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Beware the Know It Alls: How to Handle Unsolicited Baby Advice

Unwanted baby advice from family, friends, and strangers -- why so many people give it and how to deal with it gracefully.

Why people offer unsolicited baby advice

So why do people feel so compelled to put their nose in your stroller?

"They are just trying to help because they love you," says Tracey Tarrant, a "work-at-home" mother who runs her own business, Your Virtual Round To-it, which provides administrative support for small businesses. Tarrant has four daughters -- aged 16, 12, 5 and 4 -- and has endured years of unsolicited baby advice.

But it's not all just love. Safety is another factor.

"As a pediatrician," says Jennifer Shu, MD, "I have to bite my tongue if I see something that may put a stranger's child at risk." Shu is an Atlanta pediatrician and mom. She is also co-author of Heading Home with Your Newborn and the newly released Food Fights. On the other hand, Shu does admit that, "I have been known to 'gently' advise people that their car seat straps really need to be a bit tighter."

And maybe all those people offering advice know something that could be helpful. Experts say, though, that many, many times the advisors simply have a need to have their own parenting style affirmed.

"I give advice on all aspects of infant feeding, including on how to react to unneeded advice," says Bridget Swinney, a registered dietician and author of Baby Bites, Eating Expectantly, and Health Food for Healthy Kids. "Some of the backhanded criticism I've noticed are comments like, 'You're not giving him cereal yet?' Or, 'Breastfeeding seems like so much trouble -- why don't you just give him a bottle instead?' Or 'I'm sure it won't hurt to give him just a little (fill in the blank).'"

Baby Advice Etiquette

So what's the most gracious, intelligent way to deal with the barrage of baby advice?

Many parents say they just smile and tell the adviser that they'll "think about it" or something similar to that.

"In the end," Hallac tells WebMD, "we figured out two responses that seemed to fit our every need. The first was, 'We will check with his doctor,' because no one questions the doctor; and the second was 'Great! Thanks!' and then we just went ahead and ignored it."

Here are four other options:

  • Thanks! We'll consider that. 
  • Thanks! We appreciate your care and concern about our baby.
  • Thanks! We know that advice was hard earned through the years.
  • Thanks! Um, that certainly is some advice! (This requires a bright smile so they don't catch your sarcasm.)

Doctors recommend that parents tempted to try out some advice make sure it makes sound medical sense -- especially since the advice from one, two, or three decades ago might have changed in light of new scientific data.

Examples of how things change, according to Thompson, include:

  • Back is best: In 1992, the American Academy of Pediatrics introduced the "back to sleep" campaign, which recommends putting babies on their backs to sleep. This practice has resulted in a decline in the incidence of sudden infant death syndrome [SIDS].
  • No juice in bottles: Drinking juice greatly increases the risk of dental decay and cavities; it's also a source of empty calories and could contribute to pediatric obesity.
  • No water needed in addition to breast milk or formula: Babies receive adequate amounts of water from the breast milk and formula -- and providing water in place of feedings could cause an imbalance of water and salts, resulting in illness.
  • Cereal When? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends starting solid foods at four to six months.

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