Your Baby

Social Networks Influence Kid’s Vaccinations

2.00 to read

A new study looks at what influences parents to either have or not have their infants vaccinated. Researchers reported that parents make decisions about whether to vaccinate fully, vaccinate over a period of time or not vaccinate their children at all largely based on social networks.

Emily K. Brunson, PhD, MPH, from Texas State University in San Marcos, presented the results of her survey in an article in the online journal Pediatrics. Dr. Brunson surveyed United States–born, first-time parents who had children aged 18 months or younger and resided in King County, Washington. A total of 126 participants conformed to vaccination recommendations and 70 did not. The 70 other parents forged their own paths: 28 delayed vaccines, 37 partially vaccinated and five didn’t vaccinate at all.

The two groups were described as “conformers” and “non-conformers”. 95% of both groups said they get their advice from people that they go to for information. The non-conformers were also significantly more inclined to use “source networks” (sources people go to for information and advice such as books, pamphlets, research articles and the Internet).

The current study connects immunization decision-making with the pressure to conform to group opinion. It also looks at whether parents are more likely to choose a social group that reflects their own beliefs and actions, or let the social group dictate their beliefs and actions. Dr. Brunson's data suggest that the social groups dictate the decisions.

Parents who did not conform to the recommended Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) schedule had a higher percentage of people in their social networks that recommended not conforming to the vaccine schedule.

Conformers were more likely to get their information from family, friends and healthcare providers.

“Parents’ people networks matter a ton,” says Brunson, now an assistant professor of anthropology at Texas State University. “Having those conversations with your sister, with your parent, with your friends matter a lot more than we thought.”

On an average, 59% of non-conformers reported that their sources – many of which persist in promoting a widely debunked association between vaccines and autism- recommend ignoring the CDC’s guidelines for vaccinations as compared to only 20% of conformer’s sources.

The actual number of “zero dosers” has stayed at less than 2%, but the numbers of parents who don’t trust that vaccines will actually do what they are told they will do is growing. This frustrates many pediatricians who have seen first hand or know about the deadly consequences of vaccine-preventable diseases. Some parents are deciding for themselves which vaccines they feel are necessary and then developing their own vaccine schedule by spacing out shots over a series of years, which experts argue only extends the time their kids are susceptible to disease or capable of passing it on to others.

Vaccines have been widely studied and current research has shown that multiple vaccinations do not pose a hazard to young children. Some of the older vaccines exposed toddlers to more antigens than newly formulated vaccines do.

Scientists noted that public-health officials should consider the importance of social networks when getting out the message that childhood immunizations are important for children’s health. It may be time, they say, to extend their reach beyond doctors and start paying attention to other people who influence parents’ vaccination decisions, namely friends and family whom moms and dads list as part of their “social network.” “If we want to improve vaccination rates, communication needs to be directed to the public at large,” says Brunson.

Preliminary data on Immunity Community’s effectiveness look promising: last year, one Montessori-preschool pilot site raised its immunization rate from 60% to 80%. The CDC is keeping tabs on the results and could bring it to other states as a potential national model, albeit one rooted at the local level. “For people to be passionate and credible and persuasive about this, they have to be local community members,” says Kris Sheedy of the CDC’s immunization-services division. “We know that birds of a feather flock together, so it’s a good thing to make vaccinating parents more visible.”

As the battle rages on about the safety and necessity of infant vaccines, too many children are not receiving the recommended doses. Doctors and public health officials are going to have to be more clear and aggressive in getting information to the general public on the facts surrounding immunizations.

Sources: Bonnie Rochman,

Larry C. Pullen, PhD.,

Your Baby

Babies Are Great Lip-Readers!

2.00 to read

Do you ever wonder how a baby learns to talk? A new study suggests that a baby learns how to form words by reading lips.  It happens during the stage where baby gibberish morphs into actual words such as mama, or dada.

