The formative years are labeled "formative" for a reason. There's an incredible amount of both cognitive and physical development that happens in the first few years of your baby's life. Today, parents have to worry about everything from the impact of screen time to "container syndrome." There's plenty to be concerned about when it comes to child development, so I think it's worthwhile to look at items you can definitively cross off your list. There are more than a few things that won't hurt your baby's development, no matter what some people say.
We live in a society where, thanks to technology, information can be easily dispersed. That's wonderful, to be sure, but that also means misinformation runs rampant. We re-post and share without verifying and vetting, to the point where people don't realize Obamacare is the same thing as the Affordable Care Act or that the photo of kids being forced into Muslim prayer at school actually shows a tornado drill. It's not any different in the parenting world, either. Mom boards and online groups are rife with strong "opinions" on every side of every debate, my personal favorite being the on-going, seemingly endless Breastfeeding versus Formula: Celebrity Death Match!
As a first-time mom, I quickly learned to listen to the voices of reason: science and my own maternal instincts. To hear some people tell it, every decision you make as a parent is life or death. There are plenty of factors that do affect early childhood development, yes, but as for the following, you can breathe a sigh of relief:
I can't be the only one who feels the overwhelming urge to switch to the singsong lilt known as "parentese" when I'm within smelling distance of a baby. It's a natural response, and contrary to popular belief, it can actually help babies learn to talk. Now I'm not referring to nonsense words, but rather the slow, exaggerated speech pattern that holds babies' attention so well (why do you think they like Elmo so much?).
This kind of infant-directed speech can help babies learn sentence structure, build vocabulary, and hear the difference between consonants and vowels. One-on-one baby talk encourages chatter, as well as the give and take of conversation. Eventually, your kid will learn the real words, so for now, it's OK to point out the "nice doggie."
Speaking A Second Language
It is an absolute myth that speaking two languages can cause a speech or language disorder (that's not to say that a bilingual child can't have one, but rather that the second language isn't the culprit). Conventional wisdom says bilingual kids will meet their milestones later, but they're typically on par with their monolingual peers if you look at total words from both languages.
Furthermore, the mixing of languages is a normal part of bilingual development and is not indicative of confusion. The fact that my 2-year-old says, "I want agua" does not reflect a language delay. At the end of the day, she'll actually have the advantage (even beyond just speaking two languages, which is freaking awesome) because bilinguals develop better attention-switching skills and learn to read more easily thanks to their sensitivity to different speech sounds.
Cry It Out
Now, I am in no way suggesting that you allow a newborn to cry for hours on end. Young babies have very specific, frequent needs for which they have only one way to communicate: crying. Cry it out is not for every family, but if you want to use it to sleep train an older baby, it's fine.
In a recent study out of Australia, researchers found no long-term effects on parent-child attachment or child emotions or behavior associated with graduated extinction. Allowing your child to cry can actually teach them a thing or two, including independence, self-soothing, and healthy sleep habits.
Occasional Alcohol Consumption While Breastfeeding
Relax. I said occasional. While it is very clear that drinking while pregnant can cause serious harm to your developing baby (I've had students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and it's devastating), current research says that occasional alcohol use (to the tune of 1-2 drinks) does not appear to harm a nursing baby. The American Academy of Pediatrics (APA) recommends that nursing occur at least two hours after any alcohol intake. A good rule of thumb is that if you're sober enough to drive, you're sober enough to breastfeed.
Militant breastfeeders love to hound struggling new mothers with the phrase "breast is best," and objectively, they're right. Breast milk is basically magic. That being said, nursing is not a viable or desired option for some moms and babies, and formula is an excellent alternative.
In an Ohio State University study, researchers found no statistical differences on any health or behavioral outcomes between breastfed and bottle-fed siblings. I supplemented my low supply from the beginning, and then exclusively formula-fed from seven months on, and my kid isn't fat or dumb, thank you very much.
Again, I'm not saying you should ignore your baby, but you shouldn't be shamed for putting your infant on a blanket at your feet at the airport during a long layover. I certainly didn't think that putting my baby on her activity mat while I pumped counted as neglect, but the court of public opinion sometimes says otherwise.
Yes, adult-child interaction is essential, but solo play is just as important. It doesn't stunt baby's social interaction; independent play allows them to explore their environments, learn from mistakes, and become self-reliant. It's a boost to their self-esteem that can make them more sociable, not less.
Multiple studies have concluded what reasonable people already have: vaccines do not cause developmental disorders like autism. The single study that indicated a link was retracted in 2004 and has been summarily rejected by all major health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
You know what can affect your baby's development? Polio. That and any other preventable disease if it doesn't kill them outright. If you're really concerned about your baby's development, the best thing you can do is get them immunized.
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