Intervention with at-risk infants increases children’s compliance at age 3

Children who are maltreated often develop problems complying with directions and expectations of parents and other authority figures. Lack of compliance can lead to other problems, including difficulty regulating anger and academic troubles. A new study tested a home-visiting intervention for parents of children referred to Child Protective Services (CPS). The study found that children whose parents took part in the intervention demonstrated significantly better compliance than children whose parents did not, and that parents’ sensitivity also increased.

The study was done by researchers at the University of Delaware and appears in Child Development, a journal of the Society for Research in Child Development. The researchers are now at the University of Delaware, as well as the University of California, San Diego, the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center, and Stony Brook University.

“Overall, our findings demonstrate that a brief, preventive intervention in infancy can have long-lasting effects on the compliance of children referred to CPS,” according to Teresa Lind, postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Diego, and the Child and Adolescent Services Research Center in San Diego, and lead author of the study. “The intervention helped increase parents’ sensitivity, and this change played a role in the changes in the children.”

Led by Mary Dozier, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Delaware, researchers examined whether a 10-week home-based intervention called Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up (ABC) could enhance compliance in children whose mothers received either the intervention or a control intervention when the children were infants. The parents of the children had been involved with CPS due to concerns related to domestic violence, parents’ substance use, homelessness, or neglect. The children were, on average, 9 months old at the start of the study.

ABC, designed by Dozier and her team, aims to help parents increase sensitivity by following their children’s lead, nurturing children when they are distressed, and avoiding frightening behaviors (e.g., yelling) to enhance children’s self-regulation and compliance. The control intervention also lasted 10 weeks and was similar in structure to ABC but focused on enhancing children’s motor, cognitive, and language skills.

When the child participants were about 3 years old, the study assessed their compliance: while parents filled out questionnaires nearby, an experimenter told children they were allowed to read a book but were not allowed to touch the toys placed on a nearby low shelf.

Children whose parents took part in ABC demonstrated significantly better compliance than children whose parents took part in the control intervention:

  • Specifically, fewer children in the ABC group touched the toys than in the control group, and children in the ABC group also touched the toys for shorter periods of time and waited longer before touching the toys than children in the control group.
  • Additionally, parents who took part in the ABC intervention showed significantly higher levels of sensitivity a month after the intervention than parents who participated in the control intervention. And there was some evidence that parents’ sensitivity partially mediated the effect of the intervention on their children’s compliance at age 3.

“These results point to the enduring effects of the ABC intervention on children’s ability to control their behavior under challenging conditions,” explains Dozier. “We know that controlling one’s behavior — for example, being able to sit at one’s desk and pay attention to the teacher — is critical to success in school.”

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Is alcohol consumption more helpful than harmful? It depends on your age

Studies of health effects of alcohol consumption may underestimate the risks of imbibing, particularly for younger people, according to a new study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The research demonstrates that although cohort studies — the type of observational investigations typically used to study health benefits and risks — sometimes show benefits from moderate alcohol consumption, they tend to enroll people age 50 and older. Studying people at this age range eliminates all those who have died before age 50 because of alcohol consumption.

Simply put, “deceased persons cannot be enrolled in cohort studies,” write the authors, led by Timothy Naimi, M.D., M.P.H., of the Boston Medical Center. “Those who are established drinkers at age 50 are ‘survivors’ of their alcohol consumption who [initially] might have been healthier or have had safer drinking patterns” compared with others.

In fact, more than 40% of overall deaths from alcohol occur before age 50, according to the study. This suggests that most current studies underestimate alcohol-related risk compared with what would be observed across the full age spectrum. Further, the study demonstrates that most study participants are not representative of all persons who begin to drink alcohol.

To obtain data for the current research, Naimi and his colleagues used the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact software application from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The data used were derived from government statistics on cause of death and health benefits from 2006 to 2010 in the United States.

Naimi and colleagues found age was a large factor in deaths prevented by alcohol consumption. Some 35.8% of the total deaths caused by alcohol occurred in people ages 20 to 49. However, of the deaths determined to have been prevented by alcohol consumption, only 4.5% occurred in this younger age group.

Although those ages 65 and older saw a similar 35.0% of the mortality caused by drinking, 80% of the deaths that were prevented by alcohol consumption occurred in this group.

A somewhat similar pattern emerged when the researchers looked at years of potential life lost as a result of drinking. Of the overall years of life lost, 58.4% occurred in those ages 20 to 49. But this younger group saw only 14.5% of the years of life saved from drinking.