Florida scientists discovered that starting around age 6 months, babies begin shifting from the intent eye gaze of early infancy to studying mouths when people talk to them.

"The baby in order to imitate you has to figure out how to shape their lips to make that particular sound they're hearing," explains developmental psychologist David Lewkowicz of Florida Atlantic University, who led the study being published Monday. "It's an incredibly complex process."

Scientists believe that these findings can help them learn how the brain is wired. It offers more evidence that quality face-time with your tot is very important for speech development.

It may also offer a look into whether there are early warning signs of autism. Unraveling how babies learn to speak isn't merely a curiosity. Neuroscientists want to know how to encourage that process, especially if it doesn't seem to be happening on time. Plus, it helps them understand how the brain develops, early in life, for learning all kinds of things.

Apparently it doesn't take them too long to absorb the movements that match basic sounds. By their first birthdays, babies start shifting back to looking you in the eye again – unless they hear the unfamiliar sounds of a foreign language. Then, they stick with lip-reading a bit longer.

"It's a pretty intriguing finding," says University of Iowa psychology professor Bob McMurray, who also studies speech development. The babies "know what they need to know about, and they're able to deploy their attention to what's important at that point in development."

Babies usually start talking, even if it’s only one or two words, by the age of 1.

A lot of research has centered on the audio side of learning. That sing-song speech that parents intuitively use? Scientists know the pitch attracts babies' attention, and the rhythm exaggerates key sounds. Other studies have shown that babies who are best at distinguishing between vowel sounds like "ah" and "ee" shortly before their first birthday wind up with better vocabularies and pre-reading skills by kindergarten.

Studies have also shown that facial expressions and the tone of someone’s voice also grab a baby’s attention. The tone of the voice can offer comfort or fear depending on how it is administered.

Babies, like adults, are drawn to the eyes of someone speaking to them. They are very adept at interpreting nonverbal messages, such as emotions, that might be connected to various words and expressions.

Lewkowicz went a step further, wondering whether babies look to the lips for cues as well, sort of like how adults lip-read to decipher what someone's saying at a noisy party.

Lewkowicz ,and doctoral student Amy Hansen-Tift, tested nearly 180 babies at ages 4, 6, 8, 10 and 12 months.

They showed videos of a woman speaking in English or Spanish to babies of English speakers. A gadget mounted on a soft headband tracked where each baby was focusing his or her gaze and for how long.

They found a dramatic shift in attention: When the speaker used English, the 4-month-olds gazed mostly into her eyes. The 6-month-olds spent equal amounts of time looking at the eyes and the mouth. The 8- and 10-month-olds studied mostly the mouth.

At 12 months, attention started shifting back toward the speaker's eyes.

Lewkowicz noted that at 6 months old, babies began observing lip movement. That’s about the time when a baby’s brain is able to gain some control of where they want to focus their attention- instead of automatically looking in the direction of where a noise is coming from. 

But what happened when these babies accustomed to English heard Spanish? The 12-month-olds studied the mouth longer, just like younger babies. They needed the extra information to decipher the unfamiliar sounds.

That fits with research into bilingualism that shows babies' brains fine-tune themselves to start distinguishing the sounds of their native language over other languages in the first year of life. That's one reason it's easier for babies to become bilingual than older children or adults.

But the continued lip-reading shows the 1-year-olds clearly still "are primed for learning," McMurray says.

Babies are so difficult to study that this is "a fairly heroic data set," says Duke University cognitive neuroscientist, Greg Appelbaum, who found the research so compelling that he wants to know more.

Are the babies who start to shift their gaze back to the eyes a bit earlier better learners, or impatient to their own detriment? What happens with a foreign language after 12 months?

Lewkowicz is continuing his studies of typically developing babies. He theorizes that there may be different patterns in children at risk of autism, something autism experts caution, would be hard to prove.

The new research appears in this week's issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Your Baby

Daydreaming Newborns?

