Parents tend to scan the headlines with one question in mind: "Does this affect my family?" This year, the stories that captured our attention felt personal. See what news made our annual roundup.

Top 12 Parenting Stories of 2013

This year, the big topics that riveted us involved the debate about gun safety to the rates and criteria for autism diagnoses to the work-life balance trends at U.S. companies of all sizes. We were also informed by Angelina Jolie about her breast cancer decisions, inspired by a record-low teen birth rate, and made downright giddy by the birth announcement of a British royal baby. Read on for the 12 biggest parenting news stories of 2013.

1. Gun Safety Debate Builds After Newtown Tragedy

In the wake of the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, last December, the national debate about gun safety reached fever pitch. Parents was front and center in the debate after hosting a Facebook Town Hall conversation with Vice President Joe Biden, who had been tasked by President Obama with offering legislative gun-safety proposals.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) weighed in on the issue, asking Congress to pass legislation that includes a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; mandatory background checks and waiting periods before all firearm purchases; and handgun regulations and requirements for safe firearm storage. The AAP also reported that 500 children are killed and 7,500 are injured each year by gunshots, and another alarming study found that 1 in 5 children who are considered at risk of committing suicide have access to a gun in their homes. The frightening issue of school safety emerged again in October, when a Nevada middle school student shot and killed a beloved math teacher before turning the gun on himself.

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2. Royal Baby Mania Captivates Many

Last December, the world received word that many had eagerly awaited since Great Britain's Prince William married Kate Middleton: The couple was expecting their first child. The happy news was paired with some public education about hyperemesis gravidarum, a highly unpleasant pregnancy side effect that hospitalized the future queen and revealed her pregnancy before it was officially announced. H.G., as it is also called, is a rare form of severe morning sickness that affects only 0.2 percent of women worldwide. After Kate's H.G. symptoms passed, excitement and speculation built over the royal baby's gender, the possibility of a royal baby shower, and Kate's maternity style. As her mid-July due date approached, the anticipation reached an all-time high and was dubbed "The Great Kate Wait." A healthy baby boy was born on July 22, His Royal Highness Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge, who made periodic public appearances before his (relatively) private christening on October 23.

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Angelina Jolie
Credit: Ciao Hollywood/ Splash News

3. Angelina Jolie Undergoes Elective Mastectomy

Actress Angelina Jolie, mother to six children, started a national conversation about the genetics of breast cancer when she divulged that she had undergone an elective double mastectomy. Jolie had discovered she carries the BRCA-1 gene, which significantly raises a woman's risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer in her lifetime. In May, The New York Times published a widely discussed op-ed column that Jolie wrote about her personal decision to undergo surgery. Although the double mastectomy was a difficult choice for Jolie to make, it decreased her chances of developing cancer from 87 percent to 5 percent. "I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer," she wrote. Many mothers called Jolie a hero for raising awareness and encouraging others to be cancer "previvors."

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Credit: Jenny Risher

4. New Numbers Say 1 in 50 Kids Have Autism

Headlines abounded in 2012 about numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that claimed 1 in 88 American kids have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In March, even more alarming figures were released by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), which reported that 1 in 50 kids have a type of autism, with boys being four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. Debate ensued over whether the number of kids with autism is actually on the rise, or whether better diagnostic tools make for a more accurate count. Late last year, the American Psychiatric Association also announced that Asperger's disorder would be dropped from a new edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM) being published in May 2013 and would be considered a part of the ASD group of diagnoses instead. Late this year, a new, game-changing study from the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) revealed that infants who don't make eye contact in their early months are usually diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder later in life.

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maternity leave
Credit: Shannon Greer

5. Moms and Companies Wrestle With Maternity Leave

Working moms took sharp notice in February when Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer banned her employees from working at home -- and then had a nursery built into her office so she could care for her own newborn while at work. Work-life balance is a perennial issue, and Mayer's corporate policy, and her declaration that she would only take a few weeks of maternity leave, provoked a national debate, especially among mom bloggers. On one side were those who admired Mayer's commitment to her career and her honesty about how she used her resources to do what she thought was best for her family. On the other side were those who were disappointed that an executive like Mayer failed use her position to advocate for working women who might want or need longer leaves -- and flexible workplaces -- to strike their own balance. In September, the NCHS released a report stating as many as half of working moms in America are shortening the length of their maternity leaves, citing pressure to return to work early to protect their jobs.

