1. Hospitals Ban Formula Samples to Encourage Breastfeeding
What happened: Hospitals in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, and New York adopted policies this year that ended the long-standing practice of distributing free samples of infant formula to new mothers, a move meant to encourage women to breastfeed. Breastfeeding advocates say the free samples may tempt mothers to bottle-feed out of convenience rather than make every effort to breastfeed, and they pledge to work toward a national ban on the free samples.
How it affected your life: Many new mothers became upset about the pressure to breastfeed when physical or emotional issues may make it difficult, and they objected to some hospital policies that insist new mothers "sign out" formula in the same way medication is released to a patient. But breastfeeding advocates -- and the American Academy of Pediatrics -- say that breastfeeding is the healthiest way for a mother to feed her baby, as it lowers risks of various infectious diseases, ear infections, certain respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, and other ailments.
2. CDC Says 1 in 88 U.S. Kids Have an Autism Spectrum Disorder
What happened: Despite steadily rising diagnosis rates, many were surprised when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that 1 in 88 U.S. kids have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), in comparison to the 1 in 110 that had previously been reported. The study specified that ASDs are five times more common among boys than girls, with 1 in 54 American boys affected. CDC also found that 40 percent of the diagnoses aren't being made until children are older than 4, which contrasts with research showing that early diagnosis and intervention provides the most successful outcomes in children with autism.
How it affected your life: The news refocused urgency on the question of what causes ASDs. Various studies this year offered a number of hypotheses, including raised autism risks for children of mothers who were obese as a result of diabetes or who had an extended flu or prolonged fever during pregnancy. Another group of three studies found that fathers were four times more likely than mothers to pass along the gene mutation believed to cause autism.
3. The Presidential Election Raises Awareness of Family Issues
What happened: Politics took on special relevance for families this year as significant streams of the national debate centered on tax credits for education and child care, equal pay for women, contraception, and women's health care. The Parents.com Moms Decide 2012 series highlighted mothers' varying political perspectives and reflections on hot-button issues, such as the appropriateness of political TV ads, gun violence, and the future of Big Bird.
How it affected your life: Although the political debate often reached fever pitch, and some parents were disappointed in the election's final results, the national conversation gave parents an opportunity to model good citizenship, have conversations about family values and priorities, and, most important, show their children that it?s both a privilege and a responsibility to vote.
4. Manhattan Nanny Accused of Murdering Two Children in Her Care
What happened: Every mother's worst nightmare occurred in October when Marina Krim returned home with her 3-year-old daughter, Nessie, from a swimming lesson to discover that her other two children, 6-year-old Lucia and 2-year-old Leo, had been stabbed multiple times in their bathtub. Their nanny, 50-year-old Yoselyn Ortega, lay nearby bleeding from her throat, apparently from self-inflicted stab wounds. Ortega was indicted on first- and second-degree murder charges in November.
How it affected your life: The story shook parents to the core, especially because it happened in a family-friendly Upper West Side neighborhood in Manhattan. The senseless violence and unspeakable loss got many parents talking about how much trust is put in child-care providers, and how fragile that trust can be.
5. Whooping Cough Cases Surge to Record Levels
What happened: In July, the CDC projected that by the end of this year the number of cases of whooping cough (also known as pertussis) would be at its highest level since 1959. By November, the disease had killed 16, mostly infants, and affected more than 41,000 Americans of all ages. In 1959, 40,000 cases were reported, and the second highest American record was 27,550, in 2010. This year's sharp rise is attributed to two main causes: an expected spike in cases every three to five years as vaccines wear off and people forget to revaccinate, and a growing number of parents who are hesitant to vaccinate their children against whooping cough (and other childhood diseases) because of the fear -- which has been repeatedly disproved by scientific studies -- that vaccines may lead to autism spectrum disorders.
How it affected your life: The CDC strongly urged (and still urges) pregnant women, parents, teens, and other adults who are often in the presence of young children to receive the Tdap vaccine which protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis in a single injection. Women should also be re-vaccinated during each pregnancy, regardless of their previous vaccination status. Infants and young children should be given the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis) vaccine.
6. Arsenic Is Found in Rice, and Salmonella Contaminates Nut Products
What happened: Food safety was a top issue on families' minds this year, particularly as two staple products -- rice and peanut butter -- were found to be potentially dangerous. In September, Consumer Reports found 'worrisome" levels of arsenic in rice products, including baby rice cereal. Conflicting information confused the issue further -- arsenic occurs naturally in a number of foods, and it takes a number of forms, some of which are known carcinogens. Meanwhile, headlines during the fall season seemed to reveal perpetually expanding recalls of peanut butters and other nut products produced by the New Mexico-based company Sunland, Inc. The recalled products were possibly contaminated by the food-borne bacteria salmonella. Illnesses were reported in at least 20 states.
How it affected your life: Each new announcement had parents combing their pantries for potentially dangerous items. On the heels of last year's arsenic-in-apple-juice stories, the rice announcement was particularly troubling. Because arsenic remains unregulated, parents are left in the dark about whether other foods -- including healthful and organic brands -- may exceed the recommended limit. In the case of the recalled peanut butters, parents either tossed the food (and money) in the garbage or experienced the inconvenience of returning it to the place of purchase.