Posts Tagged ‘Research’

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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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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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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Living to 100

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about aging and the future.  I think part of it is that moving into the child-raising stage of my life is making me more aware of my own mortality and putting some things in life more into perspective.  And, with the current economic climate, I think I also have some general concerns about what life and our finances will be like when we reach retirement age.

In the midst of stewing for a bit about whether we’re actively doing enough to prepare for the future, I had to take a continuing education class on aging.  “Great,” I thought, “more grist for the worry mill about all the negative things I have to look forward to when I’m old.”  I will admit it – I sometimes tend to buy in to the cultural bias that aging is bad.  And I’m also a little uncomfortable with the whole notion of death and dying, but that’s a whole separate post.

Without much premeditation, I went to my favorite online course provider and dutifully ordered the aging course in the length I needed to fill my requirement.  I somehow fortunately stumbled upon a course on aging from a positive psychology perspective.  For those who are unfamiliar, positive psychology, a movement started by Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania, focuses on studying things like optimism and happiness – all the positive things in life that psychologists sometimes forget about in their unending studies on depression, anxiety, neuroticism, etc.

I have to say, my perceptions and attitudes about aging were really challenged in a good way.  The bit that is sticking with me the most was the notion that people who live to be very old (i.e. 100 years +) tend to always have a purpose in life.  It doesn’t seem to matter so much what the purpose is, you just need to have one.  Centenarians also tend to not have disabilities until their 90s, tend to be self-reliant, and tend to be generally cheerful, optimistic people who focus on the good and stay active and engaged in life well into their later years.  They place importance on relationships and build new friendships throughout their lives.  They are altruistic, connected to their communities, and manage their health well.

After reading all of this, I thought, “man, I really want to be like that when I’m old.”

Certainly, genetics also plays a huge role in the human lifespan, but there is something to be said for the notion of self-fulfilling prophecies when it comes to aging.  If you think that aging is a horrible process, then it really may not be pleasant for you.  But, fortunately, attitudes can be changed for the better.

Many of these findings about longevity have come from the New England Centenarian Study at Boston University, among other studies.  From their research findings, lead NECS researcher, Thomas Perls, M.D., has even devised a life span calculator that you can use to predict your own estimated life span:

The Living to 100 Calculator

My estimate was 91 – not too shabby and plenty of room for improvement.

I was quite inspired by this quote from Stephen Vincent Benet:

Life is not lost by dying; life is lost minute by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand small uncaring ways.

It’s a good reminder to sit up, engage in life, and enjoy each minute to the fullest – regardless of how many total minutes we each get.

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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):


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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According to a new Gallup poll, Americans indicated that if they were only able to have one child, they would prefer to have a boy over a girl.  Check out Gallup for the full story:


The results are interesting – among Americans, there is a general trend to desire boys over girls when having children, but much of that effect is driven by a strong preference among men for same-gendered children.  According to the website, similar surveys have been conducted periodically since 1941.  Each time, the same trend has been noted.

Reporters writing on these findings seem quick to point out that this is the same pattern seen in 1941.  I’m not sure what the point of that comparison is – perhaps trying to suggest that we have not progressed toward gender equality as much as we thought?  The one thing that bothers me about this is that many don’t mention preference trends between 1941 and 2011.  We haven’t regressed in our preferences – this is a long-standing trend.

Gallup notes that this is a concerning trend given shifting gender balances worldwide.  In recent history, the population has been skewing more male.  This is a significant issue particularly in Asian countries, where strong preferences for male children have led to increases in selective gender abortions and other procedures intended to produce a child of the desired gender.

From a psychological perspective, it’s interesting that men are the ones who show a strong gender preference while women are more egalitarian in their preferences. I wonder if men feel like they will relate to male children better than female children while women feel more capable of relating equally to either gender.  Or I wonder if there is just a strong desire across the sexes to have a male child to carry on the family name that supersedes women’s desire to have a same-sex child.  I’d love to see some studies that really address the reasons behind the gender preferences.

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