An excerpt from Parent Like a Pediatrician: All of the Facts, None of the Fear.
The internet broke parenting. In the “good old days,” parents followed a few basic pediatrician-approved rules—send your kid to school, give them healthy food, say “I love you”—and felt confident that they were raising their children right. But today, even the basics have become needlessly complicated.
As a new parent, you’ll have access to more information than ever before—but you will also have more reasons than ever to doubt it. Modern parenting advice comes from two very different and often-conflicting sources. On the one hand, you have the “mommy blogs” filled with anecdotes that are personal and accessible. On the other hand, there are the official pediatric organizations (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and World Health Organization), which present a never-ending list of rules and regulations that, while based on good science, often ignore the realities of parenting and the everyday challenges that stand in the way of following rigid guidelines.
As a pediatrician-in-training—before I became a mother—I recited these rules to parents and expected them to do everything as outlined: minimize screen time (this was before the WHO had adopted its latest zero-tolerance policy); breastfeed exclusively; never, ever, co-sleep; and, most important, to remember that the internet, filled with unscientific advice, should never be trusted.
But when I became a mom, my world was turned upside down. I immediately violated many of the very rules I had issued as a pediatrician. When my daughter had trouble latching, I gave her formula. When she got sick, or even a bit fussier than usual, I turned on the TV and let the screen tag in as the babysitter. And after years of preaching the importance of structured family meals, I even found myself hosting “toddler picnics,” when on particularly rushed mornings I shared breakfast with my nine-month-old, served on paper towels, sitting on the floor, to maximize efficiency and minimize mess. I couldn’t believe that for years I had been so black-and-white with my patients, rigidly defending guidelines and best practices I now know are impossible to follow perfectly.
At work, I swapped war stories with fellow pediatrician parents, confessing how I had forgotten to brush my infant’s teeth for the past week, or had served a bottle of breast milk left on the counter an hour after its expiration. All my coworkers had made similar choices, also shocked that they’d ever been so rigid in their recommendations. From mild violations like extending pacifier use to the cardinal sin of modifying rigid “safe sleep” practices, every pediatrician mother admitted to making compromises and breaking strict AAP rules.
I also did the unthinkable: I started reading mommy blogs. I was both validated and shocked. I understood immediately why so many parents turn to these funny and humanizing websites as their sole source of information. “Guilt-free” parenting essays, blogs, and social media accounts appear as lifeboats in an ocean of stressful, unrealistic expectations. When the American Academy of Pediatrics commands that babies sleep in their parent’s room for a whole year on the same handout promoting excellent and important safe sleep practices, it’s easy to lose trust and turn elsewhere. But “guilt-free” parenting isn’t the answer. Science is lacking, and the suggestions can be downright dangerous. Some bloggers, seeking free products, plug unsafe items. At their worst, popular sites serve advice that denounces lifesaving vaccines and medications in an attempt to sell “alternative” remedies. And even the best websites often mix good data with pseudoscience so seamlessly that it’s impossible to tell fact from fiction.
This information overload has made it impossible to sort through parenting guidance, let alone find a one-stop shop for reputable and realistic recommendations. I’m routinely asked—not just by my patients, but by friends feeling overwhelmed with the sheer amount of information available to them, and the frustration of trying to follow the rigid guidelines official pediatric organizations preach.
Parenting is more complicated than ever, and I’ve spent years examining the evidence and integrating this data into my clinical and personal practice. I know how little evidence we have about many hot-button parenting topics, and I’m not afraid to admit when the experts are engaging in mere guesswork.
But I’m not here to toss the baby with the proverbial stress-inducing guideline bathwater. Good science and clinical insight are still important—but they only matter if they are translated into recommendations that are realistic and reasonable enough for you to follow. Despite limitations in the field of pediatric medicine, I’ve been able to use the science and my own clinical expertise to create safe and realistic guidance. It’s what I do every day. As a fully boarded pediatrician, my training includes four years of medical school, three years of pediatrics residency, plus continued daily work as a hospital pediatrician. Sorting through data, staying up-to-date on health and safety recommendations for kids, and knowing how to translate scientific evidence into clinical advice is literally my job.
Modern parenting comes with challenges that only a modern parent can understand. As both a pediatrician and a mother, I dispense with the advice I wish I had when my daughter was born. While there may be no one way to raise your kids, there are still safe and realistic options that can guide you on your journey. The internet may have broken parenting, but I’m here to fix it.
Rebekah Diamond is a pediatrician and author of Parent Like a Pediatrician: All of the Facts, None of the Fear.
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