Friday, August 14, 2009

The Office's Amy Ryan Is Pregnant

Amy Ryan's next role? Mom.

The actress, 39, is expecting her first child with boyfriend Eric Slovin, a comedy writer, her rep confirms to PEOPLE. The baby is due in October, says a source close to Ryan.

Ryan, who was nominated for a best supporting actress Oscar for her turn as a troubled mom in 2007's Gone Baby Gone, has lately starred on NBC's The Office as human resources staffer Holly, who had a romance with Steve Carrel's Michael last season.


Scrubs Star Sarah Chalke Is Pregnant

Scrubs star Sarah Chalke and her fiancé, Jamie Afifi, are expecting their first child, her rep confirms to PEOPLE.

The couple, who got engaged in December 2006, will welcome the baby this winter.

Afifi, an entertainment lawyer, proposed to Chalke during a Hawaiian vacation.

"The best is just knowing that 100 percent somebody always has your back and you always have theirs," Chalke told PEOPLE earlier this year about being engaged. "You have a partner, you have a buddy."

Chalke, 32, recently starred in Lifetime's Maneater. Her Scrubs costar Judy Reyes is also pregnant and due with a girl this November.


Diapers: Are they necessary?

When you're a new parent, the modern diaper--whether a Huggies Little Snuggler or an organic cotton cloth laundered by a local delivery service--seems like the world's greatest invention. You happily wrap your baby's dimpled bottom in one to contain the continuous stream of messes. You put him down in his crib or strap him into his car seat, and while he sleeps soundly the miraculous diaper keeps everything tidy for hours.

But what if someone told you that you didn't need diapers--at all? Berkeley mom Willow Lune tells parents just this in the Intro to Diaper Free Babies classes she teaches around the Bay Area. She explains that babies are born with awareness and control of their bodily functions and the ability to communicate when they want to eliminate. She talks about babies offering up cues (grunts, wiggles, cries) to signal their parents to hold their bare bottoms over a toilet, a sink, a grassy field. And she shares how cultures all over the world never use diapers. In fact, Lune originally got the idea to skip the diaper stage with her own daughter after visiting Tibet, where young children sported crotchless pants and simply squatted and peed outside.

Lune is part of a growing number of parents who potty train their babies from birth and see it as a way to save thousands of dollars, reduce landfill waste (single-use disposable diapers are responsible for one third of the nonbiodegradable waste), avoid diaper rash, and to strengthen the bond with their children. While many parents find it convenient to keep their kids in diapers until age 2, 3, even 4 or 5, mothers like Lune find it easier to never deal with the hassle of changing a diaper--and then finding a place to dump it.

"If you go diaper free you'll be cleaning up a mess sometimes," says Lune. "If you're using diapers, you'll be cleaning up messes all the time."

Thousands of parents across the United States have joined Internet groups in search of tips on going diaper-free, often referred to as "elimination communication" or "natural infant hygiene." Through a nonprofit group, Diaper Free Baby, 50 local groups have formed in 35 states to encourage the practice. There are even a few books to guide parents through the process.

Potty training a child before he can even crawl might seem extreme, especially in America where 95 to 99 percent of parents use disposable diapers, according to Procter & Gamble, maker of Pampers and Luvs. Most of our mothers followed the recommendations of Dr. Benjamin Spock, who discouraged potty-training in the first year. Or maybe your parents took the advice of pediatrician and author T. Berry Brazelton who surfaced in the 1960s and believed in allowing children to proceed at their own pace. But now some parents are questioning this approach.

Lune is there to tell parents exactly how to make that happen and she begins to go over the process for infant potty training. Parents need to observe their babies closely, looking and listening for cues that might be a sign the child needs to go potty, she explains. Many infants have a pee or poo cry; some babies start grimacing, wiggling, kicking, or fussing, or stop nursing. Once you notice the cue, you take the child to a potty, a sink, a tree, wherever is convenient, and then you give him a signal, such as making a "sss" sound, to alert him that it's OK to eliminate. Eventually, the child will learn to make the same "sss" sound to tell you when he needs to go.

While Lune thinks it's easiest to start before a child is 6 months old, she says you can start at any time.

The parents have lots of questions. "What do you do at night?" Lune encourages co-sleeping. "What should my child wear?" Lune says its OK to use a diaper but she encourages parents to go without and put their kids in crotchless pants.

