MONDAY, July 27, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- New mothers get conflicting advice from medical professionals, family members and the media when it comes to key parenting topics, a recent study found.
And that advice often goes against American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations for breast-feeding, vaccines, pacifier use and infant sleep, researchers say.
"In order for parents to make informed decisions about their baby's health and safety, it is important that they get information, and that the information is accurate," said the study's lead author, Dr. Staci Eisenberg, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center.
"We know from prior studies that advice matters," Eisenberg said. Parents are more likely to follow the recommendations of medical professionals when they "receive appropriate advice from multiple sources, such as family and physicians," she added.
The study was published online July 27 in Pediatrics.
The researchers surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. mothers. Their children were between 2 months and 6 months old. Researchers asked the mothers what advice they had been given on a variety of topics, including vaccines, breast-feeding, pacifiers and infant sleep position and location.
Sleep location included whether babies sleep in their own bed or share a bed with parents, and if they sleep in their own room or their parents' room. Sources of advice included doctors, nurses at the hospital where they gave birth, family members and the media.
Mothers got most of their advice from doctors. But much of that advice contradicted the recommendations of the AAP on these topics.
For example, as much as 15 percent of the advice mothers received from doctors on breast-feeding and on pacifiers didn't match recommendations. Similarly, 26 percent of advice about sleeping positions contradicted recommendations. And nearly 29 percent of mothers got misinformation on where babies should sleep, the study found.
"I don't think too many people will be shocked to learn that medical advice found online or on an episode of Dr. Oz might be very different from the recommendations of pediatric medical experts or even unsupported by legitimate evidence," said Dr. Clay Jones, a pediatrician specializing in newborn medicine at Newton-Wellesley Hospital in Massachusetts. He said inaccurate advice from some family members may be unsurprising, too.
"But I'm not so sure most parents realize how much recommendations differ from doctor to doctor and nurse to nurse, or that many of us give medical information that is just plain wrong," said Jones, who was not involved with the study.
Mothers got advice from family members between 30 percent and 60 percent of the time, depending on the topic. More than 20 percent of the advice about breast-feeding from family members didn't match AAP recommendations.
Similarly, family advice related to pacifiers, where babies sleep and babies' sleep position went against the AAP recommendations two-thirds of the time, the study found.
"Families give inconsistent advice largely because they are not trained medical professionals and are basing their recommendations on personal anecdotal experience," Jones said.
Less than half the women said the media was a source of advice, except when it came to breast-feeding. Seventy percent of mothers said they got advice from the media on breast-feeding, and much of it didn't match recommendations.
In addition, more than a quarter of the mothers who got advice about vaccines from the media received information that was not consistent with AAP recommendations.
"Mothers get inconsistent advice from the media, especially the Internet, because it is the Wild West with no regulation on content at all," Jones said.
The possible consequences of bad advice depends on the topic and the advice, Jones said.
"Not vaccinating your child against potentially life-threatening diseases like measles is an obvious example," he said. "Others may result in less risk of severe illness or injury but may still result in increased stress and anxiety, such as inappropriately demonizing the use of pacifiers while breast-feeding."
Mothers who look for information online should stick to sources such as the AAP, the American Academy of Family Physicians or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Eisenberg suggested.
Eisenberg and Jones agreed the best source for advice remains the child's doctor.
"While our findings suggest that there is room for improvement, we did find that health care providers were an important source of information, and the information was generally accurate," Eisenberg said. "But I would encourage parents to ask questions if they don't feel like their provider has been entirely clear, or if they have any questions about the recommendations."
For advice recommended by medical experts about these topics, visit the American Academy of Pediatrics.