People 65 and older accounted for 15% of the overall years of life lost from alcohol consumption. However, more than 50% of the years of life saved occurred within this older group.

In general, their results show that younger people “are more likely to die from alcohol consumption than they are to die from a lack of drinking,” according to the authors, whereas older people are the ones most likely to see the health benefits of moderate drinking often mentioned in the news.

“This study adds to the literature questioning protective effects for alcohol on all-cause mortality,” the authors conclude. Nonetheless, they write that “most who choose to drink can do so with relatively low risk.”

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These Are the New Sports We May See at the 2024 Summer Olympics

Breakdancing. Skateboarding. Climbing. Surfing.

These are the new sports we may see at the 2024 Summer Olympics, per a proposal that host city Paris submitted to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) last week. This request falls in line with the IOC’s goal of making the Games more youth-focused, gender-balanced, and more urban, Kit McConnell, IOC Sports Director, tells SELF.

We chatted with McConnell to learn more about this shift in direction for the Olympics, the details of Paris’s proposal, exactly how new sports are added to the Olympics, and other highlights in the works for the 2024 Games.

First, here’s a little context on how new sports are added to the Olympics.

Starting with the 2020 Games in Tokyo, the IOC made major changes to the format and framework of the Olympics to allow for the inclusion of more sports. Prior to the 2020 Tokyo Games, every edition of the Olympic Games had been capped at 28 sports, a list determined solely by the IOC. This meant that “to bring a new sport in, we actually had to take a sport out of the program,” explains McConnell.

To allow for more inclusion in the Games, the IOC announced in 2014 a number of changes to the structure and format of the Olympics that would begin in 2020. The biggest update: removing the maximum number of sports per Games and replacing it with a maximum number of overall athletes and maximum number of events. This allows the flexibility to introduce new sports without cutting existing ones, explains McConnell.

Then, when it comes to actually selecting the new sports, the IOC determined that instead of making this decision solo, they’d rely on input from the host city. The goal is to include sports that fit the host city’s vision for the Games as well as sports that are particularly popular in the host country. The only requirement for proposed sports, says McConnell, is that they have an international federation recognized by the IOC, which helps the IOC build appropriate qualification systems. Beyond that, it’s really up to the city.

Tokyo proposed five new sports—baseball/softball and karate (both of which are very popular in Japan), plus skateboarding, climbing, and surfing—and all were approved.

As for Paris, the French capital “came up with a vision of their edition of the Games in 2024 that is really focused on reaching out to young people, on having an Olympic Games in an urban environment, on gender equality, and on being really engaging,” says McConnell. From there, Paris considered which sports could fit into that vision, he explains. Roughly 15 different sports, including squash, billiard sports, and chess, submitted proposals to Paris with the hopes of making the city’s shortlist. Paris’s final recommendation, says McConnell, was based on what they felt best fit their vision of the games, and happened to include three sports already on the list for Tokyo.

Now that Paris has submitted its proposal, the IOC will evaluate the four sports, and after several layers of review, will announce its final decision in December 2020.

As mentioned, three of the four proposed sports—skateboarding, surfing, and climbing—are already on the program for Tokyo, which means the IOC already has a solid understanding of the factors that would make the sports good Olympic contenders, like their global popularity, how competitions are run, venue requirements, and so on. Breakdancing, though not on the list for Tokyo, was part of the 2018 youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, so it’s also already well-known to the IOC, explains McConnell.

That said, the IOC will still carefully evaluate the four sports for Paris 2024, considering the number of athletes who participate in the sports around the world, the number of people watching and engaging with the sports, the venues required to host the sports, and more, says McConnell. After several layers of internal review, the IOC will announce its decision in June of which sports will be provisionally included in Paris. They’ll then wait until December 2020 to announce the final event list for 2024, explains McConnell, which will give them the chance to evaluate how well the new sports are received at the Tokyo Games.

Surprisingly, there is no such thing as a “permanent” Olympic sport.

Even if the new sports are officially added to the 2024 Games (crosses all fingers and toes for breakdancing), they aren’t guaranteed a spot at future Olympic Games. “The proposals for Paris are specific to the Paris 2024 Games,” says McConnell. Los Angeles, host of the 2028 Summer Games, will have the same opportunity to propose new sports that reflect the city’s vision for the Games and what’s popular in the United States, he explains. Said vision may not include Paris’s same picks.

