Time out: Spanking babies is surprisingly common, U.S. study finds

The same hands that parents use to lovingly feed, clothe and bathe their babies are also commonly used to spank their bundles of joy.A new University of Michigan study found that 30 percent of 1-year-old children were spanked at least once in the past month by their mother, father or both parents.A long-time topic of debate, spanking children is a common practice among U.S. parents. Previous research has focused on disciplining children as young as age 3, in part, because spanking is common among children of this age. Studies have shown that spanking is related to children’s greater aggression, depression and other negative behavior.But the latest findings show that spanking is used on children who are so young that, in some cases, they haven’t even taken their first step.Researchers examined 2,788 families who participated in a longitudinal study of new births in urban areas. The study indicated that spanking by the child’s mother, father or mother’s current partner when the child was a year old was linked to child protective services’ involvement between ages 1 and 5. During that time, 10 percent of the families received at least one visit by CPS.U-M social work professors Shawna Lee and Andrew Grogan-Kaylor say that spanking babies is particularly misguided and potentially harmful, and may set off a cascade of inappropriate parental behavior. Their research is a snapshot of a larger problem: many people lack parenting skills that include alternatives to spanking.”Intervention to reduce or eliminate spanking has the potential to contribute to the well-being of families and children who are at-risk of becoming involved with the (social services) system,” Lee said.Perinatal well-baby clinical visits and home visitations after the child’s birth are opportunities for pediatricians, nurses and social workers to talk to parents about alternatives to spanking babies and toddlers, the researchers say.Story Source:The above story is based on materials provided by University of Michigan. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Fewer than half of women attend recommended doctors visits after childbirth

Medical associations widely recommend that women visit their obstetricians and primary care doctors shortly after giving birth, but slightly fewer than half make or keep those postpartum appointments, according to a study by Johns Hopkins researchers.The researchers found that women with pregnancy complications were more likely to see a doctor post-delivery, but overall, visit rates were low.”Women need to understand the importance of a six-week visit to the obstetrician — not only to address concerns and healing after delivery, but also to follow up on possible future health risks, review the pregnancy and make the transition to primary care,” says Wendy Bennett, M.D., assistant professor of medicine and the lead researcher for the study, described online last week in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. “Women with pregnancy complications are at higher risk for some chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease, and these visits are an opportunity to assess risks and refer to primary care providers to work on long-term preventive care.”Physician groups, such as the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, recommend women with complications like high blood pressure during pregnancy or gestational diabetes not only visit their obstetricians six weeks after a birth, but that they also see their primary care doctors within a year.For the study, the researchers collected data from one commercial health insurance plan and multiple Medicaid insurance plans in Maryland. The aims were to determine different predictors of receiving post-delivery primary and obstetric care in women with and without pregnancy complications, including gestational or pregestational diabetes mellitus and hypertensive disorders, such as preeclampsia. Women with these conditions are much more likely to develop long-term health problems, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.Among women with tax-supported Medicaid insurance, 56.6 percent of those with a complicated pregnancy and 51.7 percent of those without a complicated pregnancy visited a primary care doctor within a year. Among women with commercial health insurance, 60 percent of those with a complicated pregnancy and 49.6 percent of those without a complicated pregnancy did so.White patients, older patients and patients with depression or preeclampsia were also more likely to visit their primary care doctor.Of the women on Medicaid, 65 percent of those with complicated pregnancies and 61.5 percent of those without complicated pregnancies had a postpartum obstetric visit within three months. Numbers were slightly lower for those with commercial insurance, at 50.8 percent of those with complicated pregnancies and 44.6 percent of those without complicated pregnancies.Bennett says providers need to develop creative ways to improve attendance at postpartum visits. A pilot project at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, for example, involves combined “mommy-baby” visits, she says. If the baby’s checkup is included in the mother’s visit, the mother may be more likely to keep the appointment, and thus would receive important education about improving health behaviors and the need for primary care follow-up. Other options are home visits and collaborations with day care centers, community centers and churches to make visits and health promotional activities more convenient.Bennett says more work is also needed by hospitals and physicians to coordinate future appointments, or to arrange transportation or child care if needed.”Pregnancy is a teachable moment — many women are very motivated to make healthier lifestyle choices to keep themselves and their babies healthy. After a birth, we need to keep them motivated,” she says.Bennett and her team say their findings add to evidence that access to health care alone — having insurance and a physician — is not enough to assure proper care. …

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Baby’s innate number sense predicts future math skill

