A Guide to the New Rules of Parenting: Why Babies Can't Sleep on Their Stomach and More

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by: Erin Dower
Parenting practices, trends, and tools are always evolving. If you're an expectant mom or grandparent who's more familiar with parenting trends from the disco era, use this list to catch up on today's written and unwritten rules of raising a baby. From the latest equipment safety guidelines to new feeding and sleep recommendations, quite a few things have changed in the past few decades!
baby sleeping on back
Sleep Position for Baby
What's Out: Placing a baby facing down on her belly to sleep

What's In: Always placing a baby on her back to sleep, until he is strong enough to roll over from his back to his tummy on his own (usually around age 6 months)

Why? In previous decades, parents would sometimes place their infant on their tummy to sleep to help ward off a flat head and also in hopes of preventing their baby from choking on spit-up, but pediatricians now recommend that infants always be placed on their back for sleep in order to reduce the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). These days, babies only do "tummy time" when they're awake and alert.

newborn baby sleeping in crib
Cribs and Crib Accessories
What's Out:
  • Old cribs with wide slats and/or sides that drop down
  • Crib bumpers, soft toys, or loose blankets in an infant's crib
What's In:
  • Cribs with stationary sides that meet new safety standards
  • Cribs without crib bumpers, pillows, or toys (until the baby is older)
  • Swaddling an infant or using a "sleep sack" instead of a loose blanket
Why? The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) banned drop-side cribs in 2010 due to multiple infant suffocation and strangulation deaths related to the poor quality of this once-popular type of crib. The CPSC also voted in 2010 for stricter overall safety regulations for crib manufacturing, including slats that are closer together to prevent head entrapment, so it's wise to opt for a new crib rather than a hand-me-down from earlier than 2011.

In 2011, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) took crib safety a step further and banned crib bumpers — along with any kind of pillow, blanket, quilt, or stuffed toy — because of the risk of SIDS or suffocation.

baby drinking bottle of formula
Bottle Feeding
What's Out: Microwaving a baby's bottle, putting baby to bed with a bottle

What's In: Serving bottles at room temperature, using a bottle warmer, or heating bottles in a pan of hot water; keeping bottles out of the crib

Why? While many moms used to rely on the microwave as a quick way to heat a baby's bottle, pediatricians now warn against this method because it can create "hot spots" that can burn a baby's mouth or throat. Most doctors will tell you that there's no need to heat a baby's bottle — just use room temperature water when preparing a bottle with infant formula. Moms who are wary of the chemicals in plastic are especially against heating up baby bottles. To warm a bottle, simply swirl the bottom of it around in a pot of hot water. As for keeping it out of the crib, pediatric dentists warn that this is a no-no, because it can cause tooth decay.

mom breastfeeding in public
Breastfeeding
What's Out: Dismissing the idea of breastfeeding, making mom feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public

What's In: Trying to breastfeed, at least for some time after the baby is born, as long as it works for mother and baby

Why? The infant formula industry boomed throughout the middle of the 20th century due to the newfound convenience and heavy marketing of powdered formulas, but these days, breastfeeding is on the rise. The AAP now recommends that parents feed their baby breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life because of the hard-to-beat health benefits to both mother and child. Infant formula is still a fine alternative, but it doesn't offer the ideal mix of nutrients and antibodies that mother's milk carries. Moms and grandparents alike should keep in mind that the decision to breastfeed or bottle-feed is a personal one — and it's a very touchy subject.

baby sitting in activity seat
Infant Walkers
What's Out: Walkers with wheels

What's In: "ExerSaucers" or stationary activity seats without wheels

Why? Baby walkers have led to countless falls down the stairs, broken bones, head injuries, and other scary and sometimes fatal accidents over the years. Canada banned them in 2004, and the U.S. CPSC claimed in the 1990s that they are responsible for more injuries than any other baby product. Pediatricians say that in addition to being a safety hazard, walkers can delay crawling, walking, and even mental development in babies. Walkers are still sold in the U.S. but are far less popular these days as parents are opting for much safer stationary "ExerSaucer" activity seats without wheels.

toddler standing at baby gate
Gated Play Areas
What's Out: Playpens

What's In: Childproofing your home and giving babies free range under a watchful eye, placing gates when necessary

Why? Playpens are far less common these days, mainly because the idea of a confining "pen" for toddlers just isn't acceptable in today's child-centric, "free-range" world. Child development experts say that babies left in playpens are deprived of stimulation and learning, in the same way that babies left in front of the TV might be. Also, many poorly designed playpens have been recalled over the years due to safety flaws. Nonetheless, you can still find lots of products available these days to help you strike a balance between boundaries and freedom for your tot. Whatever you choose, childproofing your home will be a must at some point!

baby eating solid food
Infant Cereal
What's Out: Adding cereal to an infant's bottle or diet to help her gain weight or feel full longer between feedings

What's In: Feeding an infant a strictly liquid diet of breast milk or infant formula until age 6 months, unless otherwise directed by the baby's pediatrician

Why? The practice of adding cereal to a baby's bottle has been around for decades, but today's pediatricians advise against it because it can lead to overfeeding your tot. The AAP says that babies instinctively know how much breast milk or formula to consume by liquid volume, and it's easy for them to "overdose" on calories when you switch them to solid foods too soon. Feeding cereal to infants before baby reaches 4 to 6 months can also lead to food allergies, digestive issues, and even gagging or inhaling food into their lungs. Doctors generally say that babies are ready to eat cereal and other solid foods when they're ready to take food from a spoon — usually around age 6 months.

diapers and ointment
Baby Powder
What's Out: Applying baby powder on a baby's bottom

What's In: Applying ointment or cream on a baby's bottom

Why? The AAP says that talc or cornstarch in baby powder can injure a baby's lungs when inhaled, so parents who choose to use powder should pour it out very carefully and keep it away from baby's face. Many parents are skipping powder altogether these days and opting for ointments and creams to ward off diaper rash. The AAP recommends applying a small amount of petroleum jelly and changing soiled diapers promptly to help prevent diaper rash.

dad sleep training an infant
Sleeping Through the Night
What's Out: Leaving a young baby to "cry it out" or self-soothe for a long period of time

What's In: Employing a gentle "sleep training" method

Why? These days, when it's time to get a baby to sleep through the night, parents turn to a wide variety of "sleep training" methods, which span the spectrum between attachment parenting techniques to short "cry-it-out" intervals for babies. The main idea is to establish a structured yet gentle routine for baby rather than let him tough it out. The good news is, a recent Pediatrics study indicates that infant sleep-training techniques (even those involving 'cry-it-out' intervals) don't have a long-term effect on a child's emotional development or the parent/child relationship. Phew! (By the way, pacifiers are still A-okay!)

baby in rear facing car seat
Car Seats
What's Out: Turning a baby's car seat to be front-facing when the baby is 1 year old or about 20 pounds

What's In: Keeping car seats rear-facing until the child is at least age 2 or has reached the height and weight maximum for his car seat (usually around 40 pounds)

Why? While it might look a little silly to have a gangly toddler facing backward in the car, the AAP updated its car seat guidelines in 2011 based on findings that children under age 2 are 75 percent less likely to die or be severely injured in a crash if they are riding rear-facing. Enough said! The AAP's recommendations also state that children who have outgrown their rear-facing seat should then use a booster seat or child seat of the appropriate size until they reach at least 4 feet, 9 inches in height and are between the ages of 8 and 12. Children should not ride in the front seat of a car until at least age 13. Times have changed, eh?