Wednesday, February 5th, 2014
Infants, who are far from having the ability to express their emotions, nonetheless are able to sense–and feel–when their mothers are experiencing stress, according to a new study conducted by researchers in New York and California. More from The Huffington Post:
“Your infant may not be able to tell you that you seem stressed or ask you what is wrong, but our work shows that, as soon as she is in your arms, she is picking up on the bodily responses accompanying your emotional state and immediately begins to feel in her own body your own negative emotion,” study researcher Sara Waters, of New York University, said in a statement. Waters worked with researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, on the Psychological Science study.
For the study, researchers examined emotion and heart rate in babies whose mothers were put through a stressful task. The study included 69 mothers and their 12- to 14-month-old babies, all of whom had cardiovascular sensors attached to them to record heart rate.
The researchers separated the mothers and babies so that the mothers could give a five-minute speech and go through a five-minute Q & A session. Evaluators were assigned to review each mother’s speech and Q & A session, giving either positive, negative or no feedback. The mothers who received the negative feedback had more negative emotions and fewer positive emotions, as well as increased cardiac stress, after undergoing this experience.
Then, the researchers reunited the mothers with their babies. Within minutes of going back to their mothers, the babies seemed to “track” their mother’s stress response, in the effort of an increased heart rate. And the greater the other’s stress response, the greater the baby’s response seemed to be.
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Image: Stressed out mom, via Shutterstock
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Monday, November 18th, 2013
Boys are slightly more likely than girls to be born prematurely, a new international study on newborn health has found. Additionally, boys don’t tend to fare as well as girls world-wide. More from The Associated Press:
“This is a double whammy for boys,” said Dr. Joy Lawn of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who led the team of researchers. “It’s a pattern that happens all over the world.”
The gender difference isn’t large: About 55 percent of preterm births in 2010 were male, the report found. Nor is it clear exactly why it happens.
The finding comes from a series of international studies being published Friday that examine newborn health and prematurity. About 15 million babies worldwide are born too soon, most of them in Africa and parts of Asia where survival is difficult for fragile newborns. Globally, about 1 million babies die as a direct result of preterm birth and another million die of conditions for which prematurity is an added risk, the researchers calculated.
Friday’s report offers some of the first estimates of how many preemie survivors go on to suffer certain disabilities, and found that where these babies are born, and how early, determines their risk.
Overall, Lawn said about 7 percent of survivors have two of the most burdensome disabilities: neurologic-developmental impairment ranging from learning disabilities to cerebral palsy, and vision loss.
But the biggest risk is to the youngest preemies, those born before 28 weeks gestation. Worldwide, 52 percent of them are estimated to have some degree of neurodevelopmental impairment, the report found.
Moreover, the risk of impairment in middle-income countries is double that of wealthy countries like the U.S.
For example, China is saving more preemies’ lives but at the cost of their vision, Lawn said.
Middle-income countries are missing out on a lesson the U.S. learned the hard way several decades ago, that giving these tiny babies too much oxygen can trigger a potentially blinding condition called retinopathy of prematurity.
“Disability is not something that’s inevitable. It’s preventable,” she said, calling for improved quality of care including eye checks to prevent or reduce vision loss.
The March of Dimes reported this month that 11.5 percent of U.S. births now are preterm. That rate is inching down, thanks mostly to fewer babies being born just a few weeks early as standards for elective deliveries have tightened, but it still is higher than in similar countries.
Image: Newborn baby, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, November 6th, 2013
Infants who do not make eye contact during their first months of life may be displaying a marker for autism, researchers from the National Institutes of Mental Health reported in a potentially game-changing study that was published in the journal Nature. the study found that eye contact and attention to others’ eyes routinely declines in 2- to 6-month-olds who are later diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). More from the National Institutes of Health:
“Autism isn’t usually diagnosed until after age 2, when delays in a child’s social behavior and language skills become apparent. This study shows that children exhibit clear signs of autism at a much younger age,” said Thomas R. Insel, M.D., director of NIMH. “The sooner we are able to identify early markers for autism, the more effective our treatment interventions can be.”
Typically developing children begin to focus on human faces within the first few hours of life, and they learn to pick up social cues by paying special attention to other people’s eyes. Children with autism, however, do not exhibit this sort of interest in eye-looking. In fact, a lack of eye contact is one of the diagnostic features of the disorder.
To find out how this deficit in eye-looking emerges in children with autism, Warren Jones, Ph.D., and Ami Klin, Ph.D., of the Marcus Autism Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, and Emory University School of Medicine followed infants from birth to age 3. The infants were divided into two groups, based on their risk for developing an autism spectrum disorder. Those in the high risk group had an older sibling already diagnosed with autism; those in the low risk group did not.
