Archive for the ‘health’ Category

Please wish us sleep

Tonight, we begin attempt #273 to DO SOMETHING about little girl’s sleep.  Regular readers may notice the change in nickname, which is the problem – she is moving beyond babyhood.  It’s not that I think there is an arbitrary point where she should learn to sleep, it’s that she is now 22 months old and I can count on my fingers the number of times she has slept longer than 2 hours.  I am exhausted.  She’s not even consistent – the extremely rare occasions when she’s slept for 5 hour blocks are generally preceded by a feeding orgy where she might give me 20 minute breaks between 3 or 4 hour long feeds, so I’ve paid heavily for my oblivion.

Of course it’s not really #273, we’ve tried hard to be consistent and give an approach a decent time to work.  We walked many miles during the early reflux nights.  When that passed we discovered she was an extremely light sleeper and would be woken up by things like moving position or someone walking past.  She refused wrapping, but we got a monitor and closed all the doors, avoided the toilet, and discovered that I could feed her to sleep lying on our bed then roll off without waking her.  That’s how the full-time co-sleeping started.

We expected the 4 month monsters, which turned into the 5, 6, 7 and 8 month monsters with no improvements.  Every now and then we would try something like cuddling after a feed but it always ended with hysteria and throwing up, a legacy of the reflux?  Then we rode out the 2 months, or possibly 3 or 4 my memory’s blurred, when she wouldn’t sleep without a boob in her mouth.  Eventually I stopped trying to detach her, made the most of it and caught up with my reading.  It was a major celebration when she let go.

We had a very stressful time with a lot of interstate travel at the height of her separation anxiety (did I mention she’s extremely clingy?), but surprisingly it led to a breakthrough – we got her onto a mattress next to our bed.  At that point, up to 2 hours with extra space in both beds felt like heaven.  I don’t sleep well when she’s sucking, probably because so much of it is comfort sucking, so I’ve never had the luxury of just letting her attach and not really noticing.

Throughout all this we tried dummies many times, lullabies, meditation music, white noise, wrapping, sleepsacks, fans on and off, air conditioners on and off and several variations of light.  I’ve tried pulling the nipple out, patting, rubbing, holding, singing, cuddling and Daddy.  But she’s very simple and very consistent – I want a real nipple until I decide to let it go.  Do not touch me, do not sing, do not cover me with anything, and do not turn the lights out.  And if you’re very lucky it might take less than 40 minutes and you might not have to do it again for a couple of hours.

Maybe.

At 18 months it got beyond a joke so we tried partial night weaning.  I didn’t feed between 11 and 4am and she didn’t sleep.  At all.  At least thats what it felt like after yet another night of going to bed at 2am.  She would wake up (again) sometime between 11 and 1am and then cry, ranging from screaming hysterics to gentle hiccups for 2 to 5 hours.  Some of the time she would sit on your lap quietly, but the eyes didn’t close.  In 10 weeks I got her to sleep without feeding a total of 3 times, one of those I went to bed at 4am, another 5am and the third I fell asleep with her on the couch about 3am, not good.  DH found me and I tried to move at 4am, which predictably woke her up.  DH had a much better record, which was why we persevered so long, and there were those elusive nights when she slept for 5 hours which kept making us think that maybe she was getting it.

Then we went away.  It’s not really polite to stay in someone else’s house and have your baby cry for several hours every night and it makes it rather hard to enjoy the holiday!  So she and I slept in one bed and DH and the big girl slept in another and she actually did quite “well” so long as I was with her and didn’t try to get up, only feeding 4 or 5 times a night. But I’m not willing to spend the next however many months or years with her attached 24 hours a day (remember the clinginess?), 22 months with only the odd half hour here and there free is enough.

Coming back has been disastrous.  She’s jetlagged and will either get up and play for a couple of hours in the middle of the night, or suck for a 4 hour block plus hourly wakeups and she’s back to waking when anyone breathes too heavily.  The big girl is also waking up every night and DH is dealing with her so we’re all exhausted.  I can no longer cope, crying is a nightly event and there are times I’m scared I might hurt her seriously (Note: my idea of hurting her is to hit her.  I know people do this on purpose every day, but I don’t hit my kids.  She is in no danger).  I know I’ve accidentally hurt her a couple of times in a minor way by squeezing her too tight or accidentally digging my nails into her.  And the guilt from it all piles on top of the frustration and the helplessness.

