Pediatrician group offers new advice on reducing SIDS risk and TV time

The American Academy of Pediatrics at its annual meeting – this year’s is taking place in Boston this week – usually dispenses advice aimed at more than 8,000 pediatricians in attendance. But the group also sent strong messages to parents in two new recommendations issued today on preventing sudden infant death syndrome or SIDS and limiting TV time for children under two years of age.

The SIDS prevention recommendations include various measures parents can take to reduce their babies’ risk — beyond putting them to sleep on their backs, which has long been recommended. Parents should make sure baby sleeps on a firm surface without loose bedding or bumper pads. They shouldn’t share beds with their infants and should avoid smoking, excess alcohol, and illicit drug use. The AAP also recommended that mothers breastfeed and avoid overheating their infants with excess blankets or layers of clothes. And consumer devices marketed to reduce SIDS’ risk — like home cardiorespiratory monitors — should be avoided since they don’t work.

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Another recommendation released today discussed how much television and electronic screen time babies under two should be getting. Answer: none. Okay, the pediatrics group says they’re strongly discouraging the use of electronic media not explicitly forbidding it, but I don’t see the difference.

And I’m not sure their message is getting through since they first “discouraged’’ TV time in 1999 for kids under two and now, more than a decade later, some 90 percent of parents report that their babies watch some form of electronic media. Heck, there’s even a new tablet device designed for toddlers and a growing number of kids are using their parents’ iPads and e-readers.

The AAP stressed that even educational programs like Sesame Street are detrimental for kids under two since they don’t have the attention span or intellectual capacity to really understand them. In its latest recommendation the group continued to discourage TV time but added that parents who do decide to let their little ones watch should at least review the content of the program beforehand or watch alongside their kids.

The recommendations went on to stress the importance of reading to toddlers — they didn’t specify whether e-books were allowed — and unstructured playtime. “Even for infants as young as 4 months of age, solo play allows a child to think creatively, problem-solve, and accomplish tasks with minimal parent interaction,’’ say the guidelines.

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And parents should realize that their own TV viewing habits can have harmful effects on their children. The AAP called it “distracting for both parent and child.’’

On a separate note, the meeting also included an interesting study — conducted by two elementary school students and two medical professionals — which found that both adults and kids have a tough time telling candy from medicine. The study participants, kindergartners and their teachers, failed to distinguish between pieces of candy and pills about 20 to 30 percent of the time. (The teachers did a little better than the kids.)

The most common mistakes? M&Ms were mistaken for Coricidin, SweeTARTS for Mylanta and Tums, and Reese’s Pieces for Sine-off, according to this synopsis in the Atlantic. More than three-quarters of the study participants reported that medicine in their homes wasn’t stored properly in locked cabinets out of kids’ reach.

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