Category Archives: Newborns

Crying baby to parents: Speed it up!


From Oxford University:

A baby’s cry actually speeds up an adult’s response to whatever task is at hand. The Oxfordians timed adult subjects playing “Whack-A-Mole,” the old arcade game, while listening either to crying babies, stressed-out adult noises, or twittering birds. As you may have guessed from personal parenting experience, the crying babies sped up the subjects’ mole-whacking speed.

“Few sounds provoke a visceral reaction quite like the cry of a baby,” said Oxford psychiatrist Morten Kringelbach. “For example, it’s almost impossible to ignore crying babies on planes…despite all the other noises and distractions around.”

The findings make evolutionary sense. In prehistoric times, babies who got their needs met quickly were more likely to survive childhood.

The Oxford team isn’t just playing games–they’re looking into the possibility that women with postpartum depression may suffer from a disruption of this ancient response to a baby’s cry.

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Obituary: Mary Ellen Avery, M.D.

Mary Ellen Avery, M.D. (1927-2011)

The work of Dr. Mary Ellen Avery, who died December 4th, is well-known to anyone who has worked in an intensive care nursery in the last 50 years. Her career was studded with a long list of “firsts”–first woman to be appointed physician in chief at Children’s Hospital Boston; first woman to head a clinical department at Harvard Medical School; first pediatrician to head the American Association for the Advancement of Science, etc., etc.–but she is best known for a discovery that to date has saved nearly a million premature babies.

In the early 1960s, Avery and her colleagues unravelled the mystery of why so many premature babies died of respiratory distress syndrome (or hyaline membrane disease, as it was known then). She and her team were the first to recognize that it was the absence of something, rather than an excess of something else, that caused babies’ lungs to collapse and kill them. That absent something was surfactant, a slippery mix of fat and proteins that coats the breathing tubes of healthy term babies and helps their lungs stay inflated.

Building on her research, a team of Japanese researchers revolutionized the care of premature newborns when they developed a surfactant replacement from cow lungs. In the early 1960s, 15,000 babies a year died from respiratory distress syndrome; by 2002 fewer than 1,000 did.

All of this came too late for my brother, James Bernard Sloan. Born eight weeks early in 1948, he died at two days of age from a lack of surfactant. (I wrote about James’s brief life in my book, Birth Day. It was the mystery of his death, which happened five years before I was born, that first got me interested in caring for sick babies.)

Had he been born twenty-five years later, James Bernard would have been an easy “save,” thanks to Mary Ellen Avery’s work.

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Delayed cord clamping: Settling the debate

"Told you so!"

Aristotle was on to something, way back in the B.C.’s, when he wrote approvingly of the midwifery practice of not cutting the cord until the placenta was delivered.

He was also struck by the midwives’ practice of “stripping” the umbilical cord in emergencies: forcing the blood remaining in the umbilical cord back into a newly born baby in need of reviving. 

‘‘Frequently the child appears to be born dead, when it is feeble and when, before the tying of the cord, a flux of blood occurs into the cord and adjacent parts. Some nurses who have already acquired skill squeeze (the blood) back out of the cord (into the child’s body) and at once the baby, who had previously been as if drained of blood, comes to life again.’’

For Aristotle and centuries of midwives, cord clamping was a thing best done slowly.

Clamping the cord: early or late?

In the 1970s western hospital-based medicine abandoned the practice of “delayed” cord clamping*–that is, waiting until the cord stops pulsing to cut it.  In an effort to decrease postpartum hemorrhage, “early” clamping–cutting the cord as soon as possible–became the norm. But new research now proves that, as far as umbilical cords go, the old way is still the best.

Researchers in Sweden recently showed that delayed clamping is not only safe, it’s highly beneficial to babies. In a world in which iron deficiency damages the brains of millions of children a year (including here in the U.S. – more on that in a later post), delayed clamping allows more iron-rich blood to pass from the placenta to the baby at birth.

The Swedish researchers found that all measures of iron metabolism were improved in four month-olds who were treated with delayed clamping. No complications or side effects were noted. 

It’s time for hospitals to re-adopt delayed clamping as standard procedure, just as nature intended.  To borrow another Aristotle-ism, “Nature does nothing without reason or in vain.” Amen.

* * * * * * *

*(“Natural” would be a better term than “delayed”, seeing as that’s when nature chooses to close down the blood vessels in the cord. But I don’t get a vote on these things, so we’ll go with “delayed.”)


Filed under Maternal-child health, Natural childbirth, Newborns

Nice description of newborn vision

I’m always searching for well-written information for parents of newborns, particularly first-time parents. Here’s an excellent description of how well a newborn can see, from the Smith-Kettlewell Eye Research Insitute . Read this and you’ll see that a lot of information in pregnancy and parenting books is outdated.

Checking things out (in color, too).

Some highlights:

  • The idea that newborns can only see in black-and-white is wrong. Babies respond most readily to contrast, and black-and-white is all contrast. In fact, newborns can distinguish most colors, though their overall color vision isn’t as good as an adult’s. But they seem to prefer black-and-white toys because there’s not as much contrast between, say, blue and green as there is between black and white. (Plus, people keep sticking black-and-white toys in front of them…) Bottom line: brightly colored, contrast-y toys and mobiles are just as good.
  • Newborns are able to focus from a few inches away to the far distance. Their vision works best in-close because the visual area of the brain isn’t fully developed at birth. Within a few weeks it’s completely up to speed.
  • I now officially have crummier vision than a newborn. I was taught that newborn babies had 20/200 vision, identical to mine. Now I see they’ve been promoted to 20/120. Seems like cheating to me.

There’s a lot more, too. I’m adding this to the list of online parent resources I use in my practice.

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