Bringing up a baby has never been this easy. The internet is the new nanny. From pregnancy problems to weight loss advice, a growing number of new-age parents are referring to information sourced from random parenting blogs and websites.
The question, though, is how reliable is such unsolicited online advice? Also, considering that many parenting problems are contextual, can this advice cause more harm than good?
The answers you find online can certainly become confusing, says Mumbaiite Rhituparna Mitra. A year ago, she became concerned that hearing multiple languages at home — Hindi, Marathi, Bengali and English — would affect her 18-month-old daughter’s speech development.
Not knowing whom to consult, Mitra, an avid reader of online content on parenting and early childhood development, turned to the internet for answers. But the random google search results and web posts threw up contradictory information. “A lot of the information was also from unreliable or unspecified sources,” says Mitra, a 34-year-old marketing executive. “I didn’t know what to believe. I realised that if I wanted credible information as a parent, I would have to seek out expert opinions.”
That’s when she stumbled upon the Facebook page for Baby Chakra, a website that connects parents with doctors, paediatricians, nutritionists and other health specialists, and features blog posts by the experts. Here, she unearthed a post where a speech therapist explored exactly the issue she had been concerned about — speech development in multilingual families. “The blog said exposure to multiple languages improves ability. It also said that if a child hears the same person switch back and forth between different languages, it could be confusing. That was an interesting perspective,” Mitra says.
A year on, the expert advice has checked out. Mitra’s daughter can understand four languages and respond partially in each. “She’s even picking up Oriya from a neighbour,” Mitra adds.
Mitra’s case shows how blogs and websites featuring doctors, psychologists and nutritionists — such as the year-old Baby Chakra (based in Mumbai) and My Little Moppet (based in Madurai, Tamil Nadu), and Healthcare Magic, launched in Delhi in 2008 — are drawing more hits as parents seek expert advice online. Other than blogs and websites, parents now also have a choice, with paediatricians and child psychologists writing books in which they offer scientifically validated insights drawn from years of professional practice, as opposed to the kinds penned by parents whose only experience is that of having had or raised a child.
“With the rise of nuclear family in urban India, dealing with a new baby has become even more challenging. Most mothers feel overwhelmed, and often they don’t have anyone to turn to for advice or reassurance,” says Dr Mansi Gupta, psychotherapist and mother of a year-old boy, who also writes paediatric advice blogs on My Little Moppet.
Another change driving the search for informed opinion online is that today’s parents are well-educated, well-informed and well-read.
“They worry more and have more questions. This is a key reason why blogs and websites that connect parents with experts are finding a growing number of takers,” says Dr Subhash Rao, consultant paediatrician at Fortis Hospital, Navi Mumbai, who writes blogs and holds live chat sessions with parents at Baby Chakra.
It is not just the authenticity of the source but also the expertise of those who offer parental advice that needs to be taken into account, as a lot of unfiltered opinion is circulated online, says Dr Anupam Sibal, paediatrician and group medical director of Apollo Hospitals. Dr Sibal’s book Is Your Child Ready to Face the World? — in which he underlines the need for parent-child communication under the strain of increasingly busy lifestyles — is being released today.
“My book is based on my experience as a father and as a paediatrician over two decades,” he says.
Information sourced either online or via a book can in fact prove to be detrimental, reasons Dr Rajesh Sagar, a professor at the department of psychiatry of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), as there is a possibility of inaccurate information causing panic. “Interpretation of information is also very important, especially when there is a lay person involved,” Dr Sagar adds.
Dr Sagar’s book, Specific Learning Disorder — Indian Scenario, which hit the stands last month, is a one-stop shop for new knowledge and information on learning disorders in India. It helps parents identify early signs of disorders and gives tips on how best to help children overcome such conditions.
Even if your sources check out and your information is accurate, experts caution against over-reliance on books or websites when raising a child.
“Parents need to learn to trust their instincts,” says Dr Sagar. “Parenting is not like cooking. You can’t find the perfect recipe in a book. And trying to parent via lists of development signs and dos and don’ts can put a lot of needless pressure on the parent — and the child. Parents need to take the final call on how much outside information they need.”