Friday, October 15, 2010

Alicia Keys Gave Birth!

Alicia Keys and new hubby Swizz Beatz just welcomed their first son together. He has three children from previous relationships.

Alicia went into labor on Thursday and gave birth to Egypt Dauode Dean at New York's St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital.

Beatz, real name Kasseem Dean, tweeted his happiness shortly after the birth with a post on his Twitter page. The thrilled father wrote, "I'm so thankful for everything I been blessed with in my life wowwwwww (sic)."

And close pal Mary J Blige was among the first stars to send her best wishes.

Taking to her Twitter page on Friday, she wrote, "I'm So excited 2 Congratulate my brother @therealswizzz and @Aliciakeys on there (sic) New, baby, boy!!!!!!!"

Congrats to the happy couple. What do you think of the name they choose? She apparently visited Egypt back in 2007 and claimed the country inspired her to return and record hit album The Element of Freedom. 


Neil Patrick Harris Welcomes Twins

Neil Patrick Harris and his partner David Burtka are officially parents!

The How I Met Your Mother star took to his Twitter account on Friday afternoon to announce the happy news.

He wrote: "Babies!! On 10/12, Gideon Scott and Harper Grace entered the Burtka-Harris fold. All of us are happy, healthy, tired, and a little pukey."


Tips for Trick-or-Treating with Babies and Toddlers

Here some tips that will help keep you and your child safe if you decide to get out the costumes and join the celebration.

Tips for Babies:
  • Choose a costume that is comfortable and doesn't cover her eyes with a mask.
  • Try and go visiting before your baby's bedtime. No one says you have to wait until dark to visit Grandma in your Halloween costume.
  • If you are going to go around the neighborhood, put your baby in a stroller or wagon. Carrying that candy-filled pumpkin and your baby just asks for a backache. 
  • While everyone loves a baby in a costume, stick to the neighbors you know.
  • Take two flashlights and another adult with you if you are going out in the dark. 
  • Take pictures before you go out trick or treating while everyone is well-rested and happy. 
Tips for Toddlers:
  • Choose a costume that is comfortable, flame retardant and doesn't drag on the ground. 
  • Make sure your toddler can see and breathe through his mask. Masks that can come on an off easily by sliding up on the head and have more than tiny eye slits are the best, do a test run in the house. 
  • Choose a bathroom-friendly costume. There is nothing worse than having to run home and remove the entire costume. A definite recipe for tears. 
  • Insist your toddler use the bathroom before you go out, even though she says she doesn't have to. 
  • Make sure your toddler wears comfortable shoes. While high heels come with the costume, comfort comes first. And who looks at their feet anyway, it's dark! 
  • Try and discourage carrying props, such as swords, purses, or other items. If they must, make sure they are soft, flexible and safe. You don't want a mishap if your child accidentally trips and falls on the prop. 
  • Give your toddler something that is lit if you are going out when it's dark. A flashlight, glow bracelet or necklace work great. You want others to see her coming. 
  • Pick a treat or goody bag that's not too heavy. A backpack keeps those little hands free to carry a flashlight. 
  • Make sure to feed your toddler dinner before trick or treating.
  • Bring along a water bottle or your toddler's sippy cup. It's important she stays well-hydrated and doesn't get over-heated. 
  • Do not bring your dressed-up dog with you. One toddler in a costume is enough!
  • Do not let your toddler go to a house that's dark, even though you are with her. Stick to the well-lit houses of the neighbors you know. 
  • Let your toddler know that there is no running, even though the high school kids are zooming past you. It's just not safe. 
  • One hour is more than enough time for trick or treating. And make sure it doesn't go past your toddler's bedtime. 
  • Don't let your toddler eat any candy while she is trick or treating. Take a few crackers or pretzels if she needs to eat something. 
  • And don't let her see you sneaking candy either! Guaranteed, she will smell that chocolate on your breath! 
  • Make sure to inspect all the candy and throw out anything that is opened. 

911 operator talks man through bathroom birth of daughter

Most of the time when a pregnant woman calls 911 she is having some pain, and Lilibeth Vargas tells them to calm down, take deep breaths and wait for paramedics to arrive.

