When it comes to finding trusted information on infant feeding, vaccines and sleep environments, where do new mothers get their information?
Researchers at Boston Medical Center surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,031 mothers of infants ages 2 to 6 months about advice they receive from doctors, nurses, family and media about pacifier use, breastfeeding, immunizations and sleep position/location.
Study findings published in the August 2015 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), showed that doctors were most often consulted for advice on infant care. However, substantial percentages of mothers reported that they do not receive advice from doctors on some topics.
As many as 10 to 15 percent of those surveyed reported that the advice they receive from their doctors is not always consistent with AAP recommendations on breastfeeding and pacifier use. More than 25 percent reported that information from physicians wasn’t consistent with AAP recommendations on sleep position or location.
Family members were reported as a “source of advice” approximately 30 to 60 percent of the time. Media—including books, magazines, TV or the Internet—was reported by mothers to be a source of advice less than half of the time.
But when it comes to breastfeeding, approximately 70 percent of those surveyed reported that they receive advice—whether consistent with AAP recommendations or not—from media sources.
More than 25 percent of mothers reported that media “advice” about vaccinations is not consistent with AAP recommendations.
Study authors hope that identifying areas where mothers receive little or inappropriate advice will help medical professionals supply more consistent information on infant care practices that are in line with AAP recommendations.
How to sort it out
New mothers have always received plenty of childrearing advice, often unsolicited, from family and friends. In recent years, access to the explosion of information available on the Internet and social media has added even more advice to the mix, says Laurie Jones, MD, IBCLC, a pediatrician at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center.
“A new mother may research infant feeding decisions and vaccination plans through blog posts, Facebook groups, corporate-sponsored pages and medical websites,” says Jones. “Anyone would find it a daunting task to sort out fact from fiction. Whoever speaks the loudest seems to ‘win’ the battle—and there are too many voices out there.”
How to sort it out? Jones, a member of the AAP’s Arizona Chapter (AzAAP), suggests that parents start by trying to distinguish the medical/safety advice from the child-rearing/philosophy advice.
Seek out professional sources for questions about car seats, vaccinations, nutrition and accident prevention. “Parents should be aware of advice from individuals without medical training who are giving their own personal stories as proof,” says Jones.
Parenting style and philosophy decisions are more personal, she says, and should reflect the beliefs of mother and partner on topics such as attachment parenting, sleep training, daycare versus in home care or discipline style.
Grandmothers and other well-meaning family members are sure to chime in with their own take on parenting philosophy, says Jones. It’s the way cultural beliefs are passed down through generations.
But a new parent may need to negotiate the balance between validating the older generation’s experiences and pointing out new, updated information, especially if family members venture into medical territory on topics such as nutrition, sleep position or car-seat safety.
On the other hand, says Jones, even some medical professionals can be out of step with recent research advances—or doctors’ own personal beliefs may play into the advice they give to parents.
“You must have faith in your child’s doctor and have good rapport to discuss differences between medical advice and parenting philosophy,” says Jones. “The office visit has many elements pushed into a very small time allotment. Parents can guide the focus of the appointment by reading up on nutrition and development ahead of the appointment.”
Jones recommends the AAP’s site for parents, Healthychildren.org, for the most current evidence-based information on infant, child, and adolescent health, safety and nutrition.
“I appreciate when a parent brings a list of questions to office visits,” she says. “There may not be time to cover all of them right at that moment, but additional time can be scheduled for complex behavioral or other problems.”