Wednesday, July 30th, 2014
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.
Newsweek has more:
“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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Thursday, May 22nd, 2014
The placenta, the organ that a woman’s body generates during pregnancy to nourish her growing baby, was once thought to be “sterile,” but new research has identified a number of bacteria that thrive in it–bacteria that may have a large impact on the baby’s health when it is born. More from The New York Times:
The research is part of a broader scientific effort to explore the microbiome, the trillions of microbes — bacteria, viruses and fungi — that colonize the human body, inside and out. Those organisms affect digestion, metabolism and an unknown array of biological processes, and may play a role in the development of obesity, diabetes and other illnesses.
During pregnancy, the authors of the new study suspect, the wrong mix of bacteria in the placenta may contribute to premature births, a devastating problem worldwide. Although the research is preliminary, it may help explain why periodontal disease and urinary infections in pregnant women are linked to an increased risk of premature birth. The findings also suggest a need for more studies on the effects of antibiotics taken during pregnancy.
The new study suggests that babies may acquire an important part of their normal gut bacteria from the placenta. If further research confirms the findings, that may be reassuring news for women who have had cesareans. Some researchers have suggested that babies born by cesarean miss out on helpful bacteria that they would normally be exposed to in the birth canal.
“I think women can be reassured that they have not doomed their infant’s microbiome for the rest of its life,” said Dr. Kjersti Aagaard, the first author of the new study, published on Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine. She added that studies were needed to determine the influence of cesareans on the microbiome.
Previous studies have looked at bacteria that inhabit the mouth, skin, vagina and intestines. But only recently has attention turned to the placenta, a one-pound organ that forms inside the uterus and acts as a life support system for the fetus. It provides oxygen and nutrients, removes wastes and secretes hormones.
“People are intrigued by the role of the placenta,” said Dr. Aagaard, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. “There’s no other time in life that we acquire a totally new organ. And then we get rid of it.”
Image: Healthy baby, via Shutterstock
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Tuesday, February 4th, 2014
Mothers in the United Arab Emirates are now required by law to breastfeed their babies for their first two years of life. The Huffington Post reports on the new regulations, which would enable a husband to sue his wife if she fails to breastfeed:
The Emirates’ Federal National Council has passed a clause, part of their new Child Rights Law, requiring new moms to breastfeed their babies for two full years, The National reports. Now, men can sue their wives if they don’t breastfeed.
According to the National, there was a “marathon debate” over the legislation, but it was ultimately decided that it is every child’s right to be breastfed.
Research has found many benefits of breastfeeding for baby, from reducing the risk of obesity to better language and motor development.
However, not all new moms are able to nurse. In those instances, if a woman is prohibited by health reasons, the council will provide a wet nurse to her. It’s unclear exactly how a mother’s ability to breastfeed will be determined though.
Though breastfeeding is not required in the U.S., experts agree it is the healthiest way to feed a newborn. In 2012, Michael Bloomberg, who was mayor of New York City, introduced a controversial statewide provision requiring hospitals to “sign out” formula in the same way it dispenses medication, in a effort to encourage more women to breastfeed.
Download our free breastfed babies care chart to help track your baby’s feeding schedule.
Image: Breastfeeding newborn, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, January 16th, 2014
A new study of the use of probiotics, or “good bacteria” in infants has revealed a possible correlation with lower gastrointestinal discomfort and the pattern of crying and fussiness known as colic. More from LiveScience:
In the study, newborns that received a daily dose of the probiotic Lactobacillus reuteri had fewer episodes of inconsolable crying (colic), constipation and regurgitation (reflux) at age three months compared to newborns given a placebo.
Use of probiotics also had benefits in terms of reducing health care expenses, such as money spent on emergency department visits, or money lost when parents took time off work. On average, families with infants that took probiotics saved about $119 per child, the researchers said.
However, more research is needed to confirm the findings before it can be recommended for newborns, experts say. Currently, doctors do not recommend that probiotics be used routinely in infants, said Dr. William Muinos, co-director of the gastroenterology department at Miami Children’s Hospital, who was not involved with the study.
And although the treatment was not related to any harmful events in the current study, use of probiotics could potentially pose risks to newborns, Muinos said. For example, the lining of a newborn’s intestinal tract is less mature, and more porous, than that of an older child, which could cause some bacteria to seep into the blood stream, Muinos said. This risk will need to be evaluated in future studies, Muinos said.
Need helping finding the right pediatrician for your child? Click here for our free worksheet so you know all the right questions to ask.
Image: Peacefully sleeping infant, via Shutterstock
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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.
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Image: Newborn baby, via Shutterstock
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