Should you sleep with your baby?

Two organizations weigh in with different verdicts:

No: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission strongly recommend against bed-sharing with an infant, defined as sleeping on the same surface as an infant, such as a chair, sofa or bed. A study from the AAP cited bed-sharing as the primary cause of sleep-related infant death. The study, published in the journal Pediatrics, found that among 8,207 infant deaths from 24 U.S. states occurring between 2004 and 2012, 69% of infants were bed-sharing at the time of death.

Yes: On the other hand, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine supports bed-sharing when it comes to breastfeeding. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggested that mothers who regularly share the bed with their infants are more likely to breastfeed for longer. Numerous other studies have reached the same conclusion.

According to a 2013 study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the percentage of infants who share a bed with a parent, another caregiver or a child more than doubled between 1993 and 2010, from 6.5% to 13.5%. Is that the right thing to do?

What do you think? Add your thoughts below.

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Unexpected fertility helper

New Australian research has found a link between the antioxidant selenium, found in high-protein foods, and healthy ovarian follicles responsible for egg production in women.

Selenium has been known to have many health benefits, including aiding men’s fertility, but it has never previously been linked to women’s fertility.

While selenium deficiency is not usually a problem in Western diets, people who avoid certain food groups or eat food mainly grown on selenium-deficient soils may be at risk.

Fish and shellfish are excellent sources of selenium. Animal meats are very good sources, and whole grains, some nuts and seeds provide this antioxidant too. Too much selenium can be toxic, so supplements should be taken with care. Talk to your doctor before taking any supplement.

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Tdap vaccines safe in pregnancy

Pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, is on the rise in the U.S. During 2012, almost 50,000 cases of whooping cough were reported to the CDC, including 20 whooping cough-related deaths that mostly occurred among infants younger than 3 months. This was the highest number of reported cases since 1955, and the incidence rate among infants exceeded that of all other age groups, according to the CDC. The reason: people aren’t getting vaccinated.

Which makes a new study so important for pregnant women. Getting a tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (Tdap) vaccine during the last trimester of pregnancy is safe for the fetus, says a paper published in the Nov. 12 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The Tdap vaccine doesn’t increase an expecting mothers’ risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight newborns or the serious pregnancy complication known as preeclampsia. “The vaccine is the best option we have right now to prevent pertussis in newborns, and our study supports vaccinating women during pregnancy,” said lead author Dr. Elyse Kharbanda of the HealthPartners Institute for Education and Research in Minneapolis.

Pregnant women are urged to get the Tdap inoculation to provide protection against pertussis, also called whooping cough, during the first two months of their newborn’s life. When pregnant women receive the vaccine between 27 and 36 weeks’ gestation, they produce antibodies against whooping cough that pass to their unborn children, Kharbanda said.

Babies cannot be vaccinated against whooping cough until they are 2 months old, and during that period the antibodies they’ve inherited from their mother are their only defense against the potentially deadly bacteria, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2011, the CDC recommended Tdap vaccination for all pregnant women.

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Travel alert for new moms

Millions of us will be traveling over the holidays, and for new moms who are breastfeeding, that can pose a challenge. A study of 100 U.S. airports found that few provided a suitably equipped, private lactation room, even though most described themselves as being breastfeeding friendly, as reported in Breastfeeding Medicine, the official journal of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.

In “Airports in the United States. Are They Really Breastfeeding Friendly?” the authors report that while 62% of the airports surveyed answered yes to whether they were “breastfeeding friendly,” only 37% provided a specific lactation room. In only 8% of the airports did that designated space offer the minimum requirements of not being used as a bathroom and having an electrical outlet, a table, and a chair. These included San Francisco International, Minneapolis–St. Paul International, Baltimore/Washington International, San Jose International, Indianapolis International, Akron–Canton Regional (OH), Dane County Regional (WI), and Pensacola Gulf Coast Regional (FL) airports.

“This study presents provocative data about our airports,” says Ruth Lawrence, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Breastfeeding Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics, University of Rochester School of Medicine. “The good news is that 62% think they are ‘breastfeeding friendly.’ The bad news is that their actions do not support the claim. There is a lot of work to be done to make travel possible for breastfeeding dyads.”

What has your experience been? Please add your comments below.

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Limit plastic during pregnancy

Exposure to a common plastics chemical during pregnancy may have effects on genital development in baby boys, a small study hints.

Researchers found that baby boys born to moms with greater exposure to a chemical called DiNP tended to have a shorter anogenital distance — the space between the genitals and anus. Anogenital distance is set in the womb, and it’s considered a marker of exposure to androgens (“male” hormones) during pregnancy.

The researchers said their findings, published online Oct. 29 in Environmental Health Perspectives, add to concerns about the possible effects of certain plasticizers on the male reproductive system.

But the authors also acknowledged that the study points to a correlation between DiNP and boys’ anogenital distance, and not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship. Still, the findings are in line with some research on certain other chemicals in the same group, known collectively as phthalates.

Phthalates are added to plastics to make them more flexible. They are used in a huge range of products, from electrical cables, auto parts and construction materials to cosmetics, shoes and toys (though U.S. manufacturers stopped using them in pacifiers, teething rings and rattles in 1999). People can also be exposed to low levels of phthalates in food, since much of the food supply comes in contact with plastics.