Last month, when a couple in Boca Raton, Florida, called her, it was past that point - well past that point.

Joanna Drowes, who was 8 1/2 months pregnant, went into labor in the couple's bathroom. Her husband called 911. Vargas took the call and asked Bryan Drowes what he saw.

The baby's head, he recalled telling her as the couple met the 911 operator on Wednesday.

Pretty soon Lila Paige made her initial appearance in the world.

"Once I pulled Lila out and had her in my arms ... that's when [Vargas] really stepped up," Drowes told CNN affiliate WPLG. "She came in and said, 'here's what we need to do: make sure [the baby] is breathing, make sure she's crying, clean off her mouth, wrap her in a towel. Keep mom warm, don't forget about mom.'"
Vargas then instructed Drowes on how to tie off the umbilical cord. Paramedics arrived about seven minutes later.

Boca Police Services honored Vargas on Wednesday for her calm instruction.


Running and Pregnancy

If you're a runner and working out for two, doctors say you may not have to give up the sport you love.
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists actually says it is probably OK to continue running through pregnancy as long as you were a runner beforehand and you stay in close contact with your physician.

That's welcome news to Kelly Perkins, seven months pregnant with her first child.

"I didn't want to give it up if I didn't have to, but was perfectly willing to if that was necessary," Perkins said.

Her doctor told her jogging while pregnant is fine, as long as she's careful.

In spite of some pain in her knees, she still hopes to run up to her delivery.

"If I can, then that's what I'll do. If I can't then that's okay too," she said. "I'm just happy I made it this far."

Doctors say pregnant runners will probably have to adjust their routine and that it's important to stay in touch with your body.

"Most doctors now are saying it's safe and healthy and they actually advise women to continue being active and continue running through their pregnancies," Runner's World Senior Editor Katie Neitz said.


Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Postpartum Mom...and Her Mom

The idea of the postpartum visit from a mother can be a bit nerve-wracking. Will your mom be a help or will you just be at each other's throats the whole time? Will she be okay with your parenting choices or try to insist that you do things "her" way? Are you asking for disaster if you don't have a guest room? Will she be offended if you suggest a hotel? How long is too long? How short is too short?

Here are some general tips for improving the postpartum family visit, and setting it up so your mom (or sister or aunt or mother-in-law) can be the kind of help you really need, and getting everyone’s expectations in order.

1. No open-ended visits. Agree on an arrival and departure date ahead of time.

2. It’s okay if you’d like a week or two alone before the family visits start, too.

3. Have all conversations about travel and lodging questions ahead of time — no assumptions allowed. Will she be needing or expecting a ride from the airport and will your partner be able to realistically accommodate that, particularly if you’re still in the hospital that day? Is she okay taking a cab or having one of your friends pick her up? She might assume she’ll stay with you on the pull-out couch while you were thinking a hotel would be better. Everybody might not end up with their number-one dream-visit choice, but at least you won’t be thrown with a “wait, WHAT?” scenario at the last minute.

4. Likewise, if your mom plans to come before your due date to be there for the birth, hash out the conversation about your birthing room wishes (she can be there/you’d rather she wait outside) and how much alone time you and your partner will want in the hours and days immediately following.