Oct. 22, 2013 — Babies who are good at telling the difference between large and small groups of items even before learning how to count are more likely to do better with numbers in the future, according to new research from the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences.The use of Arabic numerals to represent different values is a characteristic unique to humans, not seen outside our species. But we aren’t born with this skill. Infants don’t have the words to count to 10. So, scientists have hypothesized that the rudimentary sense of numbers in infants is the foundation for higher-level math understanding.A new study, appearing online in the Oct. 21 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that children do, in fact, tap into this innate numerical ability when learning symbolic mathematical systems. The Duke researchers found that the strength of an infant’s inborn number sense can be predictive of the child’s future mathematical abilities.”When children are acquiring the symbolic system for representing numbers and learning about math in school, they’re tapping into this primitive number sense,” said Elizabeth Brannon, Ph.D., a professor of psychology and neuroscience, who led the study. “It’s the conceptual building block upon which mathematical ability is built.”Brannon explained that babies come into the world with a rudimentary understanding referred to as a primitive number sense. When looking at two collections of objects, primitive number sense allows them to identify which set is numerically larger even without verbal counting or using Arabic numerals. For example, a person instinctively knows a group of 15 strawberries is more than six oranges, just by glancing.Understanding how infants and young children conceptualize and understand number can lead to the development of new mathematics education strategies, said Brannon’s colleague, Duke psychology and neuroscience graduate student Ariel Starr. …

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The Hard Reality of Birthing Injuries

The unfortunate reality of childbirth is that not every baby is born strong and healthy. While some infants may be born with birth defects (structural or functional abnormalities that are present at or before delivery), others may actually sustain a physical injury during the birthing process. These children often go on to face a lifetime of disability, and in severe cases, may even die as a result of their injury.A recent study suggests that birth-related injuries occur in 29 out of every 1,000 births in the United States, although published rates have historically varied widely. Birth injuries can occur for a number of reasons, including factors related to the baby (size or positioning in the womb), the mother (difficulty or prolonged labor; small pelvis), or even the decision-making of the medical staff assisting with the birth (e.g., negligence).Head and brain trauma, bleeding, nerve damage, and bone fractures are common examples of birth injuries. Severe swelling of the baby’s scalp can occur as the head bears the brunt of the pressure during delivery, and bleeding between the skull and its fibrous covering can also occur. Babies who are delivered with the help of vacuum extraction or forceps may suffer from bruising or even cuts to the head and face. If the positioning of the baby during labor and/or delivery causes facial nerves to be compressed and/or injured, the baby may suffer from facial paralysis. Nerve damage in the arms and hand or fractures to the baby’s collar bone can occur when the mother has difficulty delivering the baby’s shoulder. Under some circumstances, a baby may not receive adequate amounts of oxygen during labor and delivery, which can lead to a wide range of problems. While some babies may be resuscitated quickly and suffer no lasting injuries, others may suffer organ damage, seizures, or even a coma. …

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My experiences with birth hypnosis

Birth hypnosis, HypnoBirthing, Hypnobabies, Hypbirth, the Birth Relaxation Kit…If you’re at all part of the birth world, you’ve probably heard of one or more of these terms. I’ve had four pregnancies, four labors, and four babies all using some kind of hypnosis.Basic idea of hypnosis for childbirth (in my words): the mind is extremely powerful and malleable. Through deep relaxation, conscious breathing, and visualization, you can reprogram yourself to respond positively to the sensations of labor.How and when I listened to the hypnosis recordings:For my first baby, I listened to the two hypnosis tracks provided with Marie Mongan’s Hypnobirthing book. I listened to one track every day for the last two months of pregnancy. I didn’t have an mp3 player at the time, …

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Babies know when you’re faking

Oct. 16, 2013 — If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands! That’s easy enough for children to figure out because the emotion matches the movement. But when feelings and reactions don’t align, can kids tell there’s something wrong? New research from Concordia University demonstrates that they can — as early as 18 months.In a study recently published in Infancy: The Official Journal of the International Society on Infant Studies, psychology researchers Sabrina Chiarella and Diane Poulin-Dubois demonstrate that infants can detect whether a person’s emotions are justifiable given a particular context. They show that babies understand how the meaning of an experience is directly linked to the expressions that follow.The implications are significant, especially for caregivers. “Our research shows that babies cannot be fooled into believing something that causes pain results in pleasure. Adults often try to shield infants from distress by putting on a happy face following a negative experience. But babies know the truth: as early as 18 months, they can implicitly understand which emotions go with which events,” says psychology professor Poulin-Dubois.To perform the research, she and PhD candidate Sabrina Chiarella recruited 92 infants at the 15 and 18-month mark. In a lab setting, the babies watched as an actor went through several scenarios in which emotional reactions went with or against pantomimed experiences. …

