Education & Family

Netmums survey: Many Mums given risky parenting advice

Mother and baby [Image: Thinkstock]
Image caption Mothers reported contradictory advice on whether to wake a sleeping baby

Many new mothers are bombarded with contradictory and sometimes even dangerous parenting advice by family members, a Netmums survey suggests.

Two in five of 4,000 mothers surveyed said a relative had given advice they felt could harm their baby's health.

Examples included exposing a baby to hot tarmac fumes to "strengthen its lungs", and "under ones don't need sun cream because they can't get sunburnt".

Mothers-in-law topped the list of people who had given poor advice.

More than three-quarters of mothers who responded to the survey - posted on the Netmums website - said they sought parenting advice from relatives.

But the responses were often contradictory. For example, 51% of the mothers had been told to wake a baby regularly to enforce routine, while 44% had also been told never to wake a sleeping baby.

When respondents were asked who had given them confusing, contradictory or incorrect parenting advice, mothers-in-law topped the list (39%), followed by mums (35%) and then strangers (30%).

One in five said they felt worried or guilty when going against a rule or piece of advice they had been given.

Ice pops and worms

Some pieces of advice which Netmums said could be damaging to a child's health were reported by several of the mothers surveyed.

These included 30% of mothers who said they had been told to put whiskey on a dummy to relieve teething pain, 22% who were told their children should be eating solids from three months old, as well as 25 people who had been told that breathing in the fumes from hot tarmac is good for a baby's lungs.

Netmums also said it was potentially harmful that 54% of mothers were told they should instinctively be able to interpret their baby's cries, and that 74% had been told that they would "just know what to do" once they had given birth.

A significant proportion of those surveyed had also been given other inaccurate information - such as that a baby will get a cold if taken outside (24%), or should not be taken outside if it is foggy (6%).

Netmums described other pieces of advice or misinformation reported in the survey as "outlandish":

  • "Children under the age of one do not need sun cream, as they do not get sunburnt"
  • "Crushed beetles and iron fillings are good for a baby's teeth"
  • "Too many ice pops will give children worms"
  • "Keep the baby off their feet for at least the first 12 months or they will get bow legs and weak bones"
  • "Don't tickle a baby's feet as it will make them stammer"

Siobhan Freegard, co-founder of the Netmums website, said: "Mums really are being bombarded with advice from every direction.

"Despite this, however, the findings also showed that many mothers feel that parenting shouldn't be about following strict rules - they do what feels right for each individual child and ignore well-meant advice," she said.

Grandparents Plus, a charity which supports the role of grandparents in family life, said grandparents were often a "great asset" in supporting young families.

"Parenting wisdom clearly does change over the years and even now it depends on which expert you speak to - so it's not surprising some grandparents will come up with things that seem inappropriate and out-of-date," said policy and research manager Sarah Wellard.

"Mums are targeted with information all the time, but grandparents are often overlooked so they do not always get these up-to-date messages," she said.

The National Childbirth Trust, a charity supporting parents, said it recognised the valuable source of support that other family members can offer, but encouraged parents to check that information is up-to-date, and to contact a health visitor or GP if they are worried about a child's health.

Dr Katherine Rake of the Family and Parenting Institute said: "It is very saddening to see that so many UK mothers feel put down and experience feelings of guilt. We need to work with parents to ensure they receive the advice they need. But we must also ensure they are not bombarded."

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