your infant or toddler awake more than about five hours at a time. So, up until three years of age, naps are really important for daytime behavior, emotional development, and nighttime organized, consolidated sleep.
Myth 5: Babies should be sleeping through the night by three months.
Hammond: We all hope for that. Every mother wishes that.
Pressman: If your baby isn't sleeping through the night because they need to have a feeding or two feedings, that's OK. Up until four months, you really want to let your infant direct how that's going to go. And then, starting after four months, between four and six months, you can think about your influence on their nighttime sleep.
Hammond: And you might lose your friends if you keep bragging about your 3-month-old who's sleeping through the night and they have a 3-month-old who's not.
Myth 6: Certain toys will make babies smarter.
Pressman: The myth is that it's the toy making the baby smarter. What helps your baby grow smarter is the interaction between you and your baby while playing with a toy. If you just stick a baby down with a bunch of blocks, your baby is not growing smarter from those toys. The best way to grow your baby's brain in that first year of life is through interaction with a caregiver, and you can then talk about the toy, describe the toy, support your infant's discovery of the toy through language and descriptions, but the toys itself are never going to make your baby smarter.
Another thing to keep in mind is that when you are playing with your baby, you might find yourself using a singsong voice with high-pitch sounds and, like, a big, exaggerated face. And some people might even think you're talking baby talk. The truth is that that is called "parentese," and it is one of the most important uses of language. When you use that voice and you say, like: "[gasps] Look at that block you're playing with! Is that a brown block? Are you putting that on top of a blue block?"
The important part of that is that your language is so engaging that parentese actually is associated with such boosts in language development later in life. Now, baby talk, where you're saying "goo goo gaa gaa goo goo gaa gaa," that is not useful for anyone, except if it gives you tremendous delight and you just can't help yourself and you really just need to just get in there with that baby. It's your language and your interaction and your use of parentese that's gonna really get you that boost in intellectual development that you are hoping to get from the toy.
Myth 7: Bouncing babies will cause them to be bowlegged.
Hammond: I hear this all the time. In fact, I have lots of parents say to me right after a baby's born, "Oh, no, he's bowlegged!" And the interesting thing is it's because when a baby is in the womb, most babies actually have their legs crossed. So they come out a little bowed-looking, and it is normal for the legs to actually have that appearance. And many babies have that instinct to want to stand and bear weight on their legs, and that is actually fantastic for their motor development. You're socially engaging with them, but you're also helping them develop muscle strength and control. So this is absolutely a myth. Many grandparents are into it. They're also like, "Don't let your baby sit till they're ready, 'cause it's gonna ruin their back." That is another myth.
Pressman: I would only add: You don't need a contraption. So, a jumper is not a good way to help a baby develop.
Hammond: Yep. Because they go more on the toes, and that's something that's not recommended by most developmental specialists.
Myth 8: Excessive crying means something is wrong.
Pressman: If you're feeling like your infant is excessively crying, the first thing that you want to do is talk to your pediatrician to make sure that there isn't anything wrong medically.
Hammond: You sort of do a one-over on your whole baby to make sure, "All right, my baby seems OK, my baby's fed, my baby's peed and pooped, whatever, what's going on here?" And then often it's just, they're so awake and frazzled, they can't calm their body down at this young age. The most fussy period is between three to six weeks of life. And there is something called infant colic, which people have probably heard about. And the definition of colic is crying at least three hours a day, at least three days of the week, for at least three weeks.
A good thing I tell parents is if the baby calms down when you're shaking them in a gentle rocking way, shushing them, and you're like, "Oh, if I hold the baby, they stop crying, but every time I put them down, they cry." That's reassuring to me that there's not some real painful issue going on and that the baby is comforted by you and just needs that help. In general, I say to people, if the baby cries more than an hour straight and nothing is calming them down, check in with your pediatrician.
Pressman: And you could be doing everything right and it's not going to stop the baby from crying in the short term, but again, you will be helping their long-term development.
Myth 9: Picking up a crying baby will spoil them.
Pressman: Picking up a crying baby will not spoil them. Don't let anybody tell you otherwise.
Hammond: People are often very worried about spoiling young infants.
Pressman: Please spoil your young infants.
Hammond: Yes, fall in love. I say my job as a pediatrician is to help you fall in love with your baby. I want you to touch that baby. I want you to snuggle the baby. And the feeling a baby has of being upset and crying and stressed, and then when they calm with you, that actually teaches their brain to go from upset to calm, and that is a life skill. Now, as your child gets older, can you spoil a baby or a child who's crying and saying, "I need lollipops for dinner"?
Pressman: Yes, you can.
