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Rules moms can live by

Babies don't come with instructions, but parenting sometimes does.

I'm not talking about all those gray areas still under hot debate, from co-sleeping to how many kids you should invite to your child's birthday party.

So much of motherhood is pure instinct and trusting your gut. There can be no hard-and-fast rules for raising a child. Every kid (and parent) is different.

But there are some basic life-and-death rules that I wish I had known when I first gave birth. I remember being absolutely clueless and stumbling upon some of these in a random magazine article or book, stunned that nobody had mentioned them to be me before.

I thought of this recently when a friend became pregnant with her first child. I wish someone had laid out the indisputable basics for me early on. I'm starting this list, but I'm sure all the moms out there have golden nuggets to add.

What parenting eye-opener would you pass along?

· No honey: Who knew something so natural and healthy could be a killer? This one was a shocker for me. Honey should not be given in the first year of a baby's life because it can contain spores that cause botulism. While an adult's intestinal tract can prevent the growth of these spores, in a baby they can grow and produce life-threatening toxins. (Same no-give rule goes for corn syrup and maple syrup.)

· The danger of water: Not only does water fill infants up with empty calories and zero nutrition at a time of rapid brain growth, but water supplementation can be dangerous to babies because it can lead to oral water intoxication. For a child under 1 year old – and especially during the first nine months – drinking too much water can dilute sodium levels in the bloodstream and lead to seizures, coma, brain damage and possibly death. Breast milk or formula provides all the fluid healthy babies need.

· Back is best: For the first six months, the safest position for healthy babies to sleep is on their backs. They're less likely to die of SIDS or to choke on their own vomit. By the time babies can roll onto their tummies around six month, most of the risk of SIDS has passed.

· Don't be too clean: Bathing a baby every day or more than several times a week can dry out his or her skin. If you're quick with clean diapers and burp cloths, you're already cleaning the parts that really need attention - the face, neck and diaper area.

· When is a fever dangerous? Fever is a normal and healthy response to an illness. But if your baby is six weeks or younger, and has a fever of 101 or higher, it's considered a medical emergency so you should take the infant to your doctor or an emergency room. Use a rectal thermometer to be sure.