Forget sugar and spice and everything nice. Your little one is a lot more complicated than that. USA WEEKEND wants to make sure you have a recipe for success, so each year we sift through the most recent scientific studies and research to compile this list of the 15 most important findings you need to know. From getting Baby to love her green beans to avoiding tooth decay, we've got you covered so your child can be the focus.
1 Help kids eat veggies. "Ignore the faces Baby makes when you introduce new foods," says Julie Mennella, one of the authors of a study published in Pediatrics that found repeated exposure to veggies increased babies' consumption. "We gave babies a taste of green beans for several days, and after about eight days, they were more willing to eat it. They learn to like their veggies."
2 Lower Baby's allergy risk. Breast-feeding for four to six months may protect against food allergies, says a newly published policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). "If you can't breast-feed and you have a history of allergies, choose a low-allergen formula that's not the regular milk or soy-based formulas," says Scott Sicherer, M.D., author of Understanding and Managing Your Child's Food Allergies. "Also, hold off on solid food until your baby is about 4 to 6 months."
3 Try honey. In January, the Food and Drug Administration advised that children under age 2 should not be given over-the-counter cough and cold medicines because of potential side effects that include rapid heart rates, convulsions and death. Instead, soothe your child's cough with a teaspoon of honey. A study done by researchers at Penn State Children's Hospital in Hershey, Pa., compared a teaspoon of buckwheat honey, honey-flavored cough suppressant and no treatment in 105 children with an upper respiratory tract infection and found that honey worked best at calming coughs. However, do not give honey to babies under the age of 1, as there are rare but severe side effects, including infantile botulism. Instead, when Baby gets a cough or cold, treat symptoms with non-aspirin pain reliever and saline nose drops.
4 Quit smoking. Researchers at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia found that if Mom smoked before breast-feeding, her baby's sleep was disrupted, and Baby slept for a shorter period of time. "Ideally, Mom will quit smoking," says Mennella, who co-authored the study. "But if she doesn't quit, she can time the breast-feeding so that Baby is minimally exposed to the nicotine in the milk. It gets into the milk within a half-hour of smoking and takes two to three hours to leave the body."
5 Take a test. Well-child visits take about 15 to 30 minutes and cover many issues, including vaccination schedules, so it's no surprise that when pediatricians are trying to cover so much territory, they fail to identify up to 80% of developmental delays in kids. In a Pediatrics study, researchers found that when parents completed a screening test in which they answered questions about their baby's development, referral rates for continued evaluation increased by 224%. "Push your doctor to use a standardized developmental tool," says Hollie Hix-Small, one of the study's authors. She suggests completing the Ages & Stages questionnaire at asq.uoregon.edu. "It gives parents a better understanding of where their child should be."
6 Watch Baby's mouth. Decay in baby teeth is on the rise among 2- to 5-year-olds, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Keith Morley, D.M.D., president of the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, offers these tips to keep Baby's teeth in tip-top shape:
Take Baby to the dentist at age 1.
The dentist can walk parents through a series of things to do with their little one.
Brush Baby's teeth as soon as they come into his mouth.
Use a fluoride-free toothpaste until he can spit.
Do not let Baby take a bottle to bed if he has teeth.
The sugars in the milk or formula contribute to decay.
7 Go skin to skin. In a review of studies, researchers at Vanderbilt University found that babies who were placed on their mother's chest with just a blanket over their back were more successful with the initial latching on to Mom's breast and breast-fed longer. "If possible, hold your newborn there after the first [ever] breast-feeding for about two hours," says Elizabeth Moore, one of the review's authors.
8 Skip the bumper. Bumper pads on cribs and bassinets are meant to prevent Baby from hurting herself, but a study by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that the risk of accidental death or injury outweighs their possible benefit. The researchers found that over 20 years, there were 27 accidental deaths and 25 non-fatal injuries of children between 1 month and 2 years of age that were attributed to the bumper pads.
