“Some of your grandparents' parenting advice may be outdated and even unsafe.”

It seems grandparents have always offered their two cents worth and most of them would feel that offering advice is part of the privilege of becoming a grandparent.

However, while advice may be well meant and grandparents are simply be trying to be helpful or feel connected to their grandchild, some of your grandparents’ wisdom may now be outdated and even unsafe – even though they did a damn good job of raising you!

For instance:

1. Putting babies to sleep on their tummies.

Not only were babies popped down on their tummies to sleep, especially if they were ‘windy’, they were placed into bed with their heads at the top end of the cot and often tucked up with a lovingly made quilt over them. It was thought that placing a baby on their backs to sleep would mean they could aspirate vomit and choke.

However, due to a wealth of research into SIDS since you were a baby, we are now advised to place sleeping babies on their backs (not sides or tummies) and ‘feet to foot’ – placing baby at the bottom of the cot so she can’t wriggle down beneath the blankets; no quilts or doonas to prevent overheating; no hats when sleeping and it’s important to maintain a smoke free environment during pregnancy as well as around babies and children.

Although placing babies on their backs to sleep has been advised for several years, new research funded by the charity River’s Gift is showing that some babies may be especially vulnerable if placed on their tummies to sleep. International research involving the University of Adelaide has uncovered a developmental abnormality in babies – especially in premature babies and in boys – that for the first time has been directly linked to cases of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).


Researchers believe this abnormality in the brain’s control of head and neck movement, breathing, heartbeat and the body’s responses to deprivation of oxygen supply, could be the reason why some babies sleeping on their front are more at risk of SIDS.

2. Strict feeding routines.

In your grandparents’ day, they were most likely advised to follow a strict four hourly feeding routine. I have heard stories of heartbreak as grandmothers share their experiences of waiting outside the door of a crying baby, desperately watching the clock until it was time to feed their baby – of course, some would have broken these ‘rules’ but with trepidation that they would ‘spoil’ their baby (whatever that meant).

With such pressure on a new mother, is it any wonder we have a generation of grandmothers who believed they didn’t have enough milk, when it was actually the feeding schedules that were inappropriate?

"We now know that breastfeeding works on a basis of supply and demand." Image: Getty.

We now know that breastfeeding works on a basis of supply and demand – the more milk removed, encourages breasts to make more milk, so stretching out feeds to fit a strict routine can compromise milk supply.

Research from the University of Western Australia also shows that although actual milk production doesn’t vary widely over a 24 hour period, individual women have different breast milk storage capacities. This isn’t necessarily related to the size of your breasts though, as some women with smaller breasts may have a good supply of milk- making glands, where a mother with larger breasts may have more fatty tissue.

However, different storage capacities will mean that a woman with a smaller storage capacity will need to feed her baby more often to maintain a healthy milk supply and mothers with a larger storage capacity may be able to go longer between feeds (as long as their baby’s stomach capacity is big enough).

Your storage capacity isn’t something you need to worry about. Imagine drinking a litre of fluid over a day, if we are drinking this from a shot glass, we will need more refills and if we are drinking from a schooner, we will need fewer refills. So just consider, some of us have ‘shot glasses’ and some women have ‘jugs’ and this won’t affect your actual milk supply if you watch your baby, not the clock.


3. Ditching night feeds.

Not only were our grandparents advised to stick to a strict feeding routine, but they were most likely told to ditch the 2am feed (yes, that was the time advised by the strict feeding routine) at six weeks.

Although you are unlikely to be advised to night wean your baby at six weeks, there is still enormous pressure around infant sleep and encouraging (reading, training) babies to sleep ‘all night’ so it’s helpful to be armed with information. In reality, babies may need night feeds right through the first year and, even beyond this, cuddles and a quick drink of breast milk can soothe little night howls.

Although hunger is the obvious reason for a young baby who is growing rapidly to need night feeds, night nursing is about so much more than food. Breastfeeding is about comfort, connection and immunity, as well as food. It is also nutrition for a baby’s developing brain. This means that as your baby enters new developmental stages, they will most likely go on a feeding binge to fuel their growing brain.

When your baby has been exposed to a bug, they will need to ‘tank up’ on the amazing immune factors in your milk and when they are in pain or uncomfortable, perhaps from teething, the relaxing chemicals in breast milk will soothe your little one. Also, as your baby goes through normal stages of experiencing separation anxiety, they will want to connect to ‘the source’ through the security of your arms and the comfort of breastfeeding.


At night time too, prolactin, the hormone that facilitates breast milk production as well as bonding and attachment reaches the highest levels during night time breastfeeds. This means your baby will probably get the ‘best milk’ at night. Recent research also shows that 80 per cent of our Seratonin receptors are in the gut and night time breastmilk is rich in tryptophan, a precursor to Seratonin – so this magic mummy milk is also helping the development of Seratonin receptors and a healthy foundation for future well-being.

Questions for when you don't have kids: Sleep.

Besides baby's reasons for night feeds, the most important ‘mummy reason’ is maintaining your milk supply. In the early days, your breasts need frequent stimulation to ‘set’ your milk production capacity as your milk supply is influenced by post birth hormones. Also, in the first three months after birth, there is more breast development happening – you are developing more prolactin receptors, which will encourage your ongoing milk supply.


