Stanford's baby-care refresher 101 teaches expectant grandparents modern techniques | News | Palo Alto Online |


Stanford's baby-care refresher 101 teaches expectant grandparents modern techniques

Seminar introduces participants to 'skin to skin,' rooming in' practices, among other methods

Marilyn Swarts, a former labor-and-delivery nurse and nurse manager, uses a doll to demonstrate how to swaddle an infant during a seminar for new grandparents looking to refresh their baby-care skills. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

On a recent Monday evening, 20 soon-to-be grandparents gathered in a Stanford Health Care classroom to get their grandparenting skills up to speed before the arrival of the newest members of their families. Most of them hadn't swaddled, fed or cared for a baby in decades, and with advanced technology, new research and different family dynamics, some of the accepted practices of baby care from those days have changed.

The group, which included 14 women and six men, shared information about their grandchildren's impending births. Some — including a couple from Bangladesh and another from Florida — said they'd moved to the Bay Area specifically to help with child care. Several said they were taking the class at the request of their children or that their kids had paid the $65 tuition as a gift for them to attend.

The "Grandparents Seminar" at Stanford is part of a growing trend to help new grandparents become better informed about the basics of infant care and make the most of their unique role in the family.

"The story of what's happening in this community is that grandparents — many grandparents — are doing child care, either full time or part time," said grandmother Marilyn Swarts, who worked for decades as a labor-and-delivery nurse and nurse manager and has been teaching the monthly grandparents class offered through Stanford Children's Health for the past 15 years.

Swarts' 2.5-hour session, which covers some of the latest pediatric thinking on newborn care, attracts grandparents from throughout the region and consistently sells out.

Swarts tells her students: "You've all brought up great kids, but today there are some pretty significant differences from the way we did things."

At the top of that list, Swarts said, is the way infants should be put to sleep. To reduce risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), babies always should be placed on their backs on a firm mattress "with absolutely nothing in the crib — no bumpers, no blankets," she said.

Such advice comes as a surprise to many prospective grandparents who, prior to the mid-1990s, typically were advised to position infants on their stomachs for sleep. One soon-to-be grandmother said she'd retrieved old family photos in which her babies were "sleeping on lamb's wool, on their stomachs, with bumpers and little toys — the whole nine yards."

It's now understood that stomach sleeping, blankets and crib bumpers increase the risk of SIDS, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The Sudden Infant Death rate in the United States has dropped by about 50% since the agency's "Back to Sleep" campaign was launched in 1994, saving thousands of lives.

Also new to many grandparents are the "skin to skin" and "rooming in" practices in today's maternity wards, which have brought an end to nurseries in many hospitals over the past decade, Swarts said. Instead of nurses whisking a newborn away for a checkup and a bath, the baby is placed belly down directly on the mother's chest right for the first hour or more after birth. Newborn assessments are done in that position, and babies not requiring special medical attention remain in the rooms of their parents — yes, dads stay overnight in the hospital, too — throughout their hospital stay.

Swarts covers a host of other topics in her monthly evening sessions: the resurgence of swaddling, breastfeeding, cord clamps, cloth versus disposable diapers, introduction of solid food and peanuts, baby food pouches, colic, soothing methods — including baby-soothing apps — warnings against honey and baby powder and more.

She reminds grandparents to update their flu vaccinations and to wash their hands often. She notes that today's car seats are so complicated that parents and grandparents are advised to have their installation double checked at the police or fire station.

But Swarts stresses that her single-most important message for grandparents — repeated throughout the session — is to resist the urge to offer unsolicited advice to their child and their child's partner.

"Zip your lip. Bite your tongue," she said. "They are the parents of this baby. Your job is to support and empower them to be good parents."

Swarts often repeats that she has "scars on my tongue" from choking back advice to her daughter when the daughter's first baby was born 18 years ago. At that time, Swarts's son-in-law was serving in Afghanistan and her daughter was living with her.

"I really had to let her learn to be the mother rather than be the expert — and that's a hard one when that's your expertise."

With a newborn, she advises grandparents to offer assistance that allows parents to focus on learning to care for their baby. Often most helpful are chores such as meal preparation, laundry, pet care, cleaning and shopping, she said.

"Refrain as much as you can from saying, 'This is the way we did it for you,'" Swarts said. "They don't want to hear that. This is their experience. If they ask you, OK, you can say, 'We tried this.'

"And as you see how they're evolving as parents, just take joy in that."

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1 person likes this
Posted by Mom of Millenials
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 3, 2020 at 8:45 am

I used my mom and mom in law's advice. They have actually gone through it with me. I also used my own common sense. No baby monitors for them or for me, no bottles for them or for me, no pacifiers for them or for me. No cows milk until at least 12 months for them or for me. Breastfeeding for at least 12 months, for them and for me. No introduction of solid food before 4 months and then very slowly, for them and for me. Mothers stayed with baby 99% of the time for them and for me. Best advice is the old and trusted methods with just a few exceptions.

In days of yore all first time parents got their instruction from the older generation.

Yes trends change, advice may be different, but instincts should be followed.

Like this comment
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 3, 2020 at 12:30 pm

I think this is wonderful! I had so much tension with my MIL bc she wanted me to have my newborn sleep on his stomach, and it would have been nice to have a third party educate her on current research!

2 people like this
Posted by What a terrific idea!
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 3, 2020 at 12:31 pm

What a terrific idea! is a registered user.

I think this is terrific. My kids are grown now, but my parents were in their seventies when my babies were born. They didn't remember how to swaddle or bathe a baby. Infants seem so fragile, they were nervous. It is not like riding a bicycle if you haven't done it in a long while. They wanted to be hands-on, and I wanted their visits to be special. They would have loved a class like this.

Someday, when (God willing) I become a grandma, I would like a class like this. Bring generations together. While generations can teach each other, this doesn't work for every family.

My mom didn't particularly enjoy infant care, but she was a mom in the 1950s when she didn't really have much choice. My dad (who, it turns out, LOVES taking care of babies) never learned because, "That was woman's work." He learned from us, and had lots of fun taking care of our infants when he visited. Dad would have enjoyed this class.

Like this comment
Posted by Elisabeth
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 3, 2020 at 5:58 pm

More than 60 years ago, when I was expecting my first child, my mother, who only had me, twenty years earlier, took such a class that I think was offered by the Red Cross. In those days, it was recommended that babies be laid down on their stomachs so they wouldn't choke on anything they might spit up. We also ended up using crib bumpers because the baby got stuck between the bars. Cribs are constructed better nowadays! My mom was wonderful with us and waited until our baby was a month old before she visited us so we could get a bit adjusted to this new event in our lives.

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