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Let's Talk Babies!

In The News

Swine flu (or H1N1) has been all over the news for the last week or so.  Many families are becoming worried that they will be affected by swine flu.  It is hard to know what to expect, what to do, and just how bad (or not) it is since the media has gone so over the top with their reporting of this story.

So what is swine flu?  Swine flu (or H1N1) is a type A influenza virus that typically infects pigs.  Recently it has begun infecting humans and is spreading from human to human.  Since this particular influenza virus is new to the human population we have no natural immunity to it.  For more information be sure to visit the World Health Organization’s website.

The symptoms for H1N1 are similar to those of any influenza virus and include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Cough
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you suspect that you may have the flu contact your healthcare provider.  Anti-viral medication, such as Tamiflu, have proven effective in treating this virus.

So what can you do to protect your family?  It is simple really.  Treat this as you would the regular flu season.  Wash your hands frequently (especially after shaking hands, touching public surfaces, etc), avoid crowded places if you are concerned about contracting the virus, avoid sick people, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, etc.

Today is World Autism Awareness Day.  In 2007 the United Nations adopted a resolution creating World Autism Awareness Day as a way to bring the world’s attention to the disease.  The participating countries are encouraged to take steps to heighten the awareness of autism, and to encourage measures to help with early diagnosis and early intervention.

I thought today would be a fitting day to share a few facts about autism with you.

What is autism? : Autism is a neurological disorder that affects the normal functioning of the brain impacting the development of social interaction and communications skills.  Children and adults with autism will typically display difficulties with communication, both verbal and non-verbal, social interactions, and leisure/play activities.  Autism is a spectrum disorder so it affects people in varying ways from mild to severe.

Common Characteristics of Autism:

  • Difficulty with language development.
  • Difficulty initiating or maintaining a conversation.
  • Some autistic children and adults may exhibit aggressive or self-injurious behavior.
  • Difficulty expressing needs.
  • Resistance to change.
  • Preference to being alone.
  • Difficulty mixing and interacting with others.
  • Make little or no eye contact.
  • Obsessive attachment to objects.
  • Non-responsive to verbal cues.

Early Intervention and why it is important: Early intervention is any therapy or measure taken between the ages of birth and three years of age (previously the normal age of diagnosis).  By diagnosing autism earlier parents, educators, and doctors can begin therapy during the time when the child’s brain is most receptive.  Early intervention has been shown to have a very great impact on reducing the symptoms of autism often reducing the need for intensive support when the child enters school.

What causes autism? :  There is no known cause for autism.  Researchers are investigating possible causes including heredity, genetics, environmental factors and medical problems.  More research is needed and the more awareness there is of autism the more push there will be for broader, stronger, more effective research.

For more information on autism and World Autism Awareness Day visit these helpful websites.

I read about this interesting new study done by the University of Dundee in Scotland regarding the best position for your baby in the stroller.  It had nothing to do with safety but rather with their social development and stress level.  According to the researchers babies and toddlers who face out are more stressed and less aware that their parents are still there.  Whereas babies and toddlers who face their parents are more content, had a lower heart-rate and were twice as likely to fall asleep during the walk.   The study found that parents who faced their children outward were 50% less likely to interact and talk with their child.

Most strollers now adays have the child facing out once they no longer use the infant carseat in the stroller.  So, a lot of parents don’t have the option of facing their child towards them after a certain age.  The key in this situation is to talk to your child, point things out, communicate with words, gestures and laughter.

I personally think my daughter would not enjoy her stroller as much if she faced backwards.  She loves looking out and observing everything around.  I talk to her almost the whole time though, when she is babbling away!!  I think that as long as your child is comfortable, enjoying him or herself, and you are still interacting with your child then it doesn’t matter which way they face.

Anyway, I just thought it was an interesting study and wanted to share it will you.

Last week a US federal special court ruled that there was no scientific evidence to support a link between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. In their ruling the court stated “it was abundantly clear that petitioners’ theories of causation were speculative and unpersuasive” and went on to say “the weight of scientific research and authority was simply more persuasive on nearly every point in contention.” The ruling was well received and applauded by the scientific and health communities. The families of those making claims to the VICP (vaccine injury compensation program) were disappointed with the ruling and continue to stand behind their claims that the MMR vaccine caused their children’s autism.

