Baby Tips And Tricks

Old world advice versus modern standards

By Danila Di Croce

New parents are often overwhelmed with the multitude of responsibilities that come with their little bundle of joy. When they seek help from family members of an older generation, that advice tends to be based on traditional practices. This sometimes leads to frustration when it conflicts with current knowledge offered by pediatricians. But tips and tricks from the older generation don’t always have to clash with the new. Parents can borrow from old world techniques and modern methods when bringing up baby.

Upon the birth of her two daughters, born three years apart, 45-year-old Erica Davoli quickly learned that her mother’s support could be more stressful than soothing at times. The two often disagreed about how to care for the babies. “It was tough,” says Davoli. “My mother would suggest things for me to do to help calm my daughters when they were cranky, but often times what she said contradicted what I read or what my pediatrician suggested.”

For example, Davoli’s mother advised giving the babies some water in order to “clean them out.” While this may sound harmless, Toronto-based pediatrician Dr. Angelo Simone warns that this could actually be quite dangerous: “If you give babies too much water you can actually cause a low sodium level in the blood known as hyponatremia.”

Another tradition Davoli dismissed was cutting her daughters’ hair short in order to strengthen it. Carol Anne Skorvaga and Sarah Baker, birth and postpartum doulas and owners of Lifetime of Love Doula Services in Mississauga, find this suggestion common within many different cultures: “We have various clients who practice this tradition.  While there is no substantial evidence that supports the belief that a baby’s hair will grow back thicker or healthier, it’s a relatively harmless practice.”

How about wrapping babies in cloth in order to ensure their legs grow straight? Teresa Febbruario, 72, recalls this practice well. “In the olden days, babies were wrapped up in a mummy-like fashion from the chest down to keep their limbs straight. I remember my mother wrapping my sister and she did it to me as well.” These mothers didn’t realize that this practice could actually be quite detrimental to their babies’ health. “According to the Hip Dysplasia Institute, the practice of binding a baby in cloth or blanket could actually cause hip dysplasia,” Baker warns.

While it may seem like nonna’s advice is completely out of date, don’t discount her just yet. Both Davoli’s mother and Febbruario’s mother believed that dipping a pacifier in sugar would provide a calming effect.

Dr. Simone, who also teaches in the faculty of medicine at the University of Toronto Mississauga Campus, says these old tricks have some validity: “There is good evidence that sugar has a soothing effect on the baby’s brain.” He further reveals that high glucose solutions are in fact used in hospitals. “[These solutions] are given to babies at Trillium [Health Centre] in order to sedate them during procedures,” he explains.

Davoli also tuned out her mother’s suggestion of using chamomile tea to ease her daughters’ upset stomachs as well as her mother’s suggestion that donkey’s milk would be beneficial for the girls. However, Dr. Simone sides with nonna once again: “Chamomile tea is often recommended for babies that are colicky,” he points out. “In regards to donkey’s milk, it’s an excellent source of nutrition and very close to breast milk. It was very popular during the Roman times, even Hippocrates, ‘the father of medicine,’ spoke highly of it.”

It seems then, that when it comes to raising baby, it’s a good idea to consider using safe and proven traditional practices as well as modern ones. “There were definitely times when my mom’s suggestions helped,” Davioli says. “I think it’s all about finding balance.”