I’ve previously blogged about how geophagy (eating clay) has been practiced for thousands of years to prevent morning sickness. Pregnant women become hyper-sensitive to environmental toxins, and morning sickness helps protect the developing fetus from deformities. It now turns out that all that misery could pay off for yet another reason, because women who have a greater degree of morning sickness might have more intelligent babies. (Morning Sickness may be Sign of a Bright Baby) The researchers involved theorize that the hormones which cause it might also protect a baby’s brain.
S. Boyde Eaton, et al., have written (Dietary Intake of Long-Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids during the Paleolithic, p. 20) that our brains are somewhat smaller than our Paleolithic ancestor’s brains, and that one reason might be our modern dietary deficiency in DHA omega-3 fats. Along with DHA, it seems that, for rats, enriching the environment of the mother long before she becomes pregnant can affect the learning of her offspring. Researchers theorize that the mother’s learning affects the nature of the hormones she will release during her later pregnancies. This will affect epigenetic chemical markers on her offspring’s genes, which will in turn affect these genes’ expression during brain development, finally causing changes in the brains of the pups. (Can Experiences be Passed on to Offspring? and A Mother’s Experience can Alter her Offspring’s Memory Performance) Meanwhile, stress during pregnancy very likely harms a baby’s brain, and might increase the risk of schizophrenia. Researchers think the mechanism is likely related to the stress hormone cortisol crossing the placenta. (Stress Harms Baby’s Brain While in Womb) Another possible factor that could increase the risk of schizophrenia is having the flue during pregnancy. (Flue During Pregnancy may Increase Risk of Schizophrenia in Certain Offspring)
There are some indications that vitamin D deficiency is a risk factor for preeclampsia. (Vitamin D for the Prevention of Preeclampsia? A Hypothesis.) This is a condition that occurs in pregnancy, which causes the patient to develop hypertension, along with protein in their urine. It’s widespread, affecting about 10% of pregnancies, and is currently only treatable through termination. It is most common in first pregnancies, and some researchers think that it’s the result of the mother’s immune system inappropriately attacking fetal cells. The theory is that they are being triggered by the foreign antigens that were introduced by the father. So, besides vitamin D supplementation, another recommendation is to delay pregnancy for a while after beginning sexual relations, on the theory that this allows the mother’s immune system to become acquainted with the father’s sperm’s antigens. (Introduction and Overview of Evolutionary Medicine (p.24) by Wenda R. Trevathan, et al.)
Low levels of vitamin D are also associated with chronic pain and muscle weakness, which suggests this might be a possible factor in a painful difficult birth. (Lack of Vitamin D Linked to Pain, and Recent Developments in Vitamin D Deficiency and Muscle Weakness Among Elderly People) Stephan Guyenet, of Whole Health Source, reports that pelvic inlet depth index was larger in our hunter-gatherer ancestors (97.7% versus 92.1% today), and that this might be still another reason why childbirth is difficult for modern people. (Longevity & Health in Ancient Paleolithic vs. Neolithic peoples) Because vitamin K2 deficiency narrows the bone structure of the face, it seems natural to speculate that this could also be part of the reason for our lower pelvic inlet depth index today.
Difficult births lead to caesareans, and, using MRIs, researchers have been able to show that women who have had c-sections had lower response levels to their baby’s cries. This might indicate weaker bonding with their infants. Researchers suggested that this possibly occurred because these women missed out on the hormonal priming from oxytosin that takes place during a vaginal delivery. (C-sections may Weaken Bonding with Baby)
Home birthing is as safe as in the hospital. Two studies, one from the Netherlands and the other from Canada, found no evidence of greater death rates among home births, for low risk pregnancies, in either the mothers or their babies. In the Netherlands study nearly 1/3 of those who started at home did end up being transferred to the hospital, but the risk was no greater than those mothers who had started out in the hospital. Researchers said that a good midwife was the key. (Home Births “as Safe as Hospital,” and Home Birth with Midwife as Safe as Hospital Birth, Study) (See also: The Natural Family Site, and Why Have Natural Childbirth?)
