What’s in Your Baby?

home-shows-toxic-everyday-exposures-toxinsA growing number of studies are finding hundreds of toxic chemicals in the bodies of mothers, and subsequently, in their babies after birth.

While there is no science that demonstrates a conclusive cause-and-effect relationship between chemicals children are born with and particular health problems, studies are finding associations between elevated levels of chemicals in a baby’s body and their development.

Dr. Frederica Perera, director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health has been following hundreds of pregnant women over the past 12 years to measure chemicals entering the womb during pregnancy.

The women trudge through New York City for 48 hours wearing special backpacks, each with a long tube that is slung over the shoulder. The tube, resting inches below the pregnant mom’s mouth, sucks air into a special filter, giving an approximate measurement of the air that she is breathing.

The backpack is designed to measure ambient toxics spewed by vehicles and pesticides, along with chemicals from common household products.

It surprised me when we analyzed the air samples [from the backpacks] and found 100 percent of them had detectable levels of at least one pesticide and the air pollutants we were interested in,” said Perera.

So far, the toxics measured in the backpacks match what scientists are finding in the cord blood of the babies once they are born. Small studies by other groups also are finding common household chemicals in babies.

“We’ve measured hundreds and hundreds of toxic chemicals in the blood of babies that are still in the womb,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit environmental advocacy organization. “Flame retardants, the chemicals in consumer products like personal care products, makeup, shampoos. It’s a very long list.”

The organization’s study found an average of 232 chemicals in the cord blood of 10 babies born in late 2009. They are chemicals found in a wide array of common household products, including shampoos and conditioners, cosmetics, plastics, shower curtains, mattresses, and electronics like computers and cell phones.

Perera and her colleagues are following the children in their study from the uterus, through birth, and up to their first several years of life. They recently published a study in the journal Pediatrics demonstrating an association between the chemicals they found in babies’ cord blood and later problems on intelligence tests and development.

Fifteen percent of children [in our study] have at least one developmental problem,” Perera said.

The amount of chemicals measured in the cord blood of the babies seems to matter. The higher the concentration, the more the IQ among children seems to dip. The study is also being conducted among pregnant women in Poland and China, and finding similar results.

Teach New Baby to Sleep by 3 months old

babyzzzs243Infants are capable of sleeping through the night by 3 months of age. But most textbooks, and pediatricians, will tell parents that infants should sleep through the night by 12 months of age.  A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics investigated whether infants really could sleep through the night. It explored three different criteria for sleeping through the night: midnight to 5 a.m.; for eight hours; or for the eight hours from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. (the pattern that most likely matches the family pattern of sleep). The researchers asked parents of infants to keep sleep diaries for six days each month for a year. The infants were also monitored by a time-lapse video recorder.

Surprise! Infants are capable of sleeping through the night by 3 months of age regardless of which of the three criterion was used to define sleeping through the night. Although it was harder for infants to meet the 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. goal by 3 months of age, many could do so. 

After the infant is 1 month old, parents should begin planning, and working with the pediatrician, on getting the infant to sleep through the night.


Homemade Baby Food – More Nutritious & Cheaper

Making homemade baby food does not have to be a lot of work. The book “Baby Love” makes the case that homemade baby food is better than commercial because you can control what’s in it. Both homemade and store-bought food contain vitamins and minerals your baby needs. But the book notes that those little jars of food on the grocery shelf also can have add-ins such as modified cornstarch, though major brands such as Gerber and Beech-Nut don’t add starch (or salt or sugar) to their purees. And, the authors say, because the food in those jars has been cooked at high temperatures to ensure a long shelf life, they may have lost some of their nutrients and flavor.

Making your own can be far cheaper than store-bought baby food and nearly as convenient, the authors insist. Most of all, though, O’Donnell and Tracy say, homemade baby food simply tastes better and can foster a lifelong love of healthful food.

“Baby Love” features delicacies as straightforward as Get Your Greens, a blend of spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, water and milk, for children 8 months and older; and as exotic as Ginger Beef, a puree of 12 ingredients that requires some cooking, for kids 10 months and older and their parents. For kids 12 months and older, there are baked goods such as Norah’s Brain-Booster Zucchini Muffins. Foods for the youngest babies (6 months) are necessarily simple: Perfectly Basic Avocado, for instance, involves mashing half a ripe avocado with the back of a fork for 90 seconds, then mixing in a tablespoon of orange juice. Even I could have done that!

One time-saving strategy suggested in the book is organizing all the ingredients and equipment before you start to cook, known as mise en place. Tracy writes that doing this allowed him to make food for two weeks in just an hour. Most recipes for the youngest kids are purees meant to be frozen in an ice-cube tray, then stored in plastic baggies in the freezer.

Jatinder Bhatia, MD, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Nutrition and is my former attending at the Medical College of Georgia, notes that feeding babies a version of the family’s meal is a time-honored way to influence the child’s future tastes in food. “It’s common sense,” he says. “That’s how ethnic babies learn to eat ethnic food.”

“At this point, your baby is still a captive,” Bhatia says. It’s an ideal time to “present what the family’s eating” — assuming, that is, that the family is eating healthfully.

Understanding ‘Ba Ba Ba’ as a Key to Development

Baby babble developmentBy PERRI KLASS, M.D.

