Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween! A Couple Dr. Momsie Tips

Our little Trojan

Just a quick post to wish you all a very happy and safe Halloween!  Halloween is not my favorite holiday, as I don't really enjoy being scared, think apple cider is disgusting, and dread dressing up in costume. But, I do have lots of happy Halloween memories from childhood - trick-or-treating, carving pumpkins, eating candy . . .

Halloween can be a ton of fun.  Or, it can be scary and stressful.  Here are just a couple of Dr. Momsie tips to keep in mind tonight.

  • Know your child's comfort level for the scary and spooky and be sensitive to it.  Freaking out your child won't make them "tougher," just more prone to anxiety and nightmares.  Avoid trick-or-treating at spooky houses if your child reacts poorly to being scared. 
  • Let your child determine when he is comfortable to approach something scary, don't force him or tease him for being a "scaredy cat" or "chicken."  Praise her for being brave when she decides to face her fears, but don't make her feel cowardly for reacting normally to fear (avoidance is normal!)
  • Avoid scary movies.  I recommend this for all ages levels - even teens.  I see way too many children and teens in my office that are reporting seeing ghosts, having nightmares, being unable to sleep, and hearing strange noises, who have just been watching Paranormal Activity too often.  Really, parents, these movies have R ratings for a reason.
  • Be careful this Halloween  . . . but not too careful.  Everything in life is a balance.  Though we need to be careful while trick-or-treating and eating candy, a momsie who freaks out about going to a stranger's house or eating a piece of candy that hasn't been dissected for needles will ruin the fun of the evening. 
  • Keep your values in mind.  If you are a Christian parent who feels like too much attention is given this Halloween to evil and the occult, go for "friendly" costumes and costume parties.  Don't feel pressured to participate in anything that makes you, or your children, uncomfortable.
  • Build happy memories.  Don't stress over the perfect costume, hitting up all the cool parties, and making the most delicious treats.  A good barometer?  If someone breaks into tears or begins to fight, it is time to take some deep breaths and calm down.
Wishing you a fun and safe evening!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Helping Your Children Deal with Disappointment

Recently I was watching a popular pastor on television.  He was delivering a message entitled "His Promises are 'Yes and Amen'."  The  pastor was quoting from 2 Corinthians 1:20, where Paul says,

"For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God through us." 

The pastor went on to say that the "Yes" answers to our prayers are just around the corner.  Have an illness, difficult relationship, or other need?  This pastor would say that your healing, break-through, husband, and prosperity are just a prayer away. 

Unfortunately, I believe this pastor hasn't interpreted Paul's words quite accurately.  I'd love to think that if I just pray, obey, and wait, all my prayers will be answered "Yes!"  But, God hasn't promised to give us everything we request.  Sometimes, God's answer is "No."  Sometimes, we aren't healed.  Sometimes, we don't get the job we want.  Sometimes, we struggle financially. 

Notice, Paul doesn't say "Everything you ask of God is Yes, and in Him Amen."  Instead, he says, "All the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen."  If you expect to have all your prayers answered "Yes," should you just pray hard enough and be a good enough person, you will be horribly disappointed in yourself and in God.  Instead, he wants us to focus on His promises, which are guaranteed.  And, praise God, his promises are enough!

Is your child disappointed by a "No" answer in his or her life?  Remind your child of our loving God's promises.
  • And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)
  • For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39).
  • Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you. (Hebrews 13:5)
  • Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day. (2 Timothy 1:12)
  • So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2 Thess. 2:15-17)
  • But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command.  May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (2 Thess 3:3-5).
  • So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Is. 41:10).
This is only a beginning of all the amazing promises of our Lord!  God may not do exactly what we ask Him to do, but our children can be comforted in knowing that our Father knows best and is busy working out His good and perfect will in our lives!   

