Baby or Toddler Not Sleeping Through the Night?

Are you tired? Most parents would say that they are sleep deprived. And so…the childhood sleep market thrives… with oscillating cribs, Nap Nannys, and countless books on “Sleep Training Methods”. Pediatric Sleep Centers and Childhood Sleep Specialists have sprung up across the country, offering their own special programs…for a price.

However, have you ever thought about WHY your child doesn’t sleep through the night? Or why he doesn’t sleep (in long stretches)… exactly as you do? Though reading this blog will probably not make you feel more rested…you might be encouraged to know that there are biological reasons why you and your baby (or toddler) are intentionally not “synched up” when it comes to sleep. Let’s examine this further:

  1. Babies do the things that they do because they were designed that way…for survival. Babies are extremely vulnerable during their first few months of life, and short sleep cycles ensure their survival. What if your baby drifted off into an uninterrupted, deep sleep every night…without the ability to communicate a need for warmth, proper airflow (breathing increases with lighter, active sleep), and nutrition (tiny bellies digest Mom’s milk within 2-4 hours)?
  2. Babies and toddlers have shorter sleep cycles to ensure proper brain development. Most of the human brain’s cells are formed before birth, however the connections among those cells are made during infancy and early childhood. Therefore, while adults typically drift off into a quiet, non-REM, or non-Rapid Eye Movement sleep (and remain in deep sleep for 90 minute cycles, while the brain rests)…babies sleep lighter and “smarter”, engaging in twice the number of REM cycles (in which the brain gets a workout). In fact, sleep researchers have determined that blood flow to the brain doubles during REM sleep, and during this time, the body increases its production of nerve proteins, the building blocks of the brain. Learning is also thought to occur during REM sleep, as the brain processes information that was acquired while awake and stores data that it “thinks” is beneficial. The bottom line: one might rationally conclude that a baby’s brain needs to continue functioning with many periods of lighter, more active sleep in order to properly develop (babies’ brains grow to nearly 70% of adult volume in the first two years of life!).  Finally, it is interesting to note that premature babies spend up to 90% of their sleep time in REM sleep (perhaps to accelerate brain growth).
  3. Your baby or toddler does not enter sleep the same way that you do. Is this scene familiar? Your baby has enjoyed a warm bath and all of her favorite bedtime rituals. She has finished nursing…and is lying sweetly in your arms, rocking back and forth while breathing softly. Her eyelids have been closed since her head hit the Boppy.  You gently pick her up…and just as you bend over the crib to deposit her for the night (you can’t wait to watch Modern Family on your DVR), she erupts with a loud cry. “She was dead asleep!” you tell your spouse later. Well, actually, she was still in a state of very light sleep when you woke her. Had you rocked a few minutes longer, she probably would have entered a deeper sleep for the put down (indicated by longer breathing patterns and “limp limbs”).
  4. Some babies need help getting back to sleep, so don’t let rigid “Cry It Out” advocates make you feel bad. Because children do not enter sleep as you do… and have shorter cycles of deeper sleep, some may need help falling back to sleep after they wake (especially during the first six months). However, for older babies and toddlers, “sleep onset associations” can inhibit sleeping through the night…meaning that they require cuddling, nursing, or rocking to fall back asleep (and Mom or Dad!). However, use your best judgement. Is your child sick? Teething? Hungry? Cold? Or wet? If all is well, then a night “crying it out” as an older baby can sometimes be helpful in encouraging them to be “self-soothing” (No Mom wants to be a 24-hour milk factory, right?). However, for everything else and in between… do what you feel is best for that individual child’s temperament and overall health, not what X-book tells you to do.
  5. Don’t feel pressure to get your baby to sleep too deeply, too long, too soon. Remember that parents in your play groups, in your neighborhood, or even in your family are likely to exaggerate how long their babies sleep. Some might even brag that “all of their kids were good sleepers”, as if that is a badge of honor for parental achievement. To the contrary, a child’s sleep pattern is much more a reflection of their temperament, rather than the result of parenting style.

So finally… though nighttime feedings and early wake-ups are often difficult in the moment, your infant needs shorter sleep cycles to survive, and your toddler is rapidly developing the same brain that just might one day pay for college. Does that make you feel any better?

The Childhood Vaccine Debate

I have decided to tackle another 500 pound gorilla with this week’s blog…. as the childhood vaccine debate has come back into the news this winter with some interesting developments.  More specifically, in 2010 the US had the largest outbreak of pertussis (otherwise known as whooping cough) in the country since 1959. Thousands of cases of the disease were reported, and at least 10 children died from pertussis in California. To note, California has one of the highest vaccine “exemption rates” in the country, meaning that parents with children attending public schools can opt out of required vaccinations with a “religious exemption”.

