When you have a baby, it seems people are queuing up to dole out advice – and your child’s grandparents (we’re looking at you, mother-in-law) are sometimes more outspoken than most. But while your mum can be an invaluable source of information and knowledge when you become a parent (who else are you going to phone about that spate of suspiciously green nappies?), the older generation doesn’t always have the most up-to-date answers. Some of what was considered acceptable parenting in the 1980s and 1990s seems crazy to new parents today (remember candy cigarettes?) and much of the old-school parenting manual has since been debunked by childcare experts. Here, five times modern science proves that mum doesn’t always know best.
The World Health Organisation now states that babies should ideally be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, particularly in underdeveloped countries where access to clean water is a problem. However, most of our parents’ generation were keen to get babies on solids as early as possible – with most infants in the 1970s and 1980s on solid food by the time they were four months, and many weaned at three months. But numerous studies over the last 40 years have found that later weaning is beneficial to babies, and that introducing solids too early can increase the risk of allergies, heart problems and obesity in later life. Health experts suggest you wait until your baby can sit up and engage in the process.
Early potty training
You can’t really blame our parents for wanting to get potty training done early; after all, in the 1980s many babies were still wearing cloth nappies, which had to be hand-washed and sterilised, so it stands to reason that babies were typically potty trained before 18 months. In Eastern cultures (India, China, and East Africa) potty training was traditionally done even earlier with very young infants going nappy-free while parents look for signs they need to go. But modern working parents who have access to disposable diapers are not in such a rush to potty train: in fact, many parents now leave toilet training until as late as three. But, no matter what grandma thinks, it’s not just laziness behind the shift: experts say the longer you wait, the swifter the process will be, while several paediatric urologists have warned about the risks of very early potty training including bedwetting, constipation, urinary tract infections and an increased chance of accidents.
Read more: 'Can you potty train a newborn?"
Cure-all Gripe Water
Previous generations of parents from the UK, the US and India (where it was manufactured) swore by a magical elixir known as Woodwards’ Gripe Water. Used to soothe tots of a variety of ailments from trapped wind to constipation and even colic, this magic potion was lauded as a panacea for all. However, it soon transpired that the secret to its success lay in its alcohol content, which was between 3.6 and 8 per cent; effectively inebriating babies against pain – something modern doctors understandably frown upon. Gripe Water was later reformulated without the alcohol which, unsurprisingly, didn’t put babies to sleep so soundly. While we’re on the subject: booze rubbed on gums, pinky fingers or in bottles is also waaay outdated and dangerous.
Children riding in the front seat
Long before the modern minefield of rear-facing versus swivel and boosters and belts, previous generations had a much more relaxed approach to child car safety. Despite the obvious risks (62% of infant mortality in the UAE is caused by car accidents), until recently, it wasn’t unusual to see young children sitting in the front seat of a car or perched on parents’ knees, often without belts. Thankfully the new UAE seat belt law has made buckling up mandatory for all passengers and children, and UAE traffic law prohibit children under 10 from sitting in the front. While the new amendments to the UAE traffic law, which came into affect this year, require that all children aged four and under must use a car safety seats, the stringent guidelines of the EU which states that babies, toddlers and children must use a car seat or booster cushion until they’re 12 years old or 135cm tall.
Leaving kids to their own devices
It’s a common refrain of the older generation that parents today are too overprotective. After all, Gen Xers were allowed to play outside unsupervised, eat refined sugar and babysit as young as 11. We didn’t have mobile phones to track our whereabouts, we waited alone in the car while mum popped into the shop and we watched PG movies. But we were also smacked, allowed to cycle without helmets and often got sunburned. The take away for gran: there is nothing wrong with giving kids a little freedom, but they don’t have to endure physical injury to learn a life lesson.
Read more: 'Why boredom is good for your children'