The more you hug your baby, the more her brain benefits, says study

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No parent will ever forget the first time they hug their baby, and research suggests those earliest baby hugs boost brain responses and can help offset other traumas newborns may experience.

A survey of 125 full-term and premature newborns at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, found early, gentle displays of affection from parents and caregivers have lasting effects on how baby brains react to gentle touch. That means early exposure to hugs could help pre-term babies experience affection as pleasant rather than overwhelming while also stimulating positive brain responses.

Anyone who has been on a maternity ward in the last decade has no doubt heard about the benefits of kangaroo care and skin-to-skin contact, but this new information proves those hours spent cuddling on mom or dad's chest can even counteract negative experiences among vulnerable premature babies.

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Researchers used a soft EEG net stretched over the babies' heads to measure brain responses. The little ones were touched with gentle puff of air just before they were sent home from the hospital. The full-term babies experienced a stronger brain response than their premature peers, and, of the premature babies, those who'd had to endure painful medical procedures shortly after birth had the weakest brain reactions.

The researchers were surprised to find that a preemie's perception of touch can be affected by early medical procedures (as they often receive pain medications). But the good news is that hugs can help counteract the negative experiences.

The survey found the more supportive touch a premature baby received from their parents or hospital staff, the stronger their brain responses were.

According to one of the authors, Dr. Nathalie Maitre, the survey indicates skin-to-skin care is absolutely vital for babies spending a long stretch of time in neonatal intensive care units. When a baby is stuck in the NICU, mom and dad aren't always available for hugging duty.

"When parents cannot do this, hospitals may want to consider occupational and physical therapists to provide a carefully planned touch experience, sometimes missing from a hospital setting," Maitre tells Science Daily.

For parents who are able to be present on the NICU, providing the extra gentle touches themselves can be a way to take back a little bit of control in a situation that often makes moms and dads feel pretty helpless.

Knowing that a gentle hug can help counteract the prick of a needle is just one more reason for parents to snuggle their preemie as much as possible—not that anyone needs another reason.

We parents often feel like our hearts are growing bigger each time we hug our little ones, but the truth is, their brains are growing even faster than our bonds.

[This piece was originally published on July 11, 2017. The headline has since been updated.]

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The anecdote went viral on LinkedIn and Facebook: An executive noticed one of his employees, a mother, crying at her desk. She explained that her child is sick, she had no sick days left and couldn't afford to miss work. He wrote her a check and sent her home to her child. It's a modern-day working mom fairytale.

The male executive is the hero in the story, but frustrated women who were raised on Spice Girls-era girl power don't want to wait around for someone else to set them free from punishing corporate policies. These women want to be their own heroes (and their own bosses). And when a friend slides into their DMs to tell them they can be, well, they desperately want to believe it.

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But the hard truth is that girl power never completely grew up to become women's empowerment and a culture that paid lip service to gender equality without making progress primed a generation of mothers to be the perfect targets for multi-level marketing (or MLMs as they're commonly referred to).

A population already burdened with so much unpaid work in the service of their families ended up doing even more unpaid labor to serve companies' bottom lines, and we need to ask ourselves why.

We have entered an era of MLM reckoning. The alarm is sounding about the damage MLMs can do to women and their families but if you listen closely, there is another sound here: The sound of opportunity for companies that can actually live up to some of the promises MLM fails to keep.

The era of MLM backlash

For years multilevel marketing got a pretty decent edit in popular culture—the pink Cadillacs helped—but in recent years a new awareness has been building. Debunking the myth of MLMs is in vogue.

It's been more three years since John Oliver's critique of the industry went viral and the documentary Betting on Zero, which details the controversy surrounding one MLM company, was released. There are several popular podcasts detailing the downside of MLMs, and multiple subreddits, Facebook groups and online communities dedicated to advocating against a business model in which 75% of the salesforce doesn't turn a profit.

It seems consumers are becoming more MLM-savvy, but this new awareness came at the expense of so many mothers. Thankfully, the media has been taking notice, especially of LulaRoe, an MLM empire built on leggings and female empowerment but plagued by lawsuits and stories of women gone bankrupt.

By the industry's own admission 75% of people who sign up to sell for an MLM company are women. The Direct Selling Association, the MLM industry's national trade association states that the average direct seller makes $5,702 in profit, but the AARP Foundation suggests that more than half of those in MLMs who make money make less than $5,000 in a year and that the majority (73%) of sellers either break even or lose money.

If you've been on the internet much in the last couple of years you probably already know this. Vice did a documentary on it. Truth in Advertising released an investigative piece. From The Washington Post to the Huffington Post, media was busy in 2019 telling us that MLM are hurting women.

The question is, are we ready to stop the pain?

But in 2020 women are still joining MLMs because these companies are offering something that is missing from the lives of so many: Support and a flexible opportunity.

Motherly's second annual State of Motherhood survey found 85% of moms don't think society understands or supports mothers, and that while financial need is the top reason for moms participating in the workforce, "desire to participate in work outside the household" is a significant motivational factor as well. Today's moms need and want to work, but they want to work for companies that don't expect them to pretend they don't have children. The survey suggests that some moms are leaving their jobs because of the "inability to strike a work-life balance or the work culture not being supportive."