Lune leaves everyone with a final thought. "This should be fun," she advises. "This is about connecting with your baby and tuning into your child's cues. It's not about perfection. You don't need to make it to the potty every time. There will be accidents. This shouldn't stress you out."


Thursday, August 13, 2009

It's Time for More Moms to Breast-Feed, U.S. Officials Say

With breast-feeding rates still not at the levels health-care providers and policymakers would like, two U.S. health agencies have decided it's time to take action.

Representatives of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of Women's Health, which is part of the Department of Health and Human Services, are spending much of Thursday at CDC headquarters in Atlanta listening to breast-feeding experts tell them what needs to be done to get more women to breast-feed.

Then, by the middle of next year, the agencies say, they plan to issue a "Call to Action" -- a federal document that recommends specific policies and activities to address what they refer to as "an urgent public health priority."

"Helping women breast-feed is a no-brainer in the health and well-being of mother and baby," said Dr. Sheela R. Geraghty, medical director of the Center for Breastfeeding Medicine at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. "It's a completely cost-effective mechanism to improve maternal and infant health in the U.S. And, it's an economic benefit, with less formula costs, less bottles."

According to CDC statistics, about 68 percent of women in 1999 breast-fed in the days right after birth, increasing to about 74 percent in the 2005-2006 period.

By the time their babies were 6 months old, only 32 percent of women were still breast-feeding in 1999, compared with 43 percent in 2005-06. And by the time the babies were 1 year old, the number had declined even further: to 15 percent in 1999 and 22 percent in 2005-06.

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that mothers exclusively breast-feed their infants for the first six months of life and then continue the practice with other nutrition thereafter.

But just 12.3 percent of mothers exclusively breast-fed their babies for the first six months of life in 2005, according to the CDC.

Breast-feeding has been shown to benefit both babies and mothers. Breast-fed babies, for instance, have a lower risk for sudden infant death syndrome, diabetes, obesity and asthma. And by breast-feeding, women can reduce their risk for ovarian and breast cancer along with hip fractures and osteoporosis later in life.

But there are obstacles to getting more women to breast-feed. A big one, according to Geraghty, is the American "culture of maternal-infant separation," which she said is partly driven by women working and going to school. Also, many hospitals separate mothers and babies.

"If you want to be successful with breast-feeding, you need to keep the mother and baby together as much as possible," said Dr. Michael Giuliano, director of neonatology at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. "There are routines in hospitals that do not do that very well."

Most women of childbearing age in the United States now work, and some women return to their jobs as early as six weeks after their baby is born. That can interfere with breast-feeding, Geraghty said, because "it can take a month to six weeks just to establish breast-feeding."

To deal with this, women sometimes "pump" their own breast milk so their babies can be given breast milk while they are at work, but this can be difficult for some. "Pumps are expensive, and often people don't have a place to pump at work," Geraghty said.

In addition, many women becoming mothers today were not breast-fed as babies, nor did they see their mothers breast-feeding siblings, so they have few role models. "Women are just starting from scratch, and that's very hard," Geraghty said. "You add all of that together, and women are having such a challenging time."

Giuliano seemed to agree. "Lots of moms have difficulties breast-feeding, and most don't have three generations of family members around to help them," he said. "We've found that lots of mothers need support, and that takes lots of time and specialized training."


Is Having a Baby Out of Wedlock the New Cool Thing?

Before there was Ashlee Simpson, there were Halle Berry, Angelina Jolie, and Nicole Richie. Now it seems to be the "in" thing to get pregnant before marriage and, in some cases, leave the paternity in question. While Tinseltown's leading ladies are making bumpy headlines, some real-life stories are mimicking those that have played out on Jerry Springer's and Ricki Lake's sets.

The latest star to break baby news? E! reports it's Kourtney Kardashian! She may not be a silver-screen blockbuster, but the 30-year-old reality star is sure to pique interest as her belly begins to grow — especially given that the father is unknown. It is a tad suspect that the news broke just four days before the airing of her new show, Kourtney and Khloé Take Miami. Baby news has done wonders for blond bombshell Kendra Wilkinson. One thing's for sure, it will get viewers to tune into the girls' new gig as there will surely be plenty of inquiring minds.

So what do you think? Is having a baby out of wedlock the new trend? Would you or have you?


