A blog by Dr Lin Day



Baby Brain Syndrome: Fact or myth?

“Now why did I put my car keys in the fridge?”

Fact: Baby brain syndrome, the dippy feeling experienced by many mothers during pregnancy may be due to massive fluctuations in hormonal levels, sleep deprivation, loss of energy, difficulty in concentrating on anything other than the pregnancy, and lack of the essential fatty acid, omega-3.

Lack of omega-3 can result in 3 percent or more shrinkage in the mother’s brain, which accounts for the short-term memory loss that many women experience in their third trimester. The essential fatty acid is so important to the development of the baby’s brain in late pregnancy, that high levels are absorbed from the mother’s blood. If maternal blood levels are low, omega-3 is obtained from the mother’s brain.

Mothers can increase general brain function by eating oily fish rich in omega-3 such as organic natural salmon, sardines, halibut, and herring. Even small amounts can make a significant difference.

Raw nuts, flax, mustard, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, and dark green leafy vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and spinach also contain trace amounts of omega-3.

Concerns

Regular intake of fish has reduced dramatically in recent years, due to the risk of foetal exposure to methyl mercury, which has been linked to birth defects and brain damage in the past. This is particularly worrying in the light of recent work that shows that many disorders are the result of poor intake of omega-3 during pregnancy. Recent studies have shown that methyl mercury in fish is not as toxic as was originally proposed. Individual cases of toxicity are very rare.

As a precautionary measure, the Food Standards Agency suggests that pregnant women and nursing mothers avoid large fish (e.g. tuna, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel) and only eat smaller fish such as salmon, sardines, halibut, and herring.

Supplements

For mothers who dislike fish or wish to avoid it, omega-3 can be obtained from algae-derived supplements. Cod liver oil should be avoided since it may contain high amounts of vitamin A, which can be harmful. However, mothers who take medication for blood pressure or blood thinning or bruise very easily should check with their healthcare professional before taking omega-3 supplements.

Fun fact: some research shows that mums expecting girls may be more forgetful than those expecting boys. Although the reasons are unknown, it is thought that the increase in oestrogen can have a negative effect on the hippocampus – part of the brain involved in short-term memory.

 

 By Dr. Lin Day (www.babysensory.com)

Stay Cool Tips for Mums-to-be

When temperatures soar, mums-to-be will feel the heat more than average, but how do you stay cool?

Here are some tips from pregnant mums that will help you stay cool and remain hydrated. We’ve also included advice from the experts to keep you and your growing baby safe, healthy and well.

What the experts say

During pregnancy, your skin is more sensitive to the sun and more likely to burn, so you need to be extra careful. Mums-to-be should stay out of the sun between 10 am and 4 pm, when UV radiation is at its strongest.

Excessive UV radiation in the early stages of pregnancy can interfere with the synthesis of vitamin B9 (folic acid), which is especially important to foetal cell division and growth. The best advice is to stay indoors during peak UV hours. However, sun avoidance can increase the risk of vitamin D deficiency, which can interfere with the absorption of calcium for healthy bones and teeth. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends a daily vitamin D supplement during pregnancy.

 Melt down

  • Stay indoors at the hottest time of the day in a ventilated or air-conditioned area.
  • Wear as little clothing as possible when you are at home.
  • Rest or move about more slowly than normal – don’t rush to appointments.
  • Keep the bedroom temperature between 16°C (61°F) and 18°C (65 °F) – you will sleep more comfortably.
  • Wet towels and bottles of frozen water will help reduce room temperature.
  • To prevent the sun heating up the house, keep the blinds/curtains drawn.
  • Keep your metabolism steady by eating small, regular meals. Large portions increase metabolism and generate more body heat.

Anna from Winchester says “Avoid using the oven – it heats up the house.”

Out and about

If you do need to venture out in hot weather, try scheduling activities earlier or later in the day when the temperature is cooler.

It also helps if you:

  • Wear light-coloured, loose-fitting, breathable clothing made from natural fibres such as cotton.
  • Avoid synthetic fibres such as polyester that can make you sweat.
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat to provide shade and keep your head cool.
  • Keep to shady places such as a shopping mall or library.

Sarah from Figheldean says “Dust your skin lightly with corn flour – it absorbs sweat and makes you feel more comfortable.”