Looking for a promise of God to fit your current situation?  Find one here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Mother's Touch

Author Unknown

Is there magic in a mother's touch?  Many people, even as adults, have a yearning for "mommy" when they're hurt, sick, sad, or having a bad day.  There is something healing in mom's nurturing voice and gentle hand.  Well, now there is research to support the notion that a mother's touch has healing power.  I'm so excited to share this research with you, because I just know every reader will have a "Aw, isn't that sweet" moment (and not in a sarcastic 'isn't that sweet" kind of way - a really sincere heart-warming kind of way).

Much recent research has looked at the emotional and behavioral impact of stress during pregnancy.  We know that depression during pregnancy can put a baby at-risk for emotional and behavioral problems for years.  But, what's a depressed and stressed momsie to do? Sometimes, you just can't reduce the stressors that enter your life during pregnancy and out-of-wack hormones can leave even the most emotionally healthy momsie depressed and irritable. 

Some really genius researchers at the University of Liverpool and King's College in London decided to step away from the blame game and provide some hope for depressed moms.  They thought, "Ok, so we know pregnant women can get emotional and stressed.  But, what can they do after the baby is born to mediate the effects of all that stress?" They found their answer by taking a clue from rats.  Apparently those yucky rodent pups have the same type of emotional and physiological reactivity as human babies when their mother has been stressed during pregnancy.  In simple language, the genes that play a role in the rats response to stress is altered, possibly for a life-time.  But, (oh, glorious, but) if a momsie rat licks and grooms their little pup after birth, those stress-response genes are activated and rat-pups are less emotionally reactive.

The British researchers looked at those nurturing rats and wondered if the same might apply to human babies.  They found that infant emotions of fear and anger, as well as heart rate response to stress at seven months of age changed by how often a mother stroked their baby on the head, back, legs and arms in the early weeks of life.  They suggest that those maternal strokes acted in the same way as in our rat friends, altering the gene for emotional reactivity. 

Amazing!  This means, sweet stressed-out pregnant momsie, that your child is not doomed.  When your beautiful baby is born, give her lots of strokes, rubs, caresses, and hugs.  (But, no licking. That's just for mice pups.)  Your bond will grow and your baby will learn to regulate his emotions. 

Isn't our God an amazing, redemptive God!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Performance-Enhanced Parenting

The top story on my local news app this morning is titled "Moms Popping Pills to Be Better Parents."  Apparently, the late-breaking news comes from a report from the Centers for Disease Control on prescription drug overdoses in the United States. The report begins with the line "In 2007, approximately 27,000 unintentional drug overdose deaths occurred in the United States, one death every 19 minutes."  The report goes on to talk about the over-use of opioid analgesics to manage pain and the trend for patients to engage in "doctor shopping" until they find one that will prescribe the medication they seek.  This is, indeed, an alarming report.

The local news expanded on the CDC's report to shine a light on the trend for stressed out mothers to seek prescriptions for Adderall (a stimulant usually prescribed for ADHD) or Xanax (a highly addictive benzodiazepine prescribed for anxiety).  The article tells the story of a local mom who approached her doctor for Adderall after feeling the pressure of being a working mom of two with a husband away in the military.  The mom describes the effects of Adderall like a life-saver or a love affair. "I love the way it makes me feel. I have energy. I'm in a great mood all the time. I love it."  “I am a supermom, that is all there is to it," she said. "I am on my game for my kids.”  She goes on to admit that she may be addicted but she doesn't want to live without it. 

Now, after reading this article, I really want to blast doping mothers.  I mean, if Lance Armstrong can't do it, neither should we.  But, then, the splinter in my eye starts to irritate me.  Here is a Dr. Momsie confession:  I am not drug-free.  I'm a performance-enhanced parent.  Let me explain.

When Jr. was about 3 months old, as the end of my precious maternity leave was on the horizon, I started to experience extreme stomach pain.  Nearly every day, a couple hours after eating lunch, my stomach would clench and ache and send me doubled-over to the bed.  I would spend most of Jr.'s nap time guzzling Maalox and moaning.  Then, again, if I was brave enough to eat dinner, the same thing would occur.  This really started impacting my relationships and parenting.  I stopped eating anything but crackers and my weight fell to 90 pounds.  After many nights of tears and a trip to an urgent care center, I made an appointment with a specialist.  This GI guru slowly ruled out one cause after another.  He gave me about a thousand samples of Nexium and scheduled some exams.  Around Jr.'s first birthday, I had a upper endoscopy, which, again, gave me few answers. 

