Health Features

Oh, Baby!

When you’re an expectant parent reading up on child-rearing, the amount of advice available can seem like information overload. Books, videos, magazine articles and the Internet offer a sea of suggestions on nurturing your new baby into a happy, well-rounded person. To help distill the mountain of info just a bit, we’ve checked in with area health professionals on some talked-about topics—feeding, sleeping and the ever-popular gender reveal.

breastfeeding vs. formula
Health professionals agree on the overall merits of breastfeeding. It provides bonding opportunities, optimal nutrition and important immunity benefits to a new infant. Interestingly, though, there occasionally are reasons not to do it, says Washington University obstetrician and gynecologist Dr. Camaryn Chrisman Robbins, who practices at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “If the mother is taking medication that can be passed through her milk or if she has certain health conditions, breastfeeding may not be a good idea,” Robbins says. And if the baby is not gaining weight after birth, doctors may recommend that the mother pump breast milk and mix it with formula for bottle-feeding instead.

a natural wonder
With that said, breastfeeding is still the method of choice for most babies, according to Robbins. “It’s pretty amazing,” she says. “Doctors have known for a long time that infants do best with breast milk, and long-term data show that breastfeeding is good for mothers, too. It may provide protection from ovarian and breast cancers, and recent findings have strengthened that association.” Breastfeeding blocks ovulation from occurring, and that prevents rapid cell turnover that may lead to cancer in the long term, she explains.

Breast milk even can adapt to accommodate the baby’s health needs, according to Robbins. “For example, if the infant has an infection, the mother’s body can change the milk to help fight it,” she says. “The milk contains fat, protein and electroytes that naturally become denser to meet the baby’s needs. When the baby is no longer sick, the milk returns to normal. Formula can’t adjust in the same way.”

tough but worth it 
Robbins says that although breastfeeding can be difficult and frustrating, it’s also rewarding and well worth the effort. “We should be honest about how hard it can be,” she notes. “When a baby is born, a new mom is born as well, and it takes a lot of effort to work as a team. And if breastfeeding does prove too difficult, mothers shouldn’t feel bad if they have to switch to formula.”

She advises talking to a doctor, lactation consultant, support group members and experienced friends for moral support. “Having a new baby is hard enough on its own,” she says. “Your body feels foreign, and your moods may be shifting. Adding breastfeeding to the mix introduces even more complexity, but don’t get discouraged. It tends to get easier over time.”

The idea of a baby and adult sharing a bed isn’t new, but it comes with risks that parents should be aware of, according to Dr. David Wathen, a SLUCare pediatrician at SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital. “Reasons for co-sleeping vary, and there are strong feelings on both sides of the debate,” he says. “Sometimes it is done out of necessity in low-income families who have to share a bed to keep warm in winter. Other people do it out of convenience because it’s easier to have the baby nearby for nighttime feedings. And some do it for cultural reasons; a mother and infant sleeping together is seen as an important bonding experience.”

Whatever the reason behind it, Wathen says co-sleeping can present health risks, so parents should consult a pediatrician. “There is a chance the adult may roll over on the child, a pillow or blanket may interfere with breathing, or the baby may be injured by falling off the bed,” he notes. Adult beds often have pillow tops, down comforters and other features that can smother babies who aren’t strong enough to pull themselves out, Wathen notes. For all of these reasons, he says, bed sharing is typically discouraged by the National Institutes of Health and other medical organizations. “You wouldn’t leave a child unbuckled in a car seat,” he notes. “Most of the time, co-sleeping may not cause a problem, but it just takes one night for serious consequences to happen.”

health hazard
A main health threat is infant brain injury due to lack of oxygen, Wathen explains. “Unfortunately, we see this quite often,” he notes. “The child can be permanently disabled by it.” Some companies make special cushions and pillows that claim to promote safer co-sleeping, but Wathen says there is not much evidence they work, and they may even have the opposite effect. “People mistakenly think that if a product is sold in a popular baby store, it must be safe,” he says. And some parents feel that co-sleeping reduces their stress levels, but Wathen says studies do not bear that out, either.

To prevent problems that come with co-sleeping, he advises putting a crib in the parents’ bedroom instead. “Recent research shows that children sleep better in a bed by themselves, and the same goes for adults,” he notes. “You are more likely to reach a deeper, more restful state of slumber if you have your own space.” He says co-sleeping also may cause relationship problems if it interferes with the parents’ intimacy.

Room sharing instead of bed sharing can be just as convenient for feeding purposes because the baby is still close by, Wathen adds. “Once the child is six months to a year old, you can move the crib to a nearby bedroom,” he notes.

blue or pink?
You’ve seen them on social media—the adorable gender reveals that parents-to-be celebrate with parties, shared videos and cute photo opportunities. So how do they find out the baby’s sex before birth? Most often, it’s revealed through ultrasound, says Dr. Shilpa Babbar, a SLUCare obstetrician and gynecologist at SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital.

“At 18 to 20 weeks of gestation, we can use ultrasound to do an anatomy survey and make sure the baby is formed properly,” Babbar says. “If the baby is in a good position, we normally can tell the sex at that time, if the parents want to know—and the majority of them do! In some cases, we can tell gender as early as 12 weeks.” She adds that a DNA test of the mother’s blood can indicate the baby’s sex at about 10 weeks, but it isn’t usually necessary.

Babbar says the ultrasound exam also can show whether the baby has certain health problems requiring immediate treatment after birth. “Knowing the gender can be helpful because some of these conditions only occur in one sex,” she notes. “The main takeaway is that expectant mothers should have at least one ultrasound during pregnancy so doctors know if the baby is developing normally.”

honey, what should we name the baby?
In 2018, Sophia and Jackson continued their six-year reign as the nation’s most popular newborn names. Layla and Oliver popped into the top 10, edging out Zoe and Logan, and the year’s fastest climbers included Isla, Everly, Leo and Carson.

Other old-fashioned favorites like Olivia, Emma, Amelia, Noah, Lucas and Elijah also made the top 10, while more modern choices like Adalyn, Kinsley, Jayden and Jayce appeared farther down the list. predicts that in 2019, parents will be inspired by pop-culture icons including American celebrities (Justin, Hailey, Chance, Ariana) and British royals (Louis, Meghan, Eugenie, Jack).

Gender-bending choices seem to be gaining popularity, too. Names like Tyler, Ryan, Stevie and Drew are on the rise for girls. (Case in point: Max and August, daughters of Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan.)