Avoid sunscreen – it may contain harmful toxic ingredients, which can cause serious problems in the growth and sexual development of your growing baby. Check out the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org) guide to sunscreens that are chemical-free.

Stay hydrated

Due to hormonal changes, an increase in blood supply to the skin, and a slightly higher temperature in pregnancy, you are likely to sweat more and lose vital fluids. It is important to stay hydrated.

  • Drink more water than usual so that you never become thirsty. A glass of water every 30 minutes or so will prevent dehydration.
  • Avoid salty foods, which retain water and increase blood pressure.
  • Drink cool, non-alcoholic beverages.
  • Eat ice cubes and keep trays stocked up in the freezer.
  • Avoid drinks with large amounts of caffeine such as tea, coffee, chocolate, and energy drinks.

Restrict caffeine intake to 200mg or less daily during pregnancy. High levels of caffeine can lead to low birth weight and may even cause miscarriage. Some ingredients in energy drinks are considered safe in moderation, while others are potentially harmful to your growing baby. Energy drinks can have as much as 200mg of caffeine per serving.

Stay cool

 A fan can cool you down and circulate air around the room, but don’trely on it as your primary cooling device during a heatwave. A cool shower, bath or sponge bath is a much better way to keep cool.

  • Wash frequently to help you feel fresh.
  • Sit in a cold paddling pool.
  • Place a cool, damp flannel on your pulse points.
  • Wrap a tea towel soaked in cold water around your feet at night.
  • Mist yourself with cold water or spray from a garden hose.

Vicky from Salisbury says “I stick my feet in a bowl of cold water. It is so refreshing!”

 Stay safe

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Strong, rapid pulse.
  • Extreme weakness or fatigue
  • Throbbing headache.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nausea.
  • Confusion.
  • Muscle cramps.
  • Elevated body temperature.
  • Fast and shallow breathing.

Your growing baby

The sun itself will not hurt your growing baby, but it may cause problems if your body temperature rises or you become dehydrated. If you become uncomfortable in the sun, find a cool area or seek an air-conditioned environment, rehydrate, and rest.

By Dr. Lin Day (www.babysensory.com)

Breastfeeding Information

The best preparation for breastfeeding is good information. The more information you have about breastfeeding before the birth, the less likely you are to encounter problems.

After the birth, a family member, midwife or NCT lactation expert who offers positive support can help you to succeed.

If problems do occur, there are ways to overcome them. Here’s how:

  • Start breastfeeding as soon as possible after delivery.
  • Feed your baby frequently to promote milk production.
  • Pump your breasts during and between feeds to increase milk supply. Milk can be pumped from one breast while your baby feeds on the other breast.
  • If your breasts are very full, express some foremilk before feeding to stimulate the let-down reflex and to elongate the nipple in readiness for latch-on.
  • When positioning to nurse, hold your baby so that her whole body faces you. Your baby should not have to turn her head to nurse.
  • Cradle your baby close to the breast, but avoid leaning over.
  • Use a nursing cushion to help support your baby.

Failure to latch on to the breast is a common problem, but the following can be really helpful:

  • Trigger the let-down release through skin-to-skin contact.
  • Offer a clean finger to encourage your baby to drop her tongue down before latching on to the nipple.
  • Try different nursing positions.
  • Smear your nipple with breast milk.
  • Apply a cold pack to your nipple to harden it slightly before feeding.
  • Compress your breast towards your chest (about 1½ inches (3.8 cm) from the base of the nipple) to make the nipple firmer. When your baby is sucking well, slowly release the pressure.
  • Talk, rub or pat your baby to maintain wakefulness.
  • Nurse your baby in a warm bath.

Listen out for clicking sounds, which may suggest inadequate attachment to the breast and/or improper sucking.

If normal movement of the tongue is affected, or your baby’s tongue is tethered to the floor of the mouth, she may have difficulty in attaching properly to the breast. See your healthcare professional or cranial osteopath if feeding is affected.

 Correct latch-on

  • Your baby’s top lip should rest just above your nipple, generally leaving the upper part of the areola exposed.
  • Invite your baby to take the nipple rather than forcing it into her mouth.
  • Ensure that your nipple gets to the roof of your baby’s mouth. If it only reaches the gum line, then latch-on is incomplete and may cause soreness.
  • Your baby’s chin should touch your breast, but not her nose.
  • If you experience a pinching or biting sensation on your nipple or breastfeeding hurts, your baby may not have latched on correctly.