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Commercial baby foods don’t meet infants’ weaning needs

Sep. 9, 2013 — UK commercial baby foods don’t meet infants’ dietary weaning needs, because they are predominantly sweet foods that provide little extra nutritional goodness over breast milk, indicates research published online in Archives of Disease in Childhood.Furthermore, they are promoted for infants from the age of four months — an age when they should still be on an exclusive breast milk diet, say the researchers.They wanted to find out what sort of products are available in the UK for weaning infants from a predominantly milk based diet to a family food based diet, and to assess their nutritional value.The weaning process aims to introduce infants to a wider range of tastes, textures, and flavours, to encourage them to accept different foods, and to boost their energy and nutrient intake.UK government recommendations on weaning foods stipulate that these should be introduced gradually, starting with cereals, vegetables and fruits, followed by protein-rich foods and should not be started before six months, in line with recommendations for exclusive breastfeeding until that time.The authors therefore analysed the nutritional content of all infant foods intended for weaning and produced by four major UK manufacturers and two specialist suppliers between October 2010 and February 2011.The products included ready-made soft, wet foods, powdered meals to be reconstituted with milk or water, breakfast cereals, and finger foods, such as rusks.The authors collected their information on the calorie density, added salt and sugar, and the protein, iron, calcium, and carbohydrate content, from the manufacturers’ websites, labels on products in store, and via direct email inquiry.Most (79%) of the 462 stand-alone products assessed were ready made spoonable foods, almost half of which (44%; 201) were aimed at infants from the age of four months onwards.Analysis of the 410 spoonable foods revealed that their energy content (282 kiloJoules per 100 grams) was almost identical to that of breast milk (283kJ/100g). And their protein content was only 40% higher than formula milk.Products containing meat had the highest iron content, but this was again no higher than formula milk, and not much higher than products that did not contain meat.Dry finger foods had a much higher energy and nutrient density overall, but they were also particularly high in sugar.Around two thirds (65%) of the stand-alone products were sweet foods. Babies have an innate preference for sweet foods, which might explain why sweet ingredients feature so prominently in commercial products, say the authors.”However, repeated exposure to foods during infancy promotes acceptance and preferences,” they write, and the inclusion of fruit sugars rather than refined sugars won’t make any difference in terms of the risk of tooth decay, they say.The nutritional content of the shop-bought products was compared with that of typical family home-made foods commonly given to infants and toddlers.The savoury ready-made spoonable foods generally had much lower nutrient density than typical home-made foods, with the exception of iron content.But it still means that 50g of a spoonable family food would probably supply the same amount of energy and protein as 100g of a similar commercial product, say the authors.They emphasise that the main point of weaning foods is to increase the energy content of the diet and provide richer sources of nutrients, such as iron.”Yet the most commonly used commercial foods considered in this study supply no more energy than breast or formula milk” and yet they are promoted at an age when they will replace the breast (or formula milk), which is all that babies under six months really need, they explain.”While it is understandable that parents may choose to use [these products] early in the weaning process, health professionals should be aware that such food will not add to the nutrient density of a milk diet,” they conclude.

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First large scale study links autism and autoimmunity

Aug. 29, 2013 — A new, large-scale study of more than 2,700 mothers of children with autism shows that about one in 10 mothers have antibodies in their bloodstream that react with proteins in the brain of their babies.The research, published in Molecular Psychology (August 20, 2013) indicates that while the blood-brain barrier in the adult women prevents them from being harmed by the antibodies, that same filter in the fetuses is not well-developed enough and so may allow the “anti-brain” antibodies to pass through to the babies’ brains, possibly causing autism.The study was led by Dr. Betty Diamond, head of the Center for Autoimmune and Musculoskeletal Disorders at The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Long Island, New York, who said the very large sample size “gives a clearer impression of the prevalence of these antibodies.””We at AARDA applaud Dr. Diamond’s research into an area that concerns all parents,” said Virginia T. Ladd, President of American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association, Inc. (AARDA).According to AARDA, in healthy people, when a foreign invader, such as a virus or bacteria, enters the body, the immune system produces antibodies to attack those foreign substances. In people with autoimmunity, the immune system mistakenly recognizes the body’s own healthy tissues and organs as foreign invaders and produces antibodies to attack them. These auto-antibodies — or antibodies produced against the self — then cause disease. The disease that results depends upon which tissues and/or organs the antibodies are attacking.Some 50 million Americans live and cope with autoimmune disease (AD), 75 percent of whom are women. AD is one of the top 10 leading causes of death of women under the age of 65. …

