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Grandparents need to be better informed when caring for kids
October 24th, 2012
01:58 PM ET

Grandparents need to be better informed when caring for kids

A growing number of grandparents are raising their grandchildren and a new study suggests they may not be as informed as they need to be when it comes to safety.

While grandparents do have years of child-rearing experience, a study presented this week at the American Academy of Pediatrics conference says some are relying on old data and unintentionally putting their grandkids' health and safety at risk.

"Pediatricians need to be aware, and they need to make sure they are going over (the) most recent safety recommendations with grandparents," says lead study author Dr. Amanda Soong.

Researchers surveyed three grandparent support groups, a total of 49 participants in the Birmingham, Alabama metro area.  All of the grandparents in the survey were caregivers for their grandchildren. They were given a general 15 question survey about safety for kids of all ages.

When asked  "What is the best position for a baby to sleep in?"  33% said the stomach, 23% chose the side and 43.8% chose the back. In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics  began recommending that babies sleep on their backs. Since then, the number of deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome or SIDS  -- the number one cause of death among infants younger than 1 year of age - has been cut in half, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Harvey Karp, pediatrician and best-selling author of  "The Happiest Baby Guide to Great Sleep: Birth to 5 Years," suggests swaddling babies when you place them on their backs, since they don't naturally sleep their best in that position.

"We need to teach parents how to get babies sleeping better on their backs so (they're) not tempted to put them on their stomachs or bring them to bed with them. We need to be much more proactive about that because parents are desperate to get sleep."

When study participants were asked what should be in a crib with the baby, 49% said bumpers, stuffed animals and blankets were OK.  Only 26.5% answered correctly: just a mattress with a sheet.

When asked at what age a baby should start drinking water, 42.9% said 2 weeks. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life.  That means that aside from vitamins or medications if needed, infants should only be fed mother's milk (not even water).

When asked how to position a car seat, 24.5% of the grandparents surveyed said a 22 pound 9 month old should be facing forward. The 2011 AAP guidelines advise parents to keep their toddlers in rear-facing car seats until they are 2 years old or until they reach the maximum height and weight for their particular seat. The AAP also says that most children will need to ride in a belt-positioning booster seat until they have reached 4 feet 9 inches tall and are between 8 and 12 years of age.

While this is just a small survey, Soong says her gut feeling is that this is applicable across the board and that "pediatricians need to be aware grandparents may have knowledge deficits. " She adds that even if grandparents don't have primary care of these kids, parents need to educate their parents on safety guidelines before leaving children in their care.

Karp adds, "It's a warning to pediatricians to make sure we are repeating what we think could be obvious."  Sometimes even doctors fall behind on information so it's important grandparents recognize and seek out information, not to just assume what they did in past is right.

CNN's Miriam Falco contributed to this report.


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soundoff (27 Responses)
  1. Portland tony

    Lets hope the kids are a little older than 6 months. Grandma may have a problem breast feeding the youngster if mom isn't around.

    October 24, 2012 at 19:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • kathryn

      It is very common for mothers to pump their breast milk so that other caregivers can feed the baby breast milk even in their absence.

      October 24, 2012 at 19:50 | Report abuse |
    • tam

      I agree with you Portland Tony! But what a hilarious thought! I do everything for my Grandchildren while I am raising them...Except Breastfeed!

      October 25, 2012 at 09:50 | Report abuse |
  2. Pohaku Lua

    amazing that our babies survived without knowing all these rules. When my babies were small we never heard of anyone dying of Sids and apparently we did everything wrong. Used bumper pads to prevent kids getting heads caught between rails of cribs, Put babies on sides and stomachs as advised by doctors and started them on baby food at 3 mnths even when breast fed. I often wonder if that was why our babies had so few food allergies back then.

    October 25, 2012 at 10:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nikki

      Babies who are exclusively Breastfeeding for at least 6 months have LESS allergies than babies who are formula fed or introduced solids at a younger age.
      The reason for 6 months is because their guy cannot digest anything other than BM/formula correctly. BM is the easiest to digest and the perfect food for baby since it was made for them. Hence the recommendation :)

      October 25, 2012 at 11:17 | Report abuse |
    • anna

      To Nikki

      I had two children and had to bottle feed both, they have no allergies at all.