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Low Choline Levels in Pregnant Women Raise Babies' Risk for Brain and Spinal-Cord Defects

A newborn’s risk for brain and spinal-cord defects rises if the mother has low blood levels of the nutrient choline during pregnancy, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine have discovered.

The scientists used a collection of 180,000 blood samples from pregnant California women to look for risk factors for two neural tube birth defects: anencephaly, a lethal condition in which the brain and skull do not develop, and spina bifida, a spinal-cord malformation that causes paralysis and lifelong disability. Neural tube defects have become less common since the 1996 decision to fortify the U.S. food supply with folic acid, a B-vitamin shown to prevent the defects, but they have not disappeared.

“Families whose infants die or suffer permanent disability from NTDs still feel the burden of these defects,” said Gary Shaw, DrPH, professor of neonatology and primary author of the new research, which will appear Aug. 14 in Epidemiology.

About 500 pregnancies per year are affected by neural tube defects in California alone, noted Shaw. “We’re keen on understanding what risk factors explain the continued disease.”

Shaw’s study targeted a group of nutrients suspected to promote brain and spinal-cord development. In early pregnancy, a sealed tube forms along the embryo’s back that later grows into the brain and spinal cord. Neural tube defects occur if the tube does not seal correctly. Based on prior research on folic acid, scientists believe that development of the neural tube may depend on a specific biochemical pathway that requires several vitamins and essential nutrients to operate properly. Shaw’s team measured blood levels of 13 of these nutrients in two groups of women who participated in California’s prenatal birth-defect screening program.

From 180,000 pregnant women screened between 2003 and 2005, the researchers identified 80 whose pregnancies were affected by neural tube defects. Their blood samples were compared to 409 samples randomly selected from among the women whose infants had no structural birth defects.

Choline, an essential nutrient found in egg yolks, soy, wheat germ and meats, was the only nutrient measured whose blood levels were linked to risk of neural tube defects.

“As choline levels went up, risk went down,” Shaw said. Risk for neural tube defects was 2.4 times higher in women with the lowest blood choline levels compared to women with average blood choline levels. The highest blood choline levels were associated with the lowest risk. A previous study by Shaw’s group showed that consumption of choline-rich foods was associated with lower risk for neural tube defects, but this is the first study to evaluate blood levels of choline and NTD risk.

Shaw cautioned that the blood samples tested were obtained between the 15th and 18th week of pregnancy, well after formation of the neural tube, which seals around the sixth week of pregnancy. Future research will be needed to examine blood choline levels in early pregnancy, he said. Researchers also need to test whether choline supplements given in early pregnancy reduce the rates of neural tube defects. Right now, prenatal multivitamins contain little or no choline.


Women are becoming mothers later worldwide

First-time mothers are getting older across the country and around the world, according to new federal data released today that show the average age of new moms increased to 25 in the USA and 29 in several countries, including Japan and Switzerland.

The report from the National Center for Health Statistics on this trend in delayed childbearing compared statistics from 1970 and 2006. In the USA, it found dramatic increases in the average age during the 1970s and 1980s and a less dramatic but steady rise since.

The average age increased in all states and the District of Columbia and for all racial and ethnic groups. In 2006, Massachusetts, at 27.7 years, had the highest average age at first birth and Mississippi had the lowest at 22.6 years.

Elizabeth Gregory, director of the Women's Studies Program at the University of Houston, says there are many reasons for the increase in age at first birth. She says the birth control pill, which debuted in the 1960s, allowed people to plan their families. Also, Gregory, 51, says increases in longevity have allowed people to start families later and "expect to be around to take care of them."

For her 2008 book Ready: Why Women Are Embracing the New Later Motherhood, Gregory, an English professor, interviewed 113 moms who had first children later in life. She says many cited getting their education and getting established at work as reasons for a delay.

"They had to get to the point where they were making a decent salary and had the clout to negotiate a family-friendly schedule and not lose their seniority," says Gregory, who had her first child at 39 and adopted a second daughter at age 48.

The proportion of first births among women age 35 and older increased nearly eight times between 1970 and 2006. In 2006, about 1 out of 12 first births were to women of 35 years or more, compared with 1 out of 100 in 1970.

At the same time, first births to mothers under age 20 dropped. Only 21% of first births were to teen mothers in 2006, compared to 36% in 1970.