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Breast is best: Good bacteria arrive from mum’s gut via breast milk

Aug. 22, 2013 — Scientists have discovered that important ‘good’ bacteria arrive in babies’ digestive systems from their mother’s gut via breast milk.Although this does confirm that when it comes to early establishment of gut and immune health, ‘breast is best’, a greater understanding of how babies acquire a population of good bacteria can also help to develop formula milk that more closely mimics nature.The study, published today (22 August) in Environmental Microbiology, which is a journal of the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM), was led by Professor Christophe Lacroix at the Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health, ETH-Zurich, Switzerland.Professor Lacroix said: “We are excited to find out that bacteria can actually travel from the mother’s gut to her breast milk.”A healthy community of bacteria in the gut of both mother and baby is really important for baby’s gut health and immune system development.”The Zurich team found the same strains of Bifidobacterium breve and several types of Clostridium bacteria, which are important for colonic health, in breast milk, and maternal and/or neonatal faeces. Strains found in breast milk may be involved in establishing a critical nutritional balance in the baby’s gut and may be important to prevent intestinal disorders.Professor Lacroix continued “We’re not sure of the route the bacteria take from gut to breast milk but, we have used culture, isolation, sequencing and fingerprinting methods to confirm that they are definitely the same strains.”Future research will hopefully complete the picture of how bacteria are transferred from mother to neonate. With a more thorough knowledge, we can decide which bacterial species will be most important as probiotics in formula. But until then, for neonates at least, the old adage is true, breast is best.

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In nonsmoking women, breastfeeding for more than six months may protect against breast cancer

Aug. 15, 2013 — A new analysis has found that breastfeeding for more than six months may safeguard nonsmoking mothers against breast cancer. The same does not seem to hold true for smoking mothers, though. Published early online in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, the findings add to the list of benefits of breastfeeding for women and their babies.Share This:To look at the relationship between breast cancer and certain aspects of pregnancy and breastfeeding, Emilio González-Jiménez, PhD, of the University of Granada in Spain, and his colleagues analyzed the medical records of 504 female patients who were 19 to 91 years of age and who had been diagnosed and treated for breast cancer from 2004 to 2009 at the San Cecilio University Hospital in Granada. The team looked at factors including age of diagnosis, how long the women breastfed, family history of cancer, obesity, alcohol consumption, and smoking habits.Their analysis revealed that women who underwent childbirth and who breastfed were diagnosed with breast cancer at a later age, regardless of the patients’ family history of cancer. Nonsmokers who breastfed for periods of longer than six months tended to be diagnosed with breast cancer much later in life-an average of 10 years later than nonsmokers who breastfed for a shorter period. In contrast, female smokers were diagnosed with breast cancer at a younger age and obtained no significant benefit from a longer period of breastfeeding.”The results suggest that for nonsmokers, breastfeeding for more than six months not only provides children with numerous health benefits, but it also may protect mothers from breast cancer,” said Dr. González-Jiménez.Share this story on Facebook, Twitter, and Google:Other social bookmarking and sharing tools:|Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by Wiley, via AlphaGalileo. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length. For further information, please contact the source cited above. …

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Narrower range of helpful bacteria in guts of C-section infants