In fact, none of the current Olympic sports are guaranteed a spot in future Games. That’s because the IOC constantly re-evaluates the line-up. “We go through a process of formally approving the inclusion of every sport for each edition of the Games,” explains McConnell. Obviously the inclusion of core sports, like swimming, isn’t put into question at every Games, he says, but technically “there is no such thing as a ‘permanent sport.’”

Other changes we may see at the 2024 Games include mass participation events and immersive tech experiences.

When submitting its proposed new sports, Paris also announced several additional updates it hopes to implement at the 2024 Games in an effort to create a more connected event.

The first: mass participation events that allow spectators to not just watch the games, but actively engage with them, explains McConnell, like inviting thousands of spectators from around the world to race on the Olympic marathon course shortly after the Olympians tackle it themselves. On top of that, Paris hopes to offer immersive, electronic versions of Olympic events, like cycling and sailing, that allow people around the world to virtually partake in Olympic events themselves, he explains.

The primary goal with all of these changes is to make the Olympics more inclusive and engaging for everyone, says McConnell. So regardless of which sports make the cut, we’ll have lots to celebrate and cheer for in Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022, Paris 2024, and beyond.


Selma Blair Reveals Her MS Led to Spasmodic Dysphonia

This past October, actor Selma Blair revealed that what she had originally thought was an issue with a pinched nerve was actually multiple sclerosis (MS). Now, in her first televised interview since she received her diagnosis, Blair said that she also developed spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological vocal condition.

“Ever since my son was born, I was in an MS flare-up and didn’t know, and I was giving it everything to seem normal,” Blair said in an interview with Good Morning America on Tuesday. She also explained that she experienced chronic pain for years and “self-medicated” and drank alcohol to deal with it. (Blair celebrated two years of sobriety in June 2018.)

But once she finally received her diagnosis, Blair cried. “They weren’t tears of panic, they were tears of knowing I now had to give in to a body that had loss of control, and there was some relief in that,” she explained. She added that she was “very happy” to be able to do the interview and “put out what being in the middle of an aggressive form of multiple sclerosis is like.”

Blair also acknowledged that her voice was different and noticeably shaky, a change that she attributed to a condition called spasmodic dysphonia.

Spasmodic dysphonia is a condition affecting the muscles of the larynx.

You have two vocal folds (or cords), which are thin sheets of muscular tissue extending from either side of your larynx (voice box) and attach on one end, Lee Akst, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Voice Center, tells SELF. When they’re open, they form a V shape. When you speak, muscles push them close together so that they touch lightly and air coming up from your lungs pushes them apart. The vibrations created in that process form the basis of your voice, Dr. Akst explains.

But in the most common type of spasmodic dysphonia, the neurological signal that coordinates that muscle contraction causes spasms that push the vocal folds together too tightly—to the point that air can’t get through, Dr. Akst says. That causes a specific speech pattern marked by a strained choppiness (referred to as “staccato breaks”).

Although spasmodic dysphonia can come on suddenly, those who experience a more gradual progression tend to feel like it first takes more effort to speak, which might result in some raspiness or roughness. Eventually that develops to the classic staccato pattern of speaking, in which speech abruptly stops and starts again. (There are other types of spasmodic dysphonia that cause the vocal cords to stay open rather than closed or that can cause them to stay open or closed, but these are rarer, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).)

The exact cause of spasmodic dysphonia isn’t totally understood. But the current thinking is that abnormal functioning of neurotransmitters in the basal ganglia—the part of the brain that’s responsible for coordinating involuntary movements, including those involved in speech and swallowing—is the physiological root of the condition, the NIH explains.

Symptoms of spasmodic dysphonia can come on gradually for unknown reasons, or they may come on suddenly as a result of another issue, such as an upper respiratory infection, intubation during surgery, or some sort of trauma in the vocal cord area, Dr. Akst says. However, whether or not those types of events are directly responsible for the condition isn’t always clear.

Genetics may also play a role in some cases, the NIH says.

Vocal changes like this are actually somewhat rare in MS.

“MS is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the nervous system—the brain, the spinal cord, the optic nerves,” Robert Bermel, M.D., a neurologist in the Mellen Center for Multiple Sclerosis at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. “And the symptoms that a patient has are directly related to where in the nervous system the attacks occur.”