Furthermore, in late January the British Medical Journal published an editorial calling London Gastroenterologist Andrew Wakefield’s research linking the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism “an elaborate fraud”. This article was based upon the release of findings from the longest medical misconduct inquiry ever held:  a five-member tribunal of the British General Medical Council found more than 30 charges against Wakefield and his team as “proven” (to include 4 counts of dishonesty and failure to disclose commercial interests and 12 counts of abusing developmentally challenged children).  Several anti-vaccine activist groups have reacted strongly with steadfast support for Dr. Wakefield and his research.

For the most part, opposition to childhood vaccines simmered on the back burner of media attention until 1998, when Dr. Wakefield co-authored a study of 12 children that causally linked MMR to autism.  Although his research was immediately challenged, it was not until last year that Dr. Wakefield had his medical license stripped and research retracted. However, in the mean time, vaccine exemption rates increased dramatically (especially among those privately insured), ratings-hungry news outlets fell in love with anti-vaccine stories, and celebrity personalities took to the air waves with anti-vaccine activism.

Actress Jenny McCarthy blamed the MMR vaccine for her son’s autism and famously proclaimed on Oprah that “The University of Google is where I got my degree” (Apparently, if you are insanely attractive, no really one cares where you got your degree. They will listen to you anyway…ha!). Though seriously, I have no beef with Jenny. She’s persistent and passionate… and if I had a child with autism, I would want answers, too.  However, since that television appearance, many (allegedly harmful) chemicals, such as the mercury based Thimersol, have all but been removed or reduced to trace amounts in today’s vaccine schedule (except for the inactivated flu shot)… while autism rates have continued to soar.

So while the vaccine debate moves onward, it seems that the pendulum of public perception might be swinging back towards a greater acceptance of “herd immunity”.  Does this mean that every single child in the country will react positively to every vaccine? No, not at all. However, we need to be aware that many of us today have a skewed view of the risks vs. benefits of vaccines. Why? Because we’re not seeing these diseases naturally…we’re not witnessing deafness caused by mumps, blindness from measles, or paralysis brought on by polio. Furthermore, it is more common that we know a child with autism than a child who suffered from a disease that vaccines prevent.

Finally, here lies the trade-off.  Any concerned parent is going to be skeptical of vaccines. And personally, I hope that activist groups and the media will continue to demand safety and efficacy from Pharmaceutical companies and the government agencies overseeing childhood vaccines- agencies packed with Big Pharma cronies! However, my opinion (to date) is that vaccines work for “the herd”…and therefore, we have chosen to fully vaccinate our daughter on schedule.

If you have any additional thoughts, please share your comments below.

11-11-11: Want your baby to have the coolest Birthday? And other fertility tips…

Well, the good news is that you have an entire week to prepare… yes, a woman who conceives February 18 will likely have a due date of 11-11-11. Of course, pregnancy is not an exact science; your menstrual cycle may not be precisely 28 days, your gestation period may not be exactly 40 weeks, and statistically, you have about a 5% chance of delivering on your due date. However, why not light some candles, turn on the Marvin Gaye, and shoot for the coolest Birthday of the year anyway?  Your next chance for a baby’s birth date with all six numbers the same? November 11, 2111.

So… whether you are trying for a Veteran’s Day baby, or not, you can dramatically increase your chances of getting pregnant by having sex during your most fertile days, taking care of your body, and saying a few prayers for good measure. Let me elaborate with a few (mildly funny) tips for your fertility journey:

  1. See your Doctor. Visit an OB/GYN and thoroughly review your medical history. Warning! Your physician’s questions will be very personal in nature, however do not omit any pertinent information (to include previous pregnancies, miscarriages, weed you tried in college, STDs, etc.). Just know that they have “seen it all” and address any health issues that could affect your ability to conceive, carry, or deliver a healthy baby.
  2. Make Folic Acid your friend. Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, a vitamin that can help reduce the risk of serious birth defects (particularly those affecting the brain and spinal cord). These defects can occur in the embryo before a mother even knows she is pregnant. Food sources that are rich in folate (generally make you fart- that’s how I remember what to eat): lentils; dried beans and peas; dark green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, collard or turnip greens, okra, and asparagus; and citrus fruit and juice. Fortified cereals, such as Total, and pre-natal vitamins offer 100% of your daily allowance of folic acid.
  3. Stop using Birth Control pills. Using condoms, a cervical cap, or a diaphragm will seem like a drag on your marital intimacy.  However, it might be the best decision that you can make for enhancing your fertility. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that if you are taking birth control pills, continue to the end of your current cycle before stopping the pills, then start trying to conceive the next month (some doctors recommend waiting an additional month or more). Also, what about lube? Many specialists recommend not using synthetic lubricants when trying to conceive. Normally, the acidic secretions from the vagina kill sperm, however the alkalinity of cervical mucus produced just before ovulation protects the sperm. Artificial lubricants can prevent the sperm from reaching the cervical mucus quickly, so they die in the acidic environment of the vagina before getting inside the uterus (and the miracle of life can’t happen).
  4. Quit drinking, smoking and taking drugs. This one sounds like a no-brainer for Mom, however drinking, smoking, and drugs dramatically affect male fertility, too. It takes TWO to tango…and TWO to make a healthy baby.
  5. Track your periods by putting big “P’s” on your calendar. If your menstrual cycle (counted from the first day of bleeding, not spotting) is 28 days long, that makes day 14 (counting from the first day of your last period) your most fertile day. However, if you have a 30-day cycle, day 16 is the most fertile, and so forth. So put a BIG P on your calendar every time you get your period and insert that date into a web-based ovulation calendar for instant conception calculations.
  6. Watch for clear vaginal mucus, with the consistency of egg whites. When ovulation occurs, your body produces a slippery, thin substance called cervical mucus. This cervical mucus is like a slip n‘ slide for your man’s swimmers. If you examine yourself daily, you’ll notice a vaginal discharge that’s transparent and stretchy between your fingers, like egg whites, on your most fertile days.
  7. Chart your basal body temperature. A basal thermometer (found in most drugstores for $10), measures your body’s natural resting temperature, and can help determine when you are most fertile… by detecting a temperature rise that occurs during ovulation.
  8. Use an ovulation predictor kit. Available in drugstores and grocery stores without a prescription (found next to pregnancy tests), ovulation predictor kits can detect when your LH, or luteinizing hormone, surges. This generally occurs 36 hours before ovulation, so when you have an LH surge, you get a positive result on your testing stick, and then you know it’s time to get down to business. How does it work exactly? A “kit” holds several testing sticks. Therefore, you can plan to pee on a stick every day at the same time, starting on day 11 of your cycle. The major drawback with predictor kits? They can be expensive, especially if you use them month after month and surge later than expected (using more sticks than expected).
  9. Ditch the tighty whities. Make sure your man knows that sperm count drops — sometimes drastically — when the testicles are constricted or overheated (sperm is meant to be 2-4 degrees cooler than the body; that is why his fruit basket is displayed externally). So (if you are really trying hard to get pregnant), keep his underwear cool and loose and tell him to avoid hot tubs, saunas, and long runs (hot showers and moderate exercise are okay).
  10. Let gravity do the work. Don’t be too quick to hop up after lovemaking. While you don’t need to prop your legs against the wall (though you could), you might want to do a slight pelvic tilt (with a pillow aid) just to keep the swim team moving in the right direction!

Having Children After Age 35

As I contemplate planning for a second child (at age 36), I am reminded that although no blaring alarms are sounding…I do need to be cognizant that my fertility is rapidly changing with age. I mean…who knew that a simple mathematical concept could be so meaningful and relevant to your life…beyond 8th grade algebra class?  Seriously, the slope of that chart is no joke.

Of course, many women today are choosing to have children later in life (I did)…and the reasons why are not exactly “Breaking News”. Females now account for 58 per cent of the nation’s college students, sex discrimination (on average) is fading, and job opportunities are widening each year. And so, more women are pursuing professional endeavors in their 20s and having children in their mid-to-late 30s and early 40s. Census numbers are supporting that shift. In the year 2000, the rate of birth among women 35 to 39 years old was up 30 percent from 1990. In women ages 40 to 45, the increase was 47 percent, and for those ages 45 to 49, the rate was 190 percent higher. Furthermore, 20% of women in the US are delaying their first child until after age 35, and an even larger group is delivering #2 and #3 beyond the “Advanced Maternal Age”. So what does this all mean? How much is your fertility changing above 35? And how do you balance spacing children with a shrinking fertility window?

First of all, let me say that 35 is not a magic number. Many women have perfectly healthy babies at age 35 and beyond. However, while the miracle of life is often described by words like “Complex”, “Amazing”, and “Divine”…the truth about our biology is simple.  Getting older decreases a woman’s chances of having a baby. Period.

  • Her ovaries become less able to release eggs.
  • She has a smaller number of eggs left.
  • Her eggs are not as healthy.
  • She is more likely to have health conditions that can cause fertility problems.
  • She is more likely to have a miscarriage.