Aug. 7, 2013 — Decreased gut microbiota diversity delayed Bacteroidetes colonisation and reduced Th1 responses in infants delivered by Caesarean section.The range of helpful bacteria in the guts of infants delivered by caesarean section, during their first two years of life, is narrower than that of infants delivered vaginally, indicates a small study published online in the journal Gut.This has implications for the development of the immune system, say the researchers, particularly as the C-section infants had lower levels of the major group of gut bacteria associated with good gut health, Bacteroidetes phylum, as well as chemicals that help curb allergic responses.The researchers assessed the patterns of bacterial colonisation of the guts of 24 infants, nine of whom had been born by caesarean section one week, and then again at one, three, six, 12 and 24 months after birth.They also took blood samples at six, 12 and 24 months to test for levels of immune system chemicals known as Th1 and 2 associated chemokines. Excess Th2 chemokines have been implicated in the development of allergies, which Th1 responses can counteract, say the authors.The results showed that babies delivered by caesarean section, and who therefore did not pass down the mother’s birth canal, either lacked or acquired late one of the major groups of gut bacteria, the Bacteroidetes, compared with the babies born vaginally.In some C-section infants acquisition of Bacteroidetes did not occur until a year after birth. The total range of bacteria among those born by C-section was also lower than that of their vaginally delivered peers.The differences in bacterial colonisation between the two groups of infants were not down to their mums having been given antibiotics during C-section or after the procedure to prevent infection: the levels and range of bacteria sampled from both sets of mums were similar, the analysis showed.Bacteria are important for priming the immune system to respond appropriately to triggers, and not overreact as is the case in allergies, diabetes, and inflammatory bowel disease, say the authors.This includes the development of immune system T cells and the correct balance between their chemical messengers, Th1 and Th2.The C-section infants had lower circulating levels of Th1 chemical messengers in their blood, indicating an imbalance between Th1 and Th2. “Failure of Th2 silencing during maturation of the immune system may underlie development of Th2-mediated allergic disease,” write the authors.They point out that previous research has indicated that Bacteroides fragilis, one of the many Bacteroidetes, strongly influences the immune system, which ultimately enhances T cell activity and the Th1-Th2 balance.”Thus, the lower abundance of Bacteroides among the C-section infants may be a contributing factor to the observed differences in the Th1-associated chemokines,” they write.

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How do babies learn to be wary of heights?

July 24, 2013 — Infants develop a fear of heights as a result of their experiences moving around their environments, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.Learning to avoid cliffs, ledges, and other precipitous hazards is essential to survival and yet human infants don’t show an early wariness of heights.As soon as human babies begin to crawl and scoot, they enter a phase during which they’ll go over the edge of a bed, a changing table, or even the top of a staircase. In fact, research shows that when infants are placed near a virtual drop-off — a glass-covered table that reveals the floor beneath — they seem to be enthralled by the drop-off, not fearful of it.It’s not until later in infancy, at around 9 months, that infants show fear and avoidance of such drop-offs. And research suggests that infants’ experiences with falls don’t account for the shift, nor does the development of depth perception.Psychological scientists Audun Dahl, Joseph Campos, David Anderson, and Ichiro Uchiyama of the University of California, Berkeley, and Doshisha University, Kyoto, wondered whether locomotor experience might be the key to developing a wariness of heights.The researchers randomly assigned some babies to receive training in using a powered baby go-cart, providing them with locomotor experience, while other babies received no such training. Critically, none of the babies had begun to crawl.The data revealed that infants who used the baby go-cart showed tell-tale increases in heart rate when confronted with the virtual drop-off, indicating that they were fearful; infants in the control condition did not show such increases.What about locomotor experience brings about the wariness? The data showed that, as they gain locomotor experience, infants come to rely more on visual information about how their movement is controlled relative to the environment. At the edge of a drop-off, much of this information is lost, thereby making the locomoting infants (and adults) wary (you can see an example of a wary infant in this video from the Campos lab).”These new findings indicate that infants do not follow a maturational script, but depend on quite specific experiences to bring about a developmental change,” note the researchers.As such, infants who are delayed in locomotor experience — whether for neurological, cultural, or medical reasons — are likely to be delayed in showing avoidance of heights.Since the avoidance of heights ultimately helps to keep us alive, why doesn’t it kick in sooner?The researchers surmise that a period of fearlessness may encourage infants to explore their environment, helping them develop movement strategies and learn how to adapt to terrain.”Paradoxically, a tendency to explore risky situations may be one of the driving forces behind skills development,” the researchers write.

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Weight gain early in pregnancy means bigger, fatter babies

