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What you need to know about the ‘arsenic in baby food’ study

The Clean Label Project recently released the results of a study of more than 500 infant formulas and baby food products from 60 brands.

The study suggests many commonly consumed products , including formula, baby food in jars and pouches, and snacks contain contaminants like arsenic and lead, in some cases at levels higher than trace amounts. Common brands tested include: Baby’s Own, Similac, Enfamil, Happy Baby, Gerber, Holle, Kirkland, Little Duck Organics, Parent’s Choice, Plum Organics, and The Honest Company.

The study was not published in a peer-reviewed journal, but its authors say the items were tested and reviewed by a third party laboratory. The products were screened for heavy metals and other contaminants, and, in many cases, tested positive for things no parent wants to see in their baby’s food.

According to The Clean Label Project, nearly 80% of infant formulas examined tested positive for arsenic.

It’s important to note that all of us are consuming arsenic in some form. According to the FDA, it’s naturally found in soil and water and absorbed by plants, so many foods, including grains (especially rice) and fruits and vegetables contain arsenic.

Everyone is exposed to little bits of arsenic, but long-term exposure to high levels is associated with higher rates of some cancers and heart disease. Previous studies have shown that babies who consume infant formulas and rice products already tend to have higher than average levels of arsenic metabolites in their urine (due in part to the natural levels of arsenic found in rice), so additional arsenic in baby goods is certainly not ideal.

“To reduce the amount of arsenic exposure, it is important all children eat a varied diet, including a variety of infant cereals,” says Benard P. Dreyer, MD, FAAP and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). “The AAP encourages parents to speak with their pediatrician about their children’s nutrition. Pediatricians can work with parents to ensure they make good choices and informed decisions about their child’s diet.”

According to the World Health Organization, arsenic exposure is associated with an array of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer.

Arsenic was not the only chemical found in the tested products that could potentially pose a danger to the babies consuming them. Sixty percent of products claiming to be “BPA Free” tested positive for bisphenol A. Many parents are diligent about choosing products labeled BPA-free because of the possible effects of BPA exposure on the brains and behavior of infants and children.

The Clean Label Project also found that, of the products tested, 58% tested positive for cadmium, 10% for acrylamide, and 36% for lead.

This is not the first time lead (which can damage a child’s brain and nervous system, impact growth and development and cause learning, hearing, speech and behavior problems) has been found in baby food. A previous report released this year by another group, the Environmental Defense Fund, found 20% of 2,164 baby foods tested contained lead.

As the FDA notes, lead is in food because it is in the environment. "It is important for consumers to understand that some contaminants, such as heavy metals like lead or arsenic, are in the environment and cannot simply be removed from food," says Peter Cassell, an FDA spokesperson.

Cassell says the FDA doesn’t comment on specific studies, but does evaluate them while working to ensure consumer exposure to contaminants is limited to the greatest extent feasible. “Through the Total Diet Study, the FDA tests for approximately 800 contaminants and nutrients in the diet of the average U.S. consumer,” Cassel explains.

The FDA works with the food manufacturing industry to limit contaminants as much as possible, especially in foods meant for kids. “We determine, on a case-by-case basis, whether to take enforcement action when we find foods that would be considered contaminated,” Cassell adds.

Visit The Clean Label Project for the full report, which breaks down each baby food category by the products that tested best and worst.

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Sometimes it's easy to overlook this amazing work we are doing, my love. On the surface, our lives couldn't be less extraordinary. We work our jobs, we care for our children—we embody a simple life. (Though, don't get me wrong, we love every second of it!)

But especially when I think about the work you do for our family, work that largely goes unsung, I'm reminded that, really, it's my job to make sure you know how much it's appreciated.

We both came into this marriage so young, so untested, and so blissfully unaware of the hardships that would come our way through the years. As we grew up together, we weathered our own storms before finally realizing we were ready to expand from a party of two to a party of three.

You were more nervous than I was, but you stayed strong for me, making me feel stronger and shouldering my own moments of uncertainty like the hero I needed.

When our daughter was born, pink and sweet and impossibly small, I never felt safer than when I saw her in your arms. From her first breath, you were there, ready to give her the world if she asked. Your dedication to her, to me, and to this family we continue to build never wavered from that moment forward. From the first moments, you were an incredible parent.

But life has a way of distracting us—blinding us to the everyday heroism even when it's right under our noses. As Edna Mode sagely reminded us in The Incredibles 2, "Done properly, parenting is a heroic act", and I see your heroism.

So thank you, my love…you are incredible to me.

Thank you for stretching to pick up my slack, even when you’re just as tired as I am.

Somedays you walk through the door from work, and you were slammed all day and your commute took an hour longer than it should have, and you're immediately bombarded by a needy toddler and an (almost) equally needy wife. But when I watch you shake off the day in an instant and throw your arms around us both, ready to help, I don't think words can truly express how grateful I am.