So, technically, spasmodic dysphonia is a condition that occurs by itself, not as a result of another condition like MS, Dr. Akst says. But if a patient with MS does exhibit vocal changes characteristic of spasmodic dysphonia, that suggests “the MS is affecting the same part of the brain” that’s at the root of spasmodic dysphonia, Dr. Akst explains, referring to the basal ganglia.

People that have MS lesions in other parts of their brain, like the cerebellum, may show other types of vocal changes, Dr. Bermel says, such as not being able to land on the right pitch or a voice that sounds like it’s fluctuating a lot, which are characteristic of a neurological symptom called ataxia. Dr. Akst says he might expect to see an overall weakening of projection, changes in pronunciation or pacing, or an overall thin, reedy quality in the voices of patients with MS.

Diagnosing these conditions requires careful listening to these different qualities and usually a stroboscopy, a procedure in which a camera is inserted through the patient’s nose to check on the vocal cords and rule out other conditions that could be responsible for the changes (like polyps). It also requires looking at the full picture of their symptoms, Dr. Bermel says. If someone has a vocal issue alongside muscle weakness or changes in vision, for instance, that’s an indicator that they may be dealing with an underlying neurological condition like MS.

Treatment focuses on managing the symptoms.

Treatment for spasmodic dysphonia doesn’t cure the condition, it can really only address the symptoms. Some patients with spasmodic dysphonia have success with voice therapy, which helps them develop compensatory strategies but doesn’t address the underlying physiological issue, Dr. Akst says. Other patients may opt for Botox injections into the vocal cord (through the neck), which weakens the muscles and prevents them from spasming so tightly. (If Botox injections do help a patient, that’s even more confirmation that the diagnosis is correct, Dr. Akst notes.)

If spasmodic dysphonia is associated with MS, medications to manage spasms throughout the body, such as muscle relaxants, may also help with spasmodic dysphonia, Dr. Bermel says. In these cases, patients may find that their vocal changes worsen with a flare-up and then get better, like many symptoms of MS.

Above all, getting a correct diagnosis and a treatment plan for your individual case is crucial. Because MS can present in so many different ways, it’s important to have “a personalized approach to each person’s disease,” Dr. Bermel says.


How to Cook Beets Without Making a Mess

Every time I cook with beets, my kitchen ends up looking like a crime scene. Despite my best efforts, hot pink beet juice somehow winds up absolutely everywhere—all over the counter and the cutting boards, on the floor, and in some seriously random spots like the microwave and the fridge. And of course it’ll be all over my face, hands, and clothes, too. There’s really no hiding it when I’ve made something with beets.

I’ve often found myself wondering if there’s a way to keep the mess at bay, or if it’s just one of the facts of life. So I asked a couple of cooking experts who frequently work with large quantities of the vegetable to find out if they have any secrets. I figured if anyone would know how to make something with beets without staining everything in plain sight, it’d be them.

They told me that while there’s no way to totally avoid the mess, there are a handful of things you can do to minimize it. Here, I test out the beet-making methods and tricks that experts say will keep your kitchen the tidiest.

If you really don’t want to deal with a mess, you can use a different beet variety.

Audrey Bruno

Though red beets are the most common variety of the vegetable, there are many other types out there that don’t contain betalains, the pigments responsible for their bright pink color, Matt Aita, executive chef at The Little Beet Table in New York City, tells SELF. He says that if you want to avoid the stains, you can simply use other options like chioggia beets (which have a candy-striped interior), golden beets, or white beets. These varieties are commonly available at farmers markets and health food stores like Whole Foods Market. And though they all taste slightly different, they share a similar earthy flavor.

If red beets are your only option, a few simple supplies can help contain the mess.

Aita says that you need to prep yourself before you even consider prepping the beets. Wearing gloves and an apron are the only ways to really guarantee that you won’t walk away with stained hands and clothes. And if you want to avoid a stained cutting board, set a piece of parchment paper on top of it before you begin slicing, Manuel Trevino, corporate executive chef at by CHLOE, tells SELF.

And don’t peel the beets until after you’ve cooked them—it’s much easier to remove the skin that way.

If you’ve ever tried to peel a raw beet, you probably know how strenuous and messy it can be. That’s why you should always wait to do it until after it’s had a chance to cook, when the meat of the vegetable is fork-tender and the skin slides right off, Trevino explains. And when you do finally peel the beets, he says that you should do it over the sink. That way, he says, “any mess will get washed down the drain.”

There are also a couple different ways to cook beets that will minimize the mess. The first method requires a bunch of salt.

