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Dr. Zorba Paster: Back to sleep, but make sure baby gets lots of tummy time, too

A nurse holds the bady named Angel to feed her with water with a spoon at the Kenyatta National Hospital, Wednesday, May 11, 2005. Offers to adopt the newborn baby who was saved by a dog from death in a forest poured at the hospital. The 3.3 kilogram (7.28 pounds) infant not even bruised by the dog that retrieved her Friday. A nursing dog foraging for food retrieved the abandoned baby girl in a forest and carried the infant to its litter of puppies in Kenya, witnesses said Monday. The stray dog carried the infant across a busy road and a barbed wire fence in a low-income neighborhood bordering the Ngong Forests in the capital, Nairobi. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim)  (SAYYID AZIM)
A nurse holds the bady named Angel to feed her with water with a spoon at the Kenyatta National Hospital, Wednesday, May 11, 2005. Offers to adopt the newborn baby who was saved by a dog from death in a forest poured at the hospital. The 3.3 kilogram (7.28 pounds) infant not even bruised by the dog that retrieved her Friday. A nursing dog foraging for food retrieved the abandoned baby girl in a forest and carried the infant to its litter of puppies in Kenya, witnesses said Monday. The stray dog carried the infant across a busy road and a barbed wire fence in a low-income neighborhood bordering the Ngong Forests in the capital, Nairobi. (AP Photo/Sayyid Azim) (SAYYID AZIM)
By Dr. Zorba Paster For The Spokesman-Review

Back to sleep. That’s the mantra, the right mantra, for infants.

Since we’ve done that – having babies sleep on their backs and not their tummies – we’ve dropped infant mortality from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome by a whopping 66%. That’s still too many childhood deaths but a good start at reduction.

In 2017, there were 1,500 deaths from SIDS. We still don’t know what causes SIDS, but there are an estimated 900 infant deaths secondary to accidental suffocation and strangulation in bed.

We can reduce this further by making sure parents do not sleep in bed with an infant. There are infant sleeper items, such as SwaddleMe by Your Side, that help keep your baby separate while still in bed with you. This bassinet – complete with a firm mattress and metal sides – keeps you from rolling over and suffocating your infant.

As children grow beyond the infant stage, something every parent should be concerned about is how to reduce the risk of obesity in their kids. Recent research shows things we can do from birth might help battle this epidemic.

Back in the 1970s, only 5% of children in the United States were obese; now it’s 18%. Research shows better nutrition and more physical activity reduce the risk of obesity.

So where might that fit into how we treat our infants?

Let’s start with early motor development, which means tummy time. When your child isn’t sleeping, it’s important to give them tummy time. They need to be in the prone position that’s so essential for developing the early movement skills needed by kids younger than 6 months.

Recent research shows tummy time is motor development time and might lead to a better weight status at 6 monthsold.

The next issue important in early childhood development is a reduction in screen time. Putting your kid in front of a screen when you’re preparing dinner is one thing, but using the TV as a baby sitter is another.

Next are feeding practices. Breast milk or formula is the only food your newborn needs. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth. But by ages 4 to 6 months, most babies are ready to begin eating solid foods as a complement to breastfeeding or formula-feeding.

Studies have shown that face-to-face education can be incredibly useful for moms, especially new moms or moms at risk due to socioeconomic issues. But getting that instruction on a one-to-one basis, in your house or at a clinic, can be difficult.

And that’s were a recent study in the British Medical Journal comes into play. This research indicates that telephone and texting can be the keys.

Here’s the study: More than 1,000 women were followed from the third trimester of pregnancy through their child’s second birthday.

In the first group, the control group, mothers were discharged from the hospital with the usual doctor’s visits scheduled, nothing else. The second group had educational booklets mailed to them periodically, with a nurse telephone call follow-up. The third group had the same booklets with a texting follow-up rather than phone calls.

Both intervention groups had better results – more tummy time and less screen time for their babies, more likely to introduce the right foods at the right time and less likely to give a bedtime bottle (which we know isn’t good because of tooth decay).

Additionally, the intervention groups were more likely to have a family meal together when the kids were 1 year old. Interestingly, texting seemed to be as good as a telephone call for a follow-up in most cases.

My spin: Now, think about this, we’re using technology, phone and texting in a useful way to encourage good parenting without needing a parent to come into a health care office. This is an efficient and effective use of technology to improve health care at an important time in a child’s life.

There are so many naysayers who spout the idea that computers and technology have taken away so much from medical care. But this is one place where technology could be used more – to encourage better health for our infants. Stay well.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a family physician and host of the public radio program “Zorba Paster on Your Health.” He can be reached at askzorba@doctorzorba.com.

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