Monday, November 25th, 2013
A new study has found that despite all appearances, babies are actually born with an awareness of their own bodies. More from LiveScience:
Body awareness is an important skill for distinguishing the self from others, and failure to develop body awareness may be a component of some disorders such as autism. But little research has been done to find out when humans start to understand that their body is their own.
To determine babies’ awareness of their bodies, the researchers took a page from studies on adults. In a famous illusion, people can be convinced that a rubber hand is their own if they see the hand stroked while their own hand, hidden from view, is simultaneously stroked.
These studies show that information from multiple senses — vision and touch, in this case — are important for body awareness, said Maria Laura Filippetti, a doctoral student at the Center for Brain and Cognitive Development at the University of London.
To find out if the same is true of babies, Filippetti and her colleagues tested 40 newborns who were between 12 hours and 4 days old. The babies sat on the experimenter’s lap in front of a screen. On-screen, a video showed a baby’s face being stroked by a paintbrush. The researcher either stroked the baby’s face with a brush in tandem with the stroking shown on the screen, or delayed the stroking by five seconds.
Next, the babies saw the same video but flipped upside down. Again, the researcher stroked the infants’ faces in tandem with the upside-down image or delayed the stroking by three seconds.
Working with babies so young is a challenge, Filippetti told LiveScience.
“It is challenging just in terms of the time you actually have when the baby is fully awake and responsive,” she said.
To determine whether the babies were associating the facial stroking they saw on-screen with their own bodies, as in the rubber-hand illusion, the researchers measured how long the babies looked at the screen in each condition. Looking time is the standard measurement used in infant research, because babies can’t answer questions or verbally indicate their interest.
The researchers found that babies looked the longest at the screen when the stroking matched what they felt on their own faces. This was true only of the right-side-up images; infants didn’t seem to associate the flipped faces with their own.
The findings suggest that babies are born with the basic mechanisms they need to build body awareness, Filippetti and her colleagues reported Thursday in the journal Current Biology.
Track your baby’s milestones with our free tracker, or shop for great baby toys.
Baby's First Year
Image: Newborn baby, via Shutterstock
Add a Comment
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
Add a Comment
Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013
Newborn babies who are bottle-fed are twice as likely to develop a relatively rare stomach obstruction that can only be repaired surgically, according to a new study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. More from Today.com:
Researchers still don’t know why some babies develop the obstruction, known as hypertrophic pyloric stenosis, said the study’s lead author, Dr. Jarod McAteer, a surgery research fellow at Seattle Children’s Hospital. This study just pinpoints some of the factors that increase the risk, he added.
What scientists do know is that in certain infants, the one-way valve, or sphincter, that allows partially digested food to progress from the stomach to the small intestine can stop working when the muscle that controls the valve’s opening and closing gets too thick. At that point, the connection between the stomach and the small intestine is essentially blocked.
Babies are at risk only when they are between 3- and 6-weeks- old, McAteer said.
“Usually in the first couple of weeks of life, they are completely normal, healthy babies,” he said. “Then they start vomiting and it progressively gets worse over a period of several days until they can’t hold anything down.”
The only solution is surgery to cut the muscle so it will relax and allow food to pass, McAteer said.
For the new study, McAteer and his colleagues from the University of Washington compared 714 infants who developed hypertrophic pyloric stenosis to 7,140 “control” babies who did not develop the obstruction.
After accounting for other known risk factors for obstruction, such as being male and first born, the researchers determined that bottle feeding also significantly raised the risk. In fact, bottle feeding was twice as common among babies with an obstruction, at 19.5 percent, compared with those in the control group (9.1 percent).
Babies with older mothers were also more likely to develop HPS.
Image: Baby with bottle, via Shutterstock
Add a Comment
Thursday, September 26th, 2013
As anyone who has ever inhaled the fuzzy crown of an infant’s head can attest, there’s something magical about that “new baby” smell. Now, scientists have published a study in the journal Frontiers in Psychology reporting that the aroma is actually a powerful trigger that forms a bond between mother and baby at the brain chemistry level. NBC News has more:
The scent of a newborn baby really does tap right into the pleasure centers of a woman’s brain, whether the smell comes from her own baby or someone else’s, scientists have discovered. The new findings have been described in a study just published in Frontiers in Psychology.
“These are the areas of the brain that are activated if you are very hungry and you finally get something to eat or if you are a drug addict and you finally get the drug you were craving,” says study co-author Johannes Frasnelli, a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in the department of psychology at the University of Montreal.
“Apparently nature has provided us with a tool that helps with the bonding between a mother and her newborn child. It’s very strong.”
To look at how a newborn’s smell affects the brain, an international team of scientists rounded up 30 women, 15 of whom had given birth three to six weeks earlier. The other 15 had never had a baby.
While the women were in a brain scanner, the scientists presented them with either the scent of a newborn baby or just fresh air. The researchers captured ‘essence of newborn’ by taking t-shirts that babies had worn for two days and then freezing them in plastic bags until the scent was needed for the experiment.
While all the women reported that the newborn scent was pleasant, there was a difference on the brain scans between the new moms and the women who had never had a baby: as soon as the newborn scent was detected, the pleasure centers of the all the women sparked, but in the new moms they lit much brighter.
We’ve most likely evolved to respond that way because the birth of a baby shakes up the world of any new parent, Frasnelli says. The helpless baby needs some way to make grownups care.
“A mother with her first child goes from living life in a couple to all of a sudden having to care for a little human being who cries whenever it wants and whom you have to clean up after. It’s a big, big disturbance. It could be seen as something unpleasant, and yet most parents get pleasure from it.”
The researchers haven’t looked at the impact of newborn scent on dads, but Frasnelli suspects fathers’ brains will also react.
Image: Mother and newborn, via Shutterstock
Add a Comment
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
Add a Comment