Like a time-tested family recipe, some lore about our children’s health gets passed down through the generations. Trouble is, those pearls of wisdom aren’t always true. Dr. Andrew Adesman tackles some those myths in his book Babyfacts: The truth about your child’s health from newborn through preschool. We’ve excerpted some of the most common below.
Children’s health myth: Eating raw carrots will improve your child’s vision.
Reality: Carrots are a good food choice, but they’re no guarantee that your child will have the vision of a superhero. True, they are rich in beta-carotene, which the body converts to vitamin A, an important nutrient for good eyesight. Unless your child actually suffers from vitamin A deficiency, though, feasting on carrots (or other beta-carotene rich foods) will not improve her eyesight. But serve them anyway. They’re low in calories and rich in an important nutrient, and they’re one vegetable kids eat usually with no fuss.
Children’s health myth: Spinach is a good source of iron.
Reality: Spinach is a great source of many nutrients, but iron isn’t one of them. The myth goes back to the 1870s, when a Dr. E. von Wolf mistakenly put a decimal point in the wrong place when reporting spinach’s iron content; the error was not discovered until the late 1930s, but by that time, Popeye was already known for his bulging muscles. Spinach, it turns out, has a mere one-tenth of the amount of iron von Wolf calculated. What’s more, most of the iron in spinach isn’t easy for your body to absorb. But the veggie is an excellent source of vitamins A and E, as well as several important antioxidants, along with half a day’s serving of beta-carotene — all good for growing body.
Children’s health myth: It’s OK for your baby to sleep on his side.
Reality: To reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, healthy babies should always be put to sleep on their backs — not on their stomachs or sides. Babies placed on their sides are less stable; they can roll over from a side position onto their stomachs quite easily (or fall over when they’re too young to roll). You can safely give your baby daily supervised “tummy time” when she’s awake. Letting her experience the world from this position can be a fun way to play and it helps her strengthen muscles in her neck, arms and upper body, which she’ll need for pushing up, rolling over and crawling.
Children’s health myth: Sunscreen should not be used on infants younger than six months old.
Reality: You can — and should — apply sunscreen on babies’ skin with care. The American Academy of Pediatrics advises using sunscreen if unprotected sun exposure is unavoidable, especially if sunburn is a danger. However, before you reach for the lotion, cover any exposed skin, such as arms and legs, with comfortable, loose-fitting clothing (long pants and sleeves in lightweight fabrics, or a light blanket), and add a hat with a wide brim to keep sun off the face. If that wardrobe choice is impractical because you’re taking your baby to an outdoor pool, apply sunscreen on areas that will be exposed. If you want to buy a bottle of sunscreen the whole family can use, pick one with an SPF of at least 15.
Children’s health myth: Children’s multivitamins and vitamin C supplements can ward off colds.
Reality: Multivitamins do have a purpose, particularly when a baby or a young child is not getting enough of a particular nutrient or requires extra vitamins or minerals for a certain period of growth. But study after study shows that extra amounts of vitamin C, whether taken in supplement form or in naturally occurring sources like orange juice, do not reduce the risk of catching a cold.
Children’s health myth: It is harmful to give food or milk to your child if she’s suffering from diarrhea, as you’ll make the symptoms worse.
Reality: More than anything, a sick child needs nourishment. Fluids, including milk, are very important, as all diarrhea carries the risk of dehydration. If the diarrhea is mild and is not accompanied by vomiting, high fever or lethargy, continue to offer her usual diet, including milk, even if you serve smaller but more frequent portions. If the symptoms worsen, talk to your doctor.
Children’s health myth: If your child plays or looks at books in insufficient light, he’ll hurt his eyes.
Reality: As with watching television, staring at a computer screen, squinting, or crossing the eyes, your child’s eyes may get tired, but she won’t damage them by looking at a book in low light or sitting in a dim room watching television. Your child may simply not realize that turning on more lights will make it easier to see his book or work on the picture he’s drawing.
Children’s health myth: Wounds need fresh air to heal.
Reality: Actually, a covered wound will heal faster, with less scarring, than an uncovered one—in both kids and adults. An ordinary bandage holds in the moisture, which prevents the skin from drying out and scabbing over, and that’s a good thing. Although scabs are thought of as natural wound protection, a scab actually slows down the healing process because it creates a barrier between healthy cells and the damaged cells that need repair. Scabs also lead to an increased risk of scarring; and of course, if your child falls again on the unbandaged area, he may reopen and re-injure the wound.
Children’s health myth: Treat a burn with an application of butter or ice.
Reality: Butter or any oil-based substance, like petroleum jelly, traps heat — so if your child burns himself, head for the faucet instead. The idea is to cool down the skin first (to relieve pain and swelling) by holding the burn under cool running water for about five minutes. Keep the water pressure low and gentle. You can also submerge a burned hand or finger in a pan of cool — not ice cold — water, but the faucet may work best if the burn is on a forearm or other hard to submerge area. Avoid ice, too — the cold cubes freeze delicate skin tissue and can actually cause frostbite.
Children’s health myth: Ice baths can be used to bring down a high fever in young children.
Reality: Cold water can be uncomfortable for the child and may lead to shivering, which could actually raise the child’s body temperature. Instead try a sponge bath with tepid water and ask your doctor about the right type and dose of a pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.