I’m sorry, believe it or not this started as a fairly positive post because we do have a new plan we’re starting tonight, but it’s now 1am and I’m writing because I’ve been trying to get her to sleep since 8.30 (ETA – she slept from 1am – 6am!).  Friday is a good day to start because then we have the weekend to recover if needed.  We’ve put a queensize bed in the big girl’s room and they’re going to co-sleep sideways across it, that way DH or I can fit in too when we are in there.  It’s worked quite well on holidays, and the idea is that maybe with someone else next to her she might be more settled.  And maybe without us coming in and moving around she might not be woken up.  And maybe without me right there she might not want a feed.  And who knows?  Something’s got to work eventually.  We’re going to put big girl in our bed to go to sleep at first and move her in later, until we see how it goes.  If we can get the rest of the night to improve then we’ll look at putting them to sleep together.

So that’s the plan if you’ve got this far.  I’d love to hear comments and ideas (or gasps of admiration that I’m still semi-functioning), although I have to admit I think we’ve tried most of the suggestions out there.  Except weaning off feeding to sleep, and given the complete lack of success of partial weaning and the huge problems it caused with her sister it ranks somewhere below anti-depressants for me on the list of things to try.  And unfortunately, I would happily have gone to a sleep school or paid a professional or even got a Granny in to help many months ago except we live in a remote town interstate from our relatives.

So there it is, I’ll accept any offers of luck but I’d really like people to wish us some sleep!

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Cooking with Kids: Salads

Salads are very popular here, they’re a great healthy meal and something kids can very easily be involved in.  There are lots of advantages in having the kids involved in cooking dinner, the most obvious of which is that then you don’t have to entertain them!  Plus we’ve found with our 4 year old that she’s more likely to eat something if she’s helped make it.

The 4 year old is now known as ‘Queen Salad Maker’ and she is very proud to teach her little apprentice.  Just about every evening she asks if she can make a salad.  Some of the things they can do with minimal supervision:

  • Use scissors to open packets.
  • Tear lettuce leaves
  • Use a spoon to scoop out avocado.
  • Use a small, fairly blunt knife to slice peeled cucumber.
  • Use a fork to get olives or corn out of the jar or tin.
  • Wash and add cherry tomatoes.
  • Pull off florets of cauliflower.
  • Chop up sliced ham – even a butter knife will chop up most cold meats.
  • Chop cheese slices or tear it into chunks.
  • Mix the salad in a big bowl.
  • Add dressing, so long as someone else has measured it out!  Don’t let them loose with the bottle on their own 😀

Then they usually stand there and self serve while the rest of dinner is done, which is a pretty good way for them to eat vegetables!

A Parent’s Guide to H1N1 Swine flu

I’m cross posting this here and on Science@home because I feel it is so important I want it to get out to the widest possible audience.  If you find it useful, please spread the link around or distribute it as widely as you like.

First off, I have no medical qualifications. My background is in human biology and general science, so I do understand the hows and whys of vaccines in a general sense. I’m also a parent so I’ve looked into them but not at Google University – I listen to experts, because they have spent years learning the things I don’t know.

I’m actually very uncomfortable about writing this with no references, unfortunately I’ve been reading things over the last several months and haven’t taken copies of all of them. I can search them out if anyone wants to challenge anything, but I thought it was more important to get this out there rather than wait until I found all of them again.  Hopefully I’ll be able to track them down and add them.

General Flu

The flu is not a bad cold. It is a viral infection that causes symptoms which include a runny nose and sneezing, but also headaches, fevers and general body aches. While most people are fine, they can become extremely ill directly from the flu, or they can catch secondary bacterial infections like pneumonia. Every year around 36,000 deaths are caused by seasonal flu in the US.

There are a lot of flu viruses and they recombine and mutate very easily. In fact, 1 in every 1,000-10,000 divisions is an error – one of the highest mutation rates known. If you want the gory details, flu has it’s genes on RNA instead of DNA.  DNA is a double helix and both sides have to match up, so there is a check that they are all right.  RNA is only a single helix so there is no check, so there are a lot more mistakes when RNA is replicated.

The ‘H’ and ‘N’ are names of the proteins that allow it to bind to our cells and are the bits that our antibodies recognise. They come in lots of different forms that work more or less well with different animal cells, so H1N1 just means a flu virus with the ‘1’ variant of these two proteins. There is actually a seasonal flu virus that is H1N1, but the current swine flu has other differences.

