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Posts Tagged ‘Moms’

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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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.

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So, I’ve been busy lately.  Life got in the way of blogging recently, so I missed this story when it was first hitting the news and the blogosphere.  But hey, better late than never, right?

So, there’s been a bit of buzz surrounding a new study just released in this month’s issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Here’s the link to the abstract:  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/128/1/e78.abstract.

Basically, Giles et al. (2011) found that mothers who reported a significant amount of depressive symptoms at multiple data points during toddlerhood had children with higher rates of internalizing (e.g. depression, anxiety, social withdrawal) and externalizing (attention problems, behavior problems, etc.) problems at age 5.  BUT, for recurrent depressed moms who had their child in at least 1/2 day per week of formal daycare, there were significantly fewer behavioral problems at age 5.

There have been a number of studies demonstrating the link between depression in moms and negative outcomes in kids.  Being depressed during your child’s early years has been shown to lead to problems with getting in sync and attaching well to your child.  It’s very interesting that the new study finds that having your child in a situation where he/she would be likely to form attachments with other caregivers can protect against some of the negative outcomes.

I would be very interested to see more studies on this topic.  As other writers have pointed out, the quality of the childcare itself was not assessed in the study.  It would be interesting to know if things like certain child/teacher ratios predict better outcomes.  Or if informal care through easily accessible means, like having a friend take your child for a few hours or using a childcare service at your place of worship also has the same effect.

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Earlier this week, I ran across this interesting article on the American Psychological Association website (from the July issue of the Monitor on Psychology):

http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/07-08/golden-rule.aspx

The article summarizes recent research on a new construct in psychology – the idea of “self-compassion.”  Having self-compassion is essentially defined as being able to be kind to yourself when you make mistakes, understanding that you’re only human.  Kristin Neff, Ph.D., the psychologist who devised the construct and coined the term, argues that it consists of being able to be easy on yourself, being able to see your experiences in light of the general human condition, and being aware enough of yourself and your condition to be able to be kind to yourself.

Neff originally set out to discover an alternative to the popular notion of “self-esteem.”  While high self-esteem has long been touted as a positive quality that we must encourage in our children, it’s also been associated with negative qualities such as increased narcissism.

Interestingly, Neff and others have so far found no negative outcomes associated with increased self-compassion.  They have looked at whether people who are too easy on themselves become complacent or over-indulgent, but so far nothing negative has been shown to be associated with self-compassion.  I’m interested to see whether psychotherapy that focuses on increasing self-compassion will be shown to be effective in treating problems like anxiety and depression.

I think we moms should sit up and pay attention to research findings like this for a couple of reasons.  First, given the overwhelmingly positive findings around the benefits of having self-compassion, we should be encouraged to work on giving ourselves a break more often.  I know as a mom it’s really easy to compare, to be hard on ourselves, and to focus on ways we don’t measure up.  For a neurotic perfectionist like myself, being kinder to myself is sometimes a tall order.  But, not only may we feel the effects of positivity in our own lives, our children’s lives are also going to be positively affected.  And second, helping our children develop a healthy sense of self-compassion will likely serve them well in life, too.  I know I would much rather see my child develop into someone who can own his mistakes and use them for growth rather than being someone who beats himself up constantly for small errors.

Certainly this line of research is still fairly new, and more work needs to be done to determine whether and how we can best do all of this.  But until then, it’s something to keep in mind, because certainly a little self-compassion goes a long way.

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As an angst-ridden teenager, the writings of Dorothy Parker really appealed to me.  She had it all – sarcasm, a bitter wit, a touch of depression – all the characteristics that really speak to the tortured teenage soul.  But one poem of hers really has endured in my memory:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends
It gives a lovely light.

-Dorothy Parker

I think this one sticks because it is so true of my approach to life at times.  It seems particularly true as I sit here, well after 12:00am, writing on my blog.  These quiet, late night, baby-free hours have become a staple in my day.  The unfortunate bit is that my wonderful, adorable, amazing son just does not seem to understand that mommy really would like to sleep in past 7:00am to make up for these late night me-time binges.  So, I’m left burning the candle at both ends – waking early to tend to my child’s needs and staying up late to attend to my own desires to sit and enjoy a multi-hour marathon of girly TV shows and playing with my craft supplies.

From talking to other moms, I don’t think that I am alone in my choices to forgo sleep for other, more entertaining pursuits.  It’s part of the mom balancing act of fulfilling necessary obligations while carving out some personal time as well.  Sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day to fit it all in.

Eventually the cycle catches up to me and I’m forced to give up my me-time for some desperately needed sleep.  But, until that happens, I think there’s probably time for one more episode…

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