General tips

If your baby repeatedly falls asleep at the breast, gently tickling her feet, undressing, nappy changing, rocking or walking may keep her alert.

If your baby is not strong enough to latch on to the nipple, offer expressed breast milk from a bottle or sterilized dropper, until she is ready to breastfeed.

If your baby has lost weight, wake her every 2 or 3 hours until the birth-weight milestone is reached.

Only offer a dummy or pacifier when breastfeeding is fully established and weight gain steady.

Give yourself and your baby time to enjoy feeding, skin-to-skin contact intimacy, and eye contact. Anxiety can make your baby tense. A dark, quiet, and comfortable place to relax or a warm bath with your baby aids breastfeeding. Rest or sleep when your baby sleeps.

If your baby’s head was compressed during the birth process, there may be tension on the nerves and muscles of the lips, mouth, and tongue or other areas of the body. Any imbalance will make it difficult for your baby to trough the tongue, maintain a seal around the nipple, or milk the breast during feeding. Early cranial osteopathic treatment can reduce facial tension and help alleviate feeding and latch-on problems.

20 Vital Facts for Mums-to-be

From the moment of conception through to the birth, the following may help you maximise your chances of having a brilliant pregnancy.

For example, did you know that?

  1. Food aversions in early pregnancy may prevent you from eating foods that contain harmful bacterial toxins, which can cross the placenta and affect the health of your developing baby.
  2. You are less likely to get morning sickness if you eat corn-based foods, which have low levels of potentially harmful toxins.
  3. Craving for chocolate may signal the need to consume more calcium or fat in your diet, whereas craving for sweet foods may suggest the need for glucose.
  4. Tea, coffee, chocolate, and energy drinks contain caffeine. High levels (above 200 mg) can lead to low birth weight, and may even cause miscarriage.
  5. Alcohol consumption can damage your baby’s brain and organs at any time during pregnancy. No amount is considered to be safe.
  6. Skincare products (including sunscreen) may contain harmful ingredients, which can enter your baby’s body through the amniotic fluid, and affect brain, organ and reproductive development.
  7. Organic coconut oil, which is completely safe for you and your growing baby, can reduce the occurrence and appearance of stretch marks.
  8. Recent studies suggest that the pain-killer Paracetamol may increase the risk of reproductive disorders in male babies if taken regularly during pregnancy.
  9. When painting your nails, use water-based, non-toxic nail colour. It is much safer than polish that contains fixing agents and solvents, which can cause birth defects.
  10. Powerful hormonal shifts during pregnancy can intensify the sense of smell and heavily influence your taste preferences and food choices.
  11. If you want to paint your baby’s nursery before the birth, avoid exposure to oil-based, enamel, latex and spray paints, which may contain lead. Even small amounts can severely damage the development of your baby’s brain.
  12. Regular hand washing, not sharing eating or drinking utensils or kissing infected individuals with cytomegalovirus, the virus that causes cold sores, can protect against stillbirth during the early stages of pregnancy.
  13. Most fat is deposited on the hips and thighs in weeks 14 to 28 to provide energy for labour and your developing baby, but almost no fat is stored in weeks 29 to 40.
  14. Extra calories are not needed for the first and second trimesters of pregnancy. It is only in the last 12 weeks that you need an extra 200 calories a day.
  15. In the later stages of pregnancy, your body retains more fluid, which can lead to swollen ankles and feet, and an increase in shoe size.
  16. The veins in your nose may swell in response to increased blood flow causing nasal congestion and nose bleeds, particularly in cold, dry weather.
  17. Fluid retention and downward pressure of the uterus compresses your bladder, leading to the need to use the loo more often.
  18. Omega-3 from oily fish is important to your baby’s brain development. If your diet is deficient in Omega-3, the essential fatty acid will be derived from your brain, which may account for memory loss and vagueness in your third trimester and after the birth (‘Baby brain syndrome’).
  19. Numerous studies show that contractions usually begin somewhere between midnight and 4 am in the morning. Estriol (oestrogen produced by the placenta) and oxytocin hormones peak at night causing the uterus to contract and the cervix to dilate.
  20. When labour starts, continuous walking or moving around may dilate the cervix and decrease the total amount of time spent in childbirth.

