Mothers who have specific fears and anxieties may inadvertently pass them along to their days-old newborns through an unlikely method–smell. A new study published in the journal Proceedings National Academy of Sciences tested the role of smell in fear transfer by exposing rats to mild shocks while they were in an environment scented with peppermint oil. Later, the same rats gave birth, and the pups’ fear responses were tested, measuring the activity of the part of the brain called the amygdala, when they were exposed to the same scent. The pups, the study found, showed a fear reaction at the mere whiff of peppermint.
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“It was really surprising to us that…it could be so early and could be so lasting,” said [psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and lead researcher Jacek] Debiec, pointing out that infants generally do not form lasting memories unless experiences are repeated during the first few days of life, a concept called infantile amnesia. “Here it was a single exposure and it was enough for these newborn pups to create lasting memories,” added Debiec.
When researchers gave pups a substance that blocked activity in the amygdala, according to the study, the baby rats did not learn the fear of peppermint smell from their mothers. This could help mental health experts find ways to prevent children from learning certain fear responses from their mothers.
“Infants can learn from their mothers about potential environmental threats before their sensory and motor development allows them a comprehensive exploration of the surrounding environment,” says the six-page study.
Some mother rats tried to plug the tubing so that the smell wouldn’t come through, a behavior that Debiec found interesting and wants to study further.
Image: Boy smells something bad, via Shutterstock
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A new study that followed 670 preschool-aged children in Ohio for a year is urging that integrating children with disabilities, who are enrolled in special education programs in school, into regular-ability classrooms may have a remarkable impact on the special needs’ kids language skills over the course of a school year. Laura Justice, co-author of the study and professor of teaching and learning at The Ohio State University, says that the results should encourage schools who are considering inclusion models where children with disabilities are placed in the same classroom as peers who are developing normally. More from Science Daily:
“Students with disabilities are the ones who are affected most by the language skills of the other children in their class,” Justice said.
“We found that children with disabilities get a big boost in their language scores over the course of a year when they can interact with other children who have good language skills.”
In fact, after one year of preschool, children with disabilities had language skills comparable to children without disabilities when surrounded by highly skilled peers in their classroom.
“The biggest problem comes when we have a classroom of children with disabilities with no highly skilled peers among them,” Justice said. “In that case, they have limited opportunity to improve their use of language.”
Justice added that highly-skilled children’s language abilities were not negatively affected by having the special needs children in their classrooms.
Image: Preschool letters and numbers, via Shutterstock
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Infants and children who are at particular risk of contracting the serious infection called meningitis should receive a vaccine at an early age and receive routine vaccinations through their college-aged years, according to an updated recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the largest organization of pediatricians in the United States.
The update is the first time the group has made a statement on “meningococcal” vaccines since 2011, and it notes that since its last update, three such vaccines have been approved for use in infants. Though the guidelines don’t urge the vaccines for every young child (the current standard of care is to begin vaccination at age 11), they do recommend early vaccination for children aged 2 months and older who have immune deficiencies, are missing spleens, or have sickle cell disease or other higher infection risks.
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“We needed to have new recommendations so that pediatricians would understand how to use these vaccines in young infants and children, since they’re now available,” said guidelines author Dr. Michael Brady, associate medical director at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
“We’re telling pediatricians that we don’t feel it’s necessary to give this vaccination routinely to young children,” he added, “but for children with select risks, it’s a good vaccine to give.”
The updated meningococcal recommendations are published online July 28 in the journal Pediatrics.
Meningococcal disease is linked to a variety of infections, including meningitis and pneumonia. Meningitis, an infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord, strikes between 800 and 1,200 people in the United States each year, according to the National Meningitis Association.
Image: Infant vaccine, via Shutterstock
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The annual “Kids Count” report that measures the well-being of American children based on 16 indicators of economic, educational, health, and family welfare, has found encouraging improvements in several areas nationwide, chiefly a rising number of children who are attending preschool, and a steady decline in the number of kids who lag behind in reading and math. Also, national declines in the teen pregnancy, birth, and death rates suggest a brightening future for U.S. youth.
But the news from the report, which is published by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and is now in its 25th year, is not all good. It also found a concerning rise in the number of children growing up in poor communities, and an increasing percentage of kids who are growing up in single-parent households.
“We should all be encouraged by the improvements in many well-being indicators in the health, education and safety areas,” said Patrick McCarthy, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s president and CEO said in a news release. “But we must do much more. All of us, in every sector — business, government, nonprofits, faith-based groups, families — need to continue to work together to ensure that all children have the chance to succeed.”
The foundation published the list of state-by-state rankings, which listed Massachusetts as the top-ranked state in education and overall, and Mississippi as the lowest-ranking state overall as well as in the economic well-being and family and community categories. Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Minnesota rounded out the top 5 states, and New Mexico, Nevada, Louisiana, and Arizona joined Mississippi in the bottom 5.
Image: Chalkboard, via Shutterstock
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New methods of performing surgeries while babies are still inside their mothers’ wombs are becoming more common, in many cases greatly improving the quality of life of babies who are diagnosed with potentially serious conditions affecting the heart, bladder, larynx, and more. One medical group in Mexico has successfully performed 200 such surgeries, and its doctors note that the new technologies and technique for what’s called “fetal medicine” are improving and becoming more widely available, parents need to be better educated about their medical options, especially if they are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy. More from ScienceDaily:
Although Mexico Fetal Medicine Group, located in Queretaro, has established itself as a cross reference for prenatal health in the country, Méndez González recognizes that there is a lack of prenatal drug culture among Mexican parents. “Generally the pregnancy situation is consulted to gynecologists, who are not necessarily specialists in fetal medicine. Lacking experience in this discipline, sometimes the detection of health problems is too late for the baby,” said the specialist at Fetal Medicine Mexico.
In the words of the medical specialist, consolidating a cross reference in fetal medicine in the country has positive effects such as the accumulation of knowledge and experience to practice and investigate medicine in unborn babies. Méndez González noted that the emergence of ultrasound changed the way people see pregnancy as the unborn baby began to be considered as a patient in need of its own care.
Last month, a new technology was announced that can perform in-utero surgeries, using a tiny robotic arm, on babies who are diagnosed with spina bifida, a condition which affects 1 in 2,500 babies worldwide.
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