Vaccines used to be an almost automatic routine for every baby. Parents simply got all the shots for their children without asking questions.

But times have changed. Vaccines have now become the No. 1 healthcare dilemma facing parents today.

The vaccine schedule has expanded to 29 injections within the first two years of life (compared to only about eight shots back in the early 1980s), with as many as six separate shots given at each of the first three infant checkups. Parents are now beginning to question this practice and wonder if it’s really the best thing for their baby. Fear over possible reactions and the hotly debated link to autism lead some parents to decline vaccines altogether.

As a co-author in the Sears Parenting Library of childcare books, I have had the privilege to write and speak about many aspects of parenting. But nothing has grabbed my attention and passion as thoroughly as vaccines. When my first child was born 16 years ago, I began to study vaccines in much more detail than what I was learning in medical school at the time. When I first started working as a pediatrician, I found myself getting challenged by some very well educated parents who were asking me questions about vaccines that couldn’t answer. I’ve spent the past 10 years studying just about every research paper on vaccines that I could find. I’ve perused various books and spoken with thousands of parents.

And to make a long story short, I’ve managed to boil down the entire decision into one simple statement: Parents want - and babies need - the protection that vaccines give from some potentially life-threatening diseases, but this protection should be given in the safest manner possible so as to not cause any harm.

The mainstream medical community would say that the current vaccine schedule is already doing just that; it’s providing disease protection without causing harm. Well, almost without causing any harm. The scientific truth is that vaccines can have very rare, but very serious, side effects. The prescribing information that comes with each vaccine package is filled with information on these rare reactions. Hundreds of research articles about these reactions have been published in mainstream medical journals. Over 1,000 families have won court cases after their child suffered a severe or permanently disabling vaccine reaction. So, to say that vaccines can’t possibly cause any harm is incorrect.

However, it’s also important to understand the harm that children suffer from diseases. Each year in the United States, approximately 200 infants and young children die from diseases that could have been prevented by vaccines, and countless more are hospitalized. Without vaccines, these numbers would be far worse. If more and more parents decide to keep their children away from vaccines, we might see a dangerous increase in some very serious diseases.

So what is a new parent to do? You have that brand new baby in your arms and you want to make sure you are making the right decision.

After many years of study, and asking myself that very same question as a pediatrician who administers these vaccines, I have developed what has become known as “Dr. Bob’s Alternative Vaccine Schedule.” This schedule spreads the shots out over the first few years (instead of grouping so many together into the first year) and only gives two vaccines at any one time. It gives the most important vaccines first - to protect a baby from any potentially life-threatening diseases - and delays a few of the shots that a baby doesn’t need yet (diseases that are either very mild, very rare or don’t exist in the United States). This schedule limits a young baby’s exposure to the various chemicals and heavy metals that are in vaccines and may decrease the chance of a severe reaction by not exposing a baby to so many germ ingredients at once.

Currently there is a lot of debate within the pediatric community over whether doctors should offer any other vaccine options besides the standard CDC schedule. While many doctors are willing to work with worried parents, some doctors actually kick patients out of their office if they don’t follow the regular plan. But this only leaves these babies unvaccinated and susceptible to diseases.

I believe that allowing parents to choose a different vaccine schedule that they are more comfortable with will keep vaccination rates high and keep the diseases at bay. I encourage every new parent to study the vaccine issue thoroughly so you can make an educated decision for your child.