The natural childrearing people argue against circumcision on a number of grounds, including that they believe there doesn’t seem to be much of a reason for it. (Put Down that Knife! 11 Reasons not to Circumcise, Circumcision – Wikipedia, and Circumcision Rates)
Pacifiers reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by about 90%. (Pacifier Greatly Reduces Risk of Sudden Infant Death) They reduce the risk regardless whether or not the infant sleeps on his/her stomach, in soft bedding, or his/her mother smoked. Problems such as thumb sucking, tooth development, and difficulties breast feeding can be avoided by waiting a few weeks before using one, and stopping when they become toddlers. (However, there apparently is a trade-off, because, according to Gabe Mirkin, studies from Finland found that children who use pacifiers are more likely to have recurrent ear infections.) Other people also recommend co-sleeping as protective. (See below) One more way of lowering the risk of SIDS is by using a fan to circulate the air in the room. This reduces the risk by 72%. (Fan Use Linked to Lower Rate of Sudden Infant Death) (See also: Sudden infant death syndrome – Wikipedia)
Coming to very similar conclusions as The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff, here is an article on Evolutionary Psychology: Natural Parenting - Back to Basics in Infant Care by Regine A. Schon. Matt Metzgar wrote up this outline. (I inserted some additional materials and links):
Evolutionary Function of Crying (For a second opinion see: Should Infants be Allowed to Cry Themselves to Sleep?)
- Crying signals genuine needs of the infant
- Crying should be immediately attended to by the mother or caregiver
- Crying takes significant physical effort on the part of the infant
- The immediate response to crying should be to restore physical contact between the caregiver and the infant
Infants as Carried Young
- Hunter-gatherer women carried their infants in slings close to the body
- This increased beneficial skin-to-skin contact between the mother and the infant
- The common leg positions of babies suggest they are adapted for carrying
Cosleeping (Regarding co-sleeping: Mr. Metzgar cites this article (which argues in favor of it), Why Babies Should Never Sleep Alone: A Review of the Co-sleeping Controversy in Relation to SIDS, Bedsharing, and Breastfeeding, and this site, Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory. See also: The Benefits of Co-Sleeping)
- Cosleeping for the infant and mother has been the universal norm throughout most of human history
- Bedsharing is the environment to which the vulnerable newborn is best adapted
- Cosleeping may reduce some forms of SIDS
Breastfeeding (See also: Breastfeeding Linked to Smarter Babies (Again) This article points out that, as well as being correlated with 5.9 points of higher IQ, breastfeeding also apparently reduces the chances of a mother later developing rheumatoid arthritis, and lessons the child’s odds of later developing cardiovascular disease. This article, Big Bad Cavities: Breastfeeding is not the Cause, states that more than three dozen studies have shown no link between breastfeeding and the disease of Early Childhood Carries (ECC). Medical News Today reports that the concentration of volatile organic compound toxins in breast milk are much lower than indoor air, and also much lower than the safe levels for drinking water. (Concentrations of Certain Toxins in Breast Milk are Low, Study Finds))
- No alternative to breast milk existed before the transition to a farming economy
- Therefore, infants have been breastfed for 99% of all human existence
- Artificial substitutes have been unable to replicate the complex structure of breast milk
- There is mounting evidence about the many benefits of breastfeeding on child development
- Human infants are born in an exceptionally immature state
- The conditions for the early part of infant life should attempt to mimic that of the womb
- This includes close contact with the mother’s body in a tight, warm embrace
- Heartbeat sounds are comforting to an infant; women tend to hold infants on the left side of their body, close to their hearts
- Rocking an infant provides a calming effect since it mimics the movement stimulation the infant received from the mother’s normal daily movements
- Swaddling replicates the feeling of the womb and has been proven effective in calming infants
Toilet Training (What is Infant Potty Training, Benefits of Infant Potty Training, Infant Potty Training, The Controversy over Infant Potty Training, Shaping self-initiated toileting in infants) (There are also major health benefits of squatting instead of sitting for defecation. (The Squat Toilet) The repeated refrain is to do things the way nature intended.)
- Infants were historically toilet trained much earlier than in modern times
- Natural toilet training depends on reading an infant’s signals and responding appropriately
- Children trained in this way complete toilet training anywhere from 6 months to 2 years
Matt also reviewed this book, The 90-Minute Sleep Baby Program. As he says, the basic idea behind the book is that humans have a 90 minute cycle of activity and rest. This means that when a baby wakes up their next nap should be 90 minutes later. (Older children might string several of these together.) 22 out of 27 reviews on Amazon gave the book 5 stars. Matt speculates that many children today are sleep deprived, which is obviously troublesome. It turns out that sleep deprived children have twice the risk of becoming obese. (Sleep Deprivation Doubles the Risk of Obesity in Both Children and Adults)
Matt also very favorably reviewed, The Happiest Baby on the Block. The author argues that babies need a uterus like environment, and he suggests a number of tactics for mimicking it. These include swaddling, shh sounds, side/stomach position, swinging, and sucking. He claims that his program will calm almost all babies.
Matt also pointed out Baby Sign Language, which allows the infant to communicate his/her needs at a much younger age. I think it’s very surprising that this wasn’t stumbled upon thousands of years ago, yet it is a remarkably simple and wonderful advancement. It apparently isn’t some sort of silly fad, but brings real benefits, which I think all parents would appreciate, including greatly reduced frustration on everyone’s part, and increased language skills.