5. If there are tasks you’d like your mother to help out with — making coffee, laundry, housekeeping — devote some of your pre-birth nesting energy into making these tasks extra-easy for her to complete without needing input or guidance from you. For example:
  • Put the coffee machine, filters, beans, grinder, etc. all in one place so your mom isn’t hunting through cabinets helplessly for each component.
  • Clearly label all your cleaning products with where you use them. WOOD FURNITURE, HARDWOOD FLOORS, CARPET, BATHROOM TILE, etc. We’ve all got dozens of bottles and we’ve all got our own preferences about where we might feel comfortable using one product vs. another — especially with a newborn in the house. This way Mom knows exactly which all-purpose cleaner you prefer be used on the counters and which one you’d rather NOT get sprayed on food-prep areas, or to help her know exactly what’s in those generic spray bottles of homemade vinegar solutions you like to use. Label laundry detergent in the same way, if you plan to use different types for your clothing vs. your baby’s.
  • Speaking of laundry, it doesn’t hurt to write down your preferences and tape them to the washer door. Do you wash everything in cold? Like an extra rinse cycle for the towels? What goes in the dryer and what gets hung up? Obviously you don’t need to get super-obsessive about it, but if you’ve got a mom who might fret over doing things differently than you prefer (or one who might not ever think to ask at ALL), a quick little cheat sheet can help her really “own” that task during her visit.
6. Don’t play hostess. This is doubly important if you’re worried you might get short-shifted on the “help” part of the visit and simply end up making dinner for an extra houseguest while your “helper” sits on the couch cuddling with the baby for hours. Set the tone of the visit from the get-go. You don’t have to offer snacks and refreshments or refill her coffee. Jokingly announce that under no circumstances will you be making dinner your first night home — but mean it seriously. You don’t have to get out of your robe or jammies or get dressed to entertain anyone. You don’t have to schedule sightseeing tours or feel obligated to do “just one nice dinner out as a thank-you.” There’s time for that later, when she’s back for strictly-fun grandma-type visits.

7. There is nothing wrong with a Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob. I love my in-laws, for example, but there were definitely times when I didn’t want anyone bursting into my bedroom with folded laundry or a ringing telephone while I was nursing or napping.

8. Great non-housework tasks for mom to help with? Addressing birth announcements, helping with the first pages of the baby book, keeping a list of incoming gifts that will need thank-you notes, showering older siblings with a ton of grandma attention and taking over the morning sibling routine: getting dressed, breakfast, walking them to the bus stop, etc.

9. Everyone always talks about your mom offering to watch the baby for an hour or so while you and your partner grab lunch or something. This is great, but it can also be really nice if Dad offers to watch the baby while you and your mom go out and enjoy some coffee or shoe shopping or bonding time outside of the House Of The New Baby.

10. Take a lot of pictures of her visit, then upload them to one of the online photo-book creators and have it sent to her afterwards as a thank-you and memento of her visit.

What did your mom do for you after your baby’s arrival? What meant the most to you — practical help, her advice, or just the presence of someone experienced to be your emotional cheerleader?


Babies treat 'social robots' as sentient beings

Babies are curious about nearly everything, and they're especially interested in what their adult companions are doing. Touch your tummy, they'll touch their own tummies. Wave your hands in the air, they'll wave their own hands. Turn your head to look at a toy, they'll follow your eyes to see what's so exciting.

Curiosity drives their learning. At 18 months old, babies are intensely curious about what makes humans tick. A team of University of Washington researchers is studying how infants tell which entities are "psychological agents" that can think and feel.

Research published in the October/November issue of Neural Networks provides a clue as to how babies decide whether a new object, such as a robot, is sentient or an inanimate object. Four times as many babies who watched a robot interact socially with people were willing to learn from the robot than babies who did not see the interactions.

"Babies learn best through social interactions, but what makes something 'social' for a baby?" said Andrew Meltzoff, lead author of the paper and co-director of the UW's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. "It is not just what something looks like, but how it moves and interacts with others that gives it special meaning to the baby."

The UW researchers hypothesized that babies would be more likely to view the robot as a psychological being if they saw other friendly human beings socially interacting with it. "Babies look to us for guidance in how to interpret things, and if we treat something as a psychological agent, they will, too," Meltzoff said. "Even more remarkably, they will learn from it, because social interaction unlocks the key to early learning."

During the experiment, an 18-month-old baby sat on its parent's lap facing Rechele Brooks, a UW research assistant professor and a co-author of the study. Sixty-four babies participated in the study, and they were tested individually. They played with toys for a few minutes, getting used to the experimental setting. Once the babies were comfortable, Brooks removed a barrier that had hidden a metallic humanoid robot with arms, legs, a torso and a cube-shaped head containing camera lenses for eyes. The robot – controlled by a researcher hidden from the baby – waved, and Brooks said, "Oh, hi! That's our robot!"

