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The Woes of Parenting: Are They All Woe-Worthy?

John Wilmot, Second Earl of Rochester, was undoubtedly a wise man. “Before I got married I had six theories about raising children,” he wrote way back in the 17th century, “now, I have six children and no theories.” Imagine what he would say today. Six theories about bringing up kids? Nope. There are dozens and dozens.

Thanks to social media and the Internet, we are flooded with opinions about what to do, and what not to do, from an array of physicians, psychologists, nutritionists, naturopaths, chiropractors and an assortment of “mommy bloggers.” The cacophony of information makes parenting more challenging than ever and that challenge starts even before a baby is born.

“You are what you eat” is an old adage, but now there is increasing evidence that “you are what your mother ate.” We are learning that the more weight a mom puts on during pregnancy, the greater the chance of the child eventually becoming obese. That doesn’t mean looking towards any of the popular weight loss diets. Proper weight gain is important during pregnancy. What it does mean, is staying away from junk food and making sure that protein, calcium, iron and folic acid needs are met. A baby requires a lot of calcium as the bones develop, and if there isn’t enough in the mother’s diet, the needed calcium will come from mom’s bones.

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to fetal alcohol syndrome, and pregnant women are more susceptible to infection by Listeria bacteria and Toxoplasmona gondii , a parasite that can actually be passed on to the baby. It is best to avoid any unpasteurized dairy products, undercooked meat, sushi and raw oysters. Let hubby clean out the litter box since cat feces can transmit toxoplasmosis. Undercooked eggs, raw sprouts and unpasteurized juices can increase the risk of E. coli infection, a bigger problem during pregnancy that at other times.

There are numerous other questions that flutter through the minds of moms-to-be. Is it worthwhile to load up on fish with hopes that the omega-3 fats they contain will increase the odds of giving birth to a baby with a higher IQ, and at the same time reduce the risk of postpartum depression? Or should intake be limited because of possible mercury contamination? Best idea is to stick to fish like salmon and canned light tuna that are unlikely to harbour significant amounts of mercury. Coffee? Some weak evidence for reduced birth weight with increased consumption, so better to stick with about a cup a day. Worry about cooking in non-stick pots or pans? A sticky point if you Google uncritically, but there is no evidence of risk.

Once the baby arrives, the quandaries multiply. If birth was by Caesarian section, should the baby be exposed to vaginal bacteria to ensure a healthy microbiome? Some intriguing studies suggest, yes. Cloth or disposable diapers? There are arguments to be made for both, but perhaps surprisingly, disposable diapers have a smaller environmental footprint, and are less likely to irritate small bottoms. And it seems there is no need to go to extreme ends to protect the baby from dirt. The interesting “hygiene hypothesis” maintains, with some evidence, that the immune system has to be trained to battle foreign substances, otherwise there is the risk of it turning on itself triggering some form of autoimmune disease.

Breast of course is best, but if need be, babies can do very well on formula. What sort of bottles should be used for that formula? Polycarbonate bottles have been eliminated because of the concern that trace amounts of bisphenol A (BPA) might leach into the contents, so there is no issue now about bottles. BPA is actually ubiquitous in the environment and everyone is exposed to some extent, as evidenced by its presence in urine. However, the FDA has just declared, based on a compilation of numerous studies, that in the amounts encountered, the chemical does not pose a risk to health. What if milk production is difficult? Fenugreek or milk thistle are worth a shot.

Nothing strikes fear into the heart of a parent more than the prospect of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Studies have shown that the risk can be reduced by having the baby sleep on his or her back instead of the tummy or side. Questions have been raised about chemicals leaching out of mattresses posing a risk, but these have been answered. Not a problem. Teething necklaces? Forget them. Total nonsense. Worries about fluoride in drinking water? No evidence of any harm. Feed the baby an organic diet? Studies show no difference in nutrition when compared with a conventional one While there is somewhat greater chance of pesticide residues on conventional produce than on organic, these are still way below the acceptable daily intake (ADI). As far as genetically modified foods go, they are only an issue for alarmists with a dearth of knowledge. How about introducing peanuts? Information keeps changing ,but current thought is that there is no need to wait a year before introducing them.

Dioxane, a manufacturing contaminant in some baby shampoos, is found in amounts too small to raise a legitimate concern. Phthalates, used in some creams and lotions to control texture and retard loss of scent, are “endocrine disruptors” in laboratory experiments, but there is no evidence that the traces found in consumer products are associated with harm.

Vaccination? There should be no debate. Of course kids should be vaccinated, and according to the established schedule that is based on reams of evidence! Chiropractic adjustment of babies’ spine? Anyone contemplating that should have their head examined. And not by a chiropractor of naturopath. Finally, when it comes to putting kids to bed, it’s a good idea to make sure that computer, tablet and phone screens are turned off. They can all emit blue light that impairs the formation of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep.

One more item to chew on. It's not only mom who has to prepare for pregnancy. Dad is part of the picture too. There is accumulating evidence that stress and environmental factors can change the properties of sperm. So dad also needs to eat right, exercise, and worry less about all the factors involved in parenting.

Undoubtedly the points raised here can provide plenty of fodder for discussion. That is why we are holding a screening of the film “Science Moms” followed by a panel discussion with a couple of the moms featured in the film, the film’s director, and some local scientifically minded moms and dads. You can register right here on our website.


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