Does Doctor Know Best?

Six health facts your pediatrician may be getting wrong. Plus, where to find up-to-date information.


When you have questions about your baby’s health, you likely turn to your pediatrician for answers. But a recent survey of more than 1,000 baby docs found that 92 percent believed in at least one “old wives’ tale.” Here’s the truth about six common health myths.

MYTH: Giving infants rice cereal helps them sleep through the night.

REALITY: About 1 in 13 pediatricians believed this to be true, in a survey by Andrew Adesman, M.D., associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and co-author of BabyFacts (Wiley). But a randomized trial in which 5-week- and 4-month-old infants were given either rice cereal along with milk in their bottle or only milk before bedtime found no significant differences in how long babies slept.

MYTH: Having a nightlight in the nursery causes nearsightedness.

REALITY: A 1999 study published in Nature found that exposure to artificial lights at night during the first two years of life upped the risk of myopia, or nearsightedness. Subsequent studies, however, found no such link.

MYTH: Playing Mozart makes babies smarter.

REALITY: This myth started with a kernel of truth, says Adesman. A study of college grad students found they did better on tests after listening to classical music. However, there is no reliable research to suggest babies benefit from listening to Mozart or any other music.

MYTH: It’s OK for babies to sleep on their side.

REALITY: One-third of pediatricians thought side-sleeping was OK, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is unequivocal: Infants should be put to sleep on their back to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Additionally, the AAP does not recommend the use of sleep positioners.

MYTH: Milk boosts mucus production.

REALITY: A 2005 study put this myth to the test when people with the common cold virus were asked to drink milk. Researchers found drinking milk did not cause an increase in nasal secretions, cough or congestion.

MYTH: Formula containing iron can be constipating.

REALITY: A study of 9-month-old babies given cow’s milk, formula containing iron or formula without iron found no differences in gastrointestinal problems.

How to handle bad advice

What should you do if you’ve gotten the wrong information from your child’s doctor? If yourpediatrician is responsive to your concerns and has given you good advice in the past, there is likely nothing to worry about, says Ari Brown, M.D., a pediatrician in Austin, Texas, and co-author of Baby 411 (Windsor Peak Press). But you should never be afraid to ask questions, such as “Is there any new evidence to show this is true?” or “What have you read about this?” This can reveal if your doctor keeps up with the latest research. Parents can also do their own research online at The American Academy of Pediatrics (aap .org) or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (, both of which even pediatricians turn to for information, she says.