Posted by Claudia Grazioso on June 4, 2012
First, this news should not scare anyone off. Every friend I have who has undergone in vitro fertilization (and there are a lot of them) has gone on to have wonderful, healthy children. In fact, medical experts agree that the overwhelming majority of children conceived using reproductive assistance will be fine. But if you are considering IVF, there is a new study that you might want to be aware of.
A recent study shows that babies born as a result of a certain kind of IVF have a 10 percent chance of being born with birth defects. This procedure is called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection. Bluntly, instead of just putting sperm and eggs in a petri dish and letting them do their thing, ICSI involves taking a sperm and actually injecting it into an egg. ICSI is frequently used when male infertility is a factor, but some fertility clinics also use it more frequently as it raises the chances of making more viable embryos. The problem is that this procedure seems to be linked to a higher risk for serious birth defects like spinal problems, urinary tract defects, heart and limb defects and cleft palate. Though these results can be disconcerting, it’s important to remember that the risk for birth defects with ICSI is only slightly higher than the risk associated with children conceived naturally.
Since the study is so new, there are no conclusive answers for why the increased risk is there. But some doctors theorize that with ICSI, sperm that is deficient to begin with is, in effect, being forced to conceive. Also, researchers have also observed an increased risk of birth defects in children whose mothers suffered from infertility to begin with. Finally, most people who seek out IVF are older parents who are also already at a slightly elevated risk for complications. All of these are factors to consider when looking at the results from this new study.
If you are considering or currently undergoing IVF, talk with doctor about any concerns you have, but remember: The vast majority of children born with the help of fertility treatments are just fine.
Posted by Deborah Pujoue on June 1, 2012
It’s the time of year that inevitably brings us all out of hiding after a long winter. Summer is the season that forces us all to think harder about the sunscreen we use while romping on the beach and bringing our little ones to the park. The FDA recently upgraded the sunscreen regulations after decades of waiting, which should help us make better decisions about which sunblock is best for use in various situations.
For those vigilant moms and dads that aren’t in the know, the FDA will now force sunscreen manufacturers to test their products to see how effective they will be against fighting skin cancer (not just sunburns). Manufacturers will also be forced to better describe how well the product blocks against UVB rays — you know, in a way that we can actually understand. Under these new regulations, sunscreens that don’t protect against both UVB rays and the sun in general (example marked as lower than SPF 15) will include a warning that reads: “This product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.”
“The FDA has evaluated the data and developed testing and labeling requirements for sunscreen products, so that manufacturers can modernize their product information and consumers can be well-informed on which products offer the greatest benefit,” said Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research in a press release. “These changes to sunscreen labels are an important part of helping consumers have the information they need so they can choose the right sun protection for themselves and their families.”
The FDA is even getting rid of manufacturer claims that state that a sunscreen is waterproof or sweatproof since that has been deemed as a lie about how well the product performs. (Hmmm… good to know. I actually believed that.)
So what does this really mean for the sun-loving family? Basically, you will want to look for sunscreens that are listed as “Broad Spectrum” because it protects you against both UVA and UVB rays. That is much simpler than trying to wade through all of the products on the shelves.
Posted by Claudia Grazioso on May 31, 2012
Last week I was heading into a meeting when my cell phone rang. It was our school, telling me my kindergartener had fallen off the monkey bars. I asked to speak to my daughter, and she sounded as cheerful as ever. I was about to write it off as a “just a childhood bump or two,” but then I asked her how she landed. In her sweet voice, she said matter-of-factly, “On my face.” Then she said that her neck kind of hurt, and her eyes hurt too. That’s when I stopped dead in my tracks and called the pediatrician.
It turns out that her neck and head were fine, and that her eyes hurt because she had indeed face planted into the protective wood chip covering under the play structure resulting in some dust in her eyes. She was fine, but another parent at the school who heard about her fall asked me, “Do you think it’s time to get rid of the monkey bars?” I was torn. Monkey bars are a staple of a playground. We had them at my elementary school when I was a kid and our “protective covering” was asphalt. Somehow we all lived (at least, I think we did). Still, I do recall a few accidents on the monkey bars at school, some that resulted in broken arms. So how safe are they?
As it turns out, tumbling from the monkey bars is the leading cause of playground injuries. In fact, the National Safety Council has stated that the “number of injuries caused by monkey bars is so significant that many experts recommend they be removed.” While I’m concerned about safety, I don’t know that I’d go that far — yet. Monkey bars help build strength and dexterity, and in a nation increasingly full of young couch potatoes, that’s no small contribution. So before removing them, we should explore ways to make them safer.
