Ohio grandparents-to-be learn child-rearing tricks

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Anyone approaching the status of a grandparent clearly survived parenting the first time around. And babies are still babies.

Yet much has changed in the 30 or so years since many modern grandparents last cared for infants.

Babies sleep on their backs, not on their stomachs. They eat whenever they want, not according to a schedule.

They have sleep sacks, fold-up playpens and multiple car seats -- and rubber duckies that measure the temperature of bath water.

Progress even applies to the important topic of diapers, parent educator Tobey Huntley recently explained to an Ohio class of grandparents-to-be at the Elizabeth Blackwell Center at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus.

These days, cloth diapers are fastened with Velcro instead of safety pins. ("Wow!" exclaimed a class member, watching as Huntley held up the new product.)

Disposable diapers come with indicators that reveal when they have become wet. ("That's hilarious," another said.) Oh, but they cost about $17 a pack, Huntley warned. ("Dang!" someone complained.)

A few such surprises contribute to the monthly GRAND!parenting class that OhioHealth, like other organizations nationwide, offers to expectant grandparents in need of a remedial course.

The class evolved from conversations in support-group meetings during which new parents mentioned that some of their mothers' pearls of wisdom, though well-intentioned, no longer fit today's rules.

Carla Armstrong of Pataskala recently took the class after becoming a grandmother for the fifth time. Her son and daughter-in-law suggested it after she put a blanket in the baby's crib -- which is no longer advised by pediatricians.

"I raised four boys, but that doesn't matter," Armstrong, 67, said of the parenting changes. "It's too funny; it's like you didn't do it -- and that's because things are different."

Sleep rules constitute the biggest changes for grandparents: Within the past two decades, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that babies sleep on their backs in cribs free of any toys or blankets to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

Among other health and safety developments covered in the class: sleep sacks to replace crib blankets, an increased number of doctor visits and vaccinations, and car seats that should be inspected by professionals and used on the drive home from the hospital.

"I came home in a basket in the front seat in the '60s," Huntley said with a smile. "Times have changed, you know?"

Grandparents could also use a refresher on situations they might have faced decades ago, Huntley figures. Handing her students a flip book of photos, she shared a series of cheerful reminders about common newborn characteristics that can incite panic in new parents.

"Remember that the feet can be bluish for the first day or so?"

"Remember all that soft baby fuzz on their face?"

The little white bumps on the baby's face? The dry, peeling skin? The scaly "cradle cap"? How the baby's head might be alarmingly cone-shaped at first?
"Remember being so worried about all those little things?" she asked the seven grandparents-to-be as they took notes inside a classroom at the center.

When the time came to study circumcision recovery photos, the lone grandpa in the room turned red, explaining that he can't even stomach medical TV shows.

"It looks like the movie Saw," he whispered to his wife, disturbed.

Once, one of the participants did pass out during the class, Huntley noted. But most are excited.

Huntley devotes a portion of the class to discussing the modern role of a grandparent, now that they're often daytime caregivers or at least more involved in the baby's care than were their own parents.

She reminded them to be helpful without assuming control: No rearranging the kitchen without the new parents' permission, she said, or arguing, "But you turned out fine."

"They're not actually the parents, and sometimes it's hard to rein that in," Huntley said of her students. "They're going to see their own child differently; sometimes, that's something they haven't even thought about."

Grandmother-to-be Toni Hill of Columbus recently disagreed with her daughter over using a "safety duck" that gauges the temperature of bath water. Hill, 57, advocated instead for using an old-fashioned test: the elbow.

She attended the class with the stepmom of the baby's father so that the family has the same ideas about caring for her.

"I have to realize that they're the parents and let them do things on their own," Hill said. "But if they need us, we're here for them."
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, www.dispatch.com

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