Following a script, Brooks asked the robot, named Morphy, if it wanted to play, and then led it through a game. She would ask, "Where is your tummy?" and "Where is your head?" and the robot pointed to its torso and its head. Then Brooks demonstrated arm movements and Morphy imitated. The babies looked back and forth as if at a ping pong match, Brooks said.

At the end of the 90-second script, Brooks excused herself from the room. The researchers then measured whether the baby thought the robot was more than its metal parts.

The robot beeped and shifted its head slightly – enough of a rousing to capture the babies' attention. The robot turned its head to look at a toy next to the table where the baby sat on the parent's lap. Most babies – 13 out of 16 – who had watched the robot play with Brooks followed the robot's gaze. In a control group of babies who had been familiarized with the robot but had not seen Morphy engage in games, only three of 16 turned to where the robot was looking.

"We are using modern technology to explore an age-old question about the essence of being human," said Meltzoff, who holds the Job and Gertrud Tamaki Endowed Chair in psychology at the UW. "The babies are telling us that communication with other people is a fundamental feature of being human."


Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Moms Win the Baby-Name Debate

Choosing a name for your newborn baby can be a fraught business.

But researchers have found that mothers have a far bigger say in the final decision than fathers.

The study found four out of ten dads are forced to back down in the name game and let their other halves have their own way.

It also emerged that the average couple considers 12 different names before selecting their favorite, but one in four don't make their final decision until after the baby is born.

The report, commissioned among 3,000 parents by Bounty Parenting Club, also revealed that a third of couples fall out over their newborn's name. Twenty one per cent of those who had their hearts set on a particular name for most of their lives had fallen out with a partner who didn't like it. And fifteen per cent of mothers had fallen out with a friend after they copied or stole a name they liked, another 15 per cent admitted they had caused a rift because they chose their friend's favorite name. Incredibly, 17 per cent of couples fell out after choosing the baby's name, only for one of them to actually register the child with a different name. And another 17 per cent of mothers and fathers agreed on a name, but one of them had misspelt it on the birth register.

The study also found that 15 per cent of couples argued regularly during pregnancy over what to call their child.

And for indecisive parents, the new arrival remains nameless for an average of 11 days.

It also emerged that seven out of ten parents struggle to choose their baby's name because they want a name which doesn't clash with their surname.

The same percentage wanted to avoid bad nicknames while 42 per cent didn't want any name associated with a celebrity.

A third of parents said they wanted their new baby to have an original moniker, while 21 per cent didn't want the name to be shortened or changed at all.

Incredibly, one in ten parents end up drawing names out of a hat, and a further 14 per cent opted to toss a coin as a final decider.

Interestingly, a quarter of parents-to-be are just as likely to consult their work colleagues about baby names as their partners.

And when it comes to the final decision, a fifth of new parents named the baby after their favorite colleague or friend, while 37 per cent included a family name.

Four in 10 Britons took into account names approved by the grandparents, and 52 per cent avoided names of all friends and their children.

Quite a large percentage of respondents - a quarter - actually settle on the name they have wanted to call their baby since they were children. But 16 per cent of others are so indecisive they even change the name of the baby a few days after naming it - showing even if you have managed to agree on a name you may not feel it suits your child in the end.

Thankfully, nine out of 10 parents who had changed their mind at the last minute grew to love the name of their child.


Mom & Baby Shopping Event in the Bay Area

Don't miss the hottest MOM & BABY shopping event in the Bay Area! 

The 'Babes & Babies' event features 50 designers offering baby and toddler clothing, accessories, resources and discounted prices. Enjoy gift bags, a raffle, an on-site photographer massage and a play space for kids!  

First 50 PREGNANT women to arrive at the event will receive a special BUMP BAG filled with essentials for every expecting mom!
First 250 families to arrive at the event will receive an Appel & Frank LUSH gift bag filled with tons of goodies for moms and tots.
Go to to RSVP for FREE tickets in 
advance. Tickets will be $5 at the door.  
Saturday, October 16, 2010
9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
Mill Valley Community Center
180 Camino Alto, Marin, CA  

For more information, visit

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Alcohol, Pregnancy and Public Approval

From the standpoint of popular culture, drinking during pregnancy is the equivalent of playing Russian roulette with your fetus. Any woman daring to consume a single glass of wine in public risks being construed as the most unnaturally selfish of mothers. Even as recent studies suggest that science refuses to conclude the case, we cling to the prohibition in a way that precludes discussion. But perhaps that shouldn't be surprising-our reasons may have as much to do with the distinctive morality of pregnancy as they do with science.