However, the USA's high teen birth rate is the reason the overall age at first birth isn't as high as other developed countries, says T.J. Mathews, a co-author of the report.

Data from the United Nations Demographic Yearbook for 2006 shows that the teen birth rate in the USA was more than eight times higher than the birth rate in Japan, seven times higher than in Denmark and Sweden and more than three times as high as in Canada. The data compiled by the United Nations Statistics Division is based on annual questionnaires to more than 230 national statistical offices around the world, which include basic data on population trends, births, deaths, marriage and divorce.

The teen birth rate in the USA increased 3% in 2006, ending a 34% drop in births among women ages 15-19 from 1991 to 2005. Even with that long period of decline in the teen birth rate, Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, says the new report illustrates how much more needs to be done to address the problem of teen pregnancy and teen births.

The federal report also found that among racial and ethnic groups in 2006:

  • •The oldest average age at first birth (28.5 years) was to Asian or Pacific Islander women.
  • •The youngest (21.9 years) was to Alaska Native women.
  • •The age of 26.0 for white women at first birth is older than the average for the U.S. population at 25.0.
  • •The average age at first birth for black women was 22.7 years.
  • •The average age for first-time mothers was 23.1 years among Hispanics.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Are some women addicted to having babies?

In 2007 alone, American women birthed more than 4.3 million babies — the highest number ever. More than a quarter of those were to women having their third or fourth child, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And despite the infertility freak-out the entire country seems to be currently engaged in, only a small number of these babies — perhaps 100,000 — resulted from medical interventions such as in vitro fertilization, says Jamie Grifo, M.D., Ph.D., director of the division of reproductive endocrinology at the NYU School of Medicine.

Still, certain mothers, like 31-year-old Meagan Francis, who is raising her flock of five in Michigan, have big broods because that's what they're used to. "I grew up in a relatively large family and always loved having lots of people around," she says. "So it's natural that I'd try to re-create that experience with my own family."

But it's not always quite so simple, psychologists say. Some women may like being pregnant a little too much, often driven to rapidly reproduce out of insecurity, a craving for attention, or feelings of abandonment by their own parents.

Having babies isn't addictive in the way that alcohol and narcotics can be. But bumpaholics feel compelled to procreate for many of the same reasons that substance abusers turn to booze or drugs.

For some women, babies fill that gap perfectly. Infants are dependent creatures. They can give their mothers a clear identity; they can also become handy social buffers. At a party or on the playground, a woman struggling with feelings of social anxiety or self-consciousness can hide behind the adorable infant in her arms. Any pressure to be cute or charming or funny disappears — your baby has that covered. "Bumpaholics breed to blot out their feelings of insecurity," Weil says.

Boston psychiatrist and Fox News consultant Keith Ablow, M.D., says some women seem to view having more children as an alternative to addressing their own personal problems. "Bearing another child can sometimes provide a substitute for deciding on a career path, making a marriage work, or even wrestling with questions of self-worth," Ablow says.

Then there's the constant attention you garner from others when you're bursting with child. Bumpaholic or not, it can be pretty great. Barb Pomeroy, 42, of Longmont, Colo., is a mother of six girls. She admits that she reveled in the questions and comments her pregnancies elicited from family, friends, and even complete strangers. She also loved the compliments people fed her about how good she looked when she was pregnant with her daughters. Even though she's not planning to have any more children, she misses the heightened interest and confidence pregnancy often brings. "There's this feeling of being special when you're pregnant," she says. "I feel like I become ordinary again when I'm not expecting."

Spouses and partners dote on you, gladly delivering soup at 10 a.m. or antacids at 11 p.m. "My husband constantly rubbed and coddled me, and I ate it all up," says Liz Bustamante, a 39-year-old financial advisor from Forest Hills, N.Y., who has one child and is currently planning for the next. "And for the first time in my life, instead of feeling insecure about my body, I wanted to run around naked! I'd never felt sexier."

The belly-rubbing high hits the pregnant woman as well as the people who surround her. The expectant mother gets an oxytocin blast and rubs her belly as a way of bonding. Admirers who rub her belly get a hormone rush, too.

