Researcher Discovers Shocking Child-Care Practices

<i> Celia Hooper is a science writer for United Press International</i>

A teen-age mother nonchalantly chewed a bite of tuna sandwich then spat the masticated mush into the mouth of her 8-month-old baby, shocking a first-year medical resident.

But the unhealthful practice is not uncommon, a pediatrician wrote recently in the journal Pediatrics, and doctors would do well to learn about the child-rearing practices of impoverished young mothers.

Dr. John Walburn, head of general pediatrics at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, conducted a survey of child care practices of 68 poor mothers and described the results for other doctors “so your jaw doesn’t fall off when get you get hit with it,” he said, or “to decrease the shock to physicians.”

Walburn explained that doctors and nurses can be most helpful when they react to patients “non-judgmentally,” rather than with shock, and can better diagnose problems and teach mothers better practices if they know the techniques mothers are using.


Unfortunately, Walburn said, “Most physicians don’t know about these things.”

Walburn and his research team asked four grandmothers and 64 mothers visiting a pediatric clinic or receiving home nursing visits to describe their child-care techniques. The women surveyed were all black, poor and averaged 22 years of age. Their charges averaged 18 months of age.

The researchers reported that 65% of the mothers said they chewed food for their infants, a practice Walburn said could transmit diseases and result in infants getting foods that are not good for them. He recommended that mothers grind food or purchase jars of baby food instead of masticating it.

Forty-one percent of the mothers said they cleared infants’ stuffed noses by putting their mouths over the infant’s mouth and blowing in air. While the procedure may force mucous out of the child’s nose, it can also damage their ears and lead to inner-ear infections, Walburn said. But he reported that the children did not have a higher incidence of ear problems.


Walburn recommended that practitioners teach mothers to use a suction device for clearing infants’ noses.

Other common unhealthful practices included feeding infants water before giving them formula. While 28% of the mothers said they did this to “flush out the system” of their infants, Walburn said it tended to reduce children’s feeding, resulting in poor nourishment.

Fifteen percent of the mothers treat colicky babies with a “smoke tent,” putting an infant under a sheet and then blowing in cigarette smoke.

Other surprising practices often reported by the mothers are probably not dangerous, Walburn said. Twenty-two percent use urine-soaked diapers to wipe rashes, while 18% use such diapers to wipe hives on a baby’s face, and 15% use them to treat thrush, a yeast-like whitish infection.


Thirty-one percent of the mothers put fried flour on rashes, and 52% trim their babies’ nails by chewing them off.