Baby and Childcare Myths

You shouldn’t put sunscreen on an infant.

Kids should wait 30 minutes after eating to swim, or they could get a cramp.

Children who have diarrhea shouldn’t be given milk.

By Christina Elston

If you agreed with any of those statements – you’re wrong! But you’re in good company, including a few pediatricians. That’s what Andrew Adesman, M.D., chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Schneider Children’s Hospital in New York, found when he started researching his book Babyfacts: the Truth About Your Child’s Health From Newborn Through Preschool (Wiley, 2009). In his small pilot study of 35 pediatricians, none recognized all of the 40 myths he tested, and 20 of these pediatricians failed to recognize 10 or more.

Adesman and his wife, who is also a pediatrician, have even been susceptible to some myths themselves. Adesman recalls his wife lovingly admonishing her daughter to put her coat on before going outdoors, so that she wouldn’t catch cold (the body’s immune system isn’t affected by outdoor temperature). “There’s the mother in her that just didn’t want to yield to the doctor in her,” he says. And he remembers keeping that same daughter out of the swimming pool for 30 minutes after a meal, something he learned from his own parents (actually, there’s little danger of getting a cramp while swimming after eating).

“I grew up with it,” Adesman says. “I passed it along to my kids.”

While putting on a coat or waiting a bit for a swim won’t do any harm, in his practice, Adesman has seen parents subscribe to more-worrisome myths, such as cleaning their children’s ears with cotton swabs – a practice that could actually force ear wax deeper into the ear canal. Here are a few others:

Myth: It’s OK to alternate doses of Motrin (ibuprofen) and Tylenol (acetaminophen) every couple of hours to treat fever. “If done precisely, it’s not inherently dangerous,” says Adesman, but he warns that it’s easy to get off schedule and overdose your child.

Myth: Teething can cause high fever. “People will attribute anything and everything to teething,” says Adesmen, who notes that teething can cause a low-grade fever, but not a high one. Parents who attribute a high fever to teething could be ignoring signs of a serious illness.

Myth: Butter is a good way to treat burned skin. Butter actually traps the heat, worsening the burn. Instead, treat burns under cool water to stop the burning action.

Wondering if you’ve fallen prey to any parenting myths? Take our Baby Myths Quiz to see just how in-the-know you are!

Christina Elston is a longtime health writer who maintains a blog called Health-E at