Your health:

Home monitors for babies?

An expert has spoken out about wearable baby monitors - designed to track a baby's vital signs.

These are now being sold in the US, but have not yet reached the UK. They come in different forms, such as a sock that the baby wears which measures heart rate, oxygen concentrations, and skin temperature, or a babygrow that measures breathing rate and temperature.

Many companies are "aiming to capitalise on this market", says Dr David King of Sheffield University, UK.

He writes in the British Medical Journal that similar products were on sale in the 1980s and 1990s aimed at preventing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). But "unfortunately epidemiological studies showed that such devices had no effect on the incidence of SIDS in healthy infants". He adds that home monitoring may be justified in some situations, such as for preterm infants or infants who need oxygen, in which case training should also be given.

Dr King points out that the companies that sell the new monitors have adapted their products to avoid the need for regulatory approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. "No published data support any of their claims," he warns, and until they are, "medical professionals and consumers need to be aware that such devices have no proved use in safeguarding infants or detecting health problems, and they certainly have no role in preventing SIDS".

Otherwise, "the substantial amounts of money that parents pay for such devices might lull them into a false sense of security".

I certainly hope that health care professionals would not start recommending these products to parents, with such an appalling lack of evidence.

 In terms of SIDS, information is routinely given out on proven methods to reduce the risk, such as putting the baby to sleep on its back, and avoiding

King, D. Marketing wearable home baby monitors: real peace of mind? BMJ 18 November 2014 doi: 10.1136/bmj.g6639

Lifestyle support vital in pregnancy

Pregnant women must be some of the most heavily-leafleted people in the country! I've kept most of mine - well over a dozen each time - for interest and posterity. I actually did find them useful and think they're a central part of maternity care.

However, they made me nervous on occasion, such as the run-up to my 20 week anomaly scan. At least afterwards it was a relief to look at the list, and think "He probably hasn't got z, y, or z".

But if I'd been obese, or a smoker, or didn't want to breastfeed, it might have been a different story.

New patient information has just been released by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on the risk of having a small baby, that is, in the lightest 10% of babies.

Sometimes this size is perfectly healthy, but other babies may have experienced growth restriction in the womb and be at risk of stillbirth, death as a newborn, or serious illness.

Many of the causes are unavoidable, but as is usually the case, lifestyle factors are thought to play a role: smoking, drug use, eating badly, and in this case over-exercising rather than under-exercising.

"The guidance emphasises the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy in order to help reduce the risk of having a growth restricted baby," say the leaflet's authors.

In my experience midwives do their very best to support this sort of lifestyle change, but often the services they can provide are limited by lack of time and funding. The new information states that women who are at an increased risk of having a growth restricted baby will be offered extra monitoring throughout pregnancy.

I just hope the resources are available so midwives are able to follow these guidelines in practice.

by Kate Richards

Eating in pregnancy - experts release summary leaflet

Eating advice for pregnant women
I read with interest the new advice for pregnant women released by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. It covers healthy eating, supplements, and how to avoid contaminated food in pregnancy.

The leaflet repeats all the usual standard dietary advice - low fat, high grain - some of which is being questioned in recent studies, and also recommends limiting caffeine to 200 milligrams a day, about two mugs of instant coffee.

It also states that "most women do not need any extra calories during the first six months of pregnancy".

Well I'm sure that's true but when faced with an urgent craving for smoky bacon crisps (as in my case), the official advice can get slightly sidelined!

Eating fish is good, but too much oily fish can risk a high intake of mercury which may affect the baby's development. Shark, swordfish and marlin are out altogether, for this reason. No great loss there then.

Liver and liver pate are also ruled out, which I think is a little extreme. However, they are rich in vitamin A, which in high doses can harm the baby's nervous system.

Peanuts can be eaten freely, as the earlier advice to avoid them in order to prevent an allergy has been discredited.

On the unpleasant topic of food poisoning, the advice is to drink only pasteurised milk, avoid ripened soft cheese -
such as brie, raw eggs and raw shellfish, and cook food thoroughly. The normal food hygiene rules such as hand washing are obviously important.

Folic acid tablets (400 micrograms a day) are recommended to cut the risk of spina bifida, and vitamin D (10 micrograms) is now recommended for all pregnant and breastfeeding women.

The leaflet is a good summary of the current official advice, and may put some of the many myths in this area to rest.

by Kate Richards

#theapprentice is back

The Apprentice is back on British TV - and it's been given a long overdue shake-up.

We've always liked the show because it shows women achieving in real life situations. It shows the future world in which women and men compete equally in business.

This year there's more contestants and there's more firing. Tonight Lord Sugar wasted no time in firing one of the blokes - and the lad didn't even get a chance to return to the boardroom.

