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Avoiding the Mistakes Even Smart Moms Make

Mistake: Treating your baby's cold symptoms with over-the-counter medications without calling the doctor

Especially dangerous: preparations that contain pseudoephedrine. "It might make babies feel a little better, but not dramatically better, and the risk of side effects is very real," says Steven Kairys, M.D., chairman of the department of pediatrics at Jersey Shore University Medical Center, in Neptune, New Jersey. Complications range from simple hyperactivity to high blood pressure and irregular heartbeat.

Whatever the medication, read the fine print. Elizabeth Smith of Alpharetta, Georgia, swore off Benadryl after it kept her son Ryan awake for 36 hours: "The label isn't kidding when it says, 'Excitability may occur, especially in children'!"

Smart solution: Some over-the-counter medications may be fine for babies, but get the green light from the doc first. Always do so before giving infant acetaminophen to a baby 3 months or younger (it can mask a fever, which requires immediate medical attention). For babies older than 3 months, it's fine to give infant acetaminophen without calling first to relieve teething discomfort, the pain of shots, and cold miseries. And you can make a sick baby more comfortable by giving her fluids, using saltwater drops to aspirate her nose, using a cold-water humidifier, and keeping her head slightly elevated when she's sleeping.

Mistake: Sharing spoons and toothbrushes, or popping her paci in your mouth to "clean it off"

One bite for me, one for you and you get my mouth germs, too! Moms are a prime source of the germs that give babies tooth decay. But if you can keep those germs from establishing themselves in your baby's mouth (even before she has any teeth) you may protect her from the most common dental problems. "Anything with saliva on it has the potential to transmit bacteria," says Washington, DC, periodontist Sally Cram, a spokesperson for the American Dental Association.

Smart solution: Have your teeth cleaned by your dentist regularly, brush twice a day, floss once a day, and consider a fluoride mouthwash. If you chew gum, make it xylitol-sweetened. All reduce cavity-causing germs. And instead of sharing spoons with your child, just pretend to taste the food. When her daughter Laura was starting solids, Judith Basya of Santa Monica, California, put the spoon almost up to her mouth and said "Yummy!" Laura's now 1, and her mom's still pretending: "At first I did it for sanitary reasons, but now I just don't want to eat her overcooked carrots!"