July 16, 2013 — Moms-to-be who gain too much weight early into their pregnancy are nearly three times as likely to give birth to bigger and fatter babies, warns a University of Alberta researcher.A study of 172 expectant mothers found that women who gained excessive weight during the first half of pregnancy gave birth to heavier and longer babies with more body fat than babies of women who either did not gain as much weight or put it on later in their pregnancy.The results underscore the need to educate expectant mothers about the dangers of early weight gain during pregnancy and importance of healthy eating and exercise, said lead author Margie Davenport, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation.”Expectant mothers and health professionals need to be aware of pregnancy weight-gain guidelines and follow them to build a foundation for a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby,” said Davenport.The study included data from 172 healthy, expectant mothers living in London, Ont., between 1995 and 2011. The women were non-smokers with a body mass index of at least 18.5 when they were between 16 and 20 weeks pregnant. A BMI below 18.5 is considered too thin; anything above 25 is considered overweight.All women in the study were encouraged to follow a basic exercise program of three to four aerobic workouts a week. They also had access to eating guidelines to promote healthy weight gain during pregnancy.Maternal weight gain was scored against the 2009 Institute for Medicine guidelines for pregnancy, comparing data with their pre-pregnancy BMI.More than half of the study participants — 52 per cent — gained excessive weight during their pregnancies; however, women who gained weight during the first half of their pregnancy were 2.7 times more likely to give birth to bigger, heavier babies. These babies also had excessive body fat, greater than 14 per cent.”Healthy eating and physical activity when pregnant have long-lasting benefits to mother and child,” Davenport said. “Infants who are larger at birth tend to become larger children, and that creates a risk for developing into obese and overweight children and adults.”Eating healthy and staying activeSarah O’Hara knows the dangers of gaining too much weight too quickly, both as a new mom and a registered dietitian who specializes in obstetrics. One of the key challenges to ensuring expectant mothers eat properly is overcoming the old saying “eating for two,” she said.”For many mothers, eating for two is taken too literally. People feel like they’ve been given an allowance to eat whatever they want, and that can lead to weight gain,” said O’Hara, a U of A alum.During her own pregnancy she closely monitored her weight, stayed active and followed the Canada Food Guide, adding additional servings later in the pregnancy and eating extra dairy and protein, and limiting caffeine.Staying active hasn’t been a challenge for Carolyn Terry, who is seven months pregnant. A yoga instructor and U of A alum in kinesiology, Terry said expectant moms like her can maintain their physical activity levels, although some modification may be required.”You have to work at your own level and listen to your body,” she said.

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How ‘parrot dinosaur’ switched from four feet to two as it grew

June 28, 2013 — Tracking the growth of dinosaurs and how they changed as they grew is difficult. Using a combination of biomechanical analysis and bone histology, palaeontologists from Beijing, Bristol, and Bonn have shown how one of the best-known dinosaurs switched from four feet to two as it grew.Psittacosaurus, the ‘parrot dinosaur’ is known from more than 1000 specimens from the Cretaceous, 100 million years ago, of China and other parts of east Asia. As part of his PhD thesis at the University of Bristol, Qi Zhao, now on the staff of the Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology in Beijing, carried out the intricate study on bones of babies, juveniles and adults.Dr Zhao said: “Some of the bones from baby Psittacosaurus were only a few millimetres across, so I had to handle them extremely carefully to be able to make useful bone sections. I also had to be sure to cause as little damage to these valuable specimens as possible.”With special permission from the Beijing Institute, Zhao sectioned two arm and two leg bones from 16 individual dinosaurs, ranging in age from less than one year to 10 years old, or fully-grown. He did the intricate sectioning work in a special palaeohistology laboratory in Bonn, Germany,The one-year-olds had long arms and short legs, and scuttled about on all fours soon after hatching. The bone sections showed that the arm bones were growing fastest when the animals were ages one to three years. Then, from four to six years, arm growth slowed down, and the leg bones showed a massive growth spurt, meaning they ended up twice as long as the arms, necessary for an animal that stood up on its hind legs as an adult.Professor Xing Xu of the Beijing Institute, one of Dr Zhao’s thesis supervisors, said: “This remarkable study, the first of its kind, shows how much information is locked in the bones of dinosaurs. We are delighted the study worked so well, and see many ways to use the new methods to understand even more about the astonishing lives of the dinosaurs.”Professor Mike Benton of the University of Bristol, Dr Zhao’s other PhD supervisor, said: “These kinds of studies can also throw light on the evolution of a dinosaur like Psittacosaurus. Having four-legged babies and juveniles suggests that at some time in their ancestry, both juveniles and adults were also four-legged, and Psittacosaurus and dinosaurs in general became secondarily bipedal.”The paper is published in Nature Communications.

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Babies know when a cuddle is coming