Your milk storage capacity can also influence your baby’s need to feed overnight as well as your ongoing milk supply: a mother with a large storage capacity has the room in her milk-making glands to comfortably store more milk at night before it exerts the amount of internal pressure needed to slow her milk production. On the other hand, if the baby of the small-capacity mother sleeps for too long at night, her breasts become so full that her milk production slows.

4. Bottles of boiled water.

So, are you wondering how on earth your grandparents could have weaned a baby from night feeds as young as six weeks? As they left hospital with their newborn, the new mother would have been given a pep talk by her midwife to offer a bottle of boiled water instead of milk at the 2am feed (yes the routine was that strict!).

It was also common advice to offer bottles of cool boiled water on hot days. While a nice cool drink of water for a hot sticky baby may sound reasonable, giving bottles of water to babies whether breast or formula fed can pose serious risks.

Giving water to newborns can affect your milk supply and your baby’s weight gains whether breast or formula fed (there are no calories in water!). For all babies under six months, giving water can dilute the sodium in the baby’s bloodstream to the point where a potentially life threatening condition known as “oral water intoxication” develops, and this can lead to symptoms like low body temperature, bloating, and seizures.


According to physicians at Johns Hopkins Children’s Centre in Baltimore, “Even when they’re very tiny, babies have an intact thirst reflex or a drive to drink,” Dr. Jennifer Anders, a paediatric emergency physician at the centre, told Reuters Health. “When they have that thirst and they want to drink, the fluid they need to drink more of is their breast milk or formula.”

Because babies’ kidneys aren’t yet mature, giving them too much water causes their bodies to release sodium along with excess water, Anders said. Losing sodium can affect brain activity, so early symptoms of water intoxication can include irritability, drowsiness and other mental changes. Other symptoms include low body temperature (generally 97 degrees or less), puffiness or swelling in the face, and seizures.

“It’s a sneaky kind of a condition,” Anders said. "Early symptoms are subtle, so seizures may be the first symptom a parent notices. But if a child gets prompt medical attention, the seizures will probably not have lasting consequences," she added.

feeding your baby
"Giving bottles of water to babies whether breast or formula fed can pose serious risks." Image: Getty.

5. Car seat safety.

Back in the day… (70s and 80s) there were no car seat regulations or safety standards – there weren’t even any proper car seats in the 70s. Babies were popped into a Moses basket on the floor between the front and back seat – or at best, on the back seat with a safety netting harness over the Moses basket to stop the baby being flung out in an accident or sudden braking event.

Of course, grandparents will be aware of car seats now but if they are going to be driving your baby or child anywhere, you will need to educate them on current regulations and how to choose and use an appropriate car seat or capsule and that there are fitting stations to ensure car seats are safely installed. If grandparents are regular carers, it would be helpful to buy a car seat for the grandparents’ car so you can have peace of mind that your little one will be safely transported.

How to communicate with grandparents.

Consider just as you are climbing the steep learning curve of being a new parent, grandparents are also growing into their new role. They may be genuinely trying to make things easier by sharing their hard-earned knowledge or they may simply want to be more involved with their grandchild.


When considering advice about your child, safety has to be your highest priority. However, it’s important to communicate respectfully because encouraging positive family relationships, especially between your child and their grandparents is also important. Please try and remember, grandparents did the best they could with the information available to them when they were new parents.

Find common ground: Because your relationship with your child’s grandparents will be an ongoing one, it is important to try and find some common ground. Try asking for their opinion on a fairly neutral topic or invite them to be more involved and give them positive feedback. For instance, ‘would you like to give him his bath?’ Or, ‘he loves it when you take him to see the ducks.’

Stay calm: If you are confronted by unwanted advice, no matter how well-meaning, you can either tell them honestly, but politely, that you feel undermined by their advice or you can simply stay calm: take a deep breath and respond, “this works well for us,” or (baby’s name) feels happy when we…. (whatever you are doing what they are advising against). Another option is to thank the grandparent for their tips and say, enthusiastically, “I’ll remember that,” then choose what information suits you and your little one and discard the rest.

Share new information: You might like to share some up to date information with your mother or mother-in-law -in-law by commenting enthusiastically about a new book you have discovered or perhaps some written information or research that reinforces what you are doing. It will work better to do this pro-actively before they bombard you with out of date information, so they aren't put in a situation where they feels defensive.


Maintain a united front: If your partner starts to side with his/her parents against you, it is only natural that you want to cut the strings between them – with a very sharp pair of scissors! But again, the best advice is to remain calm: enlist your partner’s support by telling them how you feel without becoming angry or putting them in a situation that makes him/her feel they must ‘choose’ between you and their parents. It is also important to tell your partner how much you value their parenting efforts (“You are a great mum/dad! I love the way you…), then help them see how vulnerable this criticism makes you feel and how much you need their support so you can be a confident, competent parent.

Pinky McKay is an internationally certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) and best-selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting By Heart and 100 Ways to Calm the Crying (Penguin Random House). She is also the creator of Boobie bikkies all natural and organic health food cookies for breastfeeding mums.

A version of this post was originally published on Boobie Bikkies and has been republished here with full permission. Read the original article here.