Babies are born with an important collection of fully formed brain networks, including one linked to introspection, a new study shows.Ever wonder what’s going on in that tiny little newborn’s brain? According to a new study, he or she could be daydreaming about the future.

Babies are born with an important collection of fully formed brain networks, including one linked to introspection, a new study shows. The findings challenge previous ideas about early-stage brain development and activity. Scientists at the MRC Clinical Sciences Center at Imperial College London used functional MRI to examine the brains of 70 babies born at between 29 and 43 weeks. The scans showed that full-term babies have adult-equivalent resting state networks. These are connected systems of neurons that are always active, even when a person is not focusing on a particular task or is asleep. One fully formed resting state network identified in babies is called the default mode network, which is believed to be involved in introspection and daydreaming. Previous research had indicated this network was incomplete at birth and developed during early childhood. "Some researchers have said that the default mode network is responsible for introspection -- retrieving autobiographical memories and envisioning the future, etc. The fact that we found it in newborn babies suggests that either being a fetus is a lot more fun than any of us can remember -- lying there happily introspecting and thinking about the future -- or that this theory is mistaken," lead author David Edwards said in a news release from Imperial College London. "Our study shows that babies' brains are more fully formed than we thought. More generally, we sometimes expect to be able to explain the activity we can see on brain scans in terms of someone thinking or doing some task. However, most of the brain is probably engaged in activities of which we are completely unaware, and it is this complex background activity that we are detecting," Edwards said. The findings were released online Nov. 1 in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This hyperawareness comes with several benefits. For starters, it allows young children to figure out the world at an incredibly fast pace. Although babies are born utterly helpless, within a few years they've mastered everything from language - a toddler learns 10 new words every day - to complex motor skills such as walking. According to this new view of the baby brain, many of the mental traits that used to seem like developmental shortcomings, such as infants' inability to focus their attention, are actually crucial assets in the learning process. In fact, in some situations it might actually be better for adults to regress into a newborn state of mind. While maturity has its perks, it can also inhibit creativity and lead people to fixate on the wrong facts. When we need to sort through a lot of seemingly irrelevant information or create something completely new, thinking like a baby is our best option. "We've had this very misleading view of babies," says Alison Gopnik, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of the forthcoming book, "The Philosophical Baby." "The baby brain is perfectly designed for what it needs to do, which is learn about the world. There are times when having a fully developed brain can almost seem like an impediment." Gopnik argues that, in many respects, babies are more conscious than adults. She compares the experience of being a baby with that of watching a riveting movie, or being a tourist in a foreign city, where even the most mundane activities seem new and exciting. "For a baby, every day is like going to Paris for the first time," Gopnik says. "Just go for a walk with a 2-year-old. You'll quickly realize that they're seeing things you don't even notice."

Your Baby

1 in 200 Kids is Vegetarian

A new study that provides the government's first estimate of how many American children are vegetarian shows that approximately 1 in 200 avoid meat when eating.A new study that provides the government's first estimate of how many American children are vegetarian shows that approximately 367,000 children, or 1 in 200 avoid meat when eating. Other surveys suggest the rate could be four to six times that among older teens who have more control over their eating habits than younger children.

The new estimate comes from a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of alternative medicine based on a survey of thousands of Americans in 2007. According to previous studies, vegetarians are most often female, from higher-income families and living on the East or West coasts. Eating vegetarian can be healthy. Nutritionists and pediatricians often push children to eat more fruits and vegetables. For growing children, however, it's important to get sufficient amounts of protein, vitamins B12 and D, iron, calcium and other important nutrients that most people get from meat, eggs and dairy. Experts do point out that not all vegetarian diets are slimming. Some vegetarian kids cut out meat but then fill up on doughnuts, French fries, soda or potato chips.

Your Baby

Prenatal Exposure To Pesticides

1.30 to read

Moms exposed to higher levels of pesticides have lower mental development scores. Children whose mothers had higher levels of exposure to a substance found in a commonly used pesticide were more likely to get lower scores on a mental developmental test at 3 years of age than children whose mothers were exposed to lower levels or not at all, new research says.

