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Parental guidance: Mouth-to-mouth feeding

Actress Alicia Silverstone. (April 1, 2010)

Actress Alicia Silverstone. (April 1, 2010) Photo Credit: Getty Images

Actress Alicia Silverstone posted a video of herself feeding her infant son, Bear, food she chews and then spits directly into his mouth; the video has gone viral. Putting aside the fact that many people find this disgusting, is it unhealthy?

"I've never had any personal experience with people who actually did this -- or admitted it," says Dr. Michael Grosso, a pediatrician and senior vice president of medical affairs at Huntington Hospital. "It certainly offers no health advantage I can think of."

While saliva has infection-fighting antibodies in it, the mother's saliva wouldn't be any more potent than the baby's, he says. "I would advise against it on the premise that it can do no good as far as I can tell, and has the potential to do harm," he says.

A parent can unwittingly pass an infection to the infant that might be too mild to cause symptoms in the adult but strong enough to cause a more severe reaction in the child, he says. A parent also may be in the early stages of influenza or the common cold and not know it.

The practice isn't recommended developmentally, either, says Dr. Ronald Marino, associate chairman of pediatrics at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola. The child should be learning to chew and swallow different textures, and should become an independent eater. Getting used to mushy food that has the mother's smell and saliva may increase the risk of food aversions later, he says.

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