Aita’s favorite (and least messy) way to make beets is to roast them under a thick layer of salt. The salt will draw out moisture from the beet, which will reduce the amount of juice it produces, he explains. To do it, you’ll need about a pound of Kosher salt for every pound of beets you use. Mix the salt with one to two egg whites until it’s wet enough to form around the beet. (Add more egg whites as necessary.) Wash and dry your beets, place them in a baking dish, and cover them in salt. Then, transfer the baking dish to an oven at 425 degrees F and let them cook for an hour until the salt has started to brown all over. Let them rest until they’re cool enough to handle, then crack open the salt like a piñata and remove your perfectly cooked beets.

When I tried out this method myself, I found that it was totally worth Aita’s hype. The salt pulled out most of the excess juice, so the beet was easy to handle, and it only stained my hands a little bit. Plus, it was super flavorful inside and out thanks to that thick layer of salt. I ate it plain, but you could easily use a beet prepared this way in any dish you like, whether that’s a soup or a salad. To be honest, I think it’s the only way I’m going to cook beets from now on.

The second method calls for aluminum foil, olive oil, and herbs.

Trevino likes to roast beets with olive oil and herbs in individual foil packets. The foil packets capture the juice as it’s released, so all you have to do is remove the beet when it’s finished cooking and toss the juice-filled foil before it has a chance to stain anything.

To do it, wash and dry your beets, then massage them with a bit of olive oil (about a teaspoon per beet) plus herbs like thyme and salt. Wrap each beet individually with aluminum foil and roast them at 425 degrees until fork-tender, about 30 minutes for a medium-sized beet or 45 minutes to an hour for a large beet. Remove from the oven, let cool, and use them however you like. Though I found this method produced beets that were less flavorful and a bit juicier, the foil-pack trick still helped me cut down on my usual beet mess.

Mother’s behavioral corrections tune infant’s brain to angry tone

The same brain network that adults use when they hear angry vocalizations is at work in infants as young as six months old, an effect that is strongest in infants whose mothers spend the most time controlling their behavior, according to a new study in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Chen Zhao of the University of Manchester, UK, and colleagues. The study indicates that the network recruited in adult vocal emotion processing is up and running quite early in life, and that its sensitivity to anger is partly a result of maternal interactions.

It has been recognized for generations that infants can distinguish the emotional content of their mothers’ voices long before they understand words, based on intonation, tone, rhythm, and other elements. In adults, that emotional content is processed in the frontal and temporal lobes. Brain imaging studies in infants have been performed, but the noise of an MRI machine has made analysis of response to sounds challenging.

In the current study, the authors overcame that limitation by using functional near infrared spectroscopy, a silent, noninvasive method that measures blood flow to cortical areas, while infants sat in their mothers’ laps and listened to recorded non-speech vocalizations that were angry, happy, or neutral in emotionality. Separately, the team also observed the same mother-infant pairs during floor play, quantifying the mother’s interactions in terms of both sensitivity to infant behavior as it changed, and directiveness, or the degree to which the mother sought to control the infant’s behavior.

They found that both angry and happy vocalizations activated the fronto-cortical network, and the level of activation in response to anger was greater for those infants whose mothers were more directive in their interactions. The results suggest that greater experience with directive caregiving, or the stress it produces, heightens the infant brain’s ability to detect and respond to angry vocalizations.

Zhao adds: “Brain science shows that babies’ brains are sensitive to different emotional tones they hear in voices. Such tones can cause different activation patterns in the infant’s brain areas which are also known to be involved in processing voices in adults and older children. These patterns also reveal that the early care experienced by babies can influence brain responses so that the more intrusive and demanding their mother, the stronger the brain response of these 6-month-olds is to hearing angry voices.”

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Thirty years of fast food: Greater variety, but more salt, larger portions, and added calories

Despite the addition of some healthful menu items, fast food is even more unhealthy for you than it was 30 years ago. An analysis of the offerings at 10 of the most popular US fast-food restaurants in 1986, 1991, and 2016, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, demonstrates that fast-food entrees, sides, and desserts increased significantly in calories and sodium and entrees and desserts in portion size over time. It also shows that while the variety of entree, sides, and dessert options soared by 226 percent, new or discontinued items tended to be less healthy than those available throughout the study period.