There's also more imaginative tasks. Combining fashion with technology was a stroke of genius. The ideas that emerged were uninspiring and failed to inspire any retailers. That's enough to make you wonder if there are any business geniuses amongst the hordes of entrants. A wasted opportunity.

For two nights, the women's team has won. There's no obvious stars emerging yet. Both Sarah and Nurun stumbled through the task of leadership - and Sarah's over-controlling leadership on the first night was in stark contrast to Felipe's highly-praised management of the men's team. But the women won. Individually they were focused on getting the job done.

In "You're Fired" Ruth Badger was invited back on and named as the most successful Apprentice yet.

This year we're now predicting another woman to win. A couple of years ago the women were disastrous - but the women this time clearly have some backbone somewhere.

Let's see if we're right.

Award for brave woman at the heart of conflict over rights

Today, Monday 6th October, RAW in WAR (Reach All Women in WAR) celebrates the courage of Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi Parliament, who has courageously spoken out and tirelessly campaigned to protect the Yazidi people from the terror of Islamic State.

Ahead of the anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya’s murder on Tuesday 7th October, RAW in WAR honours Vian Dakhil with the 2014 Anna Politkovskaya Award for her courage to speak out and to give a voice to
the many Yazidi and Iraqi women and girls whose voices cannot be heard.

Vian Dakhil, the only ethnic Yazidi in the Iraqi Parliament, has bravely drawn attention to the fate of the Yazidi people and, despite being injured in a helicopter crash while delivering aid to survivors on Mt Sinjar, she continues to advocate and to mobilize support for her people, for the refugees and for those trapped in towns and villages under the regime of Islamic State.

On accepting the award Vian Dakhil said: “It is a pleasure for anyone to be honored with an award, but it is rare to see a Yazidi person who can feel happy from the bottom of their heart, due to the fact that our girls, women and children are in captivity as hostages of the most dangerous organization in the world. I make no
secret of the fact that I’m proud to be honored with your esteemed award, but the real way to honor someone is by protecting their freedom and rights. It is by bringing our prisoners back.”

A spokewoman said: "The RAW in WAR Nominations Committee for the 2014 Anna Politkovskaya Award is deeply humbled by Vian Dakhil's  courage to become the voice of the Yazidi community and by her determination  to campaign for the protection of all Yazidi and other Iraqi women under Islamic State, despite the danger she is facing as a Yazidi woman politician opposed  to Islamic State. "

According to some reports, among those held hostage by Islamic State there are more than 5,000 Yazidis, about 3,000 of them women and girls. Those who managed to flee report about women and girls being raped and abused, forced to convert to Islam and traded for cash or weapons for the further expansion of Islamic State.

In her passionate call to the Iraqi Parliament in August 2014 to act and save the Yazidis, Vian Dakhil said:
“My family is being butchered, just like all Iraqis are being killed....And today, the Yazidis are being slaughtered. Brothers, away from all the political disputes, we want humanitarian solidarity. I am speaking here in the name of humanity. Save us! Save us! ....For 48 hours, 30,000 families have been besieged in the Sinjar Mountains. Without water. Without food. They are dying. Seventy babies have died so far from thirst and suffocation. Fifty elderly people have died from the deteriorating conditions. Our women are being taken as slaves and sold in the slave markets. Mr Speaker, we demand that the Iraqi parliament intervenes
immediately to stop this massacre!”

Several courageous women lawyers, politicians and journalists in Iraq have been detained, disappeared or killed by Islamic State just because they were women who refused to be silenced or who dared to criticize the regime of terror. Vian Dakhil continues to use her status and influence as a politician to support and protect those women and girls who lack the means to reach out to the outside world.

By presenting Vian Dakhil with this year’s Anna Politkovskaya Award, RAW in WAR honors all women in Iraq, those detained in Mosul or elsewhere in the North, as well as the many unknown Iraqi women who are
resisting Islamic State by recording life under its rule and by collecting money and humanitarian aid for those in need. Today RAW in WAR calls on the international community to do all in its power to protect the people
of Iraq from the genocidal warfare that has been unleashed against the Yazidis and other minorities; to protect the women targeted by Islamic State; to end the regime of terror; and to bring stability and peace to the region.

On receiving the Anna Politkovskaya Award, Vian Dakhil will join a group of remarkable women human rights defenders who received the Anna Politkovskaya Award in the past, including Malala Yousafzai (2013), Marie Colvin (2012), Razan Zaitouneh (2011), Dr. Halima Bashir (2010), Leila Alikarami on behalf of the One Million Signatures Campaign for Equality in Iran (2009), Malalai Joya (2008) and Natalia Estemirova (2007).