Hammond: Obviously! Do not then just pick them up and give them the lollipop. That is a totally different thing. In these first months of life, comforting your baby and calming their body down actually helps them be calmer humans long-term.
Myth 10: Putting honey on a dummy, aka a pacifier, will help with teething.
Hammond: This is a dangerous myth, actually. Some myths are just like, your friends are talking about that, don't believe it. This one is actually dangerous. Babies should not have honey in the first year of life. And the risk of honey comes from a bacteria called botulism. The spores from botulism your body can process, but young infants cannot, and it can actually cause paralysis, meaning a paralyzed, limp infant, which could be quite dangerous, life-threatening, obviously. No honey in the first year of life for any baby. It's really something everyone should know.
Myth 11: Baby walkers help babies walk.
Pressman: Baby walkers do not help babies walk. In fact, there are some small studies that show that babies who use walkers walk later than the babies that do not use walkers. Do not get a walker, because you want your baby's muscles to develop the way they're supposed to, without contraptions.
Hammond: The AAP, that's the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommends against walkers. No. 1, because they do delay walking. But No. 2, because children can actually fall in walkers, fall down stairs in walkers, and have the ability to reach things that are developmentally inappropriate, like hot stoves, hot water. I've had many patients be like: "Oh, my gosh, we put it on a registry. I feel so bad. I already got it." Return it.
Myth 12: Teething can cause fevers.
Hammond: I get paged about this myth all the time. People will say: "My baby has a 103 fever. It's just 'cause they're teething." That is a myth. Teething should not cause fevers. It might make your baby a little more fussy. It might make them eat a little less, but it should not cause fever. It should not cause cough. It should not cause runny nose, vomiting. All those things make me think your baby has some type of infection. Something else going on. So if you have a fever and you're concerned about the cause, check in with your pediatrician.
Myth 13: Babies need water when it's hot.
Hammond: This is certainly a myth, especially in the beginning of life. So, the first month of life, some parents and grandparents will say: "Your baby needs water. It's hot out." Your baby should not be given water. We say breast milk or formula only for newborn babies. Their kidneys are actually immature, and giving water could mess up their electrolytes and be quite dangerous, in fact. As your child gets older, around six months of life, we do encourage you to introduce water for your child. But, in general, many people are under the impression, like, "Oh, water is a better hydration fluid than breast milk or formula." But actually breast milk and formula are great for hydrating babies.
Myth 14: You should avoid giving peanuts, fish, and eggs to your child until they're a toddler.
Hammond: This was a big myth.
Pressman: Big myth.
Hammond: And, in fact, it used to be supported by the medical community, but there now is really strong data showing that actually earlier introduction increases what we call tolerance, meaning that you won't have an allergic reaction. But there in fact is even an FDA recommendation that infants between four to six months of life have peanut products introduced into their diet because there is such compelling data about the reduction in food allergy. I always say, speak with your pediatrician about exactly how to start it and if you have specific family risk factors. Again, I may emphasize the one food you do not introduce: no honey till one year.
Myth 15: Playing classical music can make your baby smarter.
Pressman: Playing classical music will be one of the many things that you can do, certainly, to surround them with the kinds of stimulating auditory experiences that will engage their brain. However, playing classical music in and of itself is not going to make your baby smarter.
Hammond: Actually, the back-and-forth interactions that a baby has with a caregiver where they hear real words usually spoken in your native language so that you can speak with most expression and you're showing delight and responding to the baby, that is what promotes the language development and the social development of the brain the best.
Myth 16: A newborn's length will tell you how tall they'll be.
Hammond: Lots of parents obsessively think about the growth chart. I will confess, I sometimes obsessively think about my children's growth chart. The biggest predictor of your child's final height is actually parents' height. So, we call something "mid-parental height" as the best predictor. And another big predictor is when the baby, the child, goes through puberty. So, usually the longer you delay puberty, the more years of growth you have. So, there are some children who are short in seventh grade, but they keep growing, and they're still growing in 11th and 12th grade, and then they catch up and surpass their peers. So, it gives you an idea. It is certainly not the predictor of your child's long-term length.
Pressman: You're gonna hear many myths and many things that are gonna make you question your own parenting. What we would emphasize is, try to think about your gut, what makes you feel good, because a parent who feels good and empowered is going to have better interactions with their baby. And if you do have any questions, rather than thinking about the myths that are out there, seek advice from very reliable and valid resources. Go to your pediatrician with any questions or find the websites that are actually valid and reliable, and never do Google searches arbitrarily or look at chat rooms.
Hammond: And, again, pediatricians, we go into this field because we like to partner with parents to making sure all children are as healthy as possible. So bring your questions to the doctor.