Jones and Klin used eye-tracking equipment to measure each child’s eye movements as they watched video scenes of a caregiver. The researchers calculated the percentage of time each child fixated on the caregiver’s eyes, mouth, and body, as well as the non-human spaces in the images. Children were tested at 10 different times between 2 and 24 months of age.
By age 3, some of the children — nearly all from the high risk group — had received a clinical diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. The researchers then reviewed the eye-tracking data to determine what factors differed between those children who received an autism diagnosis and those who did not.
“In infants later diagnosed with autism, we see a steady decline in how much they look at mom’s eyes,” said Jones. This drop in eye-looking began between two and six months and continued throughout the course of the study. By 24 months, the children later diagnosed with autism focused on the caregiver’s eyes only about half as long as did their typically developing counterparts.
This decline in attention to others’ eyes was somewhat surprising to the researchers. In opposition to a long-standing theory in the field — that social behaviors are entirely absent in children with autism — these results suggest that social engagement skills are intact shortly after birth in children with autism. If clinicians can identify this sort of marker for autism in a young infant, interventions may be better able to keep the child’s social development on track.
“This insight, the preservation of some early eye-looking, is important,” explained Jones. “In the future, if we were able to use similar technologies to identify early signs of social disability, we could then consider interventions to build on that early eye-looking and help reduce some of the associated disabilities that often accompany autism.”
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Image: Infant looking at mother, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, September 5th, 2013
A new series of US government-funded studies investigating the possibility of screening the entire genome of newborn infants is raising excitement among some parents, concern among others. At issue is whether such DNA mapping would help parents prepare and cope with their kids’ health conditions, or whether the tests would provide more information than parents can reasonably be expected to handle. NBC News has more:
Do parents even want to know what fate might await their babies? Can doctors find out anything useful medically? Do you get information that freaks you out? All over the country, thousands of newborns will be enrolled in this experiment, the National Institutes of Health announced on Wednesday.
They’re not necessarily looking for new diseases in the babies yet, says Dr. Eric Green, director of the NIH’s National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). They want to know what happens if you even go down this road of whole-genome sequencing.
Now’s the time, he said, as companies begin offering these tests on the market and as more and more people seek to find out just what their genes say about their health. “Everything is moving so fast,” Green told reporters on a conference call.
“We really want to take advantage of this window of opportunity to answer key questions about the technical, ethical, social implications while we have a chance to do it,” Green added. “If it turns out this is something that is worth doing, we would answer questions about how to make it most effective.”
Green’s genome institute and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has set aside $25 million for the next five years to study the matter, starting out with $5 million to four institutions: Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital; Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City; the University of California, San Francisco and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Each center will take a different approach. For example, UCSF will test blood drops previously collected from 1,400 California children who were already given newborn screening tests. Boston Children’s will recruit 480 newborns starting early next year, giving half the standard screening and half an extra genome test.
Most of the 4 million children born in the U.S. each year get a heel-prick test that takes a drop of blood to screen for genetic diseases such as phenylketonuria, sickle-cell disease, cystic fibrosis and thyroid disorders. The precise panel differs from state to state but usually covers around 30 disorders.
One reason to do the tests, says NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher, is to intervene early, before the child gets sick. Phenylketonuria or PKU is a classic example. It’s an inability to process an amino acid called phenyl lanine, which can build up in the brain and cause permanent damage. “By knowing the baby has the disease early, parents can modify the baby’s diet to remove phenylalanine and prevent damage,” Guttmacher said. “Prevention is the only effective solution.”
The heel-prick tests cost around $100. Whole-genome screening covers not only known genetic defects, but the entire DNA map. Commercial tests – which don’t look at every stretch of DNA – cost about $5,000.
Image: Infant getting blood test, via Shutterstock
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Monday, July 15th, 2013
At a mere five months of age, babies appear to be able to understand each other’s emotions, and identifying which sounds match with which feelings (for example, a happy baby laughs, an upset baby cries). More from Today.com:
The takeaway for parents is that babies are very much aware of emotion, said Ross Flom, as associate professor of psychology at Brigham Young University and the co-author of the new study — the first to study “peer matching” ability with children this young. The research was published in the journal “Infancy.”
“It highlights the fact that babies are really sensitive to our communicative intent,” Flom told TODAY Moms.
“They can really understand how we’re saying something, so if you’re talking to a young infant, they might not understand exactly what you’re saying but they would certainly understand how it’s being conveyed.”
Researchers weren’t too terribly surprised at the results. Studies have shown babies can match emotions in adults at 7 months of age and younger. But there has been little research so far looking into infants’ perception of the emotional expressions of other infants.
Forty babies took part in the study: half were 3.5 months old, and the other 5 months old.
Image: Babies looking at each other, via Shutterstock
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