Originally posted here by Dr. Samira Armin, Pediatrician at Texas Children’s Pediatrics – Humble Fall Creek

“Doctor, my online mommy group recommends baby-led feeding for our 5-month-old. Do you agree with them?”

In a word, no.

Many times when I walk into a patient’s room, parents are talking on the phone, texting or surfing the Internet. Despite our clinic’s “no mobile phone” policy, I typically allow parents to finish what they are doing, knowing well that they may be catching up on errands, bills or other important tasks. In today’s society, it is nearly impossible to completely unplug from technology. We have to now carry our smart phones the way we do our car keys and wallet. This is the world in which we now live; however, when it comes to parenting and medical information and advice, it may be time to take a step back and remember a few important details.

Mommy groups and chat rooms should always be taken with a grain of salt.
Mommy groups certainly have their advantages and solace when it comes to tackling the challenging world of parenting. However, it is important to know that the advice received on these venues is often just that: advice. I frequently advise my patient’s parents to remember their mommy group friends have a separate family dynamic and an entirely different baby. While something may have worked for them, it may not mean it will work for you, your baby/child and your unique family. Even though some tips can be learned by social media, no advice should be taken without remembering the context and background of the situation.

The Internet can be addicting.
Being a mother of young children can be very isolating. Often times, parents use the Internet as a means of escape. There is a solace in discussing one’s experiences with other people who have experienced what you have. But nowadays, people lose track of time and may be spending at least six to eight hours online per day. This time could be better used bonding with your baby and getting to know your child. Even though it may feel like the screen time is being used for a productive purpose, it shouldn’t replace quality face-to-face interaction. Furthermore, it may inadvertently teach your children that screen time has no limits or consequences (when they clearly do). Currently, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no more than two hours of high-quality content screen time for children, per day. Today’s children are spending an average of seven hours per day in screen time.

The Internet can make real life seem unproductive.
Online you can pay bills, order diapers, upload photos, send them to family and look up the cause of your child’s rash all within a short hour. You can keep up with the news, look up your itinerary and text friends you don’t have time to see. It feels nice to tick items off a to-do list and get that sense of accomplishment and productivity. Unfortunately, this means spending two hours in a park with your children, can inadvertently feel unproductive and like time wasted. Furthermore, many people feel anxious if they leave their phone for a few hours, only to come back to a slew of messages, emails and missed phone calls. Unfortunately, too much screen time has adverse effects. It has been linked to school difficulties in children, as well as sleep and eating disorders in both children and adults. There is actually a movement among psychiatrists to recognize Internet addiction as an official mental disorder.

The Internet should not replace advice from your physician
While any research on the part of a parent should be encouraged, there is also the danger of going overboard with Internet searches and online chatting. It is no secret there is an insurmountable amount of false and unproven data online. For instance, baby-led weaning (BLW) is a method of allowing young infants and babies to control their own solid food intake by self-feeding from the very beginning. This can be very dangerous. Very little scientific research has been done about BLW. Conversely, through years of research and data, the AAP recommends solid food introduction at 6 months of age. Most pediatricians will talk to you about when to safely introduce solids to your baby, and how to do this. They have to take into account your baby’s gestational age, development and food allergy risk. BLW can be very risky and could lead to choking and nutritional problems for babies. A recent study even suggests BLW can lead to obesity in childhood.

In summary, the Internet is a wonderful tool which allows us to connect with people and information in a way that was impossible decades ago. Despite this, it is important to remember it is no replacement for personal time or a professional health care provider’s diagnosis or recommendations. Limit yours and your child’s screen time to no more than two hours per day. And trust your physician’s professional input and advice when it comes to the health and well-being of your children.