Whether you are expecting your first or your first baby, you will have lots of questions. Whatever the question, Baby Foundations (www.babysensory.com) can help you learn as much as possible about your pregnancy so that you are better prepared for the challenges ahead.

Cost-cutting Tips for New Parents

xpectant parents can spend thousands of pounds on baby clothes, toys and other essentials before the birth. However, as many experienced parents will know, most items can be obtained at little or no expense and without depriving babies of anything that they really need.

With help from friends and family, and a little creativity, new parents can get by on even the strictest budget. The following 20 top tips may save you a fortune:

  • Don’t buy a bigger car. All that you need is a back seat for your baby.
  • Aim to breast feed your baby. This is not only good for your baby, but it also saves money on formula milk and other sterilising gear.
  • Before buying baby clothes, toys and other items, invite your friends around for a baby shower. Keep the tags and receipts so that you can exchange unwanted gifts for things that you want or need.
  • Borrow the cot, pram, baby bath and other essential items from friends who have had babies.  Most will be more than willing to free up space in their homes. There is no need to buy a cot or high chair until your baby needs them.
  • Search out classified advertisements, car boot and NCT sales, charity shops and eBay.co.uk for toys, cots, prams and other large items. Most are in pristine condition and will cost a fraction of their original price.
  • Buy second-hand baby clothes. Because babies grow out of them so quickly, they are usually in mint condition.
  • Invest in reusable nappies. They are better for the environment and washing them in a machine is easy. If you decide not to use cloth nappies, chose biodegradable, sustainable disposables made from naturally derived materials such as maize. They are free from dyes and chemicals, and manufactured in a responsible manner that is mindful of the environment. Look out for the Nordic Eco-label. Buying them in bulk can save money and you may gain a few extras free.
  • There is no need to spend money on decorating your baby’s nursery. Within the next year or so, you will be redecorating it again. If you don’t want to miss out on the fun, choose a neutral colour and put up some bright pictures to visually stimulate your baby.
  • Cut and hem bed sheets for cot and pram bedding. As a general guide, a cot is half the size of a single bed and a pram is about a quarter the size.
  • Avoid buying things that you don’t need straight away. You could end up with items that you never use. Once your baby has arrived, you will probably find that friends and family have bought most of the things that you need anyway.
  • Look out for special offers, competitions and coupons online. There are plenty of sites that offer free baby things.
  • Avoid spending money on expensive baby toys. Safe household objects such as plastic measuring cups and spoons or a plastic spatula will provide just as much interest.
  • Draw black outlines of faces on white paper and laminate family photographs. After the birth, they will keep your baby stimulated, happy and entertained.
  • Use a dressing table as a changing area for your new baby. A soft blanket will serve as a changing pad and rubber underlay will keep it in place.
  • Make your own sling or baby pouch. There are plenty of sewing instructions that can be downloaded from the Internet.
  • There is no need to buy a baby bouncer or support seat. Your newborn baby will gain more benefit from lying face down on a soft blanket or quilt during supervised waking hours. Toys can be sewn along the sides for extra interest.
  • Make full use of the library for music and books and free story time for babies. The free Bookstart ‘Babies pack’ is available to babies in their first year, and can be obtained from healthcare professionals or local libraries.
  • Share your favourite music with your baby before and after the birth. It is well known that newborn babies are soothed by the sounds that they heard in utero.
  • To keep your baby clean, all that you need is a good supply of cotton wool and warm water. A large bowl or sink will be ideal for bathing your baby.

Safety

It is worth investing in a good quality car seat and cot mattress. You need to be completely sure that a second hand car seat has not been damaged in an accident and that the fixtures and inside are safe. If you know the history of a second hand cot mattress, and you are sure that it has been stored well, that it is firm and without marks or stains, it might be safe to use. However, if you are in any doubt, buy a new one.

A new breast pump is an essential purchase. A second hand pump may contain dangerous organisms from the previous user.

Check that the brakes on a second hand pushchair or pram work properly. They must meet the latest safety standards.