      The same with my friends, none of our children had allergies.

      I also had to start rice cereal at 3 weeks, and guess what, they had no problems with digestion either.

      You cant generalise, you have to do what is best for your particular child, and dont always listen to advice from the people that think they know it all, they dont.

      October 25, 2012 at 13:50 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      "We don't know anybody who..." is the silliest argument against a statistically based occurrence there ever was. Statistics take into account that for some families, these things (luckily) never happen while others are the unfortunate losers. You got lucky. Don't flaunt your ignorance.. And give me a break, Anna. Never had any problems with digestion? You're not a doctor, how on Earth would you have any clue how easily your baby digested something? They don't all cry or even spit something up, but it may still not get broken down properly and you would NEVER know that. What good is food if the child's intestinal function is not developed enough to absorb proper nourishment? You're not concerned about if a baby gets proper nutrtion, just that they "feel full" and don't cry.

      October 29, 2012 at 18:58 | Report abuse |
    • Nella

      Seriously, it's people like you who are ridiculous. You did nothing wrong when you were raising kids years ago and following advice you were given, but we as a species are constantly changing and learning new things. Why not want to do what's best and follow what is being learned? If you LOVE your grandchildren you want to know the best way to care for them. We now know children's digestive systems are not equipped to handle solids until at LEAST 4 months, most until 6. Car seat safety changes have saved lives and prevented spinal injuries. Why be so closed minded? No one is insinuating you were negligent then, as a parent we just want our children to be cared for in the ways research has shown to be safest.

      November 20, 2012 at 09:54 | Report abuse |
  3. MCR

    Unfortunately, those grandparents who are stuck with their grandkids are probably some of the most poorly equipped to raise kids. Don't forget that most of the grandparents currently raising kids are the ones who already raised their own children to make poor enough decisions that they had kids too early. Note I said most, not all – some have special situations, like illness or death in the family, but the vast majority of grandparents in this situation are those with kids who either gave birth as teens or suffer from drug and other problems resulting from poor choices. At best these grandparents have an idea of how not to raise their kids.

    October 25, 2012 at 13:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Daniela

      Not in my neck of the woods -at the expensive private schools, grandmas here are found left and right shuffling their grandkids around while their highly educated/employed, older child works...I am a SAHM and notice grandmas everywhere -mainly because their high powered daughters are out working. Either way it makes me a bit crazy (or jealous -my parents made it clear they would not raise my child -that is my responsibility)...but there is just no one to chat with other than grandma or the nanny...

      October 28, 2012 at 22:43 | Report abuse |
  4. pjzach

    yeaz i agree with you becAUSE i am 23 and still live at home

    October 25, 2012 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. anna

    I wonder how the human species has survived all these years!!!!

    You dont need a book to tell you how to raise a child – and if grandparets safely brought up their own children I think it would be safe to say they could bring up their grandchildren too.

    October 25, 2012 at 13:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MCR

      I think the problem is in how this issue is hyped. Knowing to put a kid on his or her back will increase odds of survival, but it's by such a small amount that most of us have never seen the flip side (an actual death). Is it something we should get all worried about? Probably not, but it is possible one or two kids will live because a grandparent was drawn to this article. A few hundred others will get flat heads.

      October 25, 2012 at 14:03 | Report abuse |
    • H

      Anna – "if grandparents safely brought up their own children I think it would be safe to say they could bring up their grandchildren too." LOL I would disagree with you there- even though my mother raised 3 kids, – the moment i let her babysit my kids ( 9 and 11) , she felt it was ok to let them ride in the BED of a pickup truck 4 blocks to the gas station, AND at that time she was also under DOCTORS ORDERS not to drive because of seizures ! Let's just say we are not on speaking terms because of her poor choice of my children's safety.