I agree… that is not particularly cheery news. However, let’s look at some of the numbers…so that we can make informed decisions about our family planning. Here they go:

Fertility rates for women, without the aid of fertility drugs:

  • At age 30, 75% will get pregnant within one year, 91% within four years.
  • At age 35, 66% will get pregnant within one year, 84% within four years.
  • At age 40, 44% will get pregnant within one year, 64% within four years

Miscarriage rates:

  • About 10% of pregnancies end in miscarriage for women in their early 20s.
  • By the early 30s, 12% of women experience miscarriages.
  • After age 35, 18% of pregnancies will end in miscarriage.
  • And in the early 40s, 34% of pregnancies end in miscarriage.

The risk of Down’s Syndrome:

  • Women under age 23—1 in 2,000 births
  • Women at age 30—1 in 1,300 births
  • Women at age 35—1 in 400 births
  • Women at age 40—1 in 90 births
  • Women at age 45—1 in 32 births
  • Women at age 50—1 in 8 births

Though I can see the trend, I can’t really wrap my mind around “odds”. So here is a better way to present the data:

  • At age twenty, you had a 99.95 percent chance of not delivering a baby with Down syndrome, and at age thirty-five your chances of not delivering a baby with Down Syndrome are 99.75 percent. That sounds better.

Men and Fertility

While your husband might like to think that his virility is something akin to partying into his 80’s with Hugh Hefner. The truth is this… every cell in the body ages, including those in a man’s testicles and sperm. Therefore, men over 35 are twice as likely to be infertile as those under 25. Studies also show that (as with older women) older men are more likely to have children with birth defects, due to the decreased genetic quality of their sperm. Finally, one can only imagine what a lifestyle of smoking, alcohol, and drug consumption does to the quality of male sperm.

Spacing between children (Everybody weighs in differently on this topic, so I thought I would share what the experts think):

  • According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, “Timing pregnancies less than 18 months or more than five years apart could raise the chances of the second baby being born prematurely, at low birth weight, or small for gestational age”.  Mom’s body needs time to replenish valuable nutrients and studies show that a woman’s fertility gradually declines after she delivers.
  • Another study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reports that waiting 18 to 23 months after the birth of your last child before conceiving another seems best for the new baby’s health.
  • A similar study at the University of California in San Francisco found that the ideal interval between babies is 24 to 35 months.

Fertility Tips (And so… if you are over 35 and trying to conceive, here are some mildly humorous tips to help you along your journey):

  1. See your Doctor. Visit an OB/GYN and thoroughly review your medical history. Warning! Your physician’s questions will be very personal in nature, however do not omit any pertinent information (to include previous pregnancies, miscarriages, medicinal marijuana, STDs, etc.). Just know that they have “seen it all” and address any health issues that could affect your ability to conceive, carry, or deliver a healthy baby.
  2. Make Folic Acid your friend.  Folic acid is a synthetic form of folate, a vitamin that can help reduce the risk of serious birth defects (particularly those affecting the brain and spinal cord). These defects can occur in the embryo before a mother even knows she is pregnant. Food sources that are rich in folate (generally make you fart- that’s how I remember what to eat): lentils; dried beans and peas; dark green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, collard or turnip greens, okra, and asparagus; and citrus fruit and juice. Fortified cereals, such as Total, and pre-natal vitamins offer 100% of your daily allowance of folic acid.
  3. Stop using Birth Control pills. Using condoms, a cervical cap, or a diaphragm will seem like a drag on your marital intimacy.  However, it might be the best decision that you can make for enhancing your fertility. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends that if you are taking birth control pills, continue to the end of your current cycle before stopping the pills, then start trying to conceive the next month (some doctors recommend waiting an additional month or more). Also, what about lube? Many specialists recommend not using synthetic lubricants when trying to conceive. Normally, the acidic secretions from the vagina kill sperm, however the alkalinity of cervical mucus produced just before ovulation protects the sperm. Artificial lubricants can prevent the sperm from reaching the cervical mucus quickly, so they die in the acidic environment of the vagina before getting inside the uterus (and the miracle of life can’t happen).
  4. Quit drinking, smoking and taking drugs. This one sounds like a no-brainer for Mom, however drinking, smoking, and drugs dramatically affect male fertility, too. It takes two to tango…and two to make a healthy baby.
  5. Track your periods by putting big “P’s” on your calendar. If your menstrual cycle (counted from the first day of bleeding, not spotting) is 28 days long, that makes day 14 (counting from the first day of your last period) your most fertile day. However, if you have a 30-day cycle, day 16 is the most fertile, and so forth. So put a BIG P on your calendar every time you get your period and insert that date into a web-based ovulation calendar for instant conception calculations.
  6. Watch for clear vaginal mucus, with the consistency of egg whites. When ovulation occurs, your body produces a slippery, thin substance called cervical mucus. This cervical mucus is like a slip n‘ slide for your man’s swimmers. If you examine yourself daily, you’ll notice a vaginal discharge that’s transparent and stretchy between your fingers, like egg whites, on your most fertile days.
  7. Chart your basal body temperature. A basal thermometer (found in most drugstores for $10), measures your body’s natural resting temperature, and can help determine when you are most fertile… by detecting a temperature rise that occurs during ovulation.
  8. Use an ovulation predictor kit. Available in drugstores and grocery stores without a prescription (found next to pregnancy tests), ovulation predictor kits can detect when your LH, or luteinizing hormone, surges. This generally occurs 36 hours before ovulation, so when you have an LH surge, you get a positive result on your testing stick, and then you know it’s time to get down to business. How does it work exactly? A “kit” holds several testing sticks. Therefore, you can plan to pee on a stick every day at the same time, starting on day 11 of your cycle. The major drawback with predictor kits? They can be expensive, especially if you use them month after month and surge later than expected (using more sticks than expected).
  9. Ditch the tighty whities. Make sure your man knows that sperm count drops — sometimes drastically — when the testicles are constricted or overheated (sperm is meant to be 2-4 degrees cooler than the body; that is why his fruit basket is displayed externally). So (if you are really trying hard to get pregnant), keep his underwear cool and loose and tell him to avoid hot tubs, saunas, and long runs (hot showers and moderate exercise are okay).
  10. Let gravity do the work. Don’t be too quick to hop up after lovemaking. While you don’t need to prop your legs against the wall (though you could), you might want to do a slight pelvic tilt (with a pillow aid) just to keep the swim team moving in the right direction.