This month the issue was revived again. A new study out of Great Britain found that the 5-year-old children of moms who consumed up to two drinks a week appeared to do no worse on tests of behavior and cognition than the children of mothers who abstained. Indeed, in some tests— in vocabulary, for instance—the boys of light drinkers did better than the boys born to abstainers. A study published this spring out of Australia found something similar: The children of women who drank in relatively small amounts early in pregnancy appeared to demonstrate fewer behavioral problems than the children of those who abstained during the same period. The Australian researchers wondered, controversially, whether light drinking might help relax the mothers, yielding better kids.

Which made many wonder why the teetotaling counsel that American women get during pregnancy is so stern and unyielding. We've known for close to 40 years that some children of mothers who drink heavily during pregnancy will be born with fetal alcohol syndrome. But for smaller amounts of alcohol, the picture is far less clear. In the absence of certain proof of harmlessness, the American dogma goes, abstain. But what if small amounts of alcohol consumption are fine or even beneficial? Why doesn't the medical community make clear what they know for sure and what they don't, and let women decide for themselves?

Trying to understand the research on drinking while pregnant is a bit like examining a pointillist painting—the image dissolves into meaningless dots the more closely you examine it. Since researchers can't treat pregnant women like rats—keeping them in a lab, feeding them alcohol—it can be difficult to distinguish causation from correlation. For instance, the researchers who conducted the British study admitted that their light drinkers were of higher socioeconomic status than their abstainers, and suggested this might explain some of the disparity in how children did on various tests. Not only that, but as University of Washington fetal alcohol syndrome researcher Susan Astley points, the British study looked at children only at the age of 5. Yet a link between alcohol and developmental problems in higher order thinking might not become obvious till a few years later. Plus, Astley observes, the study found little damage even in children of heavy drinking moms—a curious outcome that makes her wonder if its methodology is flawed. Several criticisms can also be leveled at the Australian study.

There is also a good deal of research going in the other direction, as science writer Annie Murphy Paul explains in her new book, Origins. According to this work, "even moderate drinking during pregnancy is associated with behavior, learning, and attention problems in offspring." Another wrinkle in interpreting the conflicting studies is that yet more studies suggest that risk factors like poverty, smoking, advanced maternal age and even genetic vulnerability may exacerbate the effects of alcohol consumption in the womb. And one more twist: It appears to matter when during pregnancy a woman drinks and how much she drinks in one sitting.

In other words, any two women, and any two fetuses, are not the same, even if they have consumed the same overall amount of alcohol during a nine-month period. All of these permutations make it difficult to conclude what amount of alcohol might cause problems for an individual fetus. So researchers cannot agree on a generally permissible upper limit. "There is no known safe amount of alcohol to drink while pregnant," as the CDC puts it.

This is why an obstetrician will warn patients not to consume any alcohol whatsoever, but tell a particular panicked woman who reports drinking twice before she realized she was pregnant that her baby is fine. "I will strongly suggest to women who plan pregnancy that they don't drink," says Gideon Koren, who directs a clinical, research and teaching program called Motherisk at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. After all, Koren says, lack of proof of harm does not equal lack of harm. And alcohol is not like asthma medication, worth some risks because of benefits to the mother's health. But that doesn't mean he expects the babies of women who drink a bit to be harmed by it.

Does that make better-safe-than-sorry sensible or paternalistic? The tension has played out in the evolving guidelines of the U.K. Department of Health. Not too long ago, the department officially advised women that they could drink up to two units of alcohol once or twice a week. When the government changed its policy in 2007, suggesting pregnant women abstain entirely —but admitting the move wasn't in response to new scientific evidence—the move elicited strong response. In the pages of the Times, women called it "filthily patronising."