      October 25, 2012 at 17:47 | Report abuse |
    • Jen

      You assume they brought them up safely to begin with. Just because they survived doesn't mean they weren't in danger. Childproofing was almost unheard of back in my grandmother's day. "Yeah honey, here play with these pennies. I'll just set you down right here next to this uncovered light socket." What could go wrong?

      October 29, 2012 at 19:13 | Report abuse |
  6. Missbeth

    I dislike the argument "well we survuved so none of this matters'. There are babies and children who didn't survive, there are effects of feeding babies food too early.
    Yes MOST children will survive, but if a baby is placed on his stomach and dies: that parent/grandparent would feel terrible forever. So letting ALL caregivers know how we care for children now is the best possible solution.

    October 26, 2012 at 08:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nella

      EXACTLY! Well written!

      November 20, 2012 at 09:58 | Report abuse |
  7. fernace

    By the time a baby is mobile, good luck getting them to sleep on their backs! They move around a lot in their cribs & will not be in the position you put them in, when you check on them! My niece's favorite position of sleep from age 6 months on, was on her stomach w/her butt in the air! As she slept she was on her back, side & going from 1 end of the crib to the next! Most of the babies I've cared for as a nanny, did the same! As 1 comedian put it, the reason we put babies in cribs at night is because if we didn't they'd be miles away by morning!!

    October 27, 2012 at 09:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Stephen

    according to the US Census Bureau, 3,999,386 babies were born in 2010. Seven percent of children in the US are raised by their grandparents. This means that in 2010 there were roughly 279,957 sets of grandparents raising children less than a year old (neglecting twins, triplets, etc). This study surveyed 49 them. This works out to 0.01% of the population. Furthermore, the participants came from a single city. There is no way that anyone can say that this sample is large enough or diverse enough to make any type of correlation about anything. Finally, there is no mention of how these results compare to non-grandparent caregivers. All of these shortcoming come together to show that this study is neither significant in any way, and its media coverage is a waste of journalistic resources. One researcher's "gut feeling" should not be reported as if it were scientific fact.

    October 27, 2012 at 19:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • tkc

      Stephen...it would appear that YOU are the only commenter here who has more than 3 working brain cells.

      October 28, 2012 at 08:55 | Report abuse |
  9. MTNorman

    Study results could also be tied to a group of people that are confident enough to value their own judgement over an unknown "expert's" general recommendation. For example, it's much safer to carry a bottle of water around in hot weather than a bottle of milk that spoils. Keeping the child hydrated is more important that following a "guideline". I read and educate myself on current child care guidelines, but I still use my brain to decide how well that "ideal" recommendation fits the actual situation with the children in my care.

    October 30, 2012 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. empresstrudy

    That's rich. The kids parents are unable because they're in jail or on drugs so they dump their kids on THEIR parents who all of a sudden should be licensed or otherwise have to show more competency than the losers who dumped their kids in the first place.

    December 13, 2012 at 22:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. rob k

    One wonders how many younger people would have got these answers right. It is somewhat strange – and possibly misleading – that no control group was introduced to this survey. Certainly we cannot draw the conclusion that grandparents are putting children at risk, if we have no data about a different generation's performance to compare with?

    January 10, 2013 at 09:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Suzanne

    If grandparents were as ignorant as they are said to be, their children would never have made it to adulthood to make us all grandparents. I am sick and tired of the alarmist mentality in this country.

    January 12, 2013 at 17:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Dora

    Although many people have claimed that grandparents and parents raised us and we turned out fine, we have to become more sensitive and aware of certain realities. In the present day we are alot more aware of dangers than in the past. We have become a more informed society as a whole. In the past certain things went wrong and people were unaware of it, yet now we have a name for all these occurrences(such as sids). So a few pointers to an older generation may not be a bad thing after all.

    January 14, 2013 at 21:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Debra

    I'm disgusted with this article. With age comes wisdom, something you obviously don't have. Our children grew up better than these kids today. You think because it tells you on the internet this is how it's done, it must be true! This is why this world is in such bad shape. You learn from experience how to raise children, not your ipad. We did a much better job and we still can. We raised your generation didn't we?

    March 9, 2013 at 01:56 | Report abuse | Reply
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