Check that second hand toys bear the CE or Lion mark and that they do not have finger traps, magnets, buttons, beads, small parts or sharp points that could present a serious hazard.  If the toy fits through a kitchen roll cylinder then it is not safe. Toys that have long cords should also be avoided, since they can cause strangulation.

Avoid buying second hand mains powered electrical items or clothes with a drawstring neck.
If you do have doubts about the safety of a second hand item, carry out an online search to be sure that it is not a recalled product.

Your Baby’s first Easter

Your baby may be too young to decorate a hard-boiled egg or go on an egg hunt, but there are still plenty of ways to make Easter an educational and enjoyable event. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Hide and seek
One of the best games to play with your baby is ‘peek-a-boo’ or ‘hide-and-seek’. It’s traditional, simple to organise, educational and lots of fun.

To develop your baby’s thinking, memory and hand-eye coordination skills, hide a plastic egg under a cloth or cup. Say “Where’s the egg?” If your baby is at the reaching and grasping stage, she will look for it, even though it is out of sight. From the age of nine months, your baby may deliberately prolong the fun by hiding the object for you to discover.

If you have a spare tissue box, fill it with Easter ribbons or brightly coloured fabrics. Your baby will delight in pulling out the materials one by one. She will also discover that when you put the materials back in the box, they continue to exist even though they are hidden from view.

Easter puppets

A rabbit puppet and a pop-up frog are wonderful hide and seek toys. They provide a wealth of learning opportunities from visual stimulation to speech and language development. They also encourage rich parent-baby interactions and the element of surprise that babies love so much.

Easter books

Three-dimensional books with large, brightly coloured illustrations, textured materials and hide-and-seek pictures that encourage interaction make great Easter presents for babies. Your baby may investigate the properties of a texture with her finger tips or turn the pages to discover something new. Your voice and facial expressions will capture your baby’s interest and attention and liven up her experience of the world. Best of all, your baby will enjoy cuddling up to you, which has a huge impact on her future learning and development. Research shows that babies who are regularly cuddled have bigger brains than babies who are deprived of close loving physical contact.

Easter treasure basket 

Line a shallow basket with a soft bunny blanket and fill it up with Easter-themed objects such as a plastic egg, a textured book, a soft toy rabbit, lamb or duck and a mealtime set. Include a toy that your baby can safely chew on.

When your baby explores the objects, she will find out about weight, size, shape, taste, smell, sound and temperature. Every time a new object is explored, highly sensitive nerve endings in the skin will send messages to her brain. In this way, information is collected that will lead to the later recognition of objects.

Easter songs

Focus on Easter songs such as ‘Peter Rabbit’ and ‘5 little Ducks’. Even if your baby cannot understand the words, she will enjoy the sound of your voice and your facial gestures and body movements. These time-honoured songs have a repetitive theme, which help to establish a sense of order (mathematical reasoning) and a sense of security. They also provide a powerful stimulus in terms of language and social development.

Easter games

A simple activity such as rolling a plastic egg across the floor will encourage a whole range of mobility skills as well as hand-eye coordination and sensory exploration. When your baby is a little older, you can sit on the floor and roll the egg back and forth or roll it down a slope for your baby to catch. An egg that makes playful sounds will provide an endless source of amusement and fun. Best of all, your quality interactions will make a huge difference to your baby’s emotional development and learning.

Nesting eggs

Towards the end of the first year, your baby will enjoy activities that encourage use of the pincer grip. A multi-coloured nesting egg set for example, provides a wonderful, educational opportunity. When your baby tries to nest the eggs, she will learn about size and space, which forms the foundation for mathematical and spatial awareness. These skills will stand her in good stead for the future.

Easter outing

The spring air provides the perfect opportunity to tantalise your baby’s sense of smell. The fragrance of flowers, cut grass, new leaves growing and the smell of rain will help your baby learn about the world. Fresh air contains high levels of negative ions that can have a positive impact on your baby’s health and brain function. Sunlight provides Vitamin D that your baby needs to grow strong, healthy bones and offers protection from a number of common ailments and disorders.

Activities that the whole family can enjoy together might include a visit to the river or pond to see the ducklings, a trip to a farm to see the baby animals or the excitement of an Easter party, which includes relatives and close friends. Avoid dressing up as the ‘Easter Bunny’ since the costume might unsettle or even frighten your baby.