“Our study offers some insights on how fast food may be helping to fuel the continuing problem of obesity and related chronic conditions in the United States. Despite the vast number of choices offered at fast-food restaurants, some of which are healthier than others, the calories, portion sizes, and sodium content overall have worsened (increased) over time and remain high,” said lead investigator Megan A. McCrory, PhD, Department of Health Sciences, Sargent College, Boston University, Boston, MA.

Fast-food restaurants are on the rise around the world. In the US, about 37 percent of adults (aged >20 years) consume fast foods on any given day, and that increases to 45 percent for adults aged 20-39. One meal with an entree and side provides an average of 767 kcals, or close to 40 percent of a 2,000-calorie a day diet. Add a caloric beverage, and the amount increases to 45-50 percent of a person’s daily calorie intake. Dr. McCrory noted, “Given the popularity of fast food, our study highlights one of the changes in our food environment that is likely part of the reason for the increase in obesity and related chronic conditions over the past several decades, which are now among the main causes of death in the US.”

Dr. McCrory and colleagues examined changes over the 30-year period from 1986 to 2016 in energy, portion size, energy density, sodium, iron, and calcium of menu items in entrees, sides, and desserts categories offered by 10 of the top fast-food restaurants (according to sales). Data were collected using The Fast Food Guide, published in 1986 and 1991, and online sources in 2016. The most significant findings were:

  • Total number of entrees, desserts, and sides increased by 226 percent, or 22.9 items per year.
  • Calories in all three categories increased significantly, with the largest increases in desserts (62 kcals per decade), followed by entrees (30 kcals per decade). These increases were mainly due to the increase in portion size, which was statistically significant in entrees (13 grams per decade) and desserts (24 grams per decade) categories.
  • Sodium also increased significantly in all menu categories.
  • At four of the 10 restaurants studied, information on calcium and iron content was available. Calcium increased significantly in entrees and desserts, while iron levels increased significantly in desserts.

The change in calcium and iron levels in some of the menu categories, in particular desserts, is a positive development since these nutrients are important for good bone mass and preventing anemia. However, the investigators stress that there are better sources that do not come with high calories and sodium. Dr. McCrory expressed a hope that the study’s findings would lead to higher awareness and creative solutions. “We need to find better ways to help people consume fewer calories and sodium at fast-food restaurants. The requirement that chain restaurants display calories on their menus is a start. We would like to see more changes, such as restaurants offering smaller portions at a proportional prices,” she concluded.

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Infant sleep duration associated with mother’s level of education and prenatal depression

A new study analyzing data from Canadian parents has found that babies sleep less at three months of age if their mothers do not have a university degree, experienced depression during pregnancy or had an emergency cesarean-section delivery.

The study, which examined associations between a mother’s level of education, prenatal depression, method of delivery and her infant’s sleep duration, was published this month in Sleep Medicine. It found that infants born to mothers without a university degree slept an average of 13.94 hours per day — 23 minutes less than infants born to mothers with a university degree, and just short of the National Sleep Foundation guidelines of an average of 14-17 hours of sleep per day at three months of age.

The researchers analyzed data from 619 infants and their mothers participating in AllerGen’s CHILD Cohort Study — a national birth cohort study collecting a wide range of health, lifestyle, genetic and environmental exposure information from nearly 3,500 children and their families from pregnancy to adolescence.

“Sleep affects a baby’s growth, learning and emotional development, and is one of the most common concerns of new parents,” said Piush Mandhane, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta and one of the study’s lead authors.

“While earlier research has linked a mother’s socioeconomic status, including level of education, to shorter infant sleep duration, we have not really understood the factors at play. Our study revealed that 30 per cent of the effect of maternal education on infant sleep duration is actually mediated by a mother’s prenatal depression, as well as the type of delivery.”

Specifically, the researchers found mothers without a university degree to be at significantly higher risk of having symptoms of depression during both the prenatal and postnatal periods, or the prenatal period alone, compared to women with a university degree.

There are several possible explanations for the association between maternal depression and infant sleep, according to co-lead author Anita Kozyrskyj, also a professor of pediatrics at the U of A. “Mothers in distress tend to have sleep problems during pregnancy, which can be ‘transmitted’ to the fetus via the mother’s circadian clock and melatonin levels,” she said. “Maternal depression and emergency cesarean section also both lead to elevated free cortisol levels, which, in turn, may cause an exaggerated stress response in infants that negatively impacts their sleep.”

Further, the researchers found that the method of delivery independently predicted infant sleep duration, with infants delivered by emergency cesarean section sleeping approximately one hour less per day than infants born by vaginal delivery.