For people who want to limit their phthalate exposure, researchers suggested eating fewer processed foods and more whole foods. Also avoid storing and microwaving foods in recyclable plastic containers; containers with the recycling codes 3, 6 or 7 can contain phthalates or another chemical called BPA.

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More evidence: drinking and pregnancy don’t mix

Although drinking during pregnancy has long been considered taboo, new research suggests that as many as one in 20 U.S. children may have health or behavioral problems related to alcohol exposure before birth.

The study, reported in the November print issue of Pediatrics, found that between 2.4 percent and 4.8 percent of children have some kind of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD.

Fetal alcohol syndrome is the most severe end of the spectrum, and children with this condition have abnormal facial features, structural brain abnormalities, growth problems and behavioral issues. Children on the less severe end of the spectrum may have impairments in the ability to complete tasks required to do well in school or have behavioral issues, the study noted.

Researchers selected a nationally representative town in the Midwest for the study. The town had an average annual alcohol consumption rate about 14 percent higher than the rest of the United States. That translated into roughly a liter of alcohol more per person per year, according to the study authors. They identified first-graders who had a developmental problem or were below the 25th percentile for height, weight or head circumference. Then the researchers gave memory and thinking (“cognitive”) tests, as well as behavioral tests, to these children and to a comparison group of typically developing first-graders.

The researchers also assessed the children for the physical attributes of fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, which include small eye openings, a smooth upper lip, a thin red border to the upper lip and smaller heads.

They found that six to nine of every 1,000 children had fetal alcohol syndrome. And, between 11 and 17 per 1,000 children had partial fetal alcohol syndrome, according to the study. These numbers are higher than in previous research.

This study also identified factors that predicted a higher risk that a child would have an FASD. The longer it took a mother to learn she was pregnant, how frequently she drank three months before pregnancy, and the more alcohol the child’s father drank, the more likely it was that the child would have an FASD, the study found.

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One more reason to lose weight

It has long been known that being overweight poses health risks to women of childbearing age. Now a new study says this excess weight also may affect their children—and not just their weight.

The research, presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014, revealed that adults whose mothers were overweight or obese before pregnancy have a dramatically elevated risk of dying from heart disease or stroke.

Previous studies had shown that people whose mothers were overweight before pregnancy were at higher risk for obesity, diabetes and elevated cholesterol. This study, on 879 participants (52 percent female, average age 32 when the study began) in the Framingham Heart Study, examined whether that translated into higher rates of cardiovascular disease and death.

Compared with adults whose mothers had not been overweight, the study found that offspring of overweight or obese mothers were at 90 percent higher risk of cardiovascular disease or death. Those offspring’s own risk factors, including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, appeared to account for some of that difference. The results of this study support efforts to reduce obesity among young women before childbearing years, the researchers said.

Currently more than one-half of pregnant women in the Unites States are overweight or obese, according to statistics from the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. If you’re one of them, work with your doctor to lose the weight before you get pregnant.

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Don’t be SAD this winter

As we approach the shortest and darkest days of the year, it’s important to remember that a lack of daylight can have a biological effect on your health. Some people experience a serious mood change during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. This condition is called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

SAD is a type of depression that usually lifts during spring and summer, when longer days return. Not everyone with SAD has the same symptoms, which include:

• Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings.

• Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism.

• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness.

• Irritability, restlessness.

• Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy.

• Fatigue and decreased energy.

• Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions.

• Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping.

• Changes in weight.

• Thoughts of death or suicide.

There are treatments, including light therapy, mental health counseling and medication, to relieve the symptoms of SAD. If you or a loved one tends to get depressed every winter, talk to a family physician.

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Study: Birth defect risk low with assisted reproduction

The risk of birth defects is low among children conceived using assisted reproductive technologies (ART). That’s the finding of a new study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Researchers examined more than 300,000 births in Massachusetts between 2004 and 2008. Of those babies, 11,000 were conceived using ART such as in vitro fertilization. Overall rates of birth defects among ART-conceived children were low, the researchers said.

Rates of cardiac birth defects were 0.82 percent among ART-conceived children and 0.52 percent among naturally conceived children, the study showed. Rates of noncardiac birth defects were 1.8 percent and 1.5 percent, respectively.

“While we need to better understand any relationship between birth defects and infertility, it is comforting to confirm that rates of birth defects remain low among those children conceived using assisted reproductive technologies,” Dr. Charles Coddington, president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, said in a society news release.

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November? No, it’s “Movember” for men’s health

Did you know that men live, on average, five years fewer than women? That half of all men will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime? And that more than 12 percent of all men age 18 and older are in fair or poor health? Well, gents, if you want to change that, grow a moustache.

The Movember Foundation aims to change men’s health awareness by putting a fun twist on this serious issue. Using the moustache as a catalyst, the idea is to encourage men to learn and talk about their health and take action when needed.

The foundation hopes that the initiative will “spark conversation and raise funds for prostate cancer, testicular cancer and mental health problems.”

Learn more at us.movember.com

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