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This article is from the WebMD Feature Archive

Beware the know-it-alls: Many mums given misleading advice

A survey carried out by a mother's online support group reveals that a substantial number of new mums get risky advice from family members
WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

New mothers are frequently bombarded with old-fashioned and sometimes even dangerous advice from their own families about how to bring up their baby, according to a survey in 2011 by the online parenting support group Netmums.

A study of 4,000 first-time mums found that almost two in five (39%) had been handed a piece of advice that could actually put their child at risk.

When it comes to getting some helpful hints, new mums often seek the help of a close relative. However, the survey shows that this is the source of a good deal of misinformation.

'Old wives' tales'

Some of the tips they are given turn out to be 'old wives' tales' handed down through the generations, while other advice comes from complete strangers without them even being asked. Frequently the results leave a new mother feeling overwhelmed, put down or even guilty, the research found.

The survey was part of the 'Real Parenting Revolution' campaign run by Netmums which aims to shatter the image that there is such a thing as 'the perfect parent'.

The survey found that more than three-quarters of mothers (78%) go to a member of the family for parenting advice. However, a good deal of what they are told turns out to be dubious. 39% of advice given by mothers-in-law turns out to be wrong, followed closely by that proffered by their own mums (36%). Tips handed down by grandmothers appear to be more reliable, with only 11% dispensing misinformation, the survey suggests.

A lot of the advice originates from parenting rules that are handed down through the generations. The most common of these concern sticking to routines for the new baby, such as sleep and breastfeeding. The importance of manners and education are also common themes reported by mothers.

Feeling guilty

Netmums says the result of all this advice is that first-time mothers often feel their parenting skills are being criticised, with 40% feeling put down all the time and 23% feeling guilty when they break one of the parenting 'golden rules' they have been given.

Siobhan Freegard, co-founder of Netmums said in a statement: "Mums really are being bombarded with advice from every direction - our research even found that many have been offered unsolicited advice from strangers.

Despite this, however, the findings also showed that many mothers feel that parenting shouldn’t be about following strict rules - they do what feels right for each individual child and ignore well-meant advice. Many of the parents we hear from feel it’s time to ‘rip up the rulebook’ and do what works for you, your child and your situation. After all, advice is often just someone else’s opinion."

'Outlandish' advice

Netmums produced a list of what it called some of the most outlandish pieces of advice given to women having their first child. These include:

  • You don’t need to use sun cream on babies, as children under one don't burn
  • Crushed beetles and iron fillings are good for a baby’s teeth
  • Too many ice pops will give children worms
  • Leave a baby outside alone in its pram all day to 'toughen' it up
  • You are selfish if you breastfeed as this stops others from bonding with the baby
  • Children need red meat twice a day to grow properly
  • Keep the baby off their feet for at least the first 12 months or they will get bow legs and weak bones
  • Don't tickle a baby's feet as it will make them stammer

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