4 parenting trends you can skip

As a mom, I’d be the first one to sign up for any intervention that guaranteed my baby would sleep through the night, would be a fail-safe protection against postpartum depression, or made my child’s gut healthier. Who wouldn’t want these miracle treatments?!

But as a doctor, I’m also the first one to stop and ask, “Where’s the scientific evidence that this works?” and even more importantly, “Are we sure this doesn’t actually cause more harm than good?”

This is why any time I see any new item or treatment or practice in the world of pregnancy and parenting I am suspicious when it is touted as amazing, crucial, or naturally obvious. Read on for just a handful of these such trends:

Eating your placenta. Also known as placentophagia, this is the practice of a woman consuming her own placenta after giving birth. This may be done in pill form or blended in smoothies. It’s all the celebrity rage and many midwives and doulas even offer placenta encapsulation as part of their birth services. Why would a new mom do this, you might wonder? Well, it’s been advertised as a natural treatment for many issues: preventing or treating postpartum depression, boosting iron stores and curing anemia, and even helping with low milk supply.

The facts: Unfortunately, there is no science to back any of these claims up. While it’s true there are few studies even on the subject, what we have so far hasn’t proven any of these claims. A recent study showed no difference in iron levels in moms who took placenta pills versus those who took a placebo pill.

The verdict: More high-quality studies would be great on this subject before we make big claims that placentas are cure-alls. For now, we know very little, and concerns over infection and food-borne illnesses are real. Encapsulation services can also be costly and, if not useful, could be money better spent on diapers instead.

Amber teething necklaces. The idea here is that you have your baby wear an amber teething necklace, and when her skin heats the amber it naturally releases succinic acid, which is supposed to help relieve the pain and discomfort associated with teething.

The facts: Again there is no proof that these necklaces work. They can also become a choking hazard if a bead breaks off or a necklace is too loose and the baby can chew on it and swallow a bead.

The verdict: Not only are these not helpful, but they may be harmful. Skip them and stick with tried and true methods of dealing with teething pain.

Vaginal seeding. Babies who are born vaginally pick up some of mom’s bacteria as they pass through the birth canal. Some of these good microbes end up colonizing the baby’s digestive system, which may lead to healthier gut flora. This then may decrease a baby’s risks for obesity, asthma, and diabetes, among other theoretical benefits. Vaginal seeding is the practice of using gauze to wipe some of mom’s vaginal secretions on her baby if she is going to deliver by C-section instead. The thought is that doing this will help babies still be exposed to their mothers’ bacteria even if they can’t be born vaginally.

The facts: The theory is a good one, but we again have no data that this helps. There are also concerns that this may transfer some harmful bacteria to a baby that could make them quite sick, such as Group B strep, herpes, gonorrhea, or chlamydia.

The verdict: This one may have some promise, but we should wait until we have clinical trials that prove this not only helps, but is also not harmful before making it the routine in the operating room.

Essential oils to cure a cold or boost your kid’s immune system. Diffusing essential oils can ward off the flu, and if your child is sick can help her recover more quickly.

The facts: Nope. There is no hard science to support these claims. If anything, they could be harmful if misused.

The verdict: Use essential oils (safely and according to directions, keeping them out of the reach of children at all times) to make your house smell nice, but don’t use them as a substitute for common medical evaluation and treatment of childhood illnesses. Instead, have your kid sleep more and eat more veggies (easy, right?!) if you want an immune boost!

Do all of these sound pretty negative? And is that just because I am a doctor and don’t believe in alternative or complementary medicine? Not at all. I truly believe in practices such as acupuncture for low back pain in pregnancy and even moxibustion for helping a breech baby turn — and that’s because there is science to back these claims up.

If we get good studies that show vaginal seeding works or ingesting placenta capsules helps new moms better than the treatments we already have, sign me up. Let’s just make sure we are first doing no harm.


Tell us who you are! We use your name to make your comments, emails, and notifications more personal.

Tell us who you are! We use your name to make your comments, emails, and notifications more personal.