9 Turn off the TV. Parents are ignoring the AAP recommendation that children under age 2 not watch TV. According to a study done by researchers at the University of Washington, 40% of babies are regular viewers by the age of 3 months, and 90% of 2-year-olds are regular viewers. Studies have shown that early TV viewing is associated with a variety of long-term problems, such as slower development of reading and math skills. Toymakers also are introducing tech devices with screens, like children's computers, for younger and younger kids. "I don't see a reason to introduce those products to kids under 2," says Frederick Zimmerman, the author of the TV study. "Interaction with other people, like parents and older siblings, is far better."
10 Avoid unnecessary medication. "Every infant under 3 months of age is going to have reflux," says Vikram Khoshoo, M.D. Khoshoo and researchers from West Jefferson Medical Center near New Orleans measured the reflux, or regurgitation of acid from the stomach into the esophagus, of 44 infants. They found that 42 of the babies were on anti-reflux medication, but only eight should have been. "If your child is gaining weight properly, not having recurrent respiratory problems, not excessively irritable, feeding well and not vomiting blood or bile, they do not need to be on medicine," Khoshoo says. To help alleviate reflux, give Baby a smaller volume of milk and thicken it with rice cereal, and recline Baby at an angle of about 45 degrees during and after mealtimes. "If that does not help, the child needs to be evaluated," Khoshoo says. "It's not good to take unnecessary medications because we are still learning all of the effects."
11 Check Baby's head. Since parents have been told to put Baby to sleep on her back to avoid sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the incidence of positional plagiocephaly has increased fivefold. Positional plagiocephaly occurs when Baby's head becomes slightly misshapen because her skull is soft, and she's primarily sleeping on one side. Within a year or two, "as the baby starts moving around, they take care of the problem on their own," says Monica Wehby, M.D., a spokesperson for the American Association of Neurological Surgeons. She suggests rolling up a blanket and angling it under Baby's shoulder and hip to alleviate pressure on the head. "Don't prop the head or you'll risk them suffocating themselves. If you're concerned or it gets worse, mention it to your pediatrician."
12 Know the signs. It's estimated that one in 150 kids are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), a group of disorders that affect social behavior and communication skills. Most parents become concerned when Baby is between 15 and 18 months. Although how the disorder presents itself varies, you may want to talk to your doctor if Baby ignores your efforts to draw her attention, seldom makes eye contact and hasn't begun babbling after 9 months. If Baby has ASD, she may play differently, too. Kids with ASD often lack creativity, engage in repetitive play and develop attachments to common objects, like string, sticks and rocks, rather than store-bought toys.
13 Follow safe swim rules. After age 1, the primary cause of death for kids is injury. In the past five years, there were, on average, 2,200 children younger than 5 years old treated in emergency rooms for swimming pool-related injuries. "The No. 1 rule is that you never leave a child unattended around a swimming pool," says Larry Baraff, M.D., professor of pediatrics and emergency medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "You have to be paying attention. You can't be having an intense conversation."
14 Check your home. More than 90% of injury-related deaths in children under 1 happen at home, according to the CDC. A study published in Pediatrics found that moms reported a greater use of home safety practices than were actually in use. For example, smoke detectors were found in 97% of participants' homes, but only about half were working. The AAP recommends the following tips to keep your home safe for Baby:
Make sure drapery and blind cords are out of Baby's reach.
Be certain the smoke detectors work and that there is one in or near Baby's bedroom.
Place plug protectors in any unused electrical outlets.
Keep all medicines, vitamins, toiletries and any other potentially poisonous substances in cabinets with child-resistant safety latches.
15 Get Baby vaccinated. The AAP issued new vaccination recommendations in 2007. The changes include giving Baby a hepatitis A vaccine at 1 year of age as a two-dose regimen. Each dose should be given at least six months apart. The AAP also recommends two doses of the varicella vaccine (for chickenpox) -- the first given to children between 12 and 15 months and the second between 4 and 6 years.
By Kelly DiNardo