Thank you for being strong in my moments of weakness, even if no one else ever knows about them.

I play it so strong all the time, but you know the truth. You know the moments I'm about to break or the days when I truly can't take on another thing. And how do you respond? You make it okay. You let me crumble, you let me whine, you let me cry when I need to. You make it a safe space where I don't have to be #supermom, if even just for a moment. You are my safe space, and I love you for that.

Thank you for the thousands of practical, “little” things you do every week.

From taking out the garbage to changing the lightbulbs to actually remembering to replace the toilet paper roll (something even I forget to do!), those little things don't go unnoticed—even if I often forget to thank you in the moment.

While I may take on the bulk of housework as the stay-at-home parent, you do your part in little ways I never forget. Those little things? To me, they are incredible feats, trust me.

Thank you for being the incredible father I always knew you would be.

I wouldn't have married you if I didn't think "Dad" was a mantle you could take on successfully, but it still makes my heart burst every time I see you excelling at this difficult role. You make our daughter feel supported, safe, and loved every single day, and I'm so, so happy that you are the person I chose to do this life with. Your instincts and commitment to our children amaze me every day.

So for all the million things you do—and for all the millions of times I forget to say it—I thank you. For all the million things you have yet to do for us—I thank you.

You're our hero, and you're pretty incredible.

This article is sponsored by Disney/Pixar's The Incredibles 2 on Digital October 23 and Blu-ray Nov 6. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

There have been a flurry of headlines about a polio-like illness impacting children across America—and parents have questions.

Since the headlines can be alarming, and the information overwhelming, we broke down the simple facts parents need to know about the condition known as Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM).

1. It is rare

In a press briefing this week the director of Centers for Disease Control's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, acknowledged that all the news about Acute Flaccid Myelitis is "frightening for parents" but went on to explain that "parents need to know that AFM is very rare, even with the increase in cases that we are seeing now."

So yes, there has been an increase, but it still impacts fewer than one in a million people each year across America.

2. Most patients are kids

The CDC first started noticing an increase of AFM cases in 2014, and this year, the CDC has received reports of 127 possible cases. Sixty-two cases in 22 states have been confirmed as AFM.

"Of the confirmed cases, the average age is about 4 years old. More than 90% of the cases are in children age 18 years and younger," Dr. Messonnier explained.

3. It affects the nervous system

They don't yet know exactly what cases AFM, but the CDC cites "viruses, environmental toxins, and genetic disorders" as possible causes. It affects the nervous system, with a particular focus on the gray matter of the spinal cord, and causes muscle weakness.

4. Parents can be proactive

Dr. Nancy Messonnier says parents should not panic, but should seek medical attention for their child if they develop a sudden weakness or loss of muscle tone in the arms or legs. Some kids also experience facial droop/weakness, difficulty moving the eyes, drooping eyelids, or difficulty with swallowing or slurred speech.

5. It can be difficult to diagnose

According to the CDC, AFM " shares many of the same symptoms as other neurologic diseases, like transverse myelitis and Guillain-Barre syndrome." If your doctor suspects AFM, your child may need some extra testing and examinations.

6. Kids can recover

While AFM is a serious condition that can trigger "serious neurologic complications that could lead to death" in very rare cases, most kids who get it are able to recover.There's no specific treatment, but antiviral therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy have all be used to treat pediatric cases.

The bottom line:

Don't panic, mama. The CDC is keeping parents updated not because this is a common threat, but simply because they want us to know what to do and how to advocate for our child should they exhibit symptoms.

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To be born close in age to your siblings is a special experience. You have a built-in playmate and BFF for life, but being born after an age gap certainly has its benefits, too.

Parents who are expecting again when their older children are already into double digits may wonder what the sibling bond will look like when the kids have more than a decade between them. Well, look no further, because Kate Hudson's oldest son, 14-year-old Ryder Robinson took to Instagram to show the world that while he and baby Rani Rose may not be playmates they have an equally powerful sibling bond.

The teen posted a series of photos in which he's holding his new baby sister, making silly faces and showing her lots of love.

Ryder and Rani's mom commented on the post. "Aw sweeties. Love you so much," Hudson wrote.

The bond and benefits for age-gap siblings

It's pretty clear that little Rani is benefiting from the big age gap in Hudson's family, getting lots of love from Ryder and her other brother 7-year-old Bingham Hawn, but research suggests Ryder and Bingham are also benefiting from the gaps. They may not be close enough in age to do matching outfits and bunk beds, but they're getting something else out of it: Mama's time.

According to a 2011 study out of the University of Notre Dame, a gap of at least two years between children is linked to better academic outcomes for the older siblings. According to the experts, having another child when your older children are already in school means the older child benefits from additional one-on-one time with their parents as a toddler and preschooler.

