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The Biggest Changes Parenthood in the Past 20 Years

More involved dads
Over the past 20 years, dads have become much more actively engaged with their kids, as the amount of time the average father spends on childcare increased 100 percent (to seven hours per week)—its highest level since data first became available in 1965. Moms are thankful but silently pray for even a modest increase in the time dads devote to housework...

Safer kids
In 1987, both reflecting and inaugurating a new national consciousness about children's safety, Safe Kids is founded. The soon-to-be-international organization's goal: to reduce the 1 million accidental injuries to children each year. By 2002 the accidental death rate among children 14 and under has declined by 45 percent.

The focus on safety leads to the truly lifesaving (the number of states with a bicycle-helmet law grows from 1 in 1987 to 36 in 2006—and in that period, the bicycle-injury death rate for kids 14 and under plunges 70 percent), the logical (rubber flooring on playgrounds), and the absurd (several school districts around the country ban the playing of tag at recess, citing worries that kids might fall down and get hurt—and gaining national attention, and derision, in doing so).

Fertility boom
The number of babies conceived using assisted reproductive technology soars with the growth of in vitro fertilization (IVF), including ICSI (introduced in 1992), in which a single sperm is surgically inserted in a single egg. IVF births climb nearly 140 percent between 1996 and 2004: Current estimates are that up to 1 percent of births in the U.S. are conceived using fertility treatments. Plus, since 1990 the number of twins born in the United States has risen 42 percent, and the birth rate for women ages 40 to 44 is up by 62 percent.

Better brains? Thinking they're promoting intellectual development, parents buy hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of "learning" videos, CDs, and toys (though babies routinely prefer the packaging the toys arrive in). Based on widespread exaggeration and misinterpretation of research suggesting a link between listening to music and higher IQ scores, parents rush to purchase millions of dollars' worth of classical CDs to play for their baby in the crib, in the nursery, and even in the womb.

A vacci-nation
By the age of 16 months, babies in 1987 typically received vaccines for seven illnesses (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella) in four shots and one drop. The vaccine schedule for 2007: 25 shots by the time they're a year and half old, immunizing them against 14 diseases.

More surgical births
In 1987, 900,000 babies were born via cesarean section. In 2004 the number soared to 1.2 million, nearly a third of all babies (a 33 percent increase). At the same time, a fifth of all labors are now induced, a 123 percent increase since 1990.

Enter the Internet
There was no two decades ago. No online baby-gift registries. No online shopping. No sites to find moms to chat with about how to break the pacifier habit. No eBay to offload an outgrown crib. No Netflix. No websites with up-to-date health information, and no Google, so no place to type "colic help" and get 1.29 million results in .09 second. In fact, no web at all—it didn't launch until 1991.

Breastfeeding resurges
After declining throughout the 1980s, the number of moms who breastfeed starts to climb rapidly in the mid-'90s. In 1997 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revises its policy on breastfeeding, recommending for the first time that infants be exclusively breastfed for six months, that nursing continue for 12 months "and thereafter for as long as mutually desired." The most recent numbers show breastfeeding at its highest rate ever (70 percent of moms try it) since reliable data were first gathered in 1955. By 2007, 36 states have laws that specifically allow women to breastfeed in any public or private location, while nearly all states (47) have enacted some legislation to protect a woman's right to nurse her baby.

Toys that talk, squawk, walk
With the spread of educational software and computers in schools over the past 20 years, parents come to equate silicone chips with learning and modernity. Toy makers respond, and playthings accumulate integrated circuits as well as a tendency to light up and make noise. Good old stuffed animals morph into "interactive plush"; 1996's Tickle Me Elmo—he dances, sings, giggles, speaks—intimidates silent and still teddy bears in cribs everywhere.

More changes

SIDS rate halved
The AAP recommends in 1992 that healthy infants be placed on their backs to sleep to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Two years later, the Back to Sleep campaign is launched to educate parents and caregivers about the importance of putting babies to sleep on their backs. Between 1992 and 2003, the number of back-sleeping babies rises from 13 to 73 percent, and the SIDS death rate drops by more than 60 percent.

Potter casts his spell
In 1997, J.K. Rowling, a single mom formerly on welfare, starts churning out novels about a young English wizard and proves that even 10-year-old boys will read 300 to 800-page tomes if they're actually fun. Pottermania becomes a global phenomenon, with more than 325 million copies sold of the six books that are out so far. Although the seventh and final installment, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, doesn't go on sale until July, as early as December 2006 it is the number one book on based on preorders alone.

Hot maternity
Pregnancy and motherhood go from being admirable but dowdy to fashionable and downright sexy—with the turning point coming perhaps in 1991, when a seven-months-pregnant Demi Moore appears nude on the cover of Vanity Fair. These days the expectant can choose their (often skintight and revealing) designer outfits from special collections by Liz Lange, One Hot Mama, Isabella Oliver, and even Diane von Furstenberg. Hollywood stars, pop idols, and supermodels alike no longer demurely reveal their impending maternal status: They proudly bare their bellies for all to see.

Meanwhile, the tabloids shift their focus from ingenues to grown-ups, with issue after issue sporting "celebrity bump watches" (not to mention hospital stakeouts by paparazzi desperate to provide the public with the first photos of boldfaced infants).

Hip kids
The fun doesn't stop there: Though babyGap (launched in 1990) is the pioneer in the hipster-infant clothing field, by 2002 just-so parents can pack up their Kate Spade diaper bags and head to the playground pushing a Bugaboo Frog (stroller choice of Sex and the City's Miranda and the first wheeled kiddy transport to break the $700 barrier). Catalogs (Pottery Barn Kids) and magazines (Cookie) cater to parents' newfound delight in purchasing sophisticated, ducky-free decor for children's rooms, accessories, and equipment.

Animation reborn
Disney is reanimated by a series of smash hits starting with 1989's The Little Mermaid, and including Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. The simultaneous peaking of the VCR means it's hard to find a house with children under the age of 8 that doesn't have at least one of those shiny VHS boxes of a Disney cartoon under the couch. The look of cartoons changes forever with the huge success of the computer-animated Toy Story, which, together with subsequent hits like Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Cars, makes Pixar a powerhouse. Disney frets for a while, then buys Pixar.

International adoption booms
Number of children adopted from China by American parents in 2006: 6,493. Number adopted in 1990: 0. Total number of international adoptions in 2006: 20,679. Total number in 1990: 7,093.

Growing girth
Childhood obesity becomes a national concern: By 2002 one child in six is overweight. Beginning in the early '90s, doctors start reporting significant increases in the number of children diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes (which is associated with obesity). Some school districts across the nation respond by banning the sale of sugary soft drinks in cafeterias, with certain schools even sending children home with body mass index report cards. Pediatricians speculate kids are getting fatter due to more hours spent watching television.

Rethinking gender
Scientists, social scientists, and parents pay more attention than ever to the gender-based needs of children, prompted in part by books like Reviving Ophelia (1994) and Raising Cain (1999), and in part by new findings on differences in male and female brains. Girls need extra help with math to overcome the prejudice in the hard sciences. No! Boys need extra help with reading to overcome girl-centered early schooling. Girls' sense of self is squashed in a culture that sends sexist messages. No! Boys' emotional needs are ignored in a culture that labels loud, active children as disordered. Girls are more emotional; boys more logical. It's their brains. No, it's society! Resolution is elusive, but the debate does sell books.