Archive for the ‘ Pregnancy ’ Category

2013 and … School Safety

Friday, December 20th, 2013

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, we have seen a number of changes in school safety in 2013. It’s clear that schools across the country have recognized the need for evolving safety procedures and for implementing them on a daily basis.

But the fact remains that no school can completely eliminate the risk.

We had another school shooting the day before the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

A sobering reminder that this is a problem that is not going away – and that we need to continue to support efforts to keep kids safe in schools.

Sandy Hook December 14 2012 via Shutterstock.com

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Stick Your Tongue Out At Your Newborn

Monday, September 16th, 2013

The moment arrives. The baby’s here. Your life as mom or dad begins. And it’s not too early to marvel at how your newborn is wired to interact with you.

One of the classic ways to realize that your newborn is tuned into what you do is to stick your tongue out. In the first few days of life, many babies will stick their tongue out too.

WHAT’S GOING ON? Researchers have explored this phenomenon for decades, and some have continued to question if this is really social imitation (scientists are very good at coming up with – and ruling out – all kinds of alternative explanations for behaviors we observe). But a recent study of newborns has looked at this phenomenon of “imitation of tongue protrusion” and has concluded that it is what it is – even in the first few days of life babies are fascinated with your face, what it does, and in some cases have the neuromuscular control to copy you as a way of connecting with you.

WHAT DOES IT LOOK LIKE? Check out this 10-minute old newborn demonstrate “imitation of tongue protrusion.”

SHOULD I WORRY IF MY BABY DOESN’T DO IT? Keep in mind that “imitation of tongue protrusion” is not a diagnostic test. Some babies do it, some don’t. It’s not something to “work at” to make sure they do it. That’s not the point at all. The point is that your newborn is waiting to interact with you. There are many ways to nurture that fundamental urge, like gently stroking their cheek to promote them to turn their head, also known as the rooting reflex (which is a handy way to learn how to direct the head and mouth to a food source). Check out this list of 50 simple things you can do to “make your babies smarter” that are interactive, playful, and stimulating.

IS THIS JUST ABOUT LEARNING? All of these ways of interacting with babies promote brain development and provide the type of optimal stimulation they need. It’s good to know that babies are equipped with the ability to search out exactly what that is – something researchers call the “Goldilocks effect” – as they can, for example, scan for just the right amount of information they need in the human face at different ages. But beyond the purely cognitive elements here, remember that it’s really about the social bonding. Your baby is not only learning that the world is interesting and full of surprise and stimulation, he or she is discovering the joy of having you there to bond with, play with, and love.

Newborn Sticking Out Tongue via Shutterstock.com

 

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Can Autism Be Diagnosed At Birth?

Friday, August 30th, 2013

Not yet. But someday it may be a possibility. 

Researchers are developing a technique that analyzes the placenta for troboblast inclusions (TIs) – which are folds and creases that can be observed at a microscopic level. Preliminary research is suggesting that a density of these may indicate risk for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Longitudinal studies will now track babies for a few years to determine the magnitude of that risk.

We often hear about exciting science that will not come to fruition for a long time. But what’s intriguing about this project is that the scientists argue that the biological screening will promote the earliest environmental intervention possible. This is a terrific perspective because we know early environmental intervention can have profound effects on the development of kids with ASD. So rather than waiting for biological cures that may never happen, it’s quite smart to think about using biological science to bolster our ability to deliver interventions that we know have positive and sometimes quite powerful benefits.

Scientist Using A Microscope Via Shutterstock.com

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Moms, Stress, and Depression

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Moms who have young kids have lots of sources of stress – including unavoidable rites of passage of parenthood (sleep deprivation), everyday hassles (just can’t fit in that shower), and new responsibilities on top of old ones (how exactly do you take care of everything you need to do when you have to take care of a 6-month-old?). There are countless other streams of stress – including big “macro” society conditions like the economic recession – that impinge on everyday life  and influence parenting. Now, you may be thinking – and this is a reaction I frequently encounter – that if stress is inevitable, why bother discussing it? 

Well, there are four reasons.

