Study Finds Doctors Giving Moms Bad Advice

Does doctor know best? A new survey shows that moms aren't getting the guidance they need from medical professionals around topics like breastfeeding or baby care.

Study Finds Doctors Giving Moms Bad Advice Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

When you have a baby, everyone you talk to will give you unsolicited advice about how to care for your child. Although you probably know to take what Great Aunt Millie says with a grain of salt, you should be able to trust what your baby's doctor tells you—right? If they tell you anything, that is. A recent survey revealed many new moms with babies two to six months old received no guidance from doctors, or guidance that wasn't consistent with recommendations from health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, on issues like breastfeeding, pacifier use, vaccination or sleep positions.

Shouldn't doctors know better?

The National Institutes of Health-sponsored study, which was conducted by researchers at Boston Medical Center, Boston University and Yale University, and published this week in the journal Pediatrics, also asked women to report on advice from nurses, their family and the media. But while low reports of good advice from non-professionals were to be expected, the lack of sound instruction from health care practitioners was striking. "It's notable how often mothers reported not receiving advice or reported receiving advice inconsistent with recommendations," lead author Staci Eisenberg, MD, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center, tells Fit Pregnancy. "This was a nationally representative sample of more than 1,000 mothers, so it was not an isolated phenomenon."

Eisenberg has some theories about why pediatricians, who are supposed to be experts in baby care, wouldn't be up-to-date on the right guidelines. "Some of the reasons may include lack of knowledge of the exact recommendations, a perception of controversy surrounding the recommendations, or actual disagreement with the recommendations," she says. "I would add it may be that the recommendations are being communicated, but not clearly enough to be heard and retained."

How to make sure you're getting good advice

So how can new mothers know if they're getting good guidance? Although doctors are the ones with the medical degrees, moms need to advocate for their child's health, too. "Our study highlights the need for parents to be proactive participants in their child's health care. This means making sure to ask questions if a health care provider gives information that's at all unclear or not easy to understand," she says. And although many doctors scorn Dr. Google, Eisenberg says the internet is a useful place to start for info. "Going to reliable sources online, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, or the CDC, can be a good way to prepare for a visit or to double-check information. And for parents-to-be, seeking out information before the baby is born can help make sure that information is understood and retained."

This study may also be a wake-up call for doctors themselves. "I hope that what health care providers will take away from these findings is the opportunity to pause and really think about how to communicate important information to new parents," Eisenberg says.

Survey says...

In the study, nearly 22 percent of women said they received no advice about breastfeeding from their baby's doctor, while 15 percent received advice inconsistent with recommendations. A whopping 74.5 percent of women reported no advice about pacifiers; another 14 percent got advice inconsistent with guidelines. Doctors fared better with vaccination, with only 14 percent of women reporting no advice or advice inconsistent with recommendations.

When it came to infant sleep, 54 percent of doctors got it right (the current recommendation is for baby to sleep on her back), but 26 percent gave bad advice and 20 percent gave none at all. Baby's sleep location, currently recommended to be in the same room but not the same bed, got very low marks, with 51 percent of women reporting no info given and nearly 29 percent reporting advice inconsistent with recommendations.

For all current recommendations, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.