First, the Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends that at least nine inches of protective, resilient surface beneath the bars is necessary to prevent traumatic head injuries. So if your school has monkey bars, ask about that protective surface underneath. Also, younger children have a higher center of gravity, which means when they fall they tend to tip over and fall headfirst. Not good. Younger kids — kids under age seven — also don’t usually have the upper body strength to get across the full set of monkey bars consistently. If you have monkey bars at your elementary school, consider asking that there be adults present to act as spotters when the younger kids use the monkey bars. Finally, younger kids need smaller equipment: no higher than sixty inches. And then maybe we can all relax and let the kids enjoy the playground.
Posted by Claudia Grazioso on May 30, 2012
Our family likes to travel. Rather, we like to be in and experience new places. What we don’t like is the actual traveling part. Let’s face it, the days of ordering a glass of wine and sleeping through the flight are over once you have kids. By now I’ve been on enough planes with my children that I am ready for the “we’re bored” discussions and the endless streams of “Are we there yets?” (My rule: Each kid gets to ask that only three times. It might sound crazy, but it does make them stop and think before they ask!) But even when we’re harried with kiddo travel, what we always stay on top of are the safety issues involved in traveling with kids.
If you are planning on tackling the great family car trip this summer, obviously you know that car seats are a necessity for younger children, and that all children under 12 should ride in the back seat. But you should also remember to secure any small, loose articles that can easily become a projectile in the event of a sudden curve, a fast stop or an accident. Also, remember to keep the safety locks on for the car windows and doors. Bored kids — especially toddlers and babies — love to push buttons and the last thing you need is a tiny finger or two getting caught in the window. Another thing to consider, if you can, is to take your time. We added a few hours to a car trip one time because we stopped at every beach, park or just get-out-and-run area that we saw. Sure, we got to our destination a bit later, but our kids were a lot happier. And remember, even if it’s the shortest “pit stop” in the world, no child is ever left alone in a car for any amount of time.
If you are going to be house guests, talk to your hosts about any safety needs your kids might require. No, you shouldn’t expect them to fully baby proof their house for you, but you might want to ask about safety gates or safety latches. You can either pick them up yourself, or maybe your host can borrow some from neighbors. If you’re staying at a hotel, consider bringing your own portable crib. I always felt better doing that vs. wondering whether the hotel cribs were up to the latest safety standards.
If you’re boarding a plane, as tempting as it might be to hold a child on your lap (because who doesn’t love “free?”), it’s really not the safest choice. The rule of thumb: if your child needs a car seat in a car, they need one on a plane. So take a deep breath and do the schlep. You’ll feel better knowing your child is safer. And just think, in a few short years you can make them carry your bags.
Posted by Claudia Grazioso on May 28, 2012
I love to paint. Not beautiful, rolling murals or nuanced, evocative portraits. I love to dump a can of paint into a tray, pick up a roller and make every single greasy finger print, smear, splash or sticker glue gob vanish in a flash. I love the way a can of paint can instantly make me feel like the world’s best housekeeper. But I hate the way it smells, and I hate the way it makes me think of little tiny chemicals corroding my children’s brains.
Those nasty fumes that we all associate with fresh paint are caused by Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). These chemical emissions have been associated with headaches, dizziness, nausea and respiratory problems in some people. Knowing that, I assumed I would be safe going with a water-soluble paint for my children’s’ rooms, since they have lower rates of VOCs. But here’s the kicker — even water-soluble paints have now been linked to health problems in children. They may not be as bad as oil-based paints, but what they emit — propylene glycol and glycol ethers (PGEs) — might actually be linked to allergies and asthma in young children, according to scientists at Harvard and Kalstad University in Sweden. In other words, water-soluble paints might be better, but they’re certainly not without risk.
So what is a redecorating mom to do? First of all, VOCs dissipate over time. So painting day might be a good time to kick off a few nights of backyard campouts. At the very least, have your children sleep in a different room for a few nights until the smell is gone. And you can help the scent and the VOCs go away faster by keeping the room you paint well ventilated. Open all the windows, get a fan or two and close the door. Finally, if you are pregnant, get someone else to do the painting for you. Some studies have linked glycol ethers to miscarriage, and why take any risk you don’t have to? Especially when you might be able to talk some friends into doing the painting for you (those who love to paint, like me!).
