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Posts Tagged ‘Parenting’

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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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:

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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.

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While browsing today’s newly released studies from the journal, Pediatrics, one new title caught my eye – Mother-Child Bed-sharing in Toddlerhood and Cognitive and Behavioral Outcomes (Barajas, Martin, Brooks-Gunn, & Hale, 2011).

This particular paper comes out of a multi-year longitudinal study in New York looking at predominantly low-income families.  Families were assessed on a generally yearly basis from birth to age 5.  In this particular paper, the researchers examined whether co-sleeping in the toddler years was associated with behavioral problems at 5 years.

Overall, the authors found that while co-sleeping predicted behavioral problems, once other mother and child characteristics were accounted for, the association between co-sleeping and behavioral problems went away.  In plainer English, although co-sleeping initially seemed to predict behavior problems in kids, other factors better explain later behavior problems.

I found the overall premise of the study to be quite interesting.  Co-sleeping is a hotly debated topic in the parenting community.  Safety advocates are quick to point out potential hazards with co-sleeping, such as unintentional injury to the child.  In contrast, within the attachment parenting community, co-sleeping and family beds are generally widely encouraged.  Attachment parenting advocates claim that co-sleeping improves the bond between mother and child by allowing the mother to be more immediately responsive to the child’s needs.

I found it interesting that the authors seemed to zone in on negative behavior outcomes.  Granted, they concluded that co-sleeping does not significantly contribute to later negative behaviors in kids, but the focus seemed somewhat negative overall.  If attachment parenting gurus are on to something, then wouldn’t it be expected that co-sleeping would be linked to more positive behaviors and outcomes later?  I would love to see a study on that topic.

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Obesity and CPS

I just read a somewhat unsettling article on Yahoo! News today about whether parents of extremely obese children should have their children removed and placed in foster care for neglect.  Check out the article here:

http://news.yahoo.com/parents-lose-custody-super-obese-kids-200342454.html

Apparently the hubbub is being sparked by an editorial appearing in this week’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), in which a respected pediatrician advocates state involvement in cases of severe obesity in kids.

It’s a provocative issue – on the one hand, some of the cases detailed in the Yahoo! News article do demonstrate improvements in weight after removing kids to foster care with foster families who implement diet and exercise restrictions.  On the other hand, no mention is made of the long-term psychological effects of separating kids from their parents.  And, as any good student of psychology knows, relationships with caregivers are important and disruptions have long-term consequences.

Certainly in cases of clear verbal, physical, and emotional abuse we’ve reached a point in society where it is considered acceptable and commendable to step in and protect the child from abuses.  The question is – is having an obese child a sign that you are abusive or neglectful as a parent?  I’m sure it depends on the case and the details.  Certainly there are likely families with extremely obese children where a change of environment may be the best solution.  But who makes those decisions?  If obesity were the only significant issue, I would find it difficult to advocate for removal from the home.   Ultimately, I would hope that if it comes to it, most families in this situation would be given support and interventions to help improve health and maintain the family intact.

Interesting things to ponder on a Thursday morning…  What do you think?

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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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