Finally, if you are 35 or older, and you are having trouble conceiving… you shouldn’t keep trying on your own for longer than six months without talking with your Doctor. The sooner you get help from medical professionals, the better your chances for success!

Emergency Preparedness: Will You Be Ready When the Lights Go Out?

Last week’s snow storm and subsequent power outage reminded me that I am a bona fide electricity addict. Admittedly, 20 hours of life unplugged seemed like an eternity… which undoubtedly was exacerbated by a sick baby and temperatures that fell to 53 degrees…inside. Nevertheless, after fumbling around our house in the dark…looking for a flashlight (while carrying a crying toddler), I also decided that our household deserved a big, fat D- in emergency preparedness. Fire wood? Nope. Battery powered radio? Nope. Generator? Nope. Kerosene heater? Nope. Husband home? Nope, stuck at work. Candles? Yes (the only reason we didn’t get an F), however hand-held fire doesn’t do much good with a toddler in tote. Aaaaaah! Just don’t panic.

Needless to say, I used to laugh at “those crazy people” who run out to the store and strip the shelves of bread, batteries, and duct tape at the slightest announcement of inclement weather. However, it seems that we are hearing about a new urgent situation or natural disaster every few weeks – Winter Storms, Floods, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, Thunderstorms, Earthquakes, Mudslides, Wildfires, and other man-made spills, hazards, and outages.  So why not be better prepared?  There is tremendous upside to gain, with very little effort required. So here are some suggestions recently compiled from friends, family, and FEMA (feel free to pick & choose what is appropriate for you):

Recommended Items for a Basic Emergency Supply Kit:
– Water, one gallon of water per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
– Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
– Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
Flashlights and extra batteries
– First aid kit
– Whistle to signal for help
– Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
– Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
– Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
– Cell phone and charger (remember to charge before any announced storms)
– Important family documents such as copies of insurance policies, identification and bank account records in a waterproof, portable container

Additional Items to Consider Adding to an Emergency Supply Kit:
– Prescription medications and glasses
– Infant formula and diapers
– Pet food and extra water for your pet
– A generator
– A kerosene heater, for cold-weather climates
– Laptop computer and charger (for potential communication following storm)
– Cash and change
– Emergency reference material, such as a first aid book
– Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person. Consider additional bedding if you live in a cold-weather climate.
– Household chlorine bleach and medicine dropper – When diluted nine parts water to one part bleach, bleach can be used as a disinfectant. Or in an emergency, you can use it to treat water by using 16 drops of regular household liquid bleach per gallon of water (Do not use scented, color safe or bleaches with added cleaners).
– Fire Extinguisher
– An axe, especially if you live in a flood or fire prone area
– Utility knife
– Matches in a waterproof container
– Feminine supplies and personal hygiene items
– Mess kits, paper cups, plates and plastic utensils, paper towels
– Paper and pencil
– Books, games, puzzles or other activities for children
– A charged iPad. Your Wifi may not work, but a few games of Angry Birds might get you through a dark night (trust me on this one).

For a printer-friendly Emergency Preparedness checklist, click HERE.

