Thursday, August 21, 2008

The times, they are a-changin'

Thirty or forty years ago, children were routinely formula fed. Medical professionals recommended they sleep on their stomachs. Carseats did not exist. Daddies earned the money while mommies stayed at home to care for the house and children. Solids were introduced early. Honey was soothing. Bumper pads were considered essential. Bike helmets did not exist.

So we can safely say that a lot of things were different a lot of years ago.

Three years ago, children started solids at 4-6 months, and one new food was introduced every third day. Formula was generally frowned upon, and bottle feeding in general was kept to a minimum, as it was thought to cause nipple confusion.

And this year, pediatricians recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months followed by the addition of a new solid every day. Formula may be used for supplementation, though this is not generally recommended; pumped breastmilk is better, and may be given by bottle, but not in the BPA-containing plastic variety. Other forms of plastic are fine, as are glass.

Today, we have carseats. Babies sleep on their backs. Bumper pads are considered dangerous. Honey is not allowed in the first year. And a stay-at-home parent is a luxury, while dual incomes are the norm.

Also, bike helmets are mandatory.

I turned out fine. And because of, or perhaps despite, the new standards, I expect my children will also turn out fine. All we can do is what is deemed best at the time. Armed only with current knowledge, we can do no more than what we have been taught is right. And it always seems to work.

Do you let them cry it out? Is co-sleeping safe? When should potty training be complete? How should time-out be structured? Are soothers a good thing? Cloth or disposable? Daycare, dayhome, nanny, or stay-at-home?

Everyone is happy to share their opinions. Whether asked, wanted, or otherwise. Unsolicited parenting advice abounds.

"But things have changed since then", I think. And I nod, knowing that if nothing else, at least the intent is good. I wonder, since the rules change so much and so often, how much of what I am doing will be considered ludicrous in another thirty or forty years. Will my children be amazed that they survived?

And ultimately, what happens if I start you on rice pablum at 4 months instead of 6? Or slip you a bottle of formula because it's more convenient? How much harm does it do if I fail to follow certain of the current guidelines?

I don't know.

But now, you lie in my lap. You chat with me, as I play with your tiny little feet. And you are sucking your fingers again, telling me that it is still your lunchtime and that I had better feed you immediately or else you will scream. And I love you and your big brother more than I'd ever dreamed possible.

I have held you and fed you all day long, because otherwise you have screamed. But I'm no good to you if I can't get time to eat or drink something myself. So I live on granola bars and pre-sliced cheese, and worry more about your dietary requirements than my own. I am Mom. It is what I do.

I put you on the breastfeeding pillow. You begin to nurse, and it pains me. But that dissipates as you continue to feed. And I kiss your tiny hands and caress your tiny feet, and wonder if one day the experts will say that we should neither touch nor kiss a baby's hands and feet, and that breastmilk is bad for a child's growth and development.

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