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
Friday, August 23rd, 2013
A report by the National Center for Health Statistics reveals that circumcisions of newborn boys in U.S. hospitals have dropped 6 percentage points over the last 30 years, from 64.5 percent in 1979 to 58.3 percent in 2010. The sharpest declines took place in Western states, Reuters reports. The federal analysis shows that circumcision rates have risen and fallen over the years, possibly in response to changing advice from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Last year the academy revised its policy on circumcision, saying that the benefits of circumcision outweigh the risks.
The analysis didn’t include circumcisions performed outside the hospital in religious ceremonies, for example, or those performed when a boy is older.
Here are further details from USA Today:
One factor that may account for the overall decline in hospital-based circumcisions may be the decreased time babies now spend in the hospital, says pediatrician Douglas Diekema of the Treuman Katz Center for Pediatric Bioethics at Seattle Children’s Research Institute.
“Often they’re going home within 24 hours, so in some places, these procedures are increasingly being done by the pediatrician during the follow-up period in the doctor’s office or clinic as opposed to the hospital,” Diekema says.
The steep decline in the West may be related to higher rates of immigrants from countries where circumcision is less common, he says.
Recent research suggests circumcision does “help prevent certain kinds of infections,” says pediatrics group president Thomas McInerny. In particular, “there is some evidence that the cells that make up the inner surface of the foreskin may provide an optimal target for the HIV virus.” Research also shows that circumcised males have a lower risk of urinary tract infections and penile cancer, he says.
Complications associated with circumcisions are rare, and include minor bleeding, local infection and pain, says Diekema, but those factors can be easily treated.
A cost study reported last year in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine said falling infant circumcision rates in the U.S. could end up costing the country billions of health care dollars when men and their female partners develop AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections and cancers that could have been prevented.
The health benefits evidence was not so strong that the AAP felt compelled to recommend routine circumcision for all newborn boys, says McInerny. “We wanted to give parents the information as we understand it from the research and let them make the decision.”
Image: Newborn boy, via Shutterstock
Add a Comment