Posted by Dana Hinders on May 25, 2012
Have you started planning for summer vacation yet? Depending on where you live, summer is right around the corner. My son, for example, has less than two weeks of school left until his summer break.
Finding ways to fill your summer break on a budget can be challenging, but it’s not impossible.
First, keep your eye out for opportunities that come home in your child’s backpack. My son has received several fliers for various day camps and workshops offered by different groups in the community. Scouts, career exploration days, and museum-sponsored events are often advertised in this way. Even if your child doesn’t do regular dance or karate lessons during the school year, check with these types of locations in your area to see if they have special summer classes he or she can participate in.
Second, check out opportunities at your public library. Public libraries often sponsor summer reading programs for kids designed to encourage them to read for fun. There are usually crafts, speakers, and snacks involved. Some programs might even have prizes you can win. One library in a town not too far from us lets kids enter a drawing to win a bike when they complete their summer reading program book requirements.
Don’t overlook the importance of encouraging your kids to get regular exercise during the summer months. Swimming lessons are the most obvious choice, but Kids Bowl Free offers kids a chance to register for games of free bowling to be redeemed all summer long or a discounted family pass that includes up to four adults. If you shop around online for cheap bowling shoes so you’re not paying shoe rental fees with each visit, this is a very thrifty summer entertainment option.
Finally, keep a drawer of age-appropriate activities on hand for those days when you have nothing formally planned but your kid is just bored. Markers, sketchbooks, stickers, pads of colored paper, clay, puzzles, and building blocks are all great things young children can play with to inspire their creativity while still allowing you to get some of your chores done around the house. Pinterest is a good site to check out for project inspiration if you’re not normally a “crafty” sort of mom.
Posted by Claudia Grazioso on May 24, 2012
At a certain point in parenthood, you are pretty certain you know about every disorder, possible problem, hidden danger and proven carcinogen. (Especially when you write about them on a weekly basis.) So I was surprised recently when the topic of genetic conditions came up and there were actually a few that I hadn’t heard very much about. I decided to look into them, starting with a condition called Fragile X, which is the most common cause of inherited mental disability in boys.
Fragile X is caused by a change in the FMR1 gene on the X chromosome. FMR1 helps to make a protein that enables the brain to grow. Fragile X affects girls as well as boys, but girls tend to have much milder symptoms because they have two X chromosomes, unlike boys who have an X chromosome and a Y chromosome. Interestingly, Fragile X (which is also sometimes called Martin-Bell Syndrome) has also been linked to autism.
If you are concerned about your child having Fragile X, some symptoms to watch out for are a baby who has a delay in crawling or walking, a child who is very impulsive or hyperactive and a child who avoids eye contact. There might also be speech and language delays. Additionally, some children with Fragile X have physical symptoms like poor muscle tone, a large body and flat feet. If you have concerns about your child’s development and you notice any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
There are no known cures for Fragile X, but some patients do take medication to treat anxiety and hyperactivity. Early intervention offers some good options for kids with Fragile X. If your child is diagnosed with this condition, speech therapy can help him or her to learn to use language to communicate more effectively, and it might also help them to speak more clearly. Additionally, consider looking into occupational and physical therapy. Physical therapy can help your child gain better control over their muscles and improve their balance.
If your child is diagnosed with Fragile X, talk to your doctor and look into all of the therapies and treatment options available.
Posted by Claudia Grazioso on May 23, 2012
Recently I had a chilling revelation: It’s spring, and while I have been busy trying to find a good summer camp for our kids and shamelessly schmoozing those ever-important Friends Who Have Pools, my neighbor has been going through another Mom Rite of Passage: She’s helping her daughter decide which college to go to. Aww, isn’t that incredible? What an amazing accomplish—
Wait a minute. That daughter who is leaving for college is our babysitter! Panic set in. I actually experienced shortness of breath. I felt frantic. We can’t lose our babysitter! Certainly not one we know so well and trust so much, who lives right across the street (added bonus: we never have to drive her home), who our kids practically grew up with. But yes, somehow — without giving us any notice! — she went ahead and finished high school. Now in few short months, our babysitter will be gone.
At first I thought that the obvious solution was that I would schedule our date nights around her college vacations. But now I am slowly accepting the fact that we’ll have to find a new sitter. Where to start?
After my head stopped spinning, I reached out to my “mom posse” and got some great referrals. (It turns out there is more than one stellar babysitter in our neighborhood — who knew?) And a friend of mine suggested a great and frugal way to rack up the date nights and save some money: Start a babysitting cooperative with other parents in our neighborhood.