As a pediatrician, I always ask about babble. “Is the baby making sounds?” I ask the parent of a 4-month-old, a 6-month-old, a 9-month-old. The answer is rarely no. But if it is, it’s important to try to find out what’s going on.

If a baby isn’t babbling normally, something may be interrupting what should be a critical chain: not enough words being said to the baby, a problem preventing the baby from hearing what’s said, or from processing those words. Something wrong in the home, in the hearing or perhaps in the brain.

Babble is increasingly being understood as an essential precursor to speech, and as a key predictor of both cognitive and social emotional development. And research is teasing apart the phonetic components of babble, along with the interplay of neurologic, cognitive and social factors.

The first thing to know about babble is also the first thing scientists noticed: babies all over the world babble in similar ways. During the second year of life, toddlers shape their sounds into the words of their native tongues.

The word “babble” is both significant and representative — repetitive syllables, playing around with the same all-important consonants. (Indeed, the word seems to be derived not from the biblical Tower of Babel, as folk wisdom has it, but from the “ba ba” sound babies make.)

Some of the most exciting new research, according to D. Kimbrough Oller, a professor ofaudiology and speech-language pathology at the University of Memphis, analyzes the sounds that babies make in the first half-year of life, when they are “squealing and growling and producing gooing sounds.” These sounds are foundations of later language, he said, and they figure in all kinds of social interactions and play between parents and babies — but they do not involve formed syllables, or anything that yet sounds like words.

“By the time you get past 6 months of age, babies begin to produce canonical babbling, well-formed syllables,” Professor Oller said. “Parents don’t treat those earlier sounds as words; when canonical syllables begin to appear, parents recognize the syllables as negotiable.” That is, when the baby says something like “ba ba ba,” the parent may see it as an attempt to name something and may propose a word in response.

Most of the time, I ask parents: “Does he make noise? Does she sound like she’s talking?” And most of the time, parents nod and smile, acknowledging the baby voices that have become part of the family conversation.

But the new research suggests a more detailed line of questions: by 7 months or so, have the sounds developed into that canonical babble, including both vowels and consonants? Babies who go on vocalizing without many consonants, making only aaa and ooo sounds, are not practicing the sounds that will lead to word formation, not getting the mouth muscle practice necessary for understandable language to emerge.

“A baby hears all these things and is able to differentiate them before the baby can produce them,” said Carol Stoel-Gammon, an emeritus professor of speech and hearing sciences at the University of Washington. “To make an m, you have to close your mouth and the air has to come out your nose. It’s not in your brain somewhere — you have to learn it.”

The consonants in babble mean the baby is practicing, shaping different sounds by learning to maneuver the mouth and tongue, and listening to the results. “They get there by 12 months,” Professor Stoel-Gammon continued, “and to me the reason they get there is because they have become aware of the oral motor movements that differentiate between a b and an m.”

Babies have to hear real language from real people to learn these skills. Television doesn’t do it, and neither do educational videos: recent research suggests that this learning is in part shaped by the quality and context of adult response.

To study babbling, researchers have begun to look at the social response — at the baby and the parent together. Michael H. Goldstein, an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell, has done experiments showing that babies learn better from parental stimulation — acquiring new sounds and new sound patterns, for example — if parents provide that stimulation specifically in response to the baby’s babble.

“In that moment of babbling, babies seem to be primed to take in more information,” he said. “It’s about creating a social interaction where now you can learn new things.”

A study this year by this group looked at how babies learn the names of new objects. Again, offering the new vocabulary words specifically in response to the babies’ own vocalizations meant the babies learned the names better.

The experimenters argue that a baby’s vocalizations signal a state of focused attention, a readiness to learn language. When parents respond to babble by naming the object at hand, the argument goes, children are more likely to learn words. So if a baby looks at an apple and says, “Ba ba!” it’s better to respond by naming the apple than by guessing, for example, “Do you want your bottle?”

“We think that babies tend to emit babbles when they’re in a state where they’re ready to learn new information, they’re aroused, they’re interested,” Professor Goldstein said. “When babies are interested in something, they tend to do a furrowed brow,” he continued; parents should understand that babble may be “an acoustic version of furrowing one’s brow.”

Right there, in the exam room, I have that essential experimental combination, the baby and the parent. It’s an opportunity to check up on the baby’s progress in forming sounds, but also an opportunity to help parents respond to the baby’s interest in learning how to name the world — a universal human impulse expressed in the canonical syllables of a universal human soundtrack.

Health Canada Adds Bisphenol A to List of Toxic Substances

BPA toxicityThe federal government has decided to add bisphenol A to the country’s list of toxic substances, a move that is likely to renew attention on the widespread use of the controversial chemical in almost all food cans sold in Canada.

The toxic determination, issued in Saturday’s Canada Gazette, makes Canada the first country to classify as risky bisphenol A, the chemical building block for polycarbonate plastic and epoxy resins.

The government took the action based on worries that infants up to the age of 18 months might be inadvertently getting too much of the chemical, which mimics the hormone estrogen, from baby formula cans and plastic baby bottles, as well concerns that fish and other wildlife could be harmed from environmental exposure. The federal statement didn’t raise concerns over adult exposure.