5 baby myths busted

Posted on 4 July 2017

There are so many myths around babies that cause parents a lot of unnecessary guilt and anguish – and sometimes even extra expense. A Mediclinic paediatrician busts five enduring baby myths.

‘The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.’ – President John F Kennedy

Dr Riaan van Lill of Mediclinic Hoogland says paediatricians are often faced with parents who feel guilty about mistakes they think they’ve made when there is absolutely no reason for alarm. He looks at five commonly held false beliefs about babies. 

Myth 1: Breastfeeding requires a special diet

‘The fact that you recently received a new bundle of joy does not mean that you suddenly need to be transformed into a nun,’ says Dr Van Lill. ‘If all the different cultures and diets in the world are taken into account, it doesn’t make sense that should a mother be following a normal balanced diet, she may cause problems to her nursing infant with the food she eats. Eliminating food stuffs does not prevent allergic disease and seldom has a role to play in the management of colic.’

Myth 2: Teething causes illness

‘Teeth do not miraculously appear from another universe like aliens causing disease. This normal process of transforming the gums does not cause illness,’ explains Dr Van Lill. ‘We are born with baby teeth and eruption of these pearly whites does not cause diarrhoea, a runny nose, coughing or a rise in temperature of more than 37.5°C.’ Mild irritability is possible, however, but all it requires is mild symptomatic treatment, Dr Van Lill adds.

Myth 3: Milk causes mucous

Babies and toddlers are often taken aback at having their milk taken away as soon as their noses start running or they start coughing. These symptoms are most likely caused by a viral infection. Removing essential nutrition during illness can actually worsen the situation. The thickening of saliva that adults experience with dairy products is due to its high fat content and does not cause the production of phlegm, which is a normal protective response to infection, rather than milk products.

Myth 4: Babies under six months need extra water

‘Whether breastfeeding or bottle feeding, the contents of the milk is approximately 88% water,’ says Dr Van Lill. ‘The baby’s body will determine what is required and will extract exactly the correct amount without being confused by a well-meaning parent adding top-up offerings of water. Current best practice is exclusive breastfeeding up to the age of 4-6 months.’

Myth 5: It’s necessary to give supplements or vitamins to babies

‘In spite of all the hype and advertising, routine supplementation is not advised,’ says Dr Van Lill. ‘It does not prevent or cure colds or make your baby more intelligent.’ He adds that it may be prescribed by healthcare providers on occasion. ‘Babies exclusively breastfeeding for longer than six months might require an iron supplement, but it’s recommended that you already start introducing iron-rich solids at this age.

Vitamin D is also a possibility should sun exposure be inadequate, which in our beautiful country is highly unlikely. And a high single dose of vitamin A at six-monthly intervals is currently part of the national health strategy.’

Once your baby is off breast milk or formula, which contain the right amount of vitamins and minerals, it may be necessary to supplement with a multivitamin and mineral if they are not eating a balanced diet every day. This should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

‘The list of these urban legends runs on and on,’ Dr Van Lill concludes. ‘To provide sensible care and not increase medical expenses unnecessarily, I recommend that parents seek second opinions from reputable sources, or ask people to reveal their sources. This will often expose the origin of the urban legend as tradition and hearsay.’

To improve your parenting skills and get the real facts, Dr Van Lill recommends the parenting book, Baby Facts by Dr Andrew Adesman.  


In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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