Capture the occasion

To mark the occasion, dress your baby in an Easter-themed outfit. Your baby will look adorable in a bunny costume. Capture the moment on camera. A photograph will provide a fond memory of your baby’s first Easter for many years to come.

Further reading:

Day RL (2012) Bringing Easter to life. Early Years Educator 13 (12): 23-25.

Music and Prenatal Bonding

Research shows that exposing the foetus to music early on can make a dramatic difference to the development of the prenatal brain and the bonding process before and after the birth.

At what week of gestation does a baby start to hear?

The structural parts of the ear develop in the first 20 weeks of gestation. The auditory part of the brain becomes functional at about 25 weeks gestation (second trimester) and continues to develop up to 6 months after the birth. During the second trimester, the foetus responds with rhythmic swimming or kicking movements to sounds from the outside environment. From 32 weeks gestation, the foetus responds to the mother’s voice and to the pitch and pattern of a simple melody. In the last trimester, the auditory pathways become increasing refined and the foetus responds with sensitivity to new sounds and rhythms. At full-term, the sense of hearing is remarkably well developed, which enables the baby to process auditory information from the moment of birth.

What sort of music should you play to your unborn baby?

During early pregnancy, low sounds with pitch or frequency around middle C, such as the mother’s voice and classical music penetrate the womb more easily than higher frequencies. At 30 to 40 weeks’ gestation, the baby’s hearing will be fine-tuned to distinguish between sounds that vary in frequency from rock and roll music, to pop, jazz and swing. The choice of music depends entirely on the mother’s taste, but excessively loud noises can induce hearing loss and other health effects.

Note: during pregnancy, head phones must never be placed on the mother’s abdomen. Sound at 60 dB (sound pressure measured in decibels) will be heard by the foetus at 120 dB. Exposure at this level will destroy hair cells in the inner ear and significantly interfere with auditory development.

Do babies recognise certain tunes?

Foetal studies show that the theme tune of a TV programme played regularly during pregnancy reinforces functional memory. When played after the birth, babies stop crying, open their eyes and relax their muscles. Their heart rate also decreases on hearing the same tune. This is why white noise, which imitates the ‘shish’ sound that the foetus hears constantly in the womb, is particularly comforting to the newborn.

The earliest response to a familiar tune has been demonstrated at 22-23 weeks of gestational age and seems to occur earlier in females than in males. At 37 weeks of gestation, the foetus shows a significant increase in movements on hearing a familiar tune. However, when exposed to a strange voice, rhythm or tone, the foetal heartbeat increases. This indicates that learning and memory ability occurs before birth.

How does playing music benefit your unborn baby? 

Recent research demonstrates that musical capabilities are found in infants who have been exposed to music during foetal life. When a tune is played regularly, the foetus forms a memory of the sound patterns that echo through the womb, which may be retained for several weeks after the birth. Classical music, lullabies and songs that mimic the mother’s heart rate of 60 beats per second, will have an immediate and calming effect on the foetus. Music with a strong beat may speed up the baby’s heart rate and kicking may become more vigorous. As suggested above, excessively loud external noises should be avoided since these can be detrimental to the baby’s hearing.

Are there any benefits for the mother?

Elevated levels of stress during pregnancy are associated with maternal complications such as pre-eclampsia (pregnancy induced hypertension), premature birth and sleep disorders. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that music has a powerful anti-stress effect on the mother. Slow paced notes can elevate mood, reduce high blood pressure and make the process of labour a more enjoyable experience. Listening to a soothing piece of music can provide an opportunity for the mother to unwind and put her feet up, which also has a positive effect on the foetus. When the mother is calm and relaxed, the rhythmic motion of her breathing slows down foetal heart rate and reduces any potentially harmful effects to the baby’s brain and overall development.

How can music help a mum bond with her unborn baby?

Early listening to music can create an environment in which the mother and her unborn baby feel relaxed and peaceful together. Rocking or swaying to music for example, can synchronise maternal and foetal movements and promote the development of an attachment bond. If the mother talks, sings or reads to her baby, the foetus will turn in the direction of her voice. Turn-taking is a fundamental advancement in communication between the mother and her unborn baby. Such early interaction plays a vital role in the bonding process when mother and baby meet for the first time.