It was then that I put on my psychologist hat and realized my problem was probably psycho-somatic.  I knew I worried a lot as a new mother, especially when it came to the guilt associated with returning to work.  I could feel the tension I carried in my tummy, and tried progressive relaxation techniques, visualization, and deep breathing, just as I would one of my clients.  Still, the stomach pain continued.

Finally, I decided that I really could use a little serotonin.  Let me tell you about the beauty of this chemical.  It is a neurotransmitter in your brain that is associated with feelings of calmness, well-being, and happiness.  Serotonin is involved in the regulation of sleep, appetite, and mood.  About 90% of your serotonin receptors are in your tummy, so low serotonin often leads to tummy aches, ulcers, constipation, etc..  Serotonin is the chemical that says to your brain, "Everything is okay.  Take it easy.  So the dog just tracked mud in the freshly swept house?  No worries.  You can clean it up later." 

Yes, that is what I needed.  I was a wound -up, anxious mess of a new momsie.  I went to my doctor and asked for a prescription for Zoloft, a Selective Serotonin-Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI), which is often prescribed for anxiety and depression.  SSRI's like Zoloft, Paxil, Prozac, Celexa and Lexapro inhibit the reuptake of serotonin in your brain, so there is more of it zipping around in there leaving calming messages behind.   We are a "Prozac Nation," with about 10% of all people taking an antidepressant, like my SSRI friends, sometime in their life.  Low doses of Zoloft and Paxil are often prescribed to nursing moms suffering from post-partum depression because studies have shown them to be undetectable in nursing babies' blood.

My stomach pain is gone and I'm a more easy-going momsie.  I don't stress out as much about little things and I'm less controlling and irritable.  I thank the good Lord for serotonin and for smart doctors who figured out how to put it in a pill.  Serotonin has truly enhanced my parenting.  So, judge not lest ye be judged.  Now, of course, SSRI's aren't a controlled substance like Adderall or Xanax, meaning they probably aren't addictive.  I wouldn't necessarily recommend any momsie look for immediate relief for stress in a pill bottle, and especially those that may be addicting and/or have harsh withdrawal side effects.  But, if post-partum anxiety, depression, or traumatic stress is impairing your ability to function, then please seek medical advice!  A little dose of serotonin might just be the fix you need!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Weekend Blog Walk Guest Host

I love hosting blog hops!  It's such a good way to meet new bloggers and see what's going on with old friends.  This weekend, I'm truly excited to guest-host Jessica from At Home Take 2's Weekend Blog Walk.  So, take some leisurely time this weekend to check out some awesome blogs!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Out of the Mouth of Babes: Language Development