And having a big brother or sister who is taking their SATs while you're learning the ABCs can be great for the younger child, too. A study out of the University of Essex found that when older siblings do well in school, there's a "spillover effect" and the younger siblings emulate the older ones. The effect is stronger when the siblings get along, experts note.

Other age-gap families 

Hudson's kids are hardly the only celebrity siblings with a large age gap.

Kourtney Kardashian was 18 when Kylie Jenner was born and Kim was 17, but the sisters are famously close friends in adulthood. Anecdotal evidence suggests large age gaps are more common in blended families like Hudson's or the Kardashian-Jenners' but they certainly occur in non-blended families as well.

Case in point: Chip and Joanna Gaines recently welcomed their youngest Crew, just about eight years after their former youngest, Emmie Kay was born. Of course, Emmie Kay and her older siblings, Drake, 12, Ella, 11, Duke, 9 are as in love with Crew as Hudson's sons are with Rani.

Having a big age gap between siblings doesn't mean they won't bond. It just means they will bond in a special way. A teenage boy is posting sweet pics of his baby sister on his Instagram. That's pretty compelling evidence in itself.

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Emily Glover

With last year's brutal flu season still fresh on many minds, and headlines about a fatal case in Florida popping up in our feeds, doctors across the country are urging parents to get proactive by having their child get a flu shot as soon as possible, before the end of the month if you can.

"This year's flu shot might be more important than ever before," Dr. Frank Belmonte, the chief medical officer of Advocate Children's Hospital told WGN News.

Dr. Belmonte is part of a coalition of doctors urging parents to be "flu free by Halloween", the Chicago Tribune reports.

He says the immunization takes a couple of weeks to take reach full effectiveness, and that by getting our children immunized now, parents can ensure they're protected when flu season ramps up in November. Belmonte's recommendations echo those made by the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) earlier this season, and by the Centers for Disease Control. It reports about 80% of the children who died last flu season had not received a flu vaccine.

"The flu virus is common—and unpredictable. It can cause serious complications even in healthy children," said Flor M. Munoz, MD, FAAP, member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, in a recently released policy statement. "Being immunized reduces the risk of a child being hospitalized due to flu."

The AAP recommends pediatricians offer the injectable form of the influenza vaccine to all children 6 months or older before the end of October. They also support the option of the nasal flu vaccine, but note it was less effective in past years than the shot, "therefore, AAP recommends the flu shot as the first choice for children."

In a recent statement, Henry Bernstein, MD, MHCM, FAAP, a member of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and an Ex-Officio member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, said the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies annually and is affected by factor's such as the child's health and the strain in the community.

But even though the flu shot does not ensure immunity, experts from the AAP say it's the best way to protect kids from the flu. Bernstein added, "We urge parents to talk with their pediatricians now to avoid any delay in getting their children vaccinated."

In addition to children getting the vaccine as soon as it's available, the AAP also recommends pregnant women receive the vaccine, which passes immunity onto the baby. For children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years who are getting the flu shot for the first time this year, two doses are recommended.

According to the AAP and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the most severe on record with 179 children dying from influenza complications as of August 18.

"Unfortunately, you can spread influenza without realizing it because some infected people begin to spread the virus a day or two before they have symptoms," said Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBA, FAAP, a pediatrician in Seattle and an AAP spokesperson. "Get the shot. It just makes sense."

[Updated, October 17, 2018: added comments made by Dr. Frank Belmonte]

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It's not always easy to get in and out of Target quickly (yes, the Target effect is a very real thing) and it can be even harder with little ones in tow.

That's why we're giving you this heads up now, mama: You might want to plan some solo Target runs in November, because the toy section is expanding in a big way. Pretty soon mom won't be the only member of the family obsessed with Target.

This week Target announced it will be re-allocating space in hundreds of stores to make room to show off cool kid-magnets like electric Power Wheels cars, outdoor playsets and playhouses and many (many) toys.

The revamped toy sections will include some interactive play experiences, so if you are making a Target run with the kids, you better add some extra time for that. Or, you may want to just plan to bring the kids and make a day of it during one of Target's family events—they're planning in-store experiences where kids can test toys and meet characters from kid favorites like PAW Patrol, Minecraft.

Of course, all this is going to make Christmas shopping a lot easier for a lot of us, and fill that big Toys 'R' Us shaped hole in our shopping lists. Target is doubling down on Christmas, mama, and quite literally doubling the number of "new and exclusive" toys on its shelves.

It sounds like a Christmas shopper's dream come true. Another dream come true? Target's new Christmas catalog, which is arriving in homes next week and in stores on the 28. If you have fond memories of circling toys in a certain Christmas catalog (RIP, Sears Wish Book) as a not-so-subtle hint to your parents, you can now pass that tradition down to your kids, but with a way easier way to actually order the presents.

When your kids circle stuff in the Target catalog you can just use an app to scan the page and add products to your cart.

Or, you can plan that solo Target run and sip a Starbucks while playing Santa for your kids (and yourself).

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