Archive for the ‘ Babies ’ Category

Do You Know How to Help a Child (or Friend) in Danger?

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

Looking back on the national news of 2014, there’s an ugly theme: violence. The stories that dominated headlines for months included that of Ray Rice, who was suspended by the NFL after charges of assault against the woman who is now his wife, and of Adrian Peterson, suspended by the NFL after whipping his 4-year-old with a switch. Of course, domestic violence, child abuse, and other acts of cruelty are hardly a trend; they’ve been going on forever. But what may be new–and a welcome change–is that these stories may propel people to speak out when they know someone is in danger.

“The majority of people want to do something, but do nothing because they don’t know what to do,” says Mary L. Pulido, Ph.D., executive director of The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which has the distinction of being the first child-protection agency in the world, founded in 1875. The NYSPCC is one of three groups who created a program, funded by the Avon Foundation for Women, called “See the Signs: Bystanders Can Help. Learn How.” The series examines how to help those affected by domestic violence, whether they’re young children, teens, or adults. The NYSPCC focused specifically on children with its campaign, “Stand Up, Don’t Stand By.” The goal is to inspire the public to take action when they suspect abuse or neglect. To learn exactly how to do that, you take the online course, which essentially boils down to watching a roughly 30-minute video that runs through various common scenarios. I took it and learned helpful information on how to navigate some awfully fraught situations.

Let’s say you have a feeling that a neighbor is being abused by her partner. You can say something along the lines of, “I know something’s going on; it must be very painful. I’m very worried for you, and I can give you resources, referrals, a hotline.” It’s crucial to not shut her out if she doesn’t respond, stresses Dr. Pulido: “The majority of women are very scared. If they do anything to stop the violence, they may be at higher risk for more violence. Statistics show that women can be killed. They may not want to live in a homeless shelter. The abuser may be saying, ‘If you leave me, I’ll kill myself.’” In other words, you have no idea exactly what’s holding her back from getting help, but you can assume it’s serious. So in the meantime, be a constant source of support. “Sooner or later, you’re going to break through. When she’s ready, you may be the person she turns to,” says Dr. Pulido. And when she does, you can refer her to–or be with her when she calls–The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-SAFE.

You cannot wait it out, however, if you believe a child’s safety is at risk. In that case, make a call to your local agency equipped to handle reports of suspected abuse and neglect. This is a listing of every state’s number–but you can also call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (1-800-4-A-CHILD). Whichever number you call, explain what you know and let the expert on the other end of the line take it from there. He or she is specially trained to determine whether what you’ve shared warrants an investigation.

This brings me to a question many of us have: What if I’m wrong? What happens if I report a parent who isn’t actually harming his or her child? Dr. Pulido has a simple answer: Make the call anyway. “Err on the side of the child,” she says. But also keep in mind that you can make your report anonymously. Also, the majority of children who go on to have cases opened on their behalf are victims of neglect–meaning they’re not getting to school, they’re not getting the proper medical attention, they’re not getting enough food, they’re being left alone. In those situations, the parents are given resources–the children aren’t taken from the home. So try not to worry that your call will automatically break up a family.

It’s important to know that depending on where you live, reporting suspected abuse is not optional. In 18 states, you must report it if you suspect abuse or neglect. And some states have mandated reporters that may surprise you: commercial film and photograph processors or computer technicians, for example (which addresses the rampant child pornography problem in our country). To find out your state’s laws, see this comprehensive map created by the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN).

Dr. Pulido is the first to admit that it’s hard to speak up: “It is anxiety-provoking, but everyone has to have the courage to make the call. You’ll sleep better knowing that you started a process that could possibly save a child’s life.”

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Why the Jscreen Genetic Test Is Important for Your Baby

Tuesday, November 11th, 2014

Colorful DNA strands geneticsBy Stephanie Wood

For most parents to be, there’s no such thing as “too much information” when it comes to their future children’s health and well-being. Whether you’re just thinking about getting pregnant or already have a baby on the way, you’ve no doubt considered the pros and cons of the prenatal tests available that screen for chromosomal abnormalities such as Down Syndrome.

