There’s a cowboy who sits on his front porch just up the road from my house. He’s a 92 year old widower and his name is Orville (but he insists you call him Orv).
We met when I was already quite pregnant; on my nightly walks, I’d pass his house, and one evening, I stopped to chat. I’ve been visiting Orv about once a week ever since.
He shared stories of being a parent with me, given my condition. He and his wife raised 5 kids between them, kids who’ve gone on to raise kids of their own and so on and so on (Orv is now the oldest of 5 living generations).
Orv explained that as a rancher, they often had to balance the babies and chores, including caring for the horses and working the fields. One day, he took baby Nancy, who was just a few weeks old, and put her in a basket with a few blankets, and took her with him to the field. He set the basket in the shade of a fencerow and left her there while he got to work.
As he plowed the field, working his way around the perimeter, he would come by Nancy in her little basket every 20 minutes or so. When he could see the basket, he would keep an eye on it, but the far end of the field took him out of sight of the baby. So he stopped with each pass, checked that she was okay, then got back on the tractor and continued. He said once he caught a raccoon coming a bit close, but he shooed him away before he could get into the basket.
I contrast Orv’s story with present day best practices. No one would ever condone leaving your baby in a basket alongside a cornfield, unattended, open to the sun, wind, rain, black widow spiders, or any curious raccoons that happened along.
If Orv’s story occurred in present day, the baby would be rubbed down with sunscreen, protected under a sun shade, wearing clothing over 90% of her body (including a sun hat), strapped into an infant seat, placed in an all-terrain stroller three feet off the ground, and equipped with a battery-powered long-range video baby monitor so the farmer parent could listen in (and watch) her. Not that this would actually happen – most likely, alternate care would be arranged, or the work just wouldn’t get done that day. People are careful and cautious to a completely different level in this day and age.
For example, at our Baby Care class, they warned against using any after-market insert to cradle baby’s head inside the infant car seat. “Use only the padded insert that came with the car seat, for safety! Anything that comes separately is dangerous in an accident!” We dutifully obeyed, and when a friend gave us an infant insert for a car seat, we donated it to Goodwill, proud of ourselves for being conscientious, safe parents…
Until we drove Peanut home from the hospital, and were horrified to see her tiny head flopping around, forward and side-to-side, with every bump and turn we met. The insert that came with the car seat was nowhere near small enough for a newborn. So I sat next to her in the backseat, holding her head, wondering why the hell we’d been given such bad advice.
Luckily, we ran into a neighbor that night on our evening walk. They asked why one of us was pushing the stroller while the other was walking alongside, leaned over awkwardly. We explained our conundrum and they loaned us their Eddie Bauer infant-head-cradling insert, which has worked beautifully ever since.
My point is this – at what point did we start eschewing common sense in the name of safety? Is it really better to let your infant’s neck take abuse during every car trip just so she’s “safer” in the event of a rare catastrophic accident?
Johnson’s Baby Lotion is another victim of overcautious parenting – apparently the dyes and perfumes are dangerous (a bummer, because baby lotion smells so damn good). Baby powder is a no-no (the powder can get into baby lungs and cause sickness). Sunscreen was a complete anathema, but now it’s back in the good graces (they’ve figured out the risk of reaction to sunscreen’s chemicals is miniscule compared to melanoma, which is much more likely).
Pull-down window shades are denounced, too. You’re supposed to use the stick-on type (never mind that they never stick, and will undoubtedly end up wrinkled and “rolled up” inside your car door). Why? Because of the danger posed by the shade flying around inside the car during an accident. Yet I would love to see the child who is more injured by a lightweight plastic window shade than by the car accident that was severe enough to dislodge the shade from the window. Trust me, if an accident shatters the window next to your baby, you’ve got bigger problems than a plastic window shade.
Blankets are a suffocation hazard, as are crib bumpers… you’re supposed to keep the crib completely free of everything except the baby. So now what used to be a place of comfort – baby’s crib – is as desolate and empty as the Sahara.
As I get further into this parenting gig, I realize that the warnings are mostly CYA – cover your ass. The hospital baby class has to say all these things are dangerous, because once upon a time, someone’s baby did inhale powder and got pneumonia. But they fail to mention that most of these items, when used with a little common sense, are just fine.
The Bumbo seat is a very recent example. (See photo.) These little foam chairs are great for kiddos who can’t sit up on their own yet. But it turns out some idiot parents were placing them on the edges of counter tops and tables, and when baby leaned too far, they fell out, took a tumble, and some suffered skull fractures. This breaks my heart, but I also want to smack these parents. Thanks to them, the Bumbo company is sending out hundreds of thousands of “seat belts” for parents to use with the seat. Never mind that it’s designed to hold your kiddo quite snugly (when used as directed). Now we all get a seatbelt for it and a stern warning to keep the Bumbo off elevated surfaces.
There’s a list of “supposed to’s” a mile long for parents. I had thought it was my job to know and follow them all, but now I’m not convinced this is such a good idea. As parents, we all have to weigh the odds and make the decisions that work for us (and ones we can live with). That’s really the best we can do.
But I must advise against putting your baby in a basket next to a fencerow. Even common sense has limits.