Keeping Your Children Healthy During Cold and Flu Season

Parent lesson #687:  Perhaps letting my daughter dive into her favorite ball pit at our local indoor play gym….in mid-January…with twelve other drippy nosed, 9-18 month old kids…was not such a brilliant idea. Although I can’t specifically quantify how much she loves those brightly colored, slobbery balls, I can put an exact number on the temperature she recorded at the Pediatrician’s office yesterday – 103.7 with a positive test for strep. So in honor of that loveliness, I have been inspired to review some cold & flu season prevention tips (for myself, especially). I will attempt to put them in quick bullet format to avoid rambling.

1) Teach your kids to wash their hands frequently, with soap and water for 20 seconds (Happy Birthday twice = 20 sec). Use hand sanitizer when soap and water are unavailable.
2) Teach your kids to sneeze into their elbow, if they don’t have a tissue handy.
3) For those with younger kids: remember to wash your baby or toddler’s hands as much as you wash your own, despite protests and squirming.
4) Bundle up the kids and go outside, if you can, instead of hanging out in densely populated, indoor areas with other sick people (malls, arcades, restaurants, fast food indoor playgrounds, etc). Remember the flu virus spreads easily when respiratory droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze move through the air to the mouth or nose of others in close proximity. The same goes for the bacteria that causes strep throat.
5) If you know someone is sick, think about politely skipping your visit, especially if you have children.
6) Clean and disinfect highly used surfaces. Studies have shown that the cold virus can survive up to two days on household surfaces! These locations are germ hotbeds:

Telephones and Cell Phones
Keyboards (to include iPads and your mouse)
Doorknobs
Refrigerator door handles
Light switches
Remote controls
Bathroom and kitchen faucets
Dishwasher handles
Kitchen Sponges
Salt and pepper shakers
Toothbrushes

7) Wash plastic toys in soap and hot water. Consider putting cloth books or plush toys into the laundry (wrap in a pillowcase for protection).                                          8) Do not share, or “finish off”, a baby or toddler’s uneaten food with their spoon. Do not “sample” their food while feeding them with your fingers. Wash your hands after feedings and nose wipes.
9) Replace your toothbrush to avoid becoming reinfected after sickness and consider using separate toothpaste tubes for your kids. Studies have shown that as many as 10 million germs and bacteria can be found on a single toothbrush. These germs can consist of the cold virus, influenza virus, herpes simplex I virus, taphylococci, streptococci, and bacteria that may cause diarrhea as well as gum disease. Yuck! Does Costco sell toothbrushes in bulk?
10) Keep a sick child at home and avoid traveling until he’s feeling better–typically 24 hours after his fever is gone.

Motherhood Can Be Lonely

I will be the first one to tell you that Kim’s Finds started out not only as an outlet for my writing & research but also as a “mental health endeavor”. As a new Mom, I felt like I was inundated with gushing stories about the joys of motherhood, yet the potential struggles were often brushed over. More specifically, no one told me that Motherhood would be so lonely.

Still processing that statement? If so, then you probably understand that Motherhood is wonderfully complex. It can be an amazing time of personal growth and transformation; and it can also be a period of unexpected isolation, especially in the beginning. Here are a few scenarios: You might have just moved to a new town. Your family is far away. Perhaps your husband works long hours… or is deployed in the military.  You might be on maternity leave for the first time, and you crave adult interaction. All of your relationships have changed. Your friends (without kids) visited the baby in the first few weeks, however it’s hard to find time to get together now. Your team at work is treating you like you are a million miles away (because you probably are), and intimacy with your spouse is less than spontaneous. Perhaps your closest friend is struggling with infertility, or is still single… and unfortunately, she is now struggling to be your friend.  And finally, the isolation icing on the cake…we haven’t even mentioned that your newborn sleeps 15 hours a day, keeping you homebound and on constant alert.

Whatever your circumstances… introversion, introspection, and even periods of loneliness are okay.  However, know that there are ways to get ashore from your island. Going back to work may be an effective outlet for some in reestablishing community. However, coping with loneliness for stay-at-home Moms can be a more arduous journey (at least it was for me)… requiring you “to put yourself out there”, in order to connect with other Moms.

Here are some suggestions for battling “New Mommy” isolation: consider joining a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) group, or a Mother’s Day Out program at a local church. Join, or start, a local play group. Fitness buffs…try Stroller Strides, Fit 4 Baby, Lean, or Luna Mom play groups. Join Weight Watchers, the local YMCA, or take a Yoga class (Don’t be stubborn or unnecessarily cheap! Budget time and money for your physical and mental health, if you can afford it).

When your child is a bit older, go to your local library for story time, take a Gymboree, or Mommy and Me type class. And if you are still trapped in your pajamas and Mommy abyss (like I was for several months)…make it a goal to get out somewhere at least once a day! The post office. The grocery store. Anywhere with “big people” (wink). You’ll be glad that you did!

