The childcare industry is massive. There is a wealth of information out there for families to pour-over. But is it all based in fact? How do we know what is and isn’t reliable? What does it mean to be evidence-based?
Be wary of the misinformation out there
Well, unfortunately, as with all things in the world there is a great deal of misinformation especially surrounding normal postpartum experiences such as baby sleep, baby feeding, baby poo! And it can be really difficult for parents to distinguish between anecdata and factual information. Anecdata is what is commonly and collectively believed to be true, such as the old wives’ tale that eating oats gives you plentiful milk supply, or that holding babies too much can spoil them. The evidence base – that is, information grounded in solid, reliable, scientific research – shows that neither of these things are true., and yet they are commonly beliefs that are held and shared by many. This can make parenting a minefield.
Other pervasive believes such as carrying babies in slings, cosleeping, breastfeeding beyond infancy, or picking your baby up every time they cry will lead to a clingy, spoiled, and difficult baby. The evidence base shows that none of this is true! Babies that create a solid attachment in infancy are more likely to grow up confident, with higher self-esteem, and be more comfortably independent. Responsive parenting is firmly rooted in evidence.
Separating opinions from facts
So how do we separate opinions from facts? What can we trust? First of all, searching for information from renowned world leaders in infant health and care is essential. Sources such as Public Health England, UNICEF, NICE, the World Health Organisation, and First Steps Nutrition are great examples of trusted resources. Most people aren’t scientists and don’t have the time or energy to sift through all the gubbins in scientific research papers, but if you do have that sort of interest of background, then a google search of various medical journals will be fruitful. But that doesn’t mean these sources are also trustworthy – there are often major flaws in sampling and research methods – so claims can be inconclusive, and we also have to look carefully at who is funding these studies. Do you think the research that says breastmilk and formula have identical properties, that is funded by a baby milk manufacturer would be reliable? Unlikely.
What about all the marketing?
Advertising also has a hugely powerful hold on parents. The baby industry is very polarising and emotive, and companies thrive on the free advertising they get when people argue incessantly on the web.
“Marketing is something we should always be cautious of. When it comes to things like formula, baby bottles, etc, these products are covered under the WHO Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and are, or should be, strictly regulated”.
Making health claims about bottles is against the Code, but that doesn’t stop companies from making unfounded claims about their bottle being the ‘best’ for breastfed babies for example.
Follow the guidelines
So, when we talk about the evidence-based practice we’re talking about following guidelines and information that has a solid research evidence base – for example, the UK guidelines for introducing solid foods to babies from 6 months has been in place since 2003, as a result of comprehensive research evidence gathered in the previous decades. This guideline remains unchanged despite new studies making different claims, because there is not enough compelling evidence to make this change. In 1991, the Back to Sleep campaign began after Peter Fleming discovered that putting babies to sleep on their fronts was leading to an enormous increased risk of SIDS. At that time, babies were dying at a rate of 1 in every 250 born. Since the Back to Sleep campaign was launched, SIDS rates have dropped 85% in the UK, which is a rate of 1 in 3000. The evidence base for putting babies to sleep on their backs remains in place because it is reliable, robust, and replicable.
The evidence base is robust. It changes when new evidence comes to light and can be repeated in experiments showing the same results. Or when a meta-analysis of existing information is reviewed and different conclusions can be made.
We know that not everyone wants to follow guidelines to a tee – and parents will make whatever decisions they feel are appropriate for their own families. But we cannot make informed choices about the health and wellbeing of our children if we don’t have access to good quality, reliable information. If the information is poor and unreliable, we could be taking risks with our babies that we don’t want to take, because we don’t know any different.
At Babyem we are passionate about helping parents make informed choices based on evidence-based practice.
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