Given all the psychological, physical, and social rewards associated with pregnancy, it's no surprise that so many women like it. But plenty of couples stop at one or two children, despite the fundamental drive to reproduce. This is because we can use our higher brain functions to keep those instincts in check, reminding ourselves that children cost money — about $950 a month until they're 18 — and require an extraordinary amount of time and energy.

Figuring out the right number of kids to have is a personal decision, to be sure. And not all women with lots of children are bumpaholics. But an important question for pregnancy-craving mothers to ask themselves is why they want more children, Weil says. Are you having them because you don't want to deal with your husband? Or so you don't have to go back to work? Or because you love the attention?

But psychologists say there are far better ways of making meaningful connections. In order to have a healthy relationship, married moms need to spend quality time alone with their husbands — whether it's taking a vacation without the baby or just going out to dinner together once a week and leaving the kids with a sitter. "Women who focus on their children to the exclusion of everything else inevitably face an emptiness when their kids grow up and become more independent," Weil says.

If you do find yourself feeling a void as your bundle of joy becomes a toddler, "that's a good sign that it's time to look in the mirror and figure out what's going on with you," says Ann Pleshette Murphy, author of "The Seven Stages of Motherhood: Loving Your Life Without Losing Your Mind." "Invest in yourself. Though it may never be as satisfying as what we get from taking care of our kids, it's important to feel proud of something you do outside of child-rearing so that you don't think of yourself as 'only a mom.'"

"Me time" can include big things — like going back to work or starting your own business from home — or small, daily experiences that enrich your life, such as heading to the gym or joining your girlfriends for dinner and cocktails. It's only when you have a balanced life that you can be sure the inner call for a new addition to your family should be answered.


Swine flu advice for pregnant women

The WA Health Department and leading obstetricians have issued new guidelines to help avoid swine flu, after the virus left two pregnant women in a critical condition at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.

Doctors have encouraged women expecting a child to avoid crowded areas and take the same general precautions to prevent infection, while anti-viral medication such as Tamiflu was widely acknowledged to be safe to unborn children during pregnancy.

According to King Edward Memorial Hospital, pregnant women do not seem to be at an increased risk of catching human swine flu compared to the general population.

However, during pregnancy, there may be an increased risk of complications from any type of flu, especially in the third trimester.

These complications usually involve infection of the mother's lungs (pneumonia), early labour or premature rupture of membranes.

The Hospital's Women and Newborn Health Service have offered these guidelines to pregnant women:

  • Overseas travel - Swine flu is now starting to spread in WA and in Australia so you may be exposed here just as you would be interstate or overseas. Bear in mind that while travelling through crowded airports and on aircraft, you will be in close contact with many people, some of whom may have respiratory viruses, including seasonal and swine flu. If you decide to travel, you should practice good hygiene to avoid infection. You should also discuss with your doctor any issues you have about travelling while pregnant, particularly if you have other medical problems that may put you at increased risk of complications due to influenza
  • Anti-viral medicines - Your doctor will decide if you need to take antiviral medicines. There is limited information about the effect of antiviral drugs on pregnant women or their babies, but animal studies and use by pregnant women so far have shown antiviral drugs do work and have no serious side effects. Any possible side effects will be explained to you if you receive antivirals.

No formal clinical studies have been conducted to assess the safety of Tamiflu and Relenza for pregnant women, however, to date, there has been no increase observed in the frequency of malformations or other direct or indirect harmful effects on the human foetus from over 200 women who received Tamiflu, and nearly 100 women who received Relenza during pregnancy, or among infants born to women who have received one of the two medications.

Such use, by modifying maternal infection and decreasing the fever associated with it, may well benefit the foetus.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists meanwhile has supported the use of Tamiflu in pregnancy, but they conceded "a statement cannot be made as yet, that attests to the unequivocal safety" of the anti-viral drug during pregnancy.

The College also said breast feeding was encouraged and, as in pregnancy, Tamiflu was most unlikely to have any adverse effect on the baby.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Breastfeeding Protects Against Breast Cancer

A woman with a mother or sister with breast cancer should "strongly" consider breastfeeding her baby, doctors advise in a report released today.

In a long-term study of more than 60,000 women, researchers found that women with a close family history of breast cancer had significantly lower risk of developing breast cancer before menopause themselves if they breastfed their babies, compared to women who did not breastfeed.

"Breastfeeding is good for mothers and for babies," study chief Dr. Alison M. Stuebe, of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Reuters Health by email.