Megan Horton, a postdoctoral research fellow at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City, and her colleagues followed 348 mothers from low-income areas of New York City whose prenatal exposure to pyrethroid insecticides -- found in pesticides commonly used around the home -- was tracked. The researchers measured not the common pyrethroid called permethrin but rather piperonyl butoxide (PBO), a chemical added to permethrin that boosts its potency, Horton said. They measured PBO because permethrin is metabolized quickly and difficult to measure, she added. The study authors measured the mothers' prenatal exposure by taking air samples or blood samples. To get the air samples, mothers wore backpacks that collected air from their breathing zone, which was then analyzed. Children were then put into four groups or "quartiles," depending on the level of their mothers' exposures to PBO during pregnancy. At age 3, the children were evaluated using standard scales to assess their cognitive and motor development, according to the study published online Feb. 7 in the journal Pediatrics. "Kids who were in the highest quartile range of exposure to PBO were three times as likely to be in the delayed category, compared to kids with lower exposure," Horton said. Horton's team compensated for factors such as gender, ethnicity, education of the mothers, and toxins such as tobacco smoke in the home. Horton said it's impossible to say what levels of pesticide are safe, partly because many factors come into play, such as the type of pesticide used and the ventilation provided. She did not have data on the frequency of pesticide use. "I don't know whether the mothers used it five times a week or once a week," she added. Pyrethroid insecticides have replaced another class of bug killers, known as organophosphorus (OP) insecticides, Horton said. Increasing pesticide regulations from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have resulted in fewer residential exposures to OP insecticides, she said. But, pyrethroid insecticides have not been evaluated for long-term effects on the body after low-level exposure, she said. Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who reviewed the study but was not involved with it, said the findings ''should convince every parent and want-to-be parent to avoid these pesticides." Horton suggests that parents turn to so-called integrated pest management, which includes common-sense measures to control pests such as eating only in home eating areas, not bedrooms; keeping cracks and crevices in the house repaired to keep out pests; using trash cans with a lid and liner to contain garbage; and storing food properly. You can also find piperonyl butoxide (PBO) in medications used for treating scabies (a skin infestation) and lice infestations of the head, body, and pubic area. Some of the products containing piperonyl butoxide (PBO),are listed below. Check with your physician before using these products if you are pregnant. •       A-200 Lice Control® Topical Spray (containing Piperonyl Butoxide, Pyrethrin) •       Lice-X Liquid® Topical Solution (containing Piperonyl Butoxide, Pyrethrin) •       Pronto® (containing Piperonyl Butoxide, Pyrethrin) •       Pyrinyl® (containing Piperonyl Butoxide, Pyrethrin) •       R & C® (containing Piperonyl Butoxide, Pyrethrin) •       RID® Medicated Shampoo (containing Piperonyl Butoxide, Pyrethrin) •       Stop Lice® Maximum Strength Medicated Shampoo (containing Piperonyl Butoxide, Pyrethrin) •       Tegrin-LT® (containing Piperonyl Butoxide, Pyrethrin) Triple X Pediculicide® Medicated Shampoo (containing Piperonyl Butoxide, Pyrethrin)

Your Baby

Early Spankings Make For Aggressive Toddlers

New research shows that children who are spanked as one-year-olds are more likely to behave aggressively and perform worse on cognitive tests as toddlers than children who are spared the punishment.

