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Those who know me in my personal life know that I am a big fan and proponent of exclusive and extended breastfeeding. When I had my first child, I was personally dedicated to making breastfeeding a success, regardless of the effort involved. After 3 months of nearly complete torture, we managed to get a solid breastfeeding relationship launched, and I was able to continue for multiple years.

These days, I am on baby number two and finding the experience to be much easier the second time around. I feel very fortunate in this. The process finally seems “natural.” I know that many women do not find breastfeeding to be easy and natural, but the benefits of sticking it out can be substantial.

Today, I came across a fascinating article on a new study highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding on infant brain development. Check out the press release here.

Researchers took infants and divided them into groups based on their primary food source – exclusive breastfeeding, exclusive formula feeding, and combined breastfeeding and formula feeding.  The infants were given an MRI to evaluate structural and functional differences in their brains.

Results suggested that infants who were exclusively breastfed had more growth in areas of their brain involved in language, emotional functioning, and general cognition.  They also had increased myelination compared to the other groups.  Larger amounts of myelin help the brain process information more quickly and efficiently.

As a science nerd and breastfeeding fan, this study really validates all the frustration and effort I (and countless other women) have put into making breastfeeding a success.  There is also some evidence in the study that including some breastfeeding gives kids an edge, although not as strong as exclusively breastfeeding.

Of course, as always, it is important to realize that correlation does not necessarily imply causation.  Other factors may be responsible for the association.  And certainly, giving your child formula does not condemn them to a life of being dull and stunted in their growth. In all honesty, I was exclusively formula fed as a baby in the days before DHA was actively added to formulas, and I managed to get a Ph.D. as an adult.  So many other things influence general cognitive abilities that one choice about feeding as an infant is not a complete determinant of later ability.

But, for those women who are struggling with frustration and self-doubt in their breastfeeding relationship – this study suggests that it is worthwhile to stick it out as much as you can.

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New Site

Well, it has been a few months since I last visited this blog.  The side business that I started back in August has really been taking off.  As a result, my web authoring time has been 100% devoted to that effort.  Growth in the new business is exciting, although I am bummed that I don’t have enough time to continue with this side project for now.

HOWEVER, I am occasionally blogging on parenting and mental health topics over at my new site – Nicole Connolly, Ph.D.   When you visit, check out the “News” tab for new posts.

In my web browsing today, I came across an interesting announcement from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services regarding new guidelines for health plans to cover women’s services.  Specifically, HHS is mandating that new private insurance plans provide free well visits for women, free contraception, free breastfeeding support, and free domestic violence screening.  Check out the new guidelines here:

http://www.hrsa.gov/womensguidelines/

The news outlets have been all a-twitter with the news about requirements for free contraception.  It’s certainly a hot button issue, given that there are several religious groups that frown on the use of contraceptives, while others insist that greater access to contraceptives will reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

While that is an interesting debate, I think the most interesting piece for me is the inclusion of a provision for providing free breastfeeding support.  To be honest, I found that breastfeeding was one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do.  When I had a small infant, I attended weekly support group meetings with my lactation consultant to assess my baby’s progress and troubleshoot problems.  Without that kind of intensive support, I likely would have given up after a few weeks.  I was fortunate that the support was available and that we had the financial resources to take advantage of those services.  It was definitely not covered by my HMO insurance plan, and paying privately was a bit pricey.

According to the HHS website, insurance plans will be required to provide breastfeeding counseling from a trained provider and cover costs related to renting breastfeeding equipment.  Hopefully this will remove some of the barriers to breastfeeding success for women throughout the US.

Busy, busy, busy

Things have been unexpectedly busy lately in the Dr. Mommy household, so my apologies for leaving the blog a bit untended in my brief absence. In a somewhat unanticipated turn of events, I was recently presented with a fabulous opportunity to start my own side business, so I’ve been a bit preoccupied with those details lately. Now that my business venture is getting a bit more under control, I hope to be back for more regular posting again.

I was a bit appalled at the results and video in this post on the filthiness of McDonald’s playplaces:

http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/food/fast-food-playlands-are-so-freaking-dirty-2512017

But I have to say kudos to the mom who put this together – who also happens to be a developmental psychologist – for launching her campaign to get these play structures cleaned up.  Since my little guy is still a bit too small to play on the equipment at McDonald’s, I haven’t yet been in the position of having to make a decision about whether to allow him to play in these structures.  I’ll definitely be thinking twice about it now.