The findings stem from data on 60,075 nurses who had given birth and who participated in the long-running Nurses' Health Study between 1997 and 2005.

By the end of June 2005, 608 women - about 1 percent -- had developed breast cancer when they were an average of 46 years old, Stuebe and her associates from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, Boston, report in the latest issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

They also report that women who had a mother, sister or other close relative with breast cancer had a 59 percent lower risk of developing the disease if they had ever breastfed than if they had never breastfed.

That amount of risk reduction "compared favorably" to that seen by women at very high risk for breast cancer who take the hormone therapy tamoxifen to prevent breast cancer, the investigators note.

There was no association between breastfeeding and breast cancer among women without a family history of the disease.

However, Stuebe's team also found that women who did not breastfeed but used medication to suppress production of breast milk had a 42 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who neither breastfed nor used medication to suppress breast milk production.

This association could be related to a problem with the process by which breast tissue returns to its pre-pregnant state. If a woman does not breastfeed, she experiences abrupt engorgement, and breast tissue may become progressively inflamed, they explain in their report. That inflammation may be linked to breast cancer.

In the current study, about 70 percent of women who chose not to breastfeed their babies said they took medication to suppress breast milk production.

Clearly, the researchers conclude, breastfeeding is associated with "multiple health benefits" for both mother and child.

"That's why we need supportive hospital policies, paid maternity leave, and workplace accommodations so that women can meet their breastfeeding goals," Stuebe said.


Seizures During Pregnancy Linked to Risk of Pre-Term and Small Babies

Women with epilepsy who have seizures during pregnancy appear more likely to give birth to pre-term, small or low-birth-weight babies than women without epilepsy, according to a report in the August issue of Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

An estimated 0.2 percent to 0.7 percent of pregnant women have epilepsy, the most common major neurologic complication in pregnancy, according to background information in the article. “While approximately 40 percent of the 18 million women with epilepsy in the world are of childbearing age, managing maternal epilepsy and monitoring the health of the developing fetus remain some of the most perplexing and engaging issues in the fields of neurology and obstetrics,” the authors write.

Yi-Hua Chen, Ph.D., of Tai Pei Medical University, Taiwan, and colleagues used data from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Data set and analyzed records from 1,016 women with epilepsy who gave birth between 2001 and 2003. Of these, 503 had seizures during pregnancy and 513 did not. A control group of 8,128 women who were the same age and gave birth during the same years but did not have epilepsy or any other chronic disease were selected for comparison.

Compared to women without epilepsy, women who had seizures during pregnancy had a 1.36-fold greater risk of having a low-birth-weight baby (weighing less than 2,500 grams), a 1.63-fold increased risk of giving birth pre-term (before 37 weeks) and a 1.37-fold increased risk of having a baby who was small for gestational age (having a birth weight below the 10th percentile for age). In addition, when compared with women who had epilepsy but did not have seizures, the odds of women who had seizures during pregnancy having a baby who was small for gestational age were 1.34 times greater.

Several mechanisms might explain the association between seizures and adverse pregnancy outcomes. Trauma caused by a woman’s seizures could rupture fetal membranes, increasing risk of infection and early delivery. Tension and acute injury may result from contractions in the uterus that occur during seizures. However, additional research is needed to understand how seizures interfere with fetal development.

“Neonates born pre-term, of low birth weight and small for gestational age may be predisposed to diseases during infancy and later life, highlighting the significance of proper intervention strategies for prevention,” the authors write. These could include helping women control seizures for a period of time before pregnancy, assisting them in sleeping better, providing education about the risks of seizures while pregnant and teaching improved strategies for coping with stress.


Mothers, but not fathers, follow their own moms' parenting practices

When it comes to how they raise their children, mothers today tend to follow the same practices their own mothers did, according to a new study that looked at parenting practices across two generations.

Fathers, on the other hand, don't seem to use their moms as parenting role models, at least for some practices.

Researchers at Ohio State University looked at how often parents in the 1990s spanked, read to and showed affection to their children, and compared that to how these parents were treated by their own mothers.

"We were surprised that mothers seem to learn a lot about the parenting role from their own mothers, but fathers don't follow their mothers as much," said Jonathan Vespa, co-author of the study and doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State.