New research shows that children who are spanked as one-year-olds are more likely to behave aggressively and perform worse on cognitive tests as toddlers than children who are spared the punishment.The study, done by researchers at Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy, shows that they negative effects of spanking were “modest” but it adds to growing research that finds spanking isn’t good for children. "Age one is a key time for establishing the quality of the parenting and the relationship between parent and the child," said study author Lisa J. Berlin. "Spanking at age one reflects a negative dynamic, and increases children's aggression at age two." Berlin and her colleagues looked at data on 2,500 children of various racial backgrounds from low-income families. The data included parents' reports about their children's behavior, their use of spanking, as well as home visits by trained observers to document parent-child interactions at ages one, two and three. About one-third of mothers of one-year-olds reported they or someone in their household had spanked their child in the last week, while about half of the mothers of two- and three-year-olds reported that their child had been spanked. The average number of spankings for one-year-olds was 2.6 per week, while the average for two-year-olds was nearly three. The study found that children who were spanked at age one had more aggressive behaviors at age two and performed worse on measures of thinking abilities at age three. Researchers also looked at the effects of verbal punishment, defined as yelling, scolding or making derogatory comments. Verbal punishment was not associated with negative effects if the mother was otherwise attentive, loving and supportive. Researchers controlled for family characteristics such as race, ethnicity, mother's age, education, family income and the child's gender. Previous research has shown spanking is more common among low-income households than high-income households. Researchers chose a sample of low-income families because some child behavior experts have argued that when spanking is "cultural normative" -- that is, it's expected for parents to use physical discipline -- the detrimental effects of spanking may be lessened. "We did not find that," Berlin said. "Even in a sample of low-income people where presumably it's more normative to spank your kids, we found negative effects." Of all the debates over child-rearing, spanking "definitely touches a nerve," Berlin said. "It's a parenting practice that has been around for a long time, and that's also in transition," Berlin said. "In general, the use of spanking is going down. But there is also a contingent of people who really believe in it, who say that's how they were raised and it's a tradition they want to continue.”
Your Baby

Vaccines Produce Decline In Bacterial Meningitis Cases

2.00 to read

Good new: bacterial meningitis cases are declining due to immunizations. Bacterial meningitis, a potentially life threatening disease that affects children and adults, is on the decline thanks to required immunizations.

New government research indicates that bacterial meningitis cases have dropped by 31 percent. Immunizations have reduced infections caused by two of the primary germs that cause the potentially devastating infection. With fewer infections in children, older adults are becoming the main hosts of the disease. "The good news is that fewer people are getting bacterial meningitis. The bad news is that if you get it, it's still a very serious infection," said study co-author Dr. Cynthia Whitney, chief of the bacterial respiratory diseases branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. "There are still at least 4,000 cases a year, including about 500 that are fatal," she added. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord. People sometimes refer to it as spinal meningitis. Meningitis is usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Knowing whether the cause of the meningitis is a virus or bacterium is important because the severity of illness and the treatment differ depending on the cause. Viral meningitis is generally less severe and clears up without specific treatment. But bacterial meningitis can be quite severe and may result in brain damage, hearing loss, or learning disabilities. For bacterial meningitis, it is also important to know which type of bacteria is causing the meningitis because antibiotics can prevent some types from spreading and infecting other people. Symptoms include high fever, headache, and stiff neck in anyone over the age of 2 years. These symptoms can develop over several hours, or they may take 1 to 2 days. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, discomfort looking into bright lights, confusion, and sleepiness. In newborns and small infants, the classic symptoms of fever, headache, and neck stiffness may be absent or difficult to detect. Infants with meningitis may appear slow or inactive, have vomiting, be irritable, or be feeding poorly. As the disease progresses, patients of any age may have seizures. During the investigation period between 1998 and 2007, the incidence of bacterial meningitis dropped from two cases per 100,000 people to 1.38 cases per 100,000 people. The average age of those affected increased from 30.3 years to 41.9 years. The incidence of meningitis was highest among blacks and children under 2 months old throughout the study period, the CDC reported. In addition, rates of death caused by bacterial meningitis didn't change significantly over the study period. Among adults, those aged 65 or older were most likely to die from the illness. There are three different types of vaccines available for bacterial meningitis. These vaccines don't cover every strain that can cause meningitis, but they do offer protection against many of the common strains. The Hib vaccine, which covers H. influenzae, is part of routine childhood immunizations. The meningococcal vaccine (MCV4), which protects against N. meningitidis, covers against a form of bacterial meningitis that is often passed from person-to-person when many people are living in close quarters, such as a college dormitory or military barracks. The CDC recommends the first dose of this vaccine be given at 11 to 12 years old, and then a booster at 16 years old; it's also recommended for certain high-risk children aged 2 through 10. If you're over 16 when you first receive this vaccine, the CDC says only one dose is needed. The pneumococcal vaccine (called PCV-13 for children and PPSV in adults) is part of routine childhood immunizations. People who are at higher risk of developing bacterial meningitis may receive a booster dose. In addition, people who are over 65, or younger people who have chronic health conditions or a compromised immune system, should also receive this vaccination, as should anyone who smokes or has asthma, despite their age, according to the CDC. "The good news is that we're doing something to prevent bacterial meningitis, and we've made a lot of strides in the past decade. But, physicians and patients need to know that bacterial meningitis still occurs and it is still a deadly serious infection," Whitney said. Besides getting immunized, Whitney noted that staying healthy and not smoking can help keep your immune system primed to fight off these infections. She said it's also important to note that Listeria is a significant cause of meningitis, and that pregnant women need to be especially careful about the foods that they eat to avoid this infection. Results of the study are published in the May 26 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Your Baby