It's true that the notion of pregnant women drinking has come to be seen as a kind of pervasive moral threat that must be policed by the rest of the culture. We "don't want to say that one drink a week is OK, because then people naturally say, 'Oh, if one's all right, then three can't be bad,' " Tom Donaldson, the president of the National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, told ABC News in 2006.

 Armstrong says that after she published her book, she heard all sorts of stories—like one about the liquor store clerk who refused to sell a pregnant woman a pricey bottle of Scotch, which she wanted for her husband's birthday. It's hard to escape the conclusion that as a society we care at least as much about censuring women as we do about protecting their babies. After all, as Rutgers University history professor Janet Golden points out, a culture that cares about its most vulnerable would make it easier for alcoholics – those least likely to be able to heed a warning label—to get treatment during pregnancy, without the threat of losing older children to foster care.


Baby Born From 20-Year-Old Frozen Embryo

Preserving embryos by freezing has become commonplace in fertility treatment to allow women to attempt multiple cycles without repeatedly creating new embryos.

Now scientists have announced that a baby boy was born in May to a 42-year-old woman after being adopted as an embryo from a couple who created it 20 years ago.

Previously the oldest successful frozen embryo was 13 years old.

The couple who created the embryo had completed their own family through IVF and anonymously offered their remaining frozen embryos to other couples.

The children are all biological siblings although born 20 years apart.

The case was written by doctors from the Eastern Virginia medical school up in the journal Fertility and Sterility.

Dr Sergio Oehninger told the Sunday Times: “We do not want to be thinking about having 40-year-old embryos in the freezer. We would have a new generation using embryos of the older generation.”

Embryo freezing is another method by which women can preserve their fertility for years alongside egg freezing and a newly emerging technique of freezing ovarian tissue.

Inter-generational donation has already been raised as a possibility.

In 2007 a mother froze some of her own eggs so they could be used by her then-seven-year-old daughter who was likely to be infertile because of a medical condition.

If the girl used the eggs she would effectively give birth to her own half brother or sister.

Last year a baby girl was born conceived using sperm that had been frozen 22 years earlier.

In theory the material can be kept frozen indefinitely and in Britain new laws mean embryos can be stored for 55 years.

In Britain most frozen embryos are used by the couple who created them, destroyed or donated for research. Few are offered for adoption and this is thought to be because of rules that mean offspring can trace their biological parents.


Monday, October 11, 2010

High BPA levels found in at least 90% of moms-to-be

More than 90% of pregnant women had elevated levels of bisphenol A from a variety of sources, notably tobacco smoke, cash register receipts and canned vegetables, a new study says.

BPA, an estrogen-like chemical, is widely used in food and beverage can linings, plastic bottles and cash register receipts. It has been linked in human studies to heart disease and diabetes.

"This really highlights that there are a lot of sources of BPA exposure during pregnancy," lead author Joe Braun, a research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health, told Environmental Health News. "This identifies some sources that are modifiable, meaning that women can actually lower their exposures to them."

Researchers tested the urine of 389 pregnant women in the Cincinnati area who delivered babies between 2003 and 2006. They found that more than 90% had BPA in their urine at 16 and 26 weeks of pregnancy and 87% had detectable levels when their babies were born.

Especially vulnerable were those who consumed canned vegetables at least once a day, were exposed to tobacco smoke or worked as store cashiers, according to the study published in the scientific journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Other research has found BPA in some cash register receipts and surmised the chemical could be absorbed through the skin or ingested.


Babies Born 10/10/10 at 10 Around the World

What are the chances of a baby being born on 10/10/10 at 10:00 or 10:10?

Well, given the bragging rights that baby would have for the rest of his or her life, it turns out quite a few chose (or were chosen) to pick that moment to enter the world.

Here's a list of the lucky babies:

Read more:

Image Source

Lifelong Immunity? With Vaccines, It Depends

At 2:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, moms and babies are gathering at Angela Shogren's townhouse in Alexandria, Va. As the babies try to crawl across the basement floor, the moms talk about breastfeeding and lack of sleep. One issue keeps coming up: vaccines.