"These fathers were growing up in 70s and 80s and received much of their parenting from their mothers. Although more women were entering the workforce then, they still did the lion's share of parenting and childcare."

Fathers may have been more influenced by their dads rather than their moms, but the surveys used by the study didn't examine their fathers' behavior, Vespa said.

The study also revealed significant generational changes in parenting practices, with great increases in the amount of reading and affection shown to children today, and reductions in the amount of spanking.

"While parents, particularly women, are learning many parenting practices from their mothers, there is also a lot of new practices they are picking up from the broader culture," he said.

The data came from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, a nationally representative survey of people nationwide conducted by Ohio State's Center for Human Resource Research. Men and women aged 14 to 22 in 1979 were interviewed annually from 1979 to 1994, and once every two years from 1996 forward. A second survey followed all the children born to mothers in this original survey, from birth through adulthood, as they became parents themselves. The final sample included 1,133 young adult parents of the mothers from the original NLSY79 survey.

In both generations, the researchers looked at how often parents spanked their children in the past week; how often they showed their child physical affection and praised them in the past week; and how often they read to their child in the past month.

Results showed that for all three behaviors, the second generation of mothers closely followed what their mothers did. For example, mothers who were spanked at least once a week are nearly half as more likely to spank their own children than mothers who weren't spanked at all.

In most cases, there was no relationship between mothers' parenting practices and the parenting practices of their sons – the one exception being spanking. And in that instance, fathers who were spanked as children were less likely to spank their own children.

Overall, there was a large generational shift in which the second generation of parents was much less likely to spank than were their own parents. The reduction was particularly dramatic for fathers – only 28 percent of the second generation of fathers reported spanking their children, compared to 43 percent of mothers.

"The evidence suggests that mothers are more the disciplinarians in the family than fathers are today," Vespa said.

Another surprising finding was that fathers who spanked their children also tended to show high levels of affection.

"Some fathers might feel that being a strict disciplinarian is part of the way that fathers show affection to their children," he said.

There was no such connection between affection and spanking for mothers.

Vespa said the results show that some parenting practices are passed down from mother to mother – but only to a point.

"If parents really just learned from their own parents, we wouldn't witness such dramatic generational shifts as were seen in this study," he said.

"We need to look at the broader culture to find other sources of change that shape how parents learn to parent."


Blood test for mothers could save lives of hundreds of unborn babies

The NHS is developing a simple blood test that could save the lives of hundreds of unborn babies who are put at risk when doctors try to establish whether they are developing healthily in the womb.
The test could put an end to the use of invasive procedures such as amniocentesis, which cause some women to miscarry.
The early signs are so promising that the professor leading the programme says that the risk-free test could be the standard method of detecting babies with some genetic conditions inherited from the father within two to three years and those with Down's syndrome within five – and in the process save the lives of an estimated 265 mostly normal babies a year.
Hospitals find out if a baby has one of these conditions through the mother-to-be undertaking either an amniocentesis test or chorionic villus sampling (CVS). These are invasive tests, because in each procedure a needle is put into the womb to withdraw some of the child's amniotic fluid.
This is risky, because one in 100 women who have such a test will miscarry within a few days and lose a potentially normal, healthy child.
Scientists have developed new ways of analysing the baby's cell-free foetal DNA that circulates in its mother's blood during pregnancy. The hope is that testing the maternal blood within weeks of conception may reveal vital genetic information about the child before it is born.
Professor Lyn Chitty, an expert in foetal medicine at the Institute of Child Health and University College Hospital in London, is the doctor leading the NHS-funded Reliable Accurate Prenatal non-Invasive Diagnosis (RAPID) study into the viability of NIPD. She said: "NIPD is exciting because it could mean that in future many thousands of women will not have to undergo invasive tests, which carry a risk of miscarriage, to diagnose genetic and chromosomal conditions in developing babies.This test could remove the agonising which couples experience over whether or not to have an invasive test."
About 25,000 women a year in Britain have an invasive test for Down's syndrome and another 1,500 for single gene disorders, which affect one in 300 births and are a significant cause of both learning and physical disabilities.
Such conditions include cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease and Huntington's disease. Chitty says that if NIPD can be made reliable and accurate, between 250 and 265 mostly healthy babies who currently die through miscarriage would survive.
Jane Fisher, director of the charity Antenatal Results and Choices, said: "The number one call we get on our helpline is from women agonising over whether to have an amniocentesis test, especially for Down's syndrome.
"Their dilemma is: are they prepared to put what is for them a wanted pregnancy at risk in order to have a definitive answer as to whether their baby has Down's? With NIPD, that risk is taken away." However, she added, that does not remove the harrowing decisions about what to do for women told that their child will be seriously disabled. More than 90% of women with a Down's baby decide to have a termination.
But NIPD is arousing concern as well as hope. Healthcare staff will have to take time and use great sensitivity while explaining the test so that women are prepared for the implications of a positive result.
In addition, doctors and midwives are worried about what to do if women who hear about the growing promise of NIPD start seeking to have it rather than an invasive test before further research has shown that these tests are as reliable and accurate as the current method.
Some private companies and websites in America already offer private NIPD testing for foetal sex determination. For example, California-based Pink or Blue promises that its Early DNA Gender Test is more than 95% accurate. But a similar claim by Baby Gender Mentor of Massachusetts led to a class action lawsuit after scores of women who had used its test, including some in Britain, were given the wrong result. And in April San Diego-based genetic analysts Sequenom had to postpone the planned launch of an NIPD test for Down's syndrome after staff "mishandled" test results and data.
Medical ethicists also warn that a potential boom in websites offering a still unproven technology could lead to NIPD being used for non-clinical purposes, such as to prove who a child's father is, or, in countries such as India and China, the infanticide of unborn female children.Meanwhile, German researchers writing in the British Medical Journal last week voiced another fear – "that widespread availability of this technology increases stigmatisation of people with disabilities".
Prenatal testing in Britain is overseen by the UK National Screening Committee, which advises the government and the NHS on the best way of detecting conditions including cancer.
Dr Anne Mackie, its director of programmes, said: "The preliminary results on non-invasive prenatal diagnosis, although promising, are very much still in development and certainly not at a stage where we would consider using this as an NHS population screening programme. However, this will be kept under constant review as new evidence becomes available."