Matt has blogged about Baby Led Weaning, which takes the position that children shouldn’t be fed pureed foods (Pureed Food “isn’t Natural for Babies’), but instead weaned directly onto solid foods. The argument behind the idea is that this is much closer to the way our ancestors would have done it. (It should be said that hunter-gatherers often did pre-chew the child’s food to help him/her along.)
I have blogged before about going barefoot, and children who go barefoot as long as possible have about half the rate of flat footedness later on. Having said that, being flat footed doesn’t appear to be as big a problem as people once thought. There appears to be no relationship between the height of children’s arches and their ability to perform athletically, and it very well also might not affect their injury rates. (Flat Feet don’t Impair Kid’s Motor Skills)
A study from Sweden concluded that risk factors for snoring as an adult include respiratory and ear infections as a child, being raised in a large family, and being exposed to a dog at home as a newborn. (Have A Dog? Your Child is More Likely to Snore as an Adult)
Children who suffer from cyclic vomiting might actually be suffering from migraines. (Gabe Mirkin: Cyclic Vomiting)
Low levels of carbon monoxide, 25 parts per million, might cause oxidative stress on the cochlear nerve, and permanently damage the hearing of children. Such carbon monoxide can come from tobacco, cooking, and heating appliances. (How Chronic Exposure to Tiny Levels of Carbon Monoxide Damages Hearing in Young Ears) However, the main cause of hearing loss in modern world is loud noise. The blast from a single gunshot, or the loud prolonged noise of a rock concert, can result in permanent hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Many cases of bed-wetting might be caused by breathing problems. 63% of bed-wetting children stopped when they had surgery to remove their adenoids or tonsils, and the use of a plate to widen the palate of bed-wetters with narrow palates ended the condition in 70% of cases. (Breathing Troubles the Cause of Bed-wetting?) Gabe Mirkin discusses another theory, that it’s the lack of antidiuretic hormone that causes the problem. This hormone causes the kidneys to shut down at night. (Bedwetting)
The BBC reports that a 10 minute test for dyslexia has been developed that can be used starting at age 3 & 1/2. (Early Warning Test for Dyslexia) The test has children repeat sentences and re-tell a story while looking at how the child builds sounds up into words. For parents of children who seem a little different there is the book, Quirky Kids: Understanding and Your Child Who Doesn’t Fit In- When To Worry And When Not To Worry. One reviewer thought the book would be most helpful to parents who are just beginning to suspect something is unusual, but don’t know what might be the problem. It also debunks a number of folk myths out there, and reportedly has a good section on the pros and cons of various medications. Science Daily has this article, Specific Behaviors Seen in Infants Can Predict Autism, New Research Shows, which reports that Canadian researchers have discovered that there are behavioral signs that can accurately predict autism in children as young as one year old. (See also: The Vitamin D Theory of Autism)
According to a study by the University of Rochester Medical Center, there is no detectable risk to children from the mercury in the seafood their mother’s ate, up to 12 servings a week. The study period was before birth to age 9, and the children were tested for 21 different cognitive, neurological and behavioral functions. These abilities included concentration, attention, problem-solving, and motor skills. (No Detectable Risk From Mercury in Seafood, Study Shows)
Tonsils serve to trap germs and train the white blood cells when children are young, but as they grow older their importance lessons. Doctors generally seem to say that their removal can be justified if they obstruct the throat, or the child suffers from frequent throat infections. (Dr. Alan Green on Tonsil Removal)
Not surprisingly, mother’s who talk about people’s mental states, such as beliefs, wants, and intentions, have children with a greater understanding of social interactions. (This obviously does not establish causation, because mothers with greater social skills might pass on genes that also dispose their children to have those same skills.) Researchers note that these greater social skills do not necessarily imply that these children will be better behaved. (The Secret to Building Children’s Social Skills) The Incredible Years is an organization which hosts a variety of programs for teaching parents, teachers, and children social skills. It turns out the ability of a mother to read her child’s emotions is more important than her social status for the child’s development. (Why Mind-Reading Mums are Best)
Not surprisingly, children are happier who have a sense of spirituality, that is meaning in life, and they think that their lives have value. Good interpersonal relationships also helped, and accounted for 27% of the happiness variation between children. Being more sociable was also a happiness predictor. (Spirituality is key to kids’ happiness)
Researchers want to know why some children are resilient in spite of bad upbringings. They have found that resilient children tend to share a number of characteristics: They have at least one supportive person in their life, have a positive outlook, a pleasant altruistic personality, they are eager to learn, and have problem-solving skills. They take responsibility for their mistakes, and move on. They also have an interest or friend they can turn to when they need to. (This description to me sounds somewhat like the characteristics of lucky people.) (Raising Resilient Children Foundation, their book, Psychosocial Characteristics of Resilient Children, and The Resilient Child)
Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, in The Case Against Homework: How Homework is Hurting our Children and What We Can Do About It, argue that there’s almost no evidence that homework helps kid’s academic success. They point out that the amount of homework has skyrocketed in recent years, which is contributing to an epidemic of obesity, and robs kids of the time they need to be kids. They also give advice on how to separate useful assignments from the time wasters. Richard Louv, author of, Last Child in the Woods, argues that children suffer from a nature-deficit disorder.
