Grandparents Could Be Putting Children’s Health at Risk

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Many grandparents are holding onto outdated child-rearing tactics that may be putting the safety of newborns and toddlers at risk, says a new study from researchers at Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center in New York.

Assessing how well grandparents adhere to current safety standards, researchers administered a survey to 636 study participants and found that many are not up to speed, noted Dr. Andrew Adesman, presenting his findings at the Pediatric Academic Societies conference in May.

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For instance, about 25% of the grandparents surveyed were not aware that current safety standards call for an infant to sleep on his or her back and nearly half, or 44%, agreed that ice baths are a good way to reduce a fever.

“We shouldn’t assume that just because they’ve raised a child before, they’re experts,” said Adesman, according to CNN Health.

Having a baby sleep on his/her back is considered the best way to avoid sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). With regard to ice-water baths, researchers caution that prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures can put the child at risk of hypothermia.

The study comes at a time when more grandparents — now at least one in 10 — are reportedly tending to the needs of little ones on a routine basis, according to national health statistics.

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Many grandparents who care for infants and toddlers lack a support system that can help them provide adequate care while tending to other daily needs, noted the researchers.

“When grandparents step up to the plate, it can be wonderful for grandchildren but can also pose challenges in terms of lifestyle, finances and mental and physical health to a somewhat older or elderly cohort,” said Adesman, according to reports.

“In their questionnaires, a fairly large sample size of grandparents felt they were doing a good job but acknowledged they didn’t have the support they often needed and that their role could be alienating in terms of their own peer group,” Adesman added.

For the latest updates on child-care safety, the researchers counseled parents and other caregivers, including grandparents, to check out trusted resources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Healthy Children website.

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They also suggest that children’s doctors should take a close look at child care when a grandparent is involved and remember that a refresher may be in order.

“It’s important that pediatricians not make the mistake of taking for granted that because these grandparents have raised children already, they have the wisdom of the ages,” said Adesman.

Safety standards are a moving target and typically go through updates as the medical community learns more about health risks and other factors. While many grandparents are stepping in to provide much-needed support, the emerging trend may take a toll.

“Although the grandparents often elected to take on this role, it’s not something they planned for and it can represent a challenge in many domains. Many grandparents are up to the challenge, but it may come with certain costs,” said Adesman.

Richard Scott
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.