Lead associated with high blood pressure during pregnancy

A French study reports that higher lead levels measured in women halfway through their pregnancy are associated with pregnancy-induced high blood pressure.

A recent study links higher blood lead levels with high blood pressure in pregnant women, suggesting that lead exposure may increase the risk of developing hypertension during pregnancy.

All of the women in the study had blood levels below the level considered “acceptable” by most health agencies. The association suggests that the level – 10 micrograms per deciliter (µg/dL) – may need to be lowered.

Prior studies have associated elevated lead levels with hypertension and other indicators of vascular disease in women during late-pregnancy or those who are not pregnant. This new study is the first to find a similar relationship in mid-pregnancy.

Lead was measured in blood collected from 971 women between the 24th and the 28th week of gestation. Women were placed into the case or control groups based on monthly blood pressure measurements.

Of the subjects, 106 developed pregnancy-induced hypertension. Lead levels were significantly higher in those women when compared to the other women in the study.

Researchers reported that women with pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH) had mean blood lead levels of 2.2 µg/dL relative to 1.9 µg/dL in women with normal blood pressure. According to national data (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey), more than 25 percent of women have blood lead levels above 2.2 µg/dL in the United States.

In addition, every 1 µg/dL increase in blood concentration was associated with a 3-fold increase in the likelihood of PIH. The blood lead levels were weakly, but significantly, associated with systolic blood pressure.

Blood levels of other metals – cadmium, manganese and selenium – were also measured but only elevated lead levels were significantly correlated with blood pressure. This relationship persisted even after controlling for potential confounders, including dietary habits, smoking history, and socio-economic status.

Blood pressure normally rises in mid-pregnancy but approximately 10 percent of mothers-to-be develop PIH. The condition Increases the risk of preeclampsia which is characterized by high blood pressure during pregnancy accompanied by measureable proteins in the urine. It is also a risk factor for intrauterine growth retardation (abnormally slow fetal growth) and stillbirth. Preeclampsia can also lead to maternal seizures (also named eclampsia).

Lead exposure varies by region in the United States. It is higher in places with older buildings, because they are more likely to contain lead-based paint and plumbing capable of leaching lead. Areas with numerous industrial sites also can have higher environmental lead levels.

Lead can cause other health problems when exposure occurs at low levels, including memory impairment and increased risk of cancer.