And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
 Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise!”
(Matthew 21:15-16 ESV)
Isn't it amazing to watch a baby learn to talk?  Now that Jr is 18 months, he has hit the prime developmental period for language development.  I think, for me, watching him learn to communicate is more fascinating and rewarding than watching him take those first few walking steps.  I'm amazed at his little voice, his expressions, and his efforts to communicate. 
Yesterday, for example, he wanted some juice.  He knows that the juice comes in the basketball sippy cup, so he grabbed it out of the refrigerator and took a few sips.  Later, when I opened the refrigerator again, he grabbed his water cup, which is in a plain colored sippy cup.  He said, "water." (Which really sounds like "wa-wa").   That's strange, I thought.  He never grabs the water cup over his juice cup. Then, he handed me his juice cup and said, "wa-wa?"  "No," I said. "It's juice."  He held up the water cup - "wa-wa."  He handed my the juice cup, "wa- wa, bugga da mada bu dow, juice." 
"Hmmm.  I don't understand.  Let's go play."  I'm a master of redirection.  After a couple of minutes, it dawned on me what Jr. was trying to communicate.  In Jr.'s Sunday School class, they often fill his juice sippy cup with water when it's empty of juice.  I opened the juice cup, and low and behold, it was filled with water, not juice.  Jr. was trying to tell me that his juice cup had water in it!  And, he was doing a brilliant job trying to communicate that thought with so few words.  He lit up with smiles when I dumped the water and pulled the juice container out of the fridge. 
The most amazing part of this interchange?  No tantrums!  Eighteen months is the prime-time not only for language development, but also for tantrums.  When children know in their little minds what they'd like to communicate, but can't make the words formulate on their lips or make mommy understand their desire, tantrums are common.  
Most children utter their first intentional word by 15 months.  At 18 months, toddlers should be saying about 5-20 words.  Some are starting to put together two-word combinations, such as "Momma eat" or "Doggy go."  Only the very odd linguistic savant will be saying sentences.  Little boys usually are a bit behind girls in developing language, due to gender differences in their brains. 
Even knowing these developmental trends, parents and researchers are eager to speed communication.  Within the last month, I've seen study after study on which factors encourage and which factors hinder language development.  Some of the findings are surprising.  For instance, many parents teach their children basic sign language to speed communication.  But, a recent study in the journal Child Development suggests that signing does not speed language development.  (Though I am sure it does prevent much frustration and many tantrums!)  Another recent study in The Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry suggests that high levels of prenatal testosterone may be associated with language delays in males.  Yet another study in  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that maternal depression and use of antidepressants can suppress infant language development.  On the other hand, folic acid during pregnancy may be associated with decreased risk of language delays, says researchers in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  And, I hope you all know by now the evidence gathering against Baby DVDs and videos (in short, they may hurt more than help).  And the list of language development related factors goes on and on and on.
Don't fret, parents and parents-to-be.  Chances are great that your child will learn to talk.  Mute children are rare.  I think we all worry so much about language for a number of reasons, including the growing knowledge that language delays are related to Autism Spectrum disorders.  Can I offer a balanced approach to encouraging your baby's language?
  1. Create a language-rich environment for your baby.  In short, talk, talk, talk.  Baby will learn best from face-to-face interactions with a live model (mommy or daddy).  Don't know what to say?  Just narrate whatever little Bubba is doing.
  2. Read to baby.  Let your little boys seeing daddy read.
  3. Teach a few basic signs (eat, more, drink), not necessarily to speed along their speaking language, but to help with communicating and to prevent frustration during those months when the words are in their heads but don't come out of their mouths quite yet.
  4. Be attentive and "tuned in" to your child's eye gaze and nonverbal expressions.  Is he looking at the cookie but saying puppy?  He probably wants a cookie.  If you can't understand your child's budding vocabulary, try not to become frustrated, or she will too.  Just make a couple of guesses based on context.  If you still aren't getting it, try to distract her with another activity or take her hand and say "show me."
The language of children is an amazing thing. 
I love the story of Palm Sunday, where the children praised Jesus, saying "Hosanna in the highest heaven!"  And then those silly, self-righteous teachers questioned Jesus, saying, "Do you hear what these children are saying?"  See, they didn't believe and acknowledge that Jesus was who he said he was, the Son of God.  So, the children's praise sounded blasphemous to them.  But, the children knew.  And, they shouted it out.  Jesus quoted the Psalms,"From the lips of children and infants, you, Lord, have called forth your praise.”  What a joy for Christian parents to hear their children and infants calling forth praises to Jesus!   One of Jr.'s first signs was to hold both arms up when someone said "Praise the Lord!"  He still does this with a huge grin.  Beautiful praise.  Oh, how joyous the day when he praises the name of the Lord with his words!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Increase Your Family Capital

We all want our children to do well in school.  I would bet that even those parents who didn't value school too much while they were in it would be happy as a clam to see their child on the A Honor Roll.   Still, not every child does well in school.  And, many parents are quick to find fault and place blame with their child's school and teacher.  I hear everything from, "That teacher doesn't like my child." to "My child shouldn't  have to do group work."  And, sometimes, parents are correct.  There are school variables that greatly impact a child's success, and unfortunately, not all schools and teachers are willing and able to meet individual child academic needs.

