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Health & Baby

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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.


Try dealing with twice the advice.

Shari Schmidt, of Palos Hills, Ill., has twins, now 4 years old. She's been "coached" on sleep schedules, matching outfits, baby food, and haircuts.

"My family was -- and still is -- horrified that the girls didn't like meat. My grandmother was worried their teeth wouldn't develop properly. My mother was worried it would stunt their growth," Schmidt, a marketing consultant, says. "Our pediatrician is OK with it, and so are we. Everyone else thinks it is a form of child abuse not to feed the girls Chicken McNuggets. I'm sure all parents receive lots of unwanted advice. But it seems to come at me like a tidal wave."

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).'"

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