Further info can be found here:
MOPS: find a local group here http://www.mops.org/
Stroller Strides/Lean/Fit4Baby/Luna Mom: (go to http://www.strollerstrides.com/search.php, type in your zip code, find your meeting spot & the name of your group’s personal trainer, and join instantly online).
Play Groups: Playgroups USA (Go to http://www.playgroupsusa.com/, type in zip code)
Yoga Class: Click on this link to input your zip code into yogafinder: http://www.yogafinder.com/yogazip.cfm or type “yoga class” into Google for pin pointed locations on a local map.
Gymboree Class: Click here to find a location near you http://www.gymboreeclasses.com/index.jsp
Online forums: Moms Like Me, www.momslikeme.com, CafeMom http://www.cafemom.com/

Cleaning Your Home: Weapons of Mass Disinfection Not Needed

If you watch an episode of TLC’s “A Baby Story” (I might have watched one, or two, or just about every episode…while pregnant), you might be inundated with commercials for household cleaning products. Yes, after you joyfully and tearfully watch a new life enter the world, Clorox tells you that bleach should be used to clean everything for that perfect little life: clothes, play mats, floors, and slobbery toys. Bleach also sanitizes bottles and sippy cups. Watch a little longer… and a happy, cartoon-like Scrubbing Bubble eats away all things bad in baby’s tub. Munch, munch, munch. So while I grew up cleaning with powerful cleansers (and quick confession: I do use Clorox wipes)…as a new Mom, I am not so sure about those commercials. And I am definitely thinking twice now about the chemicals used to clean our home.

For any green-skeptics or liquid bleach lovers out there (Boomers, especially), I fully admit that our generation has gone overboard with parental paranoia – ThudGuard Baby Helmets? Wet Baby Diaper Alarms? WhyCry Baby Crying Analyzers? (somebody must be buying these ridiculous products, or else they wouldn’t exist!). However, in spite of our insanity, the more research I do on these parenting topics, the more I am convinced that we, the paranoid Gen-Xers, have it right in at least a few areas, particularly in moving towards organic foods and eliminating unnecessary chemicals from our lives. Consequently, I went on a mission to find out just how clean my home needs to be. And what did I find? Many medical experts agree that you do not need to bleach your baby into toddlerhood, nor do you need to annihilate all living organisms in your home with weapons of mass disinfection.

In my former profession, you had to choose the right bomb for the right target. The same could be said for a moderate approach to household cleaning: try your best to reduce overly harsh chemicals in the home, while still striving for cleanliness. If your neglected shower has substances in it that look like they came from a crime scene, then by all means, blast away with a potent cleanser (and let the room air out). However, if you want your house to be everyday fresh and clean, while your kids are safe from toxic chemicals, then try stocking your utility shelves with a few simple ingredients- such as plain soap, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), vinegar (in a gallon jug), washing soda (sodium carbonate), lemon juice, and borax. And use boiling water (or microwave steamers) to sanitize baby bottles and sippy cups. Chew toys and other resilient plastics can be easily disinfected with hot, soapy water, or placed in the top rack of the dishwasher. Of course, you will want to augment your cleaning bucket with convenient (one squirt) cleaning products, too. However, check the ingredient lists and beware of Greenwashing! The labels “Natural”, “Eco-friendly”, “Non-toxic”, and “Environmentally Safe” are marketing buzz words that are undefined and unregulated by government standards; they mean absolutely nothing. In fact, natural can mean anything under the sun, to include chemicals and agents derived from “naturally” occurring petroleum.

“Anti-Bacterial” Side Note:
One final note… while in the midst of a mental drift, I did some snooping on the “Anti-bacterial” soap craze. Does antibacterial soap work better than regular soap? Well, possibly…but probably not. The antibacterial components of soaps typically need to be left on a surface for about 2 minutes in order to work effectively (Are you that patient with soap? I’m not, for sure). Secondly, many scientists theorize that over time the body can build resistance to bacteria reducing agents; and many also argue that our bodies need “good” bacteria to help fight against more invasive “bad” varieties. Finally, many common diseases are viral. Therefore, anti-bacterial soaps are no better at removing the common cold virus than washing with regular soap.

What does everyone seem to agree upon? Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water (while singing a song with the kids!) …can dramatically help you battle germs this cold & flu season.

Heating Up Pink Chicken Goop for the Kids Tonight?

