What Grandparents Need to Know

Attitudes about childcare change over time.

Posted Feb 06, 2018

Grandparents are important sources of support for their children who are new parents. However, attitudes about child care change over time and this can cause a conflict between parents in different generations. It's important that grandparents know about changes in attitudes about infant care so they can offer the support to their children as new parents that they desperately need.

tara raye/unsplash
Source: tara raye/unsplash

Attitudes about breastfeeding, for example, have changed dramatically. Throughout the mid-20th century, most physicians did not advocate breastfeeding, and most middle-class women who chose not to breastfeed. In fact, there was a stigma attached to it in the 1940's and 50's. I was not breastfed in 1945 because, my mother told me, "only poor women breastfed" because they couldn't afford formula. Using formula was a status symbol indicating the family could afford to buy it. But in my generation, breast-feeding was a symbol of being educated about emotional bonding and the importance of the antibodies in mother's milk. When I had children (1978 and 1982) I, and all my friends, breastfed if they were able.

When I was a young mother, the wisdom was that three months was the minimum for exclusive breastfeeding. When I got a breast infection and was unable to breastfeed my younger son after six weeks, I was guilt-stricken, fearing I had damaged him emotionally and physically because I didn’t make it to three months. Nowadays pediatricians recommend a minimum of six months and encourage mothers to continue for a year.

Beginning in 1969, when the National Institute of Health’s Second International Conference identified Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) as a distinct diagnosis and is the leading cause of death among infants ages 1–12 months, there have been many changes in infant care that grandmothers may not know about. For example, pacifiers are now recommended at bedtime because it is believed that they prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. But 30 years ago pediatricians told mothers that pacifiers should not be used because they damage the teeth and jaw causing protruding top teeth.        

Sleeping position is a major risk factor for SIDS. Parents should place children on their backs to sleep. We used to think that putting a baby on his/her stomach strengthened their necks. But the current view is that they should only be put on their stomachs when an adult is present and watching them—never for naps or at night.

Pediatricians warn that loose clothing is a danger to infants as well, so swaddling is recommended. Baby pillows are a suffocation danger and, while grandmothers used to knit baby blankets for their expected grandchildren, now they are considered a danger for the first year. And we used to put bumpers around the crib to protect the baby’s head, but that is another suffocation risk.

As you can see, attitudes about infant care have changed dramatically. It is important for grandparents to be aware of the changes so that they do not present a danger to their infant grandchildren while babysitting and so that they can be supportive to their children as new parents. For more on grandparents, CLICK HERE.