"I am from Peru," says Vanessa Vohden, mother of 4-month-old Santiago. "Polio - it's still there. I grew up seeing kids in wheelchairs from polio. So I am definitely pro-immunization."

The other moms are pro-immunization, too. But that doesn't mean they don't have big questions about the vaccines their babies get.  They worry about the number of vaccines that the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for children: more than 20 by age 2, including the new recommendation for seasonal flu shots for all children 6 months and older.
Vaccines have tamed killers like smallpox, polio and measles; they may well be medicine's greatest triumph. But newer vaccines, like the ones for whooping cough and chicken pox, don't always give such great protection.

The moms at the get-together wonder if it would be easier on babies' brand-new immune systems to spread those shots out. And they wonder if vaccines for diseases like chicken pox, which usually causes mild illness, are really necessary.

"I think natural immunity for non-serious illnesses like chicken pox may be better than getting the vaccines," says Katie Combs, mother of 6 1/2-month-old Charlotte.

Different Levels Of Immunity
It turns out that there are no simple answers to the question of whether natural immunity caused by exposure to a germ is better than the industrial version. "It varies from vaccine to vaccine," says Samuel Katz, an inventor of the measles vaccine and a chairman emeritus of pediatrics at Duke Medical School.

But he still doesn't know why some vaccines work well — and some, not so much.
"There are at least two systems in the immune function," Katz says. "One is called antibody, and the other is called cell-mediated immunity. And with most infections, we'd like to have both of those active."
The human body uses those immune systems to fight off viruses and bacteria. Once those systems are activated, they can remember the bugs and stand ready to fend off new infections for years — or even for a lifetime.

"We think that's what we've achieved with measles," Katz says. "We think that's what we've achieved with polio."

But other vaccines, whether because of the nature of the microbe or the vaccine itself, don't confer lifetime immunity. The vaccine for pertussis, or whooping cough, is one of those.

"We're seeing right now in California, where they're having a large outbreak, that a number of cases are individuals who've received the vaccine," Katz says.

Giving Some Vaccines A Boost
When vaccines don't work so well, the solution is to give multiple doses, or boosters. Children now get a pertussis booster around age 12, and adults are being told to get a pertussis booster every 10 years. That's especially important if they are around babies who are too young to be fully protected by vaccines.

Chicken pox is another example of a vaccine that doesn't work as well as doctors wish. After one shot of the vaccine, which was licensed in the United States in 1995, about 25 percent of children were still spreading the varicella virus around, or getting sick themselves. Anne Gershon, a chicken pox expert who is director of the division of pediatric infectious disease at Columbia University Medical Center, says, "We really need boosters of vaccines much more than we thought we ever would."

So in 2006, the CDC recommended that a second chicken pox shot, to be given when children are 4 to 6 years old, be added to the list of childhood vaccines. Gershon says it looks like that second shot will keep children from getting sick. But the varicella virus that causes chicken pox is a wily bug. Even with the vaccine, it may hide out in nerves for years, and return to cause the painful rash of shingles.

Gershon understands why parents like Combs wonder if the chickenpox vaccine is worth the trouble. Before the vaccine, deaths from chickenpox were rare: about 100 people a year. Rare but serious complications include pneumonia and infections with streptococcus A flesh-eating bacteria, which can enter the skin through chickenpox sores.

Seeking More Control
But even pro-vaccine parents like the mothers at the Alexandria meet-up wish that pediatricians and the CDC would acknowledge that all vaccines are not the same.

Kiersten Petrucci went to three pediatricians before she found one who would let her delay some of the shots for her son Collin.  She wishes that more physicians were willing to educate parents about the importance of vaccines, but also work with parents and their concerns.

"Not by ramrodding it and saying you absolutely must follow the CDC guidelines. That's my hope," she says
Her pediatrician agreed to let the family skip the rotavirus vaccine for Collin, figuring that she could help them treat the stomach flu and diarrhea it causes. And they agreed to delay the hepatitis B vaccine, and space out other vaccines so that Collin wouldn't be getting as many as four in one day. He's now a happy, healthy 5-month-old. And his mom is happy that she had some control over his vaccines.