On the Anna Politkovskaya Awards, Azar Nafisi, author, “Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books”, said: “It’s quite extraordinary, as well as natural, that we should celebrate the work of Anna through celebrating other courageous women who come from such different nations, backgrounds, and speak different languages but all share a common language in their desire for freedom. Not just for
themselves but for all victims of oppression.”

Additives and my child's behaviour

Child with attitude - photo is of a model
Could food additives be affecting my son's state of mind and behaviour? It's a frightening thought, but having read up a little, I'm concerned about the impact of junk food even beyond its hopeless nutritional value.

It began last weekend when Ben spent an hour or so acting very out of character. Unlike a temper tantrum, he didn't seem angry, but was pretty much out of control. Almost like being drunk, but with a three year old's energy! After a while it transpired that he'd been given (by my husband) a shop-bought cupcake with "very fake looking" icing.

Screen time

I've been thinking lately about the issue of screen time for the boys, as I've noticed Ben trying to process everything he sees by asking endless questions or acting out different characters.

Worryingly, studies of brain scans suggest that 'Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain'. So-called 'screen addicted' brains show several changes in the regions involving emotions, attention and decision making.

I don't really think my boys qualify for 'addicted', but might the screen time they have - not just the tv, but games on my laptop and phone - be creating subtle damage?

A 2010 study claims that the average child clocks up more than seven hours of screen time a day (far more than my boys), and may experience sensory overload, lack of sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system.

Family holidays 'not worth it'?

I'm not in the least bit surprised by recent survey results showing that most parents find holidays too stressful to bother with.

The survey, by bottle sterilising company Milton, shows that the majority (81%) of parents have not had a holiday on their own since their first baby. Of the remaining 19% who have been on a holiday as a couple, 62% have only done so once.

We actually had our first ever night away from the boys recently, nearly four years in. Even then we were away from them less than 24 hours, and no further than five miles away. Though now we know they're happy at Granny's we'll certainly take advantage!

Our one and only holiday with the boys since James arrived (19 months ago) was a challenge. It reminded me of the saying "You know you're a parent when holidays feel like work, and a trip to the supermarket alone feels like a holiday".

I'm actually a bit surprised that only 38% of parents try to keep to their baby or child's sleep and mealtime routine while on holiday, because all hell can break loose if they're overtired or hungry. We planned that trip specifically to stay close to family who could babysit. I'd be nervous to use holiday kids' clubs or childminders, especially as the boys are so young. In the survey, three-quarters of parents said they'd refuse to use a babysitting service in the evening. Only 10% use creche facilities, and even then, 30% say they feel guilty about doing so.

Some parents decided to come home early because of the stress of being with their baby and/or children. How devastating, after looking forward to it. For the next few years, I think we'll stay part of the 25% of parents who decided not to have a family holiday at all.

by Kate Richards

Measuring up to Preschool expectations

Ben has now been at preschool for 12 hours a week since September, and overall has made huge progress. I don't have any concerns about him (all his little "quirks" turn out just to be phases) but he's a different little boy when there are expectations placed on him and he doesn't have constant one-to-one attention from an adult.

Under the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework, it is hoped that children will become ready to start school. Luckily Ben's going to be old for his school year and has well over a year left before starting reception.
I say luckily because, um, Ben's not quite what you'd call a "joiner-inner" yet. He's not naughty at all, but just likes to do his own thing so is often very resistant to changing activities when the times comes for playing outside, storytime, or what have you.

So according to the EYFS, he's doing well on their "prime areas" of communication and language, physical development, and to some extent personal, social and emotional development. He's keen to play with the other children, happily joining in or initiating games. But less keen to do what he's told. Oh dear.

In terms of the remaining EYFS areas, he's great at "understanding the world", and knows his numbers and some letters, but is very reluctant to draw, paint or try writing. The problem is that he's too aware of how it ought to look, so won't just muck in and have a go because he knows he can't do it perfectly. I may start encouraging him to practise at home when no-one's looking, and see if that works.

Ben's preschool is great and the teachers have been so patient with him. I feel confident that together we'll manage to iron out these issues in time. How lucky that he was a September baby!

by Kate Richards

Baby blog - Toilet training success

Finally Ben has conquered the toilet! We attempted potty training a good six months ago, when he'd just turned three, but he wasn't keen (to say the least). We tried everything we could think of, including special Thomas the Tank Engine pants, various potty training books, bribery, etc.

On several occasions we decided "this is it now, no more nappies" then the sheer number of accidents drove us back. It also had a negative effect on Ben, as was aware he was doing something wrong, and it became the main focus.

But amazingly, he's just decided that using the toilet is what he wants to do, and hasn't had an accident for nearly a week! I'm over the moon, as all of his friends had been in pants for months and I was getting concerned there was something wrong.

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