Okay, so back in my Navy days, I used to hit the base McDonald’s regularly for chicken nuggets and fries, especially between flights. My colleagues and roommates also teased me about my love for pepperoni and bacon pizza (really, can you have too much salted pork on a pizza?).  Apparently, you can.  So please do as I say, and not as I do…because now that I have a child…I see the error of my ways. And let’s just say… I have changed my “processed food” tune. Yes, just one photo of this disgusting pink chicken snake is enough to… A) make my mouth water as I write this blog (why is it going into a cardboard box?)… and B) make me pledge to never feed my daughter chicken nuggets – evah!  Seriously, the pink goop above is mechanically separated poultry (MSP), used in fast food chicken and store brand chicken nuggets and patties. Here is the process: strip the chicken of its high revenue meat parts, then send the carcass through a high pressure sieve to recover leftover tendons, muscle fibers, and scraps, then introduce anhydrous ammonia for refrigeration and bacteria removal, then input chemical additives to satisfy consumer tastes for color, taste, and texture (to make it taste like “chicken” again), and finally, cut the artificial goop into fun shapes like dinosaurs and mouse ears, deep fry the dino-mickey chunks, and then put cartoon characters on the bag, so that kids will love them!  Made especially for our next generation. One final note, McDonald’s stopped using MSP for their nuggets in 2003, though the company’s flyer “A Full Serving of Nutrition Facts” lists 38 ingredients for the McNugget. My recommendation?  The next time your kids want chicken nuggets, make them with 3 ingredients: fresh chicken breast, bread crumbs, and an egg. No pink chicken snake required. Bon appetit!

Prevalence of Autism

I must admit, my goal of providing a one paragraph, content-rich blog is much harder than I originally thought. Parenting topics swirl around in my head, yet I struggle with providing enough “gravitas” to the material.  How can you discuss autism in one paragraph (you can’t). Nevertheless, I want to dedicate this blog to a subject that readers and friends most often ask me about…the increased prevalence of autism.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an average increase of 57 percent in identified autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) from 2002 to 2006, and current statistics suggest that about 1 in 110 children have ASD, or approximately 1%.  Pause…57 percent? Additionally, ASD prevalence is 4-5 times higher among boys than among girls. Autism is a lifelong disorder, a physical condition linked to abnormal biology and brain chemistry.  Some children with an ASD show hints of future developmental delay within the first few months of life. For others, the symptoms might not show up until 24 months or later.  A person with an ASD might:
– Not respond to their name by 12 months
– Not point at objects to show interest (point at an airplane flying over) by 14 months
– Not play “pretend” games (pretend to “feed” a doll) by 18 months
– Avoid eye contact and want to be alone
– Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
– Have delayed speech and language skills
– Repeat words or phrases over and over (echolalia)
– Give unrelated answers to questions
– Get upset by minor changes
– Have obsessive interests
– Flap their hands, rock their body, or spin in circles
– Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel

Unfortunately, the cause of autism is unknown. However, we have learned that many different variables can make a child more likely to have an ASD. Here is a list of potential causal and/or risk factors:
Genetic vulnerability:  Most scientists agree that there is some sort of genetic component to autism. Parents from families with autistic members are more likely to have autistic children, and families with one autistic child are also at increased risk of having more than one autistic child. Autism also tends to occur more frequently than expected among individuals who have certain medical conditions, including Fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, congenital rubella syndrome, and untreated phenylketonuria (PKU).
Environmental factors: environmental toxins, such as heavy metals and mercury (used in dental fillings, etc.) are more prevalent in our current environment. Those with ASD can be especially vulnerable, as their ability to metabolize and detoxify exposure can be compromised. Some harmful substances ingested during pregnancy, such as prescription drugs thalidomide and valproic acid, have also been associated with an increased risk of autism. Source: CDC
Vaccines: Two theories link autism and vaccines. The first theory suggests that the MMR (Mumps-Measles-Rubella) vaccine may cause intestinal problems leading to the development of autism. The second theory suggests that a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal, used in some vaccines, could be connected to autism.
4) Metabolic disorders:  It has been suggested that up to fifty percent of children with autism experience persistent gastrointestinal tract problems, ranging from mild to moderate degrees of inflammation in both the upper and lower intestinal tract. Treatment of digestive problems might have positive effects on autistic behavior (Horvath and Perman).
Increased Awareness and Diagnosis: Some researchers believe that autism is increasing primarily due rising awareness and changes in diagnostic criteria. Many concerned parents dispute this theory.
6) Other Factors:  Finally, there are numerous causal factors that have been considered by scientists as part of the autism “puzzle”… Prenatal Environment (advanced maternal and paternal age, fetal alcohol syndrome, exposure to infection or chemicals in the first 8-weeks of gestation, gestational diabetes, thyroid problems, prenatal stress), Perinatal Environment (Low birth weight, prematurity, hypoxia during childbirth, bleeding in the brain during childbirth), and Postnatal Environment (proximity to highways & air pollution, pesticides, mercury, lead poisoning, lack of vitamin D, etc.).

For more information on how autism is diagnosed (and a comprehensive list of early indicators), click HERE.