Here’s the full video:

As I have mentioned previously on this blog, I am a total craft junkie.  Crafting is my therapy.  There is something very soothing to me about the act of creating something new and letting my creative juices flow.

I also recently had an absolutely AMAZING experience at a local yard sale.  I had been drawn by all of the advertisements suggesting that the sale would predominantly feature a large amount of craft supplies for cheap.  If there’s anything I like better than making crafts, it’s buying craft supplies.  As it turned out, the sale was being run by the stars of Creative Juice on the DIY Network, selling excess supplies from their studio to make room for new product.  It was so fun to meet them, and I picked up 6 or 7 different varieties of Mod Podge to play with (along with some fabric paints, acrylic paints, chalkboard paints, and a few new rubber stamps) – all on the cheap!

I’ve only recently discovered that awesomeness that is Mod Podge.  In working on craft ideas for my MOPS group next year, I’ve started experimenting with it.  Today, I thought I’d share one of my favorite Mod Podge projects to date – photo coasters.

To give credit where credit is due, I first saw this idea on Frugal Girls:

Frugal Girls – How to Make Photo Coasters

Basically, all you need are some photos, some single ceramic tiles from any home improvement store (usually less than $0.16 each), paint for the edges, mod podge, a brush, some acrylic sealer, and felt and a glue gun.  This is a ridiculously easy and inexpensive project to do.  I recommend starting with painting the edges of the tile to give it a more finished look, then cut and hot glue a piece of felt to the back side of the tile.  This will prevent your coaster from scratching the furniture.  Then, paint a layer of Mod Podge on the front of the tile and center your photo on top.  Paint over that with a layer of Mod Podge and allow to dry.  Finish with a generous coat of acrylic sealer (to keep the moisture from glasses from ruining your coaster).

The process sounds a bit long and drawn out in that tutorial, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  I found that a single medium-thick layer of Mod Podge on the picture was sufficient.  It takes a little while to dry, but it doesn’t necessarily need multiple coats over multiple days.  I do recommend painting the edges of the tiles first and allowing it to dry.

Here’s a photo of the coaster I made featuring a waterfall on the Big Island of Hawaii (ignore the unpainted edge there – I failed to follow my own advice…):

Enjoy!  Hope this inspires you to get creating (if that’s your thing)!

Though this isn’t necessarily a psychological study, per se, I was really intrigued by one of the new pre-release, web-published studies in Pediatrics on vehicle safety for children with grandparent drivers versus parent drivers.  Here is the link to the study (currently available for free online):

Grandparents Driving Grandchildren: An Evaluation of Child Passenger Safety and Injuries

Looking at data from vehicle crashes over a 4-year period, Henretig, et al., found that while grandparents were more likely to practice unsafe restraints of the kids (e.g. allowing kids to sit in the front seat, incorrectly installing child safety seats), kids had a lower risk of injury in crashes where grandparents were the drivers instead of parents.

It’s an interesting quandary.  On the one hand, grandparents were riskier with how the kids were restrained.  Grandparents also tended to drive cars associated with higher injury risks.  However, on the other hand, the overall risk of injury in collisions was lower.

Henretig, et al., suggest that perhaps different driving styles between parents and grandparents might explain the odd pattern of results.  When I think of elderly drivers, I generally assume that their reaction times are slower, leading to higher risk of accidents.  However, as the authors suggest, it’s possible that having a “baby on board” helps grandma be even more cautious and drive more defensively.

When and where to allow others to drive your kids is a significant decision facing parents on a regular basis.  Certainly these findings would suggest that it is a good idea to work with grandparents to make sure they are up to date on current vehicle safety recommendations – whether this is done on a large scale or just by going over things carefully with grandma before letting her drive.  Although the risk for injury is lower, there is certainly room for improvement in child vehicle safety with grandparents.  Of course, no research study is a good replacement for using your own good judgment about whether grandma is an adequate chauffeur for your children, but the study findings also suggest that riding with grandma might not be as fraught with peril as you may fear.