“This was an interesting finding, as we did not observe an association between shorter infant sleep and scheduled cesarean sections or vaginal deliveries,” commented first author Brittany Matenchuk, an AllerGen trainee and a former Master’s student at the U of A.

“While we are still at an early stage of unravelling the underlying biologic mechanisms, our study suggests that prenatal depression and birth mode are potential targets for health-care professionals and policy makers to improve infant sleep duration. Mothers who experience prenatal depression or an emergency cesarean delivery may benefit from support so that infant sleep problems do not persist into childhood.”

According to the team, previous studies have shown that sleep has a large impact on infant emotional and behavioural development. It may also affect how they perform cognitively later in life.

“We need to support moms before the child is born,” added Mandhane. “And if we can start to promote healthy sleep early on, three months of age onward, I think that just is better for families in general.”

New mothers reduce their alcohol intake, but this change is short-lived

Most women dramatically reduce their alcohol intake on learning they are pregnant, but by the time their child is five they are back to their pre-pregnancy drinking levels, a new international study has found.

The research, led by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, reported little change in the drinking patterns of men on becoming fathers.

The paper, ‘Alcohol and parenthood: an integrative analysis of the effects of transition to parenthood in three Australasian cohorts’ is published in the latest edition of Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal.

Lead author, psychologist Dr Rohan Borschmann, said the study drew on data from three longitudinal population studies — two in Australia and one in New Zealand — which tracked the drinking habits of more than 4,000 people in their teens, twenties and thirties.

“Most mothers with a child aged under one take a brief time out from drinking, but it doesn’t last,” Dr Borschmann said.

“By the time their youngest child has turned five, most mothers have returned to their pre- motherhood drinking patterns.”

Dr Borschmann said the research found that 15 per cent of mothers with a child aged five or older reported binge drinking in the past week.

“The reasons why women increase their drinking over the first five years after childbirth need to be explored in future studies.

“One of the important messages of our findings is that both men and women need to find different ways to put their brakes on their drinking during this time of life.

“The traditional combination of marriage, mortgage and kids no longer has any impact on men’s drinking, while motherhood only prompt women to have a brief reprieve from drinking.”

Dr Borschmann said policy advisors and health professionals could send a message to people that if they can manage to reduce their drinking over the first 12 months, they have shown it can be done longer term.

“Reducing parental drinking is likely to produce a double dividend that is both good for the parent and good for the child,” he said.

MCRI’s Dr Rohan Borschmann, who is also a research fellow at the University of Melbourne, said the aim of the research had been to investigate the extent that becoming a parent protects against heavy and problematic drinking in young men and women.

Participants for the study came from the Australian Temperament Project, the Victorian Adolescent Health Cohort Study and the Christchurch Health and Development Study.

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How listening to music ‘significantly impairs’ creativity

The popular view that music enhances creativity has been challenged by researchers who say it has the opposite effect.

Psychologists from the University of Central Lancashire, University of Gävle in Sweden and Lancaster University investigated the impact of background music on performance by presenting people with verbal insight problems that are believed to tap creativity.

They found that background music “significantly impaired” people’s ability to complete tasks testing verbal creativity — but there was no effect for background library noise.

For example, a participant was shown three words (e.g., dress, dial, flower), with the requirement being to find a single associated word (in this case “sun”) that can be combined to make a common word or phrase (i.e., sundress, sundial and sunflower).

The researchers used three experiments involving verbal tasks in either a quiet environment or while exposed to:

  • Background music with foreign (unfamiliar) lyrics
  • Instrumental music without lyrics
  • Music with familiar lyrics

Dr Neil McLatchie of Lancaster University said: “We found strong evidence of impaired performance when playing background music in comparison to quiet background conditions.”

Researchers suggest this may be because music disrupts verbal working memory.

The third experiment — exposure to music with familiar lyrics- impaired creativity regardless of whether the music also boosted mood, induced a positive mood, was liked by the participants, or whether participants typically studied in the presence of music.

However, there was no significant difference in performance of the verbal tasks between the quiet and library noise conditions.

Researchers say this is because library noise is a “steady state” environment which is not as disruptive.

“To conclude, the findings here challenge the popular view that music enhances creativity, and instead demonstrate that music, regardless of the presence of semantic content (no lyrics, familiar lyrics or unfamiliar lyrics), consistently disrupts creative performance in insight problem solving.”

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