Six huge myths about caring for your newborn

These practices are so common, you may find it shocking to discover that they are harmful to your baby

Happy parents with their newborn

Most women enter the phase of motherhood without much guidance or knowledge. What’s worse, there are a lot of misguided tips and suggestions disguised as wisdom that is bombarded at new mothers. Not surprisingly, many of them end up following such advice, unbeknownst to them that they are actually impeding their baby’s natural instincts for growth.

Here are six such common suggestions that new mothers often fall for.

Myth 1: Swaddling is beneficial to babies

Newborn baby swaddledTruth: Let me just say it straight out—swaddling has no benefits; it can be completely avoided. Most parents think that swaddling calms a newborn. The reality is that swaddling “shuts down” the baby. Swaddled babies wake less frequently and breastfeed less frequently, which means the mother’s milk supply is not stimulated as much. This can also result in the baby’s jaundice levels being higher.

I meet a lot of mothers in the first 2 – 3 days after their baby’s birth. When I tell them that their baby is supposed to breastfeed more than 12 to 13 times a day, their next question is always, “How do I wake my baby?” My answer is to simply unswaddle the baby and keep them skin to skin.

Babies are supposed to be skin to skin on the mother’s chest because that’s where they feel safe and are free to feed often.

Myth 2: Use mittens to stop babies from scratching themselves and to also stay warm

Mitten don't help your baby at allTruth: Yes, your baby may scratch herself a little if she is without mittens—but scratches heal. Mittens restrict sensory input to the baby and this may impact all future activities of your child, like writing or running. Your baby’s hands and feet are normally cooler than their head or body. This does not mean your baby is feeling cold.

Babies need to get lots of sensory input from their bodies, especially from their palms, which are richly supplied with touch receptors. When a new baby’s hand touches their body, sensory information from the touch goes to their brains and the brain starts building a virtual map of the body. This map is what tells us which part of our body is being touched.

Swaddling, using mittens or socks and stopping the baby from sucking on hands can reduce this sensory input, which is a precursor to learning how to move correctly.

Myth 3: Massage strengthens a baby’s bones and muscles

For newborns, gentle massage by parents is recommendedTruth: Massage does not increase the strength of your baby’s bones and muscles. Strength can increase only when a baby is allowed to be on the floor and move against gravity. Just like you work out with weights at the gym to get stronger, babies work out on the floor!
The key benefit of massage is “touch”. My suggestion is that parents or grandparents should gently massage the baby. Most babies cry when a maalishwali (massage lady) massages them because of the lack of the emotional bond and therefore absence of loving touch.

Myth 4: You must buy a bouncer, a rocking cradle or swings for their newborn

Avoid buying swings, bouncers and cradles for your babyTruth: The most important equipment your baby needs is available free of cost… it’s the floor! Putting your baby down on the floor is important. Putting your baby on their tummy, on the floor is even more important. Restraining a baby in a bouncer, rocker, swing or other equipment means they lose precious floor time.

In my clinical practice, I have seen many babies who were not put down on the floor at all till as late as 7 to 8 months! These babies are able to roll or crawl on the bed but when put on the floor they just cannot move.

Myth 5: Tummy time is not necessary till your baby can roll over by themselves

Tummy time is a must for newbornsTruth: Tummy time is necessary to develop head control. Tummy time starts on day one, as soon as the baby is born. A newborn who is placed skin to skin on the mother’s chest can move to the breast, latch on and feed without any help. This process is called the breast crawl.

Now imagine this same newborn, swaddled tight and placed on their back, on the mother’s chest. Can they do the breast crawl? Not possible! Movement and development start when babies are placed on their tummies, not backs. Most babies in my practice have developmental delays because of lack of adequate tummy time.

Myth 6: Your baby should be confined to the house till they are 40 days old

Outdoors are good for your newbornTruth: Your baby should be taken out for a walk, daily, after the mom and baby come home from the hospital. Sunlight exposure is essential to reduce jaundice and to start setting the baby’s day and night clock. This day and night clock is what will help your baby gradually sleep longer at night and keep awake during the day.

Exposure to natural sights and sounds early on also provides important sensory information to the baby’s developing brain and teaches the brain that loud sounds like honking of cars are safe. If you keep your baby inside for too long after birth, they will get easily frightened of ordinary sights and sounds. And babies who are frightened cannot learn anything.

To end, here’s a fun fact!

Your unborn baby, in the womb, can “feel” movement from very early on. The foetus’s vestibular system (the system that perceives how you move in space) is developed when the foetus is only half an inch long! This system tells us how our bodies are in space… are we upright, horizontal, how the head is positioned in relation to the body.

Imagine now, this same baby, who was used to experiencing a lot of movement as the mother to be walked around, is born and then swaddled so that they cannot move, is never allowed to be on the floor, is deprived of touch because of mittens, socks and being overdressed! That definitely does not make for a happy baby.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!

Aparna Bhat
Dr Aparna has an MS in Physiotherapy and is a Certified Lactation Educator Counselor. She herself had problems with feeding and latching with her first child and is passionate about helping parents find the right information and applying it from the beginning to make their parenting journey easier.


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