When I had my three children, I chose to only have screenings and not to undergo anything invasive like CVS or amniocentesis because of the risks involved. But now there’s a new testing option that I would have seriously considered, and you should too: Jscreen is a saliva-based, at-home genetic testing kit that indicates if you are a carrier for over 80 different genetic disorders.

Developed at Emory University’s Department of Human Genetics in Atlanta, the test was originally created for the Jewish population, which is at a higher risk for 40 genetic disorders. Now, however, Jscreen has an expanded panel that screens for over 80 disorders common in the general populations as well, including Cystic Fibrosis, Fragile X syndrome (the most common known cause of autism spectrum disorders), and Sickle Cell Anemia.

Why genetic testing matters

Even if you don’t know of any cases of genetic disorders in your or your partner’s family, you should still take this seriously. According to Emory University genetic counselor and Jscreen program senior director Karen Grinzaid, 80 percent of babies born with a serious genetic disorder have no family history of that disorder. And if you and your partner both turn out to be carriers of a genetic illness, each of your children will have a 25 percent risk for actually having the disorder. “The vast majority of people will have a perfectly clean genetic history,” notes Grinzaid, “so Jscreen is most likely going to provide peace of mind.” But if the results do indicate you are carriers, a genetic counselor will help you understand your options, such as using invitro fertilization (IVF) or an egg or sperm donor. Other carriers will decide to take no action at all, but will be prepared in case their child is born with a genetic disorder.

How Jscreen works

Jscreen is covered by most insurance, which means you will not likely have to pay more than the $99 testing kit fee. All results are reviewed by a Jscreen physician or you may choose to have them sent directly to your own doctor. If you or your partner has tested positive for a genetic disease, follow-up counseling is included via phone, videoconferencing, or a local genetic counselor who is part of the Jscreen network. Once you return your saliva samples, you’ll receive the results in four weeks or less. Other direct-to-consumer tests on the market have been controversial because they don’t provide any guidance about the results, but the medical community has been supportive of Jscreen because of the doctor involvement and follow-up counseling, notes Grinzaid. And your privacy is not at stake—all the results are kept in a secure database that only you can access.

Your First Prenatal Visit and Tests
Your First Prenatal Visit and Tests
Your First Prenatal Visit and Tests

Image: Colorful DNA strand via Shutterstock

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What You Should Be Worrying About (More Than Ebola)

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

If you click on news sites, watch the news, or read the paper (yes, some people still do), you’ve likely found it impossible to avoid being bombarded with scary details about the lethal and virulent virus’s spread—and efforts to contain it in this country following a shaky start. In some ways it’s understandable: If you’ve seen Contagion or the most recent Planet of the Apes reboot—in which fictional deadly viruses wiped out large swaths of the population—it’s not hard to envision ebola as a plague with no cure and the potential to kill thousands.

Now for a reality check: As of this writing, do you know how many people have been diagnosed on U.S. soil? The answer is five. How many have died? One—the man who inadvertently brought the disease with him from Liberia. Despite this, there has been widespread panic leading to school closures (in Ohio and Texas) and hesitance by many to fly or take a cruise, even though no one other than healthcare workers who were treating Thomas Duncan.

What should you really be concerned about? Influenza. This virus has been around a lot longer. It’s far more familiar and a lot less intimidating to us. But at this point (and for the foreseeable future), it’s also a lot more dangerous. The flu kills more than 30,000 Americans every year. About 20,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized each year because of influenza complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And last season, more than 100 flu-related pediatric deaths were reported.

These numbers are truly scary—largely because the vast majority of these tragic deaths are easily preventable. All it takes is an annual flu vaccine. You can take your child to the pediatrician’s office (often, a nurse can administer it without a separate doctor’s appointment) or your local CVS. Get one too while you’re at it.