Further reading

Day RL (2008) Babies are so clever. Early Years Educator 9 (9): 24-26.

Confinement

In the 19th century, pregnancy and childbirth were the main causes of death in women. It is hardly any wonder that Victorian women were frightened at the thought of being pregnant!

To protect them from ill health, women were deterred from leaving their homes during the final stages of pregnancy. Exercise, walking or moving about, were discouraged to prevent muscle weakening. Bathing was disapproved of and sex was strictly forbidden. The ideal confinement involved lying on the back in bed covered with blankets. The curtains were drawn, or the windows were guarded with shutters, to exclude fresh air. Diet consisted of tea and other warm liquids and very little solid food. All these factors increased the risk of mortality during childbirth.

There is no evidence to suggest that confinement reduces the incidence of maternal mortality. In fact, regular bathing ensures good personal hygiene and it reduces the incidence of skin infection. Exercise increases blood flow to the uterus and it aids postpartum recovery. A well-balanced diet ensures adequate nutrition for the mother and the baby. An afternoon nap or walk in the fresh air can help to recharge batteries. Thankfully, modern mums find confinement practices too old-fashioned and restrictive!

Dads and Bonding

What are the benefits for baby of dad getting ‘hands on’ and bonding from day one?

Fathers, who are involved with the pregnancy, hold their babies close or skin-to-skin contact immediately after the birth, and share routine activities with the mother such as feeding and changing, bathing and bedtime have a better chance of bonding with them. The most important factor in creating attachment is close physical contact.

Fathers who devote quality time to their babies and respond sensitively to their needs give them a far greater chance of becoming confident, optimistic, motivated, healthy children. The father’s attention, warmth, and affection can also have a major influence on their emotional and social well-being and academic achievement in later life. Therefore, it is essential for dads to spend time with their babies from the very beginning. Dads also develop lifelong bonds with their babies that cannot be formed in any other way.

Is it true that it’s chemically bonding and stress reducing for the father to spend time with his baby?

Close physical contact is the simplest and most effective way for fathers to chemically bond with their babies. Cuddling, skin-to-skin contact and massage releases oxytocin, a hormone that reduces stress and heightens his feelings towards his baby. Oxytocin has been called the ‘bonding’ hormone for its role in facilitating pair-bonding and long-term attachment. It can cause permanent beneficial brain changes in both the father and the baby.

Frequent proximity and touch between the father and baby can stimulate a surge of opioids (pleasure hormones), which act as buffers against stress. Opioid release in the baby can also be promoted by the smell of his aftershave, his voice and facial expressions and his hugs and kisses. Quality interactions with the baby also increase production of the hormone vasopressin, which promotes bonding and increases the father’s drive to stay at home with his family. For this reason, it is often described as the ‘monogamy’ hormone.

Do dads bond or play with babies differently to mums?

 

Mothers and fathers bring different strengths and styles to their parenting roles. Both roles complement each other and are important for the healthy development of the baby. For example, dads may encourage physical skills such as crawling, climbing and walking and provide stimulating interaction such as tickling and teasing. Mothers however, are more likely to offer comfort and protection from harm, which offers reassurance and security. The father’s style of talking may also be more brief and directive than the mother’s, whose language may be softer and more descriptive. Both styles of interaction are critical for development.

Studies have shown that girls who grow up with a loving, involved father are more likely to have healthy and emotionally balanced relationships with males in later life. Boys who grow up with a loving, involved father are more likely to behave less aggressively because they have been shown how to channel their masculinity in positive ways.

 

Babies who have benefited from paternal interactions from an early age get on better with their peers, are academically more successful, stay in school longer, use drugs and alcohol less frequently and are less likely to get involved with crime. They may also be better equipped socially and psychologically than children who receive very little attention from their fathers.

Some dads claims babies are a bit ‘boring’ or don’t really do anything at the early stage. What can dads do to enhance their baby’s development and make play fun?

Research consistently shows that the quality and content of involvement is far more important than the quantity of time that dads spend with their babies. Through quality interactions, dads can develop a special relationship with their babies and provide rich opportunities for learning and development.

