Look at that face. There's nothing quite like the love of a parent for a child! Who among you doesn't want what's best for your child? In fact, I'm pretty sure a healthy child is a top priority for almost every parent in existence. The point of this post is not to discourage or judge. Instead, I hope it empowers and protects. There is no magic solution, and one size does not necessarily fit all when it comes to raising a child, but I strongly encourage you to consider adopting any (maybe even all) of the three practices below. If even one baby is saved because a parent chooses to keep a carseat rear-facing longer, I am more than satisfied. Remember that I am not a medical professional, just a mom passionate about sharing what she's learned along the journey of parenthood.
1. Breastfeeding. This is a sensitive subject and I'm not trying to pass judgement or start a debate. There are certainly very real reasons why some moms shouldn't breastfeed (see them here) or why babies cannot be breastfed (like those with galactosemia). But the truth is that breastfeeding is the superior form of nutrition for babies in their first months and years of life (learn why). Even formula cans state this. I'm probably inviting criticism by saying this so boldly, but I want to encourage all capable moms to at least try to breastfeeding their babies, even if you only do it for the first hours/days/weeks of your baby's life. It can definitely be emotionally and physically trying (but also indescribably rewarding), but with commitment and perhaps most importantly the proper support, most moms can be successful. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusively breastfeeding until 6 months of age, and continuing breastfeeding with appropriate introduction of solids until the age of 2 and beyond. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusively breastfeeding until 6 months of age, and continuing until the age of one. Statistically, only 47.2% of mothers in America breastfeed until the age of 6 months, with only 25.5% continuing until 12 months (source). If you consider the vast benefits of breastfeeding, those numbers are shockingly low. Breastfed babies have a decreased risk of dying from SIDs and are much less likely to experience lower respiratory infections, asthma, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Breastfeeding is better for the environment because it produces less waste, not to mention the money not spent on formula or medical expenses because statistically, breastfed babies get sick less often than formula fed babies. Even moms reap the benefits! Women who breastfeed have a lower risk of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer, and have lower rates of postpartum depression. And let's not forget what might be the best perk of all (okay I'm almost ashamed admitting that it's at least one of mine): the fact that a breastfeeding mom burns of average 500 calories a day just making milk. YES! You read that correctly! Win! If you tried breastfeeding and it didn't work out, or even if you never tried breastfeeding, I am not here to give you a lecture or tell you that you're a bad parent (because that is a completely unfair judgement to pass). But if you're on the fence about breastfeeding, try it! It does have a learning curve and you will probably have to be your own advocate, but there are so many organizations (LLC and KellyMom are two of my favorites) and individuals (me, friends, volunteers, co-workers, parents) out there committed to helping moms have successful breastfeeding experiences. Unless you or your baby are in an extreme minority, you can do it, and OH, is it ever worth it :)
2. Waiting until 6 months to introduce solids. "My baby just seems hungry." "Giving my baby solids will help him/her sleep through the night." I'll admit, those thoughts went through my mind! So when my pediatrician handed me a paper at my son's four month appointment encouraging me to start feeding him an iron-fortified baby cereal, I was tempted to do it. Just a small amount of further research, however, revealed that it is no longer recommended even by the American Academy of Pediatrics to feed babies younger than 6 months anything but breastmilk or formula. It's not just the crunchy moms proclaiming this one; it's standard medical knowledge even if it's not yet standardly distributed advice. Introducing solids before 6 months invites a whole slew of problems including (but not limited to) food allergies, eczema, celiac disease, and diabetes. Additionally, there is no evidence to support that introducing solids helps babies sleep any better. (Darn!)
3. Keeping carseats rear-facing until (at least) the age of 2. Just this one statistic should be enough to convince you: "Children under 2 are 75 percent less likely to suffer severe or fatal injuries in a crash if they are facing the rear." And it just keeps coming: "Sweden, for instance, where children face the rear until age 4, has the world’s lowest highway fatality rate for children under 6." The typical standard in America is to face infants forward at the age of 1 or 20 pounds, but the AAP now recommends keeping your baby rear-facing until the age of two (or until they reach the highest weight or height allowed by their car seat's manufacturer). I haven't reached this point in my parenting journey, but I would encourage you to take any steps possible to keep your child rear-facing until age two and beyond (given the carseat's weight and height limitations allow). There are a few common reasons parents turn their child forward sooner than they need to, and this article seems to address a lot of them as well as offer solutions to tricky situations.