Maternal Diet Affects Infant's Long-term Bone Health

Mothers-to-be who maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet during pregnancy have children with bigger and stronger bones than women with poorer quality diets. That is the result of a new study by researchers at the University of Southampton. "Our data add to evidence that environmental influences during intrauterine life alter the trajectory of skeletal development in the offspring," study presenter Dr. Zoe Cole said.

Researchers looked at the diets of 198 pregnant women and noticed two general patterns. The first was a healthy dietary pattern filled with lots of fruits and vegetables, yogurt, whole wheat bread and breakfast cereals. The second diet pattern was less healthy and included large amounts of foods such as chips and roast potatoes, sugar, white bread, processed meat, tinned vegetables and soft drinks. Bone assessments of the children made up to the age of nine suggested that consuming a healthy maternal diet was associated with greater bone size and density in the offspring. "Children born to mothers with the healthiest diets, as identified by in the highest quarter of prudent diet score, during late pregnancy had an 11 percent greater whole body bone mineral content and eight percent great whole body bone area than those born to mothers with the least healthy diet, the lowest quarter of this distribution," Cole said. "A healthy diet during pregnancy has long lasting effects on the development of the child's bones," Cole said, and this may lower their future risk of osteoporosis, a potentially disabling bone-thinning disease.

Your Baby

No Link Between Vaccines and Autism

1.30 to read

A new study slated to appear in the Journal of Pediatrics, says that there is no association between the amount of vaccines a young child receives and autism. Some parents have worried that there may be a link and have opted out of having their child vaccinated or reduced the number of vaccines recommended.

The percentage of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has increased by 72% since 2007. Some experts believe that changes in the diagnostic criteria may account for some of the increase as well as better screening tools and rating scales.

According to a statement released from the journal, researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Abt Associates analyzed data from children with and without ASD.

Researchers examined each child's cumulative exposure to antigens, the substances in vaccines that cause the body's immune system to produce antibodies to fight disease, and the maximum number of antigens each child received in a single day of vaccination, the journal's statement said.

The antigen totals were the same for children with and without ASD, researchers found.

Scientists believe genetics play a fundamental role in the risk for a child developing autism (80-90%), but recent studies also suggests that the father’s age at the time of conception may also be a contributor by increasing risks for genetic mistakes in the sperm that could be passed along to offspring.

Parents have worried about a link between vaccines and autism for decades despite the growing body of scientific evidence disproving such an association.

Source: Luciana Lopez,


Please fill in your e-mail address to be included in our newsletter.
You may opt out at any time.