Don’t put it off, as too many parents do. Only 57 percent of kids are vaccinated each season, and only about 40 percent of adults. Those are crazy statistics when you consider that one out of six people will get the flu. True, the vaccine isn’t foolproof, since strains of the virus vary from year to year. But if your child gets it despite being vaccinated, her symptoms—high fever, body aches, chills, headache, sore throat, coughing, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea—are likely to be far less severe. And it’s safe for anyone older than 6 months, even for those with severe egg allergies.

If you fear that getting a shot will lead your panicked kid into a full-blown tantrum, take heart: A nasal spray is now the preferred vaccine delivery method for healthy children 2 through 8. (If you’re squeamish—and not pregnant—you can go with an inhalation instead of an injection as well.) Kids and adults with an underlying medical condition, such as asthma, need to stick with the shot. It’s not that bad, though, especially compared to suffering through a miserable week or two this winter (or worse).

You can’t do anything about ebola, and for now there’s little reason to worry. But you can fight the flu—and you owe it to your family to do so.

How Safe is the Flu Vaccine?
How Safe is the Flu Vaccine?
How Safe is the Flu Vaccine?

Photo of family lying in bed due to the flu via Shutterstock

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Enterovirus Is Scary–But So Is This Common Illness

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

This guest post is by Emily Joyner, a mom of a baby who had a terrifying bout with RSV, a potentially serious respiratory virus that can lead to pneumonia, particularly in babies. Though RSV’s typical “season” starts in November and runs through April, it can strike at any time of year. My younger daughter was diagnosed in early September (2008) when she was less than a week old, and was hospitalized for 3 days–but that was nothing compared to what Emily’s son, Hayden, experienced.

I’ll never know if his coos and babbles sound raspy because he spent two weeks on a ventilator, or if that’s just his normal voice.

I’ll never know what would have happened if we had gotten to the ER just minutes later than we did.

I’ll never know how he was exposed to the germs that caused him to get so sick, so quickly.

But I do know how frighteningly severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) can be, and I have learned more than I ever thought possible about the respiratory system. Spending hours upon hours staring at monitors and waiting on test results, CO2 levels, and blood work reports can feel like a crash course in medical school.

In January, when my son, Hayden, was just 4 weeks old, he woke up one morning with a bit of a runny nose. Since he was my third child, I’d had many experiences with sneezes and sniffles, so a clear, runny nose didn’t faze me in the least.

Throughout the day, there were no other issues, no worrisome symptoms—nothing out of the ordinary. Then the following day, Hayden began to seem irritable and slowly cut down on feedings. I knew I was going straight to our doctor’s office first thing the next morning, a decision that was confirmed when he woke up with a fever.

Our wonderful pediatrician could hear some congestion in his lungs, and she suspected bronchiolitis. She sent us to the ER and prepared us for the tests they’d run because of his fever, but I don’t think she even could have imagined what would happen next.

When we walked in the ER of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital, we were taken straight back to a room for a nurse to check Hayden out. Within a matter of minutes, his oxygen saturation was dropping into the 70s, and our room was filled with nurses. Things had gone from worrisome to terrifying in what felt like seconds. My 4-week-old son was in respiratory failure, but at this point we didn’t know why.

Once he was somewhat stabilized and on the support of high-flow oxygen, Hayden was moved to the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU), where we began the agonizing wait. Waiting to hear what was causing his breathing difficulties, waiting to hear whether or not he would be intubated, waiting to see if he would make it through the night.

In time, we received answers. RSV—a common cold to older children and adults—was the culprit trying to take the life of my baby. I was shocked. I had heard of RSV, but I never knew it could be life-threatening to a full-term, healthy baby.

