baby-care mistakes

Here are nine of the most common errors, and tips on how new parents can avoid them.


Even with the best intentions and an armload of parenting books, new moms and dads screw up sometimes. The results can range from a few hours of baby’s crankiness to a trip to the emergency room—or worse. We’re here to help by alerting you to some of the things that can go wrong and ways to make sure they don’t.

1 early intros Babies less than 6 weeks old need time to build strong immune systems. Don’t be shy about limiting visitors, asking them to wash their hands before touching your newborn, or sending them home if they show up sneezing, says Robin Madden, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatrician in Silver Spring, Md. Also avoid crowded places. When you do need to go out, put the baby facing you in a front carrier to keep strangers from getting too close to him.

2 Overbundling Newborns easily become overheated, so don’t overdress your baby. “If you’re comfortable in a T-shirt, your baby will be, too,” says Atlanta pediatrician Michael K. Levine, M.D.

3 Offering keys as a chew toy When your baby starts teething, hide your keys; they may contain lead. Even very low blood lead levels can contribute to IQ deficits, according to a recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine, and higher levels can cause irreversible brain damage. (Also avoid house renovations, which can stir up lead dust.) For more information on lead, visit www.cdc. gov/nceh/lead/factsheets/childhoodlead.htm.

4 stomach sleeping (especially on soft bedding). The journal Pediatrics recently reported that infants placed on their stomachs on soft bedding had 21 times the risk for SIDS as infants who slept on their backs on firm bedding.

5 Underfeeding an unfussy baby “Some babies are sedate and don’t cry very much,” says Mark F. Swislow, M.D., a pediatrician in Skokie, Ill. Some parents take that as a sign that the baby isn’t hungry; he recalls two occasions when babies were so dehydrated at their one-week checkups that they had to be hospitalized. Feed your baby regularly and watch for signs that he’s eating enough: He should have at least six wet diapers daily by the end of the first week. If not, call the doctor.

6 Demanding antibiotics “Every day for the past 40 years a parent has asked me for an antibiotic [for a child],” Levine says. Antibiotics do no good for common viral illnesses, such as colds, or for vomiting, diarrhea and sore throats (except for strep infections). And they can cause harm by making infections resistant to a drug when your child really needs it. “There are lots of resistant organisms out there that don’t respond to antibiotics because of overuse during the past 20 to 30 years,” Levine adds.

7 Messing up on meds “Always give medications with the measurement device they came with,” Madden says. Infant medicines, such as Tylenol and Motrin, are typically more concentrated than those made for older children, so if you use anything other than an infant dropper, you could be giving an overdose. Ask your doctor what the correct dosage is and follow his instructions exactly.

8 Incomplete childproofing “I’ve taken lots of beads out of noses and ears,” Swislow says. As soon as your baby attempts to crawl, take a cruise on your knees to see what’s accessible at child level. Stash electrical cords; replace lamps that could be pulled down; and lock up all medicines, vitamins, poisons and cleaning supplies. (For more safety information, see “Baby Proofing” on pg. 146.)

9 Assuming “natural” is safe Do not assume a so-called natural product is safe for a baby until you check with your doctor. (Even green tea contains stimulants.) The same goes for remedies found on the Internet: Print out information on them and discuss them with your pediatrician.