Swine Flu

The current pandemic swine flu is like the little girl with the curl. For most people, it is mild and you are miserable but fine. But for the unfortunate few, when you are sick, you are very, very sick. For these people it is acting as a severe respiratory infection, and if we didn’t have such good intensive care units our death rates would be a lot higher. The very scary thing is who it is affecting – not the old, not those who are already sick, but the young, the healthy, and pregnant women. Many people are not dying of underlying conditions – they were healthy before they had swine flu. This is one reason there is a push to vaccinate everyone – you can’t say just vaccinate those at risk, like we do with seasonal flu, because we are all at risk.

Pandemic swine flu appears to be more infectious than seasonal flu. Your chances of getting seasonal flu are usually around 10%, up to 40% if you have kids. But so far infections for swine flu seem to be running at 20-25%, more if you have children. It’s hard to tell because many places are not swabbing for swine flu anymore.

The reason there has been so much concern about swine flu has nothing to do with what it is as a disease now. The worry is that the 1918 Spanish flu was also H1N1. It killed 50 million people. Now obviously 1918 was at the end of WWI and pre-antibiotics, so that had something to do with the number of deaths. But like the current swine flu, many of the deaths were directly from Spanish flu. Plus that is only the number of deaths, the number of infections was far, far higher. And while we have antibiotics today, we also have aeroplanes and mass transportation.

Just think about those numbers for a minute – can our hospitals cope with that number of seriously ill people? Does the world have 50 million ventilators? Do we even have 50 million courses of antibiotics? In a word, No. If a pandemic such as the 1918 Spanish flu ever hit again, even our safe healthy first world would be in a lot of trouble, and there would be a lot of deaths. And developing nations would be even worse off. This is why governments are scared. This is why they are trying to stop it now, before it mutates, because history shows us this is what happens with pandemic flu. This is why they are trying to get everyone vaccinated, not just to protect the young healthy people with no risk factors who are dying now, but the less infections there are, the less chances there are for it to mutate.

Vaccines

There are a few different vaccines currently being used. The main difference is that the one in the US has no adjuvants and requires two doses, the ones in Canada, Europe and Australia contain adjuvants. These are chemicals added to a vaccine to induce a stronger immune response, which is why only one dose is needed. There is also a vaccine that has not been grown in eggs so it is safe for people with egg allergies.

There seems to be worry over how quickly this vaccine has been produced, but in reality it is backed up by years of experience. Every year the most common strain of seasonal flu is chosen and turned into a vaccine, this has been happening for decades. The process is well known and has been approved in all countries that use those vaccines. So all that has happened is that samples of H1N1 have been used to produce a vaccine in exactly the same way as the already approved ones. In addition, the H1N1 vaccines have been tested for safety. This is not a rushed or untried new vaccine, the exact virus involved is new, but so is the flu vaccine produced every year.

Flu vaccines do contain thimerosal/thiomersal as a preservative, which contains mercury.  However there are several points to keep in mind here. Firstly, the amount of mercury is less than you receive from a tuna sandwich. Secondly, thanks to scaremongering thiomersal in vaccines has been intensively studied. There are literally dozens of high quality studies from around the world which have shown it is safe. There is no credible evidence at all that it is dangerous. Finally, it shows a misunderstanding of chemistry. There is no mercury floating around in vaccines, it is all in the form of a compound. Common table salt is a compound of sodium and chlorine. On their own, sodium is explosively reactive and chlorine is highly poisonous. But when they are chemically bonded in a compound they are safe. Thiomersal contains mercury in the same way salt contains sodium and chlorine.

Side effects

There is also worry over side effects of the vaccine. The main one that is due to the vaccine only is a sore arm, or possible allergic reactions that can cause anaphylactic shock. This is an extremely rare side effect – for example there has been one death in Canada out of millions of immunisations given. This is an acute reaction, which means it comes up within a few minutes of the vaccine, and is the reason you are asked to wait at the clinic when you have your needles. If you have waited and have not reacted, you aren’t going to.

The other side effects are not really effects of the vaccine, they are effects of the virus. An example of this is febrile convulsions caused by a fever spiking. But the fever isn’t caused by the needle, it is caused by the small dose of swine flu. This is a dangerous effect, definitely, but the question then becomes – if a child reacted to a small, mild dose of swine flu by spiking a fever, how would they have reacted to a full infection? No-one can know