First, stress takes its toll on moms. One of the strongest predictors of depression is high levels of stress. Given that women in general are at high risk for depression – some studies suggest nearly 1 in 3 women will experience clinical depression – the additional stresses of being a mom can have serious consequences. And keep in mind that one of the reasons that depression can become such a problem is that is a recurrent condition – it tends to come back after it subsides.

Second, children of depressed parents are at very high risk for early-onset depression as well as other behavioral problems. The process can start as early as infancy, accelerate in toddlerhood, and result in increased depressive symptoms in childhood, culminating with onset of clinical depression in the teen years. Chronic stress has other negative effects on childhood development that can lead to increased risk for health problems later in life. And there is some evidence that severe stress during pregnancy can have adverse effects on fetal development and contribute to things like low birth weight.

While stress and depression are insidious and impairing, there is, without question, hope. The third reason to reflect on all this is that depression is treatable. There is no one treatment, so it’s important to give yourself enough time to find the right mix of psychotherapy and/or pharmacology (antidepressants). The reality is that you can get a handle on depression and also lessen the risk of future depressive episodes with effective treatment.

Which leads to a fourth reason to talk about stress and depression – when moms get treated successfully, their kids improve as well. There have been large-scale studies showing that these positive effects can be long lasting, and include reductions in both child symptoms and actual diagnoses of depression and other disorders in the offspring. Other more fine-grained studies have shown how child symptoms of depression “mirror” parental levels – and when parental symptoms lessen with treatment, so do their kids’ symptoms. Note that no intervention needs to be done directly with the kids to gain a benefit – the effect comes simply from successfully treating the parent.

So, moms who are under lots of stress and feel like they are depressed should become aware of the symptoms of depression - and seek out well-qualified treatment. Doing this not only helps moms, but directly improves the lives of their kids.

Depressed Woman via Shutterstock.com

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5 Things Every Pregnant Woman Should Know (Though Your Doctor Won’t Tell You)

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., an award-winning journalist and a Schuster Institute Fellow at Brandeis University, has just released a new book called The Business of Baby. In it she takes on a number of controversial issues facing those who are thinking of becoming pregnant, are pregnant, or are new parents. Here she offers a guest blog post with her take on 5 key things that every pregnant woman should know. 

1. Prenatal vitamins can make you sick: Not all prenatal vitamins are created equal. Some “natural” brands, whether over-the-counter or prescribed by a doctor, contain harmful additives, including petroleum-based dyes like Red 40. The nausea you’ve attributed to pregnancy hormones may actually be from the vitamins you’ve been told to take.

2. Ultrasounds are not medically recommended: Though some doctors do them at every visit, routine ultrasounds are not recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for normal pregnancies. There is no evidence that ultrasounds improve pregnancy outcomes but there is an increasing body of evidence that prolonged exposure to ultrasound can cause harm.

3. How much weight you gain is not as important as what you eat: Every woman gains weight differently but all pregnant women need nutritious, fresh, high quality food. The fat your body stores during pregnancy is there for a reason: to give you reserves for breastfeeding after the baby is born. It’s much more important to eat high quality protein, healthy fats, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and unprocessed foods than to worry about the amount of weight you’re gaining. Doctors actually look down on nutrition as irrelevant and unimportant, says Michael Klaper, M.D., director of the Institute of Nutrition Education and Research in Manhattan Beach, California. “There’s an inherent contempt for nutrition built into Western medicine,” Klaper explains. “Nutrition is a sissy sport among physicians.”

4. You can avoid gestational diabetes and anemia: With a healthy whole food based diet and enough exercise, most women can avoid common pregnancy problems. According to Stuart Fischbein, M.D., a Los Angeles based obstetricians with 30 years experience, the key is to eat proactively, avoiding processed sugar and doing enough exercise (to prevent gestational diabetes) and eating iron-rich foods (like eggs, red meat, and green leafy vegetables) along with foods high in vitamin C to help your body absorb the iron (to prevent anemia).

5. Your doctor believes birth is an illness: Growing a human being inside your body may be the most magical, spiritual, awe-inspiring time of your life, but your obstetrician has been taught to look for worse case scenarios and view your pregnancy as an accident waiting to happen. If you want a care provider who shares your wonder and a gentle birth, pick a well-trained midwife over a doctor.

 

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