In that time, we did all we could do—pray and wait. Before long we learned Hayden would need the support of a ventilator, which he required for a full two weeks. There is nothing that can prepare a parent for the sight of their precious, perfect tiny baby relying on a machine for every breath.

In total, we spent 21 days in the hospital, and during that time I paid attention to every number, inquired about every test, and talked through every decision with the medical staff and my husband.

When Hayden was discharged on February 9, we were very aware of the fact that we were still in the midst of RSV season, so he spent the next few months hidden away at home in an attempt to keep him well, because we had no way of knowing how even the smallest cold could affect him.

When the summer rolled around, I felt a huge relief, like a weight had been lifted. I felt like we were home free and could let down our guard, because we could finally go out and about as a family of five.

However, what I didn’t expect was the sense of dread that would come as we approach yet another RSV season. I’m thankful that Hayden has been doing so well for these months, but when RSV seasons starts again, he’ll still be a baby, not even a year old yet. Although he’s older, bigger and stronger now–as you can see from the photo below–I know I’ll still panic with every sniffle and cough, something that wouldn’t make me bat an eye last year.

Like any parent who has experienced a child’s major medical crisis, I can already tell I’m forever changed. I’m determined to do everything in my power to keep my son healthy, and to educate others on the dangers of RSV.

Hospital photo courtesy of Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital

When to Worry: RSV
When to Worry: RSV
When to Worry: RSV

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The Benefits of Raising Bilingual Babies

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Group of multiethnic babiesAn interesting study has determined that babies who grow up in diverse neighborhoods are more likely to be open-minded and to interact with people of different cultures and races. (No real surprise there, right?) Plus, not only can raising babies in multicultural areas likely help them develop tolerance, compassion, and empathy for others, but babies are also exposed to other languages — a bonus because they have the opportunity to learn a foreign language.

And studies through the years have pointed out the benefit of raising bilingual babies. Bilingual babies are better creative thinkers and they have sharper brain functions — in fact, learning a foreign language helps babies improve verbal and problem-solving skills, which come in handy when they begin taking tests in school. A more recent study on bilingual babies further supports this fact, by showing that babies who learn a different language around 6 months seem to learn and process information faster.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore and the Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences studied 114 babies around 6-months old; each baby was repeatedly shown the same image to gauge their response to it. The babies growing up in bilingual households or surroundings got bored more quickly when shown the same image repeatedly, and they were likely to move on to a new image. This indicated that babies who are still learning to distinguish two vocabularies and languages have increased cognitive development to process differences (like images) faster. Although the research focused on a small sample size in a specific geographical region, the study confirmed an advantage of learning more than one language.

Growing up, I was immersed in a bilingual environment — I spoke English at school and Mandarin at home, alternating between the two languages seamlessly or substituting Chinese vocabulary I didn’t know with English words. Although my neighborhood wasn’t multicultural, being exposed to two languages certainly helped me see the value of learning a foreign language — if only to expand communication and improve translation skills, understand the nuances of different verbal expression, and open up ways to understand others of different backgrounds.

Within the past few years, as more and more parents realize the advantages of preparing baby for an increasingly global world, they have started to enroll their kids in foreign language classes — starting as early as preschool! — with the hope that having them learn Chinese or learn Spanish will give them an edge and a better sense of the world later in life. But making sure kids are practicing and speaking a different language on a daily basis is just as important, so they can speak the language better and remember vocabulary. From middle school to high school, I also took French classes, but it was difficult to become fluent because I didn’t speak it daily outside of school. And by the time I got to college to learn how to read and write Chinese, those lessons really didn’t stick with me beyond the classroom. So there’s no doubt that the younger the kids are, the more likely they’ll have an easier time retaining another language (or two!) faster — which is just another positive reason why parents should consider raising babies in environments with cultural and linguistic diversity.

Imagine this: if every child has the opportunity to learn a foreign language, just imagine a future where everyone understands each other just a little better!

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Image: Group of multiethnic babies via Shutterstock

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