Dads can add to baby development in a unique, fun and important way. For example, they can encourage exploratory skills by building mountains with pillows and by making dens and tunnels with boxes. Dads can also channel their own and their baby’s energies by engaging in musical activities with pots, pans and wooden spoons and through rough-housing activities such as tickling, bouncing and lifting them up into the air.

Dads can expand their baby’s horizons by playing with toys in non-traditional ways. For example, they can put a toy on their head, play peek-a-boo with the newspaper or throw a cushion instead of sitting on it. Dads can show their babies how a new toy works or get involved in activities such as rolling a ball back and forth.

Other types of play that dads enjoy might include a trip to the zoo or the beach, taking their babies swimming or to the park, going on a nature walk and involving them in outside activities such as sweeping up leaves, watering plants and going on a night time adventure with a flashlight. Babies also know that dads are fun to be with.

For the dad who finds it difficult to know what to say, reading a sporting or gardening magazine provides a wonderful opportunity for babies to cuddle close, to look at the pictures and to listen to the sound of his voice.

What are the positive or even down sides of paternal bonding?

Fathers are just as essential to healthy child development as mothers. However, the key factor in the father’s level of paternal involvement is the mother’s attitude about his competence in care-giving and comfort. Her willingness to share the care of the baby is the most important factor in determining his future involvement.

Further reading

Day RL (2008) Forming a loving bond. Early Years Educator 10 (2): 32-34.

Day RL (2008) Gender differences. Early Years Educator 10 (7): 28-30.

Day RL (2009) Fathers in childcare. Early Years Educator 11 (3): 37-39.

Day RL (2010) Universal play for babies. Early Years Educator11 (12): 48-50.

What’s in a Nappy Wipe?

If your baby suffers from nappy rash, eczema, dermatitis or allergies, anti-bacterial preservative methylisothiazolinone may be the culprit. If used on your baby’s face, the preservative can cause itchy eyes and facial swelling. In 2013, the American Contact Dermatitis Society identified the chemical as the ‘Allergen of the Year’.

Due to increasing health concerns, many manufacturers of nappy wipes are under serious pressure to remove methylisothiazolinone from their products. The problem is that even if the chemical is removed, other preservatives that prevent the growth of bacteria will be included.

In addition to methylisothiazolinone, nappy wipes may contain methylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, propylparaben or other ingredients ending with ‘parben’. These preservatives can affect reproductive development and damage organs when absorbed through your baby’s skin.

While nappy wipes are super-convenient for cleaning up after your baby, the following alternatives are much safer:

  • Cotton balls dipped in warm water.
  • Wet paper towels or tissues.
  • Washable terry towelling, fleecy cotton or flannel squares moistened with water.
  • Washed nappy wipes.

If you find nappy wipes too convenient to resist, only use them for travelling, and dispose of them in a waste bin. Alternatively, take a small bottle of water with you, tissues, towels or cotton wool.

Environmental concerns

Although it is the effect on babies that concerns us most, the Daily Mail ‘How wet wipes are destroying the planet’ (20th March 2015), reported that wipes, including ‘flushable’ and ‘biodegradable’ ones tossed down the loo, can block sewage pipes and cause raw sewage to flood into nearby homes, gardens and parks. Wipes can also float about in the seas for years endangering marine life before reaching the coastline. The Marine Conservation Society said that volunteers pick up them up at a rate of 35 wipes per kilometre. Wipes are currently the fastest growing cause of pollution on UK beaches.

According to the market analysts Euromonitor, between 1,500 and 2,250 nappy wipes are used per child from birth until age three in the UK alone.  When they end up in landfill sites, the synthetic fibres can take a hundred or more years to break down. In septic tanks, the chemicals and preservatives can kill beneficial bacteria and enzymes, which break down solid waste.

Washable, chlorine-free cloths or reusable wipes are much safer for your baby. They don’t contain any harsh chemicals or preservatives. They are also biodegradable and they don’t leave a footprint on the planet.

If you are set on the disposable route, wash the chemicals out under warm running water before use. If the wipes are not soiled, they can be rinsed through the washing machine, dried and stored in a plastic tub until needed.

Further reading

Day RL (2008). The chemical evolution. Early Years Educator 10 (4): 24-26.

Day RL (2010). Chemical evolution 2. Early Years Educator 11 (7): 31-33.