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woman holding pregnancy test
Credit: istock

6. Teen Birth Rate Drops to Record Low

Encouraging data that was released by the NCHS and the CDC in September revealed that the number of babies born to teen mothers had reached an historic low. The new teen birth rate -- 29.4 births per thousand -- was the lowest since the agencies started tracking teen pregnancy data 73 years ago, and the decline could be seen in 48 of the 50 states. Furthermore, the new statistic revealed a 6 percentage-point drop since the previous year, a remarkable one-year shift, and a staggering 49 percent drop since 1991. Even as the AAP urged more schools to make condoms available to teens, researchers attributed the drop to a few changes: better and more accessible birth control, greater willingness to use an intrauterine device (IUD) as well as condoms, and an overall decline in the number of teenagers who are engaging in sexual intercourse.

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More Top Parenting News Stories

7. New In Vitro Fertilization Techniques Increase Success Rates

The fertility treatment called IVF reached a milestone in October, when it was announced that 5 million babies had been born through the procedure, most within the past six years. IVF has been used for 35 years and become increasingly common in the last decade, even though the national infertility rate has remained unchanged for the past 20 years. New trends and techniques are factors in the positive spike, which this year include an embryo-tracking process that allows doctors to select the highest-quality embryos for transfer into a woman's body, the increasing use of donor eggs to help older mothers conceive, and better knowledge of how diet can affect a man's sperm count.

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baby bottles
Credit: Peter Ardito

8. BPA Linked to Miscarriage Risk

The hazards of the chemical compound bisphenol-A (BPA) came to the forefront again when the American Society for Reproductive Medicine released a study linking the chemical (found in many plastics and food can linings) to a heightened miscarriage risk. Although there is no definitive link, the findings did indicate a "biological plausibility" that BPA can cause miscarriages and that women who already have trouble conceiving or who have experienced repeated pregnancy losses had a higher risk of miscarrying. BPA is also known to affect the endocrine system, to cause increased obesity in girls, and to elevate childhood asthma risk, but it is nearly impossible to avoid. But experts says women can limit their exposure to BPA by avoiding canned foods, refraining from microwaving food in plastic containers, and keeping water bottles out of direct sunlight.

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9. Half of New Moms Breastfeed

About half of new mothers in the United States breastfeed their babies for six months, the CDC reported in August. The new data revealed an increase from 35 percent in 2000, a bump that is likely the result of widespread efforts by pediatricians and public health groups to encourage breastfeeding as the healthiest way to nourish a newborn. Also released this year was positive research linking breastfeeding to improved brain development, better social standing later in life, and a lower risk of ADHD for babies. Even though breastfeeding also lowers a mother's risk of developing breast cancer, heart disease, and hypertension, it is still a challenge for working moms, especially as the number of women shortening their maternity leaves increased. In October, an alarming report revealed a growing problem of bacteria-tainted commercial and donated breast milk.

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10. Bassinets and Cradles Get New Federal Safety Standards

A sweeping new series of federal safety standards for bassinets and cradles was released in October by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). The updated standards came about after more than 130 deaths and 426 incidents involving those products occurred between 2007 and 2013. Under the new guidelines, the CPSC clarified the definition of bassinet or cradle as a small bed designed primarily to provide sleeping accommodations for infants (no older than 5 months), supported by free standing legs, a stationary frame or stand, a wheeled base, a rocking base, or a swing relative to a stationary base. A main focus of the new rules addressed the regulation of mattress flatness and stability.

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11. Boy Scouts Vote to Allow Gay Members

After several delayed votes and years of debate, The Boy Scouts of America's National Council voted in May to allow openly gay boys to become members. Openly gay men, however, are still prohibited from being Scout leaders or officials. The move was hailed by many as an important step toward inclusion by an organization that fosters friendship, loyalty, and moral values. Others, mainly religious conservatives who believe that homosexuality is counter to religious teachings, expressed anger and disappointment over the decision. The Southern Baptist Convention, whose churches host nearly 4,000 Scout units for100,000 boys nationwide, threatened to leave "en masse." The denomination passed a resolution in June supporting churches that chose to drop Boy Scout groups but didn't pursue an official boycott of the Boy Scouts of America.

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kids playing soccer
Credit: iStockphoto

12. Concussions, Sports Injuries Get More Serious Attention

The safety of youth sports came under major scrutiny as medical professionals and educators joined forces to urge better procedures for preventing and treating concussions, head injuries, and the cuts and scrapes that send 1.35 million American kids to emergency rooms each year. In March, the American Academy of Neurology issued new guidelines recommending that kids and teens who sustain concussions during athletic play should sit on the bench until they have been evaluated -- and cleared -- by a medical professional. In October, the AAP added a guideline that kids delay returning to school after a concussion and take a prolonged "cognitive rest" to recover from any side effects of injury. The Institute of Medicine also announced in October that female athletes should take concussions as seriously as their male counterparts do, adding that a "culture of resistance" is holding back widespread action or even awareness of the seriousness of sports-related injuries.

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