But, maybe school variables aren't the most important factors in your child's success.  New research from North Carolina State University, Brigham Young University and the University of California, Irvine finds that parental involvement is a more significant factor in a child's academic performance than the qualities of the school itself. 

Researchers looked at data from over 10,000 students, parents, and teachers from all parts of the country. They were trying to determine if "family social capital" or "school social capital" were more important to students' academic achievement. Let me explain those terms, as most of us don't refer to them often. Sociologists use the term "social capital" to refer to the benefits (emotional, economic, academic, etc.) a social network (such as family or school) offers it's members. Or, in other words, what is the value of the social network to the individual?

Family social capital is, in essence, the bonds between parents and children, such as trust, open lines of communication and active engagement in a child's academic life. School social capital, on the other hand, refers to a school's ability to serve as a positive environment for learning, and includes benefits such involvement in extracurricular activities and the ability of teachers to address the needs of individual students.

The researchers found that students with high levels of family social capital and low levels of school social capital performed better academically than students with high levels of school social capital but low family social capital.  So, parents, even if your child's school isn't equipped to meet all your child's needs, you can greatly influence your child's ability to achieve. 
The key to increasing your family capital is simple . . . be interested! Ask your child about school, check their homework, discuss other activities they are involved in at school, and attend school functions.  You don't have to be a scholar yourself to encourage high achievement.  You can provide the "social capital" needed to have an A Honor Roll student.  Isn't nice to know some of the power is in YOUR hands?!
Mikaela J. Dufur, Toby L. Parcel, Kelly P. Troutman. Does Capital at Home Matter More than Capital at School?: Social Capital Effects on Academic Achievement*. Research in Social Stratification and Mobility, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.rssm.2012.08.002

Friday, October 12, 2012

Meet Me at the Moon Giveaway! (Oh, and a Book Recommendation)

Yesterday, as I was strolling through the Scholastic Book Fair at one of my elementary schools, I came across a literary jewel for children and families feeling the pain from some type of separation.  My faithful readers know that I am inclined to share my recommendations for children's books, especially when they touch on a relevant topic such as separation anxiety or grief. .

This book, Meet Me at the Moon, by Gianna Marino, tells the story of a momsie elephant who has to leave her baby elephant to ask the sky for rain.  The baby doesn't want momsie to leave.  Baby elephant even pulls on mommy's trunk, reminding me of Jr. hanging onto my leg as I scoot toward the door at his daycare.

Momsie elephant is very reassuring, letting baby elephant know that her baby can hear her song on the wind and feel her love with the warmth of the sun. She then helps her baby look forward to the time when they will be reunited, when they will meet where the sun sets and the full moon rises.

The emotional theme of the book is a perfect one for families facing some type of separation due to military deployment, marital dissolution, or even death. And, for those little ones with separation anxiety, this book would be perfect to have in the family library.

So, you want a copy? Enter my Meet Me at the Moon giveaway raffle below. My raffle will run today until the beautiful full moon (here in Dallas) on October 29th. The winner may not feel as blissful as a baby being reunited with his momsie, but it sure might brighten your day!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Daddy and Son Fall Fun!

I recently decided it is time to schedule in a little self-care, so I've started running again, with the goal of a half marathon in December.  I try to do long runs on Saturday mornings,  when Hubby is available to hang out with Jr.  Now, Hubby does a fine job entertaining Jr.  But, when I told him last Saturday that I would be running for an hour and a half, he teased, "That long?!  What will I do to keep Jr. busy?!"  I knew he would be fine, so I just rolled my eyes and tied my shoes.  But, as I started my run, I began to think of how blessed I am.  Not all daddies know exactly what to do with a toddler's short attention span. 