June 25, 2013 — Babies as young as two months know when they are about to be picked up and change their body posture in preparation, according to new research.Professor Vasu Reddy, of the University of Portsmouth, has found most babies aged two to four months understand they are about to be picked up the moment their mothers come towards them with their arms outstretched and that they make their bodies go still and stiff in anticipation, making it easier to be picked up.This is the first study to examine how babies adjust their posture in anticipation to offset the potentially destabilising effect of being picked up.Professor Reddy said: “We didn’t expect such clear results. From these findings we predict this awareness is likely to be found even earlier, possibly not long after birth.”The results suggest we need to re-think the way we study infant development because infants seem to be able to understand other people’s actions directed towards them earlier than previously thought. Experiments where infants are observers of others’ actions may not give us a full picture of their anticipatory abilities.”The findings could also be used as an early indicator of some developmental problems, including autism. It was reported by researchers in 1943 that children with autism don’t appear to make preparatory adjustments to being picked up.The researchers, who included Dr Gabriela Markova of the Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague, and Dr Sebastian Wallot of the University of Aarhus, did two studies, one on 18 babies aged three months, and a second on ten babies aged two to four months old.In both, babies were placed on a pressure mat which measured their postural adjustments during three phases: As their mothers chatted with their babies; as the mothers opened their arms to pick them up; and as the babies were picked up.The results revealed infants as young as two months made specific adjustments when their mother stretched her arms out to pick them up. These included extending and stiffening the legs which increases body rigidity and stability, and widening or raising their arms, which helps to create a space for the mother to hold the infant’s chest.Between two and three months of age the babies’ gaze moved from mostly looking at their mother’s face to often looking at her hands as she stretched her arms out towards them.The results reveal two important findings — first, that from as early as two months babies make specific postural adjustments to make it easier to pick them up even before their mother touches them. And second, it appears that babies learn to increase the smoothness and coordination of their movements between two and four months, rather than develop new types of adjustment.”In other words, they rapidly become more adept at making it easier for parents to pick them up,” Professor Reddy said.The mothers in the study were asked about their babies’ physical responses before the tests and some reported their babies stiffened their legs or raised their arms in preparation for being picked up, but video footage watched frame by frame revealed physical adjustments happened to a greater degree and more subtly than mothers had noticed.The researchers suggest more research now needs to be done to examine the extent to which infants discriminate between different kinds of actions directed at them, between familiar and unfamiliar actions, and how infant anticipation of these actions is influenced by the different maternal styles they each experience.The research is published in the latest issue of the journal Plos One.

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Rare pregnancy condition programs babies to become overweight in later life

June 24, 2013 — Babies born to mothers who suffer from a rare metabolic complication during pregnancy are programmed to be overweight, according to a study published today in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.The study is the first to look at the long term effects on babies born to mothers with intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy (ICP), also called obstetric cholestasis, a rare complication of pregnancy characterised by the build-up of bile acids in the bloodstream.The findings add to the strong evidence that the environment that babies are exposed to in the womb is a major cause of metabolic diseases in adults.ICP can affect up to one in 50 pregnant women in different populations. It is caused by disruption in the flow of bile, a fluid produced by the liver to help with the digestion of fats. This can result in some leakage of bile, and in particular bile salts, into the bloodstream leading to symptoms including persistent itching and complications for both mother and baby.The researchers looked at a cohort of babies born in Northern Finland between 1985 and 1986 and identified 45 babies who were born to mothers with ICP who were of healthy weight and had no other known diseases or complications, such as diabetes.Although there were no differences in the birth weights of these babies compared with infants born during the same period from normal pregnancies, the team found that by age sixteen, boys born from cholestatic pregnancies had a much higher body mass index, by up to four points. They also had higher levels of the hormone insulin after a period of fasting, a symptom of type 2 diabetes. Whilst the effect in girls was smaller, waist measurements from girls of the same age born to mothers with cholestasis were increased by up to 9cm and hip measurements by up to 5cm compared with girls born from normal pregnancies.To further investigate the effects of cholestasis during pregnancy on the health of the offspring, the researchers created a mouse model of the disease by supplementing the diet of normal mice with cholic acid, a type of bile acid. Mice born from these pregnancies were also more prone to obesity and diabetes, confirming the findings from the human studies.Dr Georgia Papacleovoulou, first author of the study from Imperial College London, explains: “This is the first evidence that cholestasis during pregnancy can have long-term effects on the health of the baby as it grows into adulthood.”Both the human and mouse studies revealed an increase in fats and excessive cholesterol transport in placentas from mothers with cholestasis compared with healthy mothers, consistent with a disruption in the metabolism of fats. The researchers propose that this shift in the nutrients supplied by the mother is likely to affect the energy balance in the unborn baby, something that could continue after the baby is born, resulting in an altered metabolism in adult life that could give rise to diseases such as obesity and diabetes.Using another mouse model, the researchers showed that feeding bile salts to mice during pregnancy resulted in chemical changes to the DNA of the offspring, or epigenetic changes.Professor Catherine Williamson, lead author of the study from Imperial College London and King’s College London, said: “We don’t yet know the exact mechanisms of how the increase in bile salts in the mothers’ blood programs the unborn baby towards metabolic disease but it seems likely that epigenetics plays a role. We need to do more experiments to work out how these chemical changes to the DNA of the baby affect its ability to metabolise fats.”Dr Alison Cave, Head of Cellular, Developmental and Physiological Sciences at the Wellcome Trust, said: “We’re in the grips of an epidemic of obesity and diabetes and this study adds to the increasing evidence which suggests that it may not be explained by unhealthy diets and lack of exercise alone. We know that the environment that babies are exposed to before they are born can have a huge impact on their health in later life. Studies like this are important to help us develop interventions that might be able to prevent these diseases arising in young adults.”