When asked what would help, moms said longer, paid maternity leave, childcare, flexible schedules and remote work opportunities. MLMs promise mothers the flexible, remote jobs they so desperately want.

Motherly's survey isn't the only one to highlight the need for better work-life balance. A recent survey by Flex Jobs found more than half of stay-at-home parents stay out of the workforce longer than they would like to.

"Without flexible work options, for example, 36% of stay-at-home parents we surveyed said that they actually wanted to return to work but their job was too inflexible to accommodate their needs as a working parent. Thirty-four percent turned to freelancing to bring in some income while staying at home with their kids, and 11% tried multi-level marketing businesses," explains Brie Reynolds, a career development manager and coach at FlexJobs.

It's clear that there is an eager talent pool that is going untapped, and Reynolds is hoping to see that 11% go down as more legitimate companies offer the kinds of opportunities parents are seeking. According to Reynolds, the number of people working remotely in the U.S. has increased 159% between 2005 and 2017.

"The most common work-from-home job titles include a huge range of professions, showing that companies are applying remote work to a wide variety of professions: teacher, writer, developer, analyst, sales representative, nurse, accountant, and project manager, for example. Hopefully, as more legitimate remote jobs become available, the need for parents to try risky MLM programs to find the flexibility they need will greatly diminish," she says.

Anti-MLM advocates say awareness of the problem isn't enough

Katie Young is the co-host of the podcast Sounds Like MLM but OK, which examines the impact of MLMs on sellers, and an administrator for a Facebook group by the same name. The group has more than 130,000 members, some of whom have been in, and left, the MLM industry.

"The former sellers are a really solid chunk of people that are joining this community because they are the people that have been personally impacted by the harm that the companies can do," Young explains.

According to Young, the promise of profit isn't the only thing prompting women to sign up to sell candles, shakes and clothing: It's also the promise of a supportive community. Additionally, Young believes MLM recruitment tactics prey on mom guilt.

"It's like, 'Don't you want to stay home with your kids? Don't you want to be the one to raise them?' There's a lot of pressure and a lot of shame," says Young, who adds that when messages like these come from a friend they carry more weight.

"They're making people feel bad about the way that they're living their lives and thinking that they're going to be better people and better parents by joining those these companies," she says.

Young hopes that the public backlash against MLM companies, combined with more flexible and legitimate work opportunities will help prevent more people from being hurt, but she is not holding her breath.

She believes MLMs will not lose their luster until lawmakers take action against them and non-MLM companies realize what parents are up against, because even in the era of MLM reckoning, when Googling a company serves up so many headlines about devastated sellers, people are still signing up.

The MLM horror stories shared in Young's Facebook group and the viral Facebook post about the hero executive have one thing in common: They shouldn't have happened. And if we create a culture that supports working parents we can stop them from happening again.

[We reached out to LulaRoe for this story but have not heard back from the company. We also reached out to Herbalife and the Direct Selling Association. In response to this article the organization provided several links to its website.]

[This post was originally published on Apparently on September 24, 2019. It has been updated.]

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A 34-year-old breast cancer survivor has pulled off an incredible feat. With some help from French scientists, the woman recently gave birth to a baby conceived from lab matured eggs.

It's the first time that's ever been done, and it could open up a whole new world for women looking to preserve their fertility in the face of cancer.

Doctors used in vitro maturation + vitrification together for the first time

Before the unnamed woman started cancer treatment, doctors saw about 17 sacs containing immature eggs in her ovaries. But there was no time to wait for them to mature—doing so could have given her cancer time to spread. So the doctors went into action using a process called in vitro maturation (IVM) to retrieve those eggs and mature them in a lab. Then, they were frozen with a technique called vitrification. It was a risk, however, no cancer patient had ever had a successful pregnancy with an egg that underwent both of those procedures.

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Four years after those eggs were retrieved, the patient was ready to have a baby. But after a year of trying on her own, she hadn't had any luck. Her oncology team didn't want her to try any new forms of ovarian stimulation so she turned to her frozen eggs. One was implanted and 9 months later, a healthy baby boy named Jules followed. He's now a year and a half old.

A groundbreaking moment could pave ways for cancer patients to conceive

Professor Michael Grymberg, who worked with the woman from the time she was diagnosed with cancer, said in a statement that the birth was a groundbreaking moment. "We were delighted that the patient became pregnant without any difficulty and successfully delivered a healthy baby at term. My team and I trusted that IVM could work when ovarian stimulation was not feasible."

Grymberg says he believes fertility preservation should always be offered to young cancer patients, especially now that there's proof that IVM with vitrification can work. "Our success with Jules shows that this technique should be considered a viable option for female fertility preservation," he said.

A cancer diagnosis is hard enough, without women having to worry about whether it'll keep them from ever carrying a child. As scientists continue to break boundaries in the field of fertility—that worry may become less and less relevant.

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When the Coronavirus (COVID-19) started making headlines in early 2020 the expert advice was simple: Don't panic.

This week the CDC warned that the outbreaks of the virus will very likely happen in the United States, but it's important to know that officials still don't want parents to panic, they just want us to be prepared.

