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Baby, the Rules Sure Have Changed

March 23, 1998|MARY JO ZAFIS GARCIA | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Way to go. For 40 weeks, you passed inspections by the pregnancy police, those well-meaning but in-your-face folks who felt the need to critique even the way you plucked your eyebrows.

Unlike the typical mother of the previous generation, who doused her Winston in the remains of her coffee and polished off a dry martini before driving to the hospital, you swore off alcohol, cursed caffeine and didn't light up for nine months. You drank your milk, did your Kegels and consumed enough folic acid to stop El Nino. And now you're feeling pretty darn smug about having successfully hatched a healthy bundle of joy.

Hold on to your Beanie Babies. If you thought it was hard keeping track of right and wrong while pregnant, just try keeping up with the commandments du jour of raising your baby. In the world of onesies, binkies and snugglies, only one axiom remains constant: What was acceptable yesterday isn't today, and what is today certainly won't be tomorrow.

When our parents were raising us, they stuffed us into walkers, held us on their laps during car rides and put us on our tummies to sleep. By all accounts, we should all be dead.

Unless you've been trapped in "It's a Small World" since grad night, you know that walkers are the devil. A once popular solution for curing Junior's (or was it Mom's?) frustration at being immobile, walkers have since lost favor because of their reported 28,000 injuries in the United States every year, not to mention the welts our parents probably still have around their ankles from getting bumper car'd by us.

We could learn from our Canadian neighbors, whose government mandates that walkers must be so wide they can't pass through a normal doorway of 35 inches (89 centimeters, eh). Back in the United States, in spite of all the warnings and emergency room visits, more than 3 million walkers are sold annually. If you want to encourage walking skills, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of a kiddie push car instead. Your little Desitin-head can cruise along while pushing on the bar of the toy, which should be heavy enough so as not to topple over on the little tyke.

You may have Cory Everson biceps, but they aren't suited for restraining an infant in an automobile. In a crash, the baby can fly out of your arms, or your body can crush your infant against the dashboard or windshield. Many hospitals refuse to release a newborn unless the parent has an infant car seat that meets federal safety standards, which include seats manufactured only after 1981. And for good reason: Auto accidents are the leading cause of death or injury among children, according to Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi E. Murkoff and Sandee E. Hathaway, authors of the popular "What to Expect" series of parenting books.

Child safety seats come in various styles, all with a gazillion rules and regulations, but one bears repeating: Never, never, never install a rear-facing infant carrier in the front seat of a vehicle with a passenger-side air bag. Your baby doesn't stand a chance against an air bag deployed from the dashboard at up to 200 mph.

Now let's play "Who Hired This Caretaker?!" It's bedtime. You need to change your munchkin's diaper, so you remove the soiled diaper and clean her bare bottom, sprinkling generously with baby powder before putting on the fresh diaper. You place your baby in the crib on her tummy (that way, she won't choke if she spits up, and she can also pass . . . well . . . you know, g-a-s), and you put Fluffy, her favorite stuffed animal, next to her for comfort during the night.

OK, put down your pencils. How many violations? That's right, three. First, the baby powder. Once a staple in all nurseries, baby powder is now verboten because infants can inhale the talc, which can cause chemical pneumonia, an inflammatory reaction of the lungs.

"Most pediatricians recommend that it not be used," says Dr. Hugh MacDonald, director of neonatology at Santa Monica Hospital and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics's Committee on Fetus and Newborn. "The consensus is that anybody using talcum powder be aware that it could cause inhalation of the talc, resulting in a pneumonic reaction."

Second, placing the baby face down. No, no, no. Putting babies on their tummies has been linked with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, known as crib death in our parents' day. Although the cause of SIDS remains unknown, there does seem to be a link between sleeping position and infant death. In 1992, AAP recommended placing babies on their backs to decrease the risk of SIDS, which was claiming the lives of more than 6,000 American infants a year. Fueled by a national "Back to Sleep" campaign two years later, the new guidelines have reduced the rate of SIDS by more than 25%.

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