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Findings emphasize importance of vitamin D in pregnancy

June 22, 2013 — Pregnant women pass low levels of vitamin D on to their babies at almost three times the extent previously thought, according to new research carried out at London’s Kingston University.While current studies suggest that around a fifth (19 per cent) of a newborn baby’s supply or deficiency of vitamin D comes directly from its mother, experts from Kingston’s School of Life Sciences have discovered that the figure is, in fact, almost three times as high at 56 per cent. The results have been revealed using a new measuring technique, developed in the laboratories at Kingston, which is able to examine eight different forms of vitamin D in greater detail for the first time.The study, just published in Nutrition Journal, focused on 120 samples taken from 60 Greek mothers and their babies. The research was conducted with the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece. Although the Mediterranean nation enjoys more hours of sunshine than the United Kingdom, the research revealed that many of the mothers had low levels of vitamin D, suggesting that what they ate was an equally important source.Professor Declan Naughton, who headed the Kingston University research team, said the findings made it more important than ever that mothers-to-be received the key nutrient not only through sunlight but also through foods such as oily fish. “The impact that mothers deficient in vitamin D have on their babies’ levels is a much bigger problem than we thought,” Professor Naughton said. “Maintaining good supplies during pregnancy is clearly of vital importance for both mothers’ and babies’ long term health.”Lack of the vitamin in pregnant women has been linked to diabetes and increased rates of caesarean section births, while babies can be smaller than average. In children, the deficiency can cause rickets — a soft bone disease.Vitamin D plays an important role in maintaining good levels of calcium and phosphate which help form healthy bones and teeth. The two main forms are vitamin D3, which primarily comes from sunlight, and D2 which is found in a small number of foods including egg yolk, mushrooms, farmed salmon, mackerel, sardines and fortified bread and cereals. Processes in the body convert the vitamin into what is known as the circulating form — the type commonly measured in routine blood tests — followed by the active form — the type that promotes calcium absorption, cell growth and immunity.Professor Naughton and his team found that the type of vitamin D commonly measured in blood tests was not as reliable an indicator of vitamin D activity as other strands. They went on to discover that two epimer forms, previously thought to be unimportant, influenced levels in babies. …

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Early exposure to bisphenol A might damage the enamel of teeth

June 10, 2013 — Are teeth the latest victims of bisphenol A? Yes, according to the conclusions of work carried out by the research team led by Ariane Berdal of the Université Paris-Diderot and Sylvie Babajko, Research Director at Inserm Unit 872 “Centre des Cordeliers.” The researchers have shown that the teeth of rats treated with low daily doses of BPA could be damaged by this.Analysis of the damage shows numerous characteristics that are common with a recently identified pathology of tooth enamel that affects roughly 18% of children between the ages of 6 and 8.Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical compound used in the composition of plastics and resins. It is used for example to manufacture food containers such as bottles or babies’ bottles. It is also used for the protective films inside drinks cans and food tins, or as developers on sales receipts. Significant amounts of BPA have also been found in human blood, urine, amniotic liquid and placentas. Recent studies have shown that this industrial compound has adverse effects on the reproduction, development and metabolism of laboratory animals. It is strongly suspected of having the same effects on humans.As a precautionary measure, the manufacture and commercialisation of babies’ bottles containing bisphenol A were prohibited in Europe in January 2011. The prohibition will be extended to all food containers in France as from July 2015.So this study shows that teeth are the latest in an already long list of victims of BPA.The Inserm researchers have shown that the incisors of rats treated with low daily doses of BPA (5 microgrammes/kg/day) could be damaged by this.This effect has also been observed within a development window of no more than 30 days post-birth in rats, thus demonstrating a range of sensitivity to exposure.Analysis of these teeth showed numerous characteristics that are common with a tooth enamel pathology known as MIH (Molar Incisor Hypomineralisation) that selectively affects first molars and permanent incisors. This enamel pathology is found in roughly 18% of children between the ages of 6 and 8. Children affected by this pathology present with teeth that are hypersensitive to pain and liable to cavities. …

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