"We are asking the American public to prepare for the expectation that this might be bad," the Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, told reporters during a news briefing Tuesday. "It's not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen," Dr. Messonnier said.

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It is totally normal to read this and be concerned mama, but there are several things we need to unpack before we let our anxiety overwhelm us.

Here is what you need to know about the Coronavirus response in the United States:

Top doctors are preparing for this

As the virus has spread rapidly overseas America's top doctors have been monitoring the situation. In not quite two months' time 80,000 people have contracted the illness and fewer than 3,000 of those people have died.

In the U.S., 53 cases have been confirmed (most of those were passengers on the Diamond Princess cruise ship that was quarantined off the coast of Japan or people who caught the virus while traveling overseas). There have only been two cases of person-to-person transmission on U.S. soil, according to the CDC.

The CDC has more than 1,000 professionals working on the response to this virus, including physicians, nurses, pharmacists, epidemiologists, veterinarians, laboratorians, communicators, data scientists and modelers.

"CDC staff members are working with state, local, tribal, and territorial health departments and other public health authorities to assist with case identification, contact tracing, evaluation of persons under investigation (PUI) for COVID-19, and medical management of cases; and with academic partners to understand the virulence, risk for transmission, and other characteristics of this novel virus," the agency states on its website.

And while there have been delays in implementing Coronavirus testing measures in the Unites States, experts are working to resolve issues and make testing more efficient. As the New York Times reports, the health and human services secretary "told a Senate panel that federal and local health departments will need as many as 300 million masks for health care workers."

In other words, the experts in the United States are preparing to fight this virus and they want the American public to be prepared, too.

This could impact school, work and daily life

That's why the CDC is telling us to get ready, not to cause panic or anxiety but just to set the expectation that life could be disrupted by this virus. "Now is the time for businesses, hospitals, communities, schools and everyday people to begin preparing," Dr. Messonnier said Tuesday.

She says schools may have to close or otherwise adjust to an outbreak and students may have to start doing tele-schooling online. She also wants businesses to start preparing to hold meetings remotely rather than in-person and to encourage telecommuting during any outbreak. Community activities like sports and church may also have to be canceled or modified.

As the New York Times reports, "Scientists don't know who is most susceptible to the new coronavirus. Children seem less likely to be infected. Middle-aged men seem to have been disproportionately infected, according to some studies."

This could be really disruptive for families

It is true that the scenario Messonnnier is outlining could be really disruptive for families. No one wants this to happen, but if it does have to happen it's a good thing we are getting the heads up.

Here are some steps you can take to prepare for possible interruptions to daily life:

  • Talk to your workplace about any plans it has for operations during an outbreak.
  • Speak to your child's school or childcare provider about how it plans to operate in a worst-case scenario.
  • Ask your doctor for an extra prescription of any medications your family needs, just in case an outbreak makes going to the pharmacy not possible.

Here's how to protect yourself + your family from the Coronavirus

The CDC does not recommend that we all go buy face masks. Face masks are only recommended for people "who show symptoms of COVID-19...[and] health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility)."

Instead, here's what we can all do to avoid the illness, according to the CDC:

  • "Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe."

We know this is serious and kind of scary, mama. But please, don't panic. Know that pandemic experts are working to keep your family safe. According to the CDC, the "National Institutes of Health (NIH) and their collaborators are working on development of candidate vaccines and therapeutics for COVID-19."

On Tuesday, President Trump said the coronavirus is "very well under control in our country" and "is going to go away." The health experts who work for the government are doing everything they can to prove the President right, but they do want the public to be ready in case it doesn't go away as fast as he (and all of us) would like.

News

What would bath time be without rubber duckies? Probably not as much fun—but also a whole lot cleaner, according to a study published in the journal Biofilms and Microbiomes.

That's because it turns out those squeaky toys are far from squeaky clean thanks to “potentially pathogenic bacteria" in four out of the five bath toys examined by researchers.

For the study, Swiss and American researchers looked at the biofilm communities inside 19 bath toys collected from random households as well as six toys used in controlled clean or dirty water conditions. They found that all of the examined bath toys “had dense and slimy biofilm" on their inner surfaces. What's more, 56% of the real-use toys and all of the dirty-water toys had fungi build up. ?

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Although the researchers note exposure to bacteria and fungi may have some benefits, the strong existence of grime in bath toys is still concerning. They note, “Squeezing water with chunks of biofilm into their faces (which is not unexpected behavior for these users) may result in eye, ear, wound or even gastro-intestinal tract infections."

Besides tossing all your bath toys, what can parents do?

The researchers say more experimental work is needed. But, for starters, it doesn't hurt to remove water from the toys after usage or give them a good, regular dunk in boiling water. The researchers also said they would like to see more regulations on the polymeric materials used for many bath toys.

There is, however, one simple solution—it just comes at the cost of rubber duckie's squeak. “In fact, the easiest way to prevent children from being exposed to bath toy biofilms is to simply close the hole," the researchers say of toys like this water-tight duck. “But where is the fun in that?"

[A version of this post originally appeared April 13, 2018. It has been updated.]

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