For preventing myopia, besides a low glycemic diet/ Paleolithic Diet, it seems that playing outside is also protective. Researchers in Australia have found that kids who spend a lot of time outside have lower myopia rates. (Kid’s eyes need the great outdoors)
I have previously blogged about The Freedom to Learn site. Peter Gray has a series of articles which argue that play is essential for healthy human life, and maintaining a band’s existence. John Holt takes a similar approach in his books, How Children Learn and How Children Fail, that children are natural learners, and the process of forcing them to learn in school changes their personalities for the worse. David Elkind’s book, The Power of Play: How Spontaneous Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier Healthier Children, argues that play is changing from teaching children social roles, vocations, and academic skills to teaching them brand loyalty, fashion consciousness, and group think. Matt Metzgar reviewed Susan Linn’s book, The Case for Make-Believe: Saving Play in a Commercialized World, which argues that many of today’s toys are scripted, and that they don’t foster the development of social and critical skills. Matt also discussed this article, Sucker-Me Elmo, which questions the merits of electronic toys. Meanwhile, New York City is developing the next generation playground, which is designed to foster the imagination of kids. (New York developing a next-generation playground) Here is a site that features educational products for children We Make Stories, which allows the child to write and print their own stories.
It turns out that pedophiles don’t randomly search through MySpace sites searching for kids. Instead they go for those kids in chat rooms who are presenting themselves in sexually suggestive ways. (Welcome to Crimes Against Children Research Center, and Salon – Stop Worrying about your Children) This information is from the same woman who runs Free Range Kids, which I have written about before. Boing Boing favorably reviewed this book, If Your Kid Eats this Book Everything will Still be Okay: How to Know if Your Child’s Injury or Illness is Really an Emergency by Lara Zibners. Zibners is an emergency room pediatrician who says that 75% of late night emergency room visits are unnecessary, and this book is a guide to all the things you don’t have to worry about.
On the other hand, there are real risks out there, and Dreambaby makes safety products to help reduce these. Science Daily has a story, Homes Need More Protection Against Falls, which points out that falls are the second leading cause of death among children, and that this is because many homes have inadequate protection against them. Such homes are lacking such commonsense things as banisters, grab bars, anti-slip bathtub strips, and child safety gates. Eco Child’s Play has a similar outlook, and advocates ”Green Parenting for Non-Toxic Healthy Homes.” This site focuses on alternative medicine, and sources of toxins from such things as plastics, medicines, and cleaners. (See, for example: 12 Warnings for Parents and Kids in 2008, 10 Ways to Avoid Toxic Plastic - BPA (Bisphenol A), Synthetic Estrogens and Your Child, Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child, 9 Best Articles for Natural and Home Remedies on Echo Child’s Play in 2008, Another Reason We Can’t Trust the FDA, Melamine…, New Study Suggests Link Between Hairspray Exposure and Genital Birth Defect, How Safe is Your Child’s Playground?, Balloons Cause More Deaths than Marbles, and Finding Safer Products for our Children) They also discuss products to make parent’s lives easier. (Postpartum Bamboo Belly Wrap Helps Shrink Your Belly and Prevent Stretch Marks, and Why Tilty is a Better Sippy)
In recent years people have been taking bullying far more seriously, and researchers have found that, at least with rats, bullying might scar the brain for life. When rats were bullied new brain nerve cells would form, but then die, and they acted depressed. (Bullying May Scar Brain for Life)
Psychologist Randall Flanery has this advice for being a great dad: Run a benevolent dictatorship. Be friendly, but not a friend. Admit when you’re wrong. Remain firmly flexible. Stick around even when they don’t want you to. Ask questions. Don’t take it personally if they express unhappiness. Know that parenting is 24/7, and then some. Keep in mind that who you are is more important than what you buy them. Laugh. Of course, there is also the book, Supernanny: How to Get the Best from your Children by Jo Frost. For the sport parent, there is Who’s Game is it Anyway: A Guide to Helping Your Child Get the Most From Sports, Organized by Age and Stage by Amy Baltzell.