Finding safe and reliable childcare is a big priority for any mom. If you are also looking for a babysitter or a nanny, remember a few things: First, if you can, try to take your time. Meet with the prospective nanny or sitter a few times, preferably once alone, and then once with your kids present so you get a good idea of how she or he will interact with your children. Second, check all references, and if the candidate is a stranger to you, consider running a background check. There are plenty of services that will do that for you, or you can go through a nanny agency, but that’s usually pricey. Finally, ask if she is trained in CPR (and infant CPR if you have a baby). If not, many local hospitals and fire stations offer that class.
Finding good childcare can be tough, but with a little extra time, you can be confident in your choice.
Posted by Deborah Pujoue on May 21, 2012
If you think that you have heard it all, and I thought I had, I can assure you that you haven’t. It turns out that there is a new phenomenon going on in the land of teenage highs. According to what the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles is reporting, teens are now guzzling hand sanitizer to get high.
Recently, as many as 16 teenagers in the Los Angeles area have been treated for alcohol poisoning after drinking hand sanitizers. Apparently some of the teens were distilling the product before consuming it, which is supposed to make it easier to drink. Hand sanitizer products generally contain 60 percent ethyl alcohol. Salt is used as a means of separating the alcohol. By doing this, kids are getting a shot of the concoction that is about 120 proof, which makes it at least 50 percent stronger than vodka, says Dr. Cyrus Rangan, medical toxicologist with the California Poison Control System.
“If a person has never had alcohol before, they can get drunk almost instantaneously,” Dr. Calvin Lowe told NBC Los Angeles. “It’s very, very dangerous.”
It astounds me just how creative these kids are getting in their efforts to get wasted, but this hand sanitizer thing is just creepy. If you are wondering how the kids are learning to distill the hand sanitizer, you can find videos on it on YouTube. Wow! I can’t help wondering when the eureka moment first happened that caused the first teen to give it a shot in the first place. It wasn’t too long ago that parents had to keep an eye on their mouthwash and cough medicine after kids were found to be robo-tripping off of it. NyQuil is no longer my nighttime, coughing, sniffling, sneezing, stuffy head, fever so I could sleep medicine. Why? Because Vick’s changed the formula. Hearing how kids are using the medications makes me understand why that may have been a good idea. But hand sanitizer… that is just odd.
If you want to get a better understanding about how desperate this situation is, you may want to know just how many products kids are using to get high. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the products that are most often reported as causing teen poisonings in 2010 (the most recent data available) were:
Ibuprofen (Advil) — 10,030 calls
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (Antidepressants such as Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft) — 8,419 calls
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) — 7,995 calls
Atypical Antipsychotics (Ablify, Risperdal) — 7,319 calls
Benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax) — 7,192
Alcohol — 5,061 calls
Posted by Claudia Grazioso on May 18, 2012
A lot of attention has been focused on the possible risks of taking Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, during pregnancy. And while SSRIs are a very popular class of antidepressant, there are a variety of other pharmaceutical treatments available to treat depression. Nefazodone, classified as a phenylpiperazine antidepressant, is one such drug. So far, nefazodone has not been conclusively linked to birth defects, but there are still reasons to approach this drug with caution if you are pregnant.
First, like many of its fellow antidepressant SSRIs and SNRIs, nefazodone was given a Category C rating by the Food and Drug Administration. This means that while no studies have been performed on pregnant women, animal studies have shown a cause for at least caution if not concern. In animal studies, fetuses exposed to nefazodone had higher infant mortality rates and a greater risk of a low birth weight. Additionally, some experts point out that we still don’t know what the long-term effects of prenatal exposure to nefazodone are since no large-scale studies have been performed.
Here’s what scares me about this drug: While generic versions of nefazodone are still available in the United States, Serzone (which is the brand name under which it was marketed for a while) was discontinued in the U.S. a few years ago because it appeared to be linked to liver damage which could necessitate a liver transplant. Now, if I were pregnant, I think I would avoid any drug that is even remotely similar to a drug so potentially toxic to my liver that I might need a new one. If you are pregnant, wrestling with depression and considering nefazodone, talk to your doctor about whether the risks outweigh the benefits. Also, know that nefazodone does enter breastmilk. Though no major side effects have been reported, it still might be a good idea to err on the side of caution if you are taking nefazodone and nursing an infant.