So will this ruling be the end of the debate? Likely, it will not mean the end of the debate. When your child is diagnosed with autism it is devastating and you want to know why it happened to your child. Since autism diagnoses often happen around the same time as the MMR vaccine is administered it becomes an easy scapegoat. More research needs to be conducted into autism, what causes it, etc so these parents can finally get some answers. I also think the public health and pediatric medicine communities need to do a better job of communicating with the public about both autism and vaccines to help put some of the fear and some of the debate to rest.

Why is there such a debate about vaccines? Parents want to protect their children at all costs and if they believe something could harm their child they are going to steer clear, that includes vaccines. Unfortunately, I think parents have become the victims of scientists, doctors and media professionals wanting to make a name for themselves. Many of the claims about the lack of safety of vaccines are not backed by peer-reviewed studies but rather by highly-emotional personal anecdotes, pseudo-science and misinformation. All of this combines to make for a high level of fear among parents of small children and a mass “jumping on the anti-vaccine bandwagon” so to speak. It is sometime easier to just say no than to try to weed through all the information out there to find what is true and accurate.

It has been a long time since we have seen the ill-effects of many of the diseases we are vaccinating our children against. Being so far removed from the diseases makes it hard for many parents to see why the vaccines are worth the risks. It is more important than ever for parents to do their research, especially when it comes to educating ourselves about the diseases these vaccines prevent. I am pro-vaccine and fully vaccinate my daughter. I have done the research regarding the risks involved with the vaccines as well as the risks of the diseases themselves and concluded that vaccinating my daughter is the right thing to do.

Parents need to know the facts (scientifically backed facts) about the vaccines and the diseases they protect against in order to make informed decisions. Below I have provided links to the information sheets for the common childhood vaccines, as provided by the National Network for Immunization Information.

It can be hard sometimes to filter through the information available on the internet regarding vaccinations. There is a lot of junk science and misinformation circulating out there. Here are a few sites that I found helpful in my own research. I also found it helpful to speak with my daughter’s pediatrician, whose opinion and expertise I value and trust.

Many parents think it is safe to “opt-out” of vaccines for their children because the diseases they are protecting against have been either eradicated, eliminated or dramatically reduced. However, that will only remain the case if people continue to get vaccinated. Also, most of these diseases are still prevalent in other parts of the world, so you could be only a plane ride away from contracting them. Community-immunity is only effective if most of the community is vaccinated. You are not just putting your own children at risk you are also putting children who are too young for the vaccines or too sick to be vaccinated at risk.

On a personal note about community immunity. When I was a child I had Pertussis (whooping cough). It was during the 1980’s when there were outbreaks in many parts of the western world due to misinformation circulating about the vaccine’s safety and parents were opting out of the vaccine for their children. I had been vaccinated, however, contracted the disease anyway because unfortunately no vaccine is 100% effective. Let me tell you it was no picnic. I can still vividly remember how much it hurt to cough all the time, my chest and throat throbbed. My head hurt constantly for over a month because I coughed all the time.

The bottom line is I believe every parent has the right to decide what is best for their children. However, those decisions need to be based on accurate information and scientific facts. If after doing all the research you still decide that it is best not to vaccinate your child, well that is your choice.

Vaccines are safe and the risks associated with the diseases they protect us against far outweigh the risks associated with the vaccines themselves.

A new research study conducted by the University of Chicago found that toddlers who point, wave bye-bye and use other gestures as part of the way the communicate tend to have stronger and more varied language when entering kindergarten.

To conduct their study the researchers visited the homes of 50 low and high-income families with 14 month olds and watched the interaction between parents and children for 90 minutes; they then visited with them again when they were 4 years old and about to enter kindergarten.  The researchers found that those children who used a lot of gestures as toddlers and had parents who used gestures when communicating with them had better language development at age 4 than those children who used fewer gestures as toddlers.

According to the research the high-income parents tended to use more gestures when communicating with their children, used broader language, and generally talked more with their toddlers than the lower-income parents.  As toddlers the higher-income children used more gestures such pointing and waving, and applied more meanings to those gestures.  On average the toddlers in the higher-income families applied about 25 meanings to their gestures compared with only 13 meanings applied by the lower-income families.

It is important to note that the parents were not using sign-language, they were simply using everyday gestures like pointing.  Ultimately, the key is to talk with your child as much as possible, read to them, and include gestures such as pointing to help them build strong language skills that will carry them through life.

For more information on the study visit the University of Chicago’s website.