Are you a daddy that seems to run out of ideas?  Are you a momsie who isn't sure how your hubby fills the time when you are away?  Are you a family trying to avoid plopping Bubba down in front of the t.v.?   The cool fall weather brings with it many opportunities for father/son fun.  Here are some ideas that I've picked up from my awesome Hubby, along with a few suggestions of my own. 

Outside Ideas

  • Picnics.  Anyone can make a sandwich and throw down a blanket in the back yard.
  • Start a rock collection. 
  • Gather beautiful fall leaves.  Better yet, rake the leaves into a pile and jump in them.
  • Hunt for bugs, worms, and other yucky animals that momsie doesn't want to touch.
  • Go for a walk in the stroller or wagon.
  • Play fetch with the dog.
  • Teach your son how to care for the pets, i.e. feeding, watering, brushing.
  • Throw a ball.
  • Pick up sticks.
  • Look at birds and squirrels.
  • Point out airplanes.
  • Play at a park.
  • Race and chase.
  • Build something extraordinary from things in the yard (ramps, forts, tunnels)

Inside Ideas

  • Rough and tumble play! Wrestling, rolling, tossing . . . all these things come more natural to daddies than to momsies.
  • Turn on daddy's favorite music and dance.
  • Turn on Jr.'s favorite music and dance.
  • Build a car track or ramp.
  • Build a fort out of chairs, blankets, sofa cushions, etc.
  • Turn a box into something wonderful (car garage, tunnel, fort).
  • Read books.  Little boys need to see their daddies reading!
  • Build up towers of blocks, leggos, pillows, whatever.
  • Eat cake  Bill Cosby, said it best. "Dad is great! He gives us chocolate cake!"
  • Play ninja, trojan warrior, cowboys, or something else with fake guns or swords. (Yes, Dr. Momsie says it's a-okay.  Some aggressive play is normal and natural for little boys!)
  • Talk, talk, talk.  This doesn't always come naturally for men, but your little boy needs to hear more than masculine grunts.  If you don't know what to say, just narrate whatever little-one is doing.  "You chose the blue block for the top of the tower." "That's one...two...three...four cars on the track."
 Now, that should keep you busy for an hour and a half!

Friday, October 5, 2012

Juggling Act Mama's Apple & Nectarine Oatmeal Muffins

I am so excited today to bring you an awesome recipe from one of my favorite fellow bloggers, Angela from Juggling Act Mama!  Sometimes it seems like I just can't come up with any delicious and healthy ideas to please Jr.'s picky palette.  This recipe is sure to be a weekend favorite at our house.  Jr. thinks muffins are just funny-shaped cakes, so he eats them up!  Oh, and when you're done copying down this recipe, be sure to venture over to Ang's site and see all the cool things she has going on.  Seriously, she has awesome giveaways, yummy recipes, cool activities to do with kids, crafty stuff, and more!  Good grief, that IS a juggling act!  Thanks, Ang!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Beware the Binky!

Binky. Nuk. Pacy. Plug. Or, at our house, Pappy.
I actually found a list of 160 pet names for the pacifier on Babycenter.  Children, including our Jr., grow very attached to their pacifier.  It is a source of great soothing and comfort, for babies and momsies.  Before Jr. was  born, I thought we'd try to avoid getting him hooked on the pacifier.  But, when he turned out to be a constant sucker, I soon gave into the lure of that soothing plug.  Many times I have thanked the Lord for the inspired creator of the pacifier.  Without him or her, we would have had a cranky, sleep-fighting baby and possibly a mommy with a nervous breakdown.
Now that Jr. is 18 months old, the "pappy" is still our friend in time of need.  We limit it's daytime use, but during an emotional struggle or at bedtime, the pacifier is extremely soothing and helpful.  I want to go on the record as a momsie who is all in favor of pacifier use. 

But, now there is this troubling research out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  You know, Dr. Momsie loves a good research study.  But, some just don't have the results that I can get on board with.  Like this one out of Wisconsin.  I just know there must be some methodological error or confounding variables. 

Ok, I'll tell you about it already.  It all began with research into the emotional life of Botox patients.  Researchers have studied patients receiving injections of Botox to prevent wrinkles by paralyzing their facial muscles.  They found that many people who have had Botox treatments experience a narrower range of emotions and have trouble recognizing emotions in othera through their facial expressions.  The explanation for this is found in basic social learning theory.  We learn by watching others and mimicking them.  It follows, then, that if something impedes you from mimicking an emotion through facial expression (i.e. paralyzed facial muscles), your learning and/or experiencing of that emotion may be impaired.

The UW researchers decided to expand on this Botox study.  They thought, "hmmm, I wonder how this would apply to others who have limited facial movement?"  Such as babies with pacifiers in their mouths.  They conducted three studies.  The first found that six and seven-year-old boys who spent a lot of time when they were babies with pacifiers jabbed in their mouths were less likely to mimic facial expressions of other children on a video.  The second study found that college-aged men who reported that they used a pacifier frequently as a baby did more poorly than other groups on a perspective-taking test (i.e. empathy).  The third study found that college-aged males who scored lowest on a test of emotional intelligence also happened to be those that sucked most on a binky as an infant.  For some reason, the negative impact of pacifier use was not found in females.

The lead researcher, Paula Niedenthal, shared her conclusions, "I'd just be aware of inhibiting any of the body's emotional representational systems," Niedenthal says. "Since a baby is not yet verbal -- and so much is regulated by facial expression -- at least you want parents to be aware of that using something like a pacifier limits their baby's ability to understand and explore emotions. And boys appear to suffer from that limitation."

Hmmm.  What does Dr. Momsie think?  Well, I'm still not sure.  I might just have to read this research a little more carefully. There has to be something amiss.  Yet, it is hard to deny three studies with strangely consistent findings.  Limiting pacifier use during the day is probably worthwhile, but at night babies aren't learning language or emotional reciprocity anyway, so stick that sucker in!  Everything in moderation, right?

Now, I must say, I think Jr. has amazing emotional reciprocity and I see little emotional expressions that emerge from behind the pappy ALL the time.  Really. All. The. Time.  I'm sure of it.  Well, mostly sure . . .

Anyhow, if the participants were in college, they weren't complete losers just because they used a pacifier.  They weren't bums on the street.  Jr. will be just fine.  Our pappy isn't going anywhere.  Except right in his mouth where it belongs!

Monday, October 1, 2012

There's Male DNA in my Brain!

Jr.'s DNA was traveling into my brain right at this moment.
This is my new favorite word. It means, "the harboring of genetic material and cells that were exchanged between mother and fetus during pregnancy." Apparently, scientists have found that mothers retain some of their male infant's DNA in their body after the baby is born.  This DNA can often be detected years later, even when your son is at the age where they deny any DNA connection to their lame parents.

Geniuses at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center examined brain autopsy specimens from 59 women (relatively low number when it comes to research).  Some of these women were quite young (32) while others were quite old (101).  Sixty-three percent of these women showed male microchimerism in multiple regions of their brain. 

Apparently, scientists have known for awhile that fetal cells frequently cross the human blood-brain barrier.  Researchers aren't quite sure yet if there is any biological significance in a mother harboring her son's DNA in her brain.  Some research has linked these cells with colon cancer, while other research has found them to have a protective factor for the development of breast cancer and reheumatoid arthritis.

For me, the idea of microchimerism is more than just intellectually fascinating.  There is some emotional significance for me in the idea of carrying the building-blocks of Jr.'s existence forever in not only my body, but in my brain.  Who needs the metaphorical "Kissing Hand" connection when you have a real biological connection (read the book if you don't know what I'm talking about!)?  No physical separation can take that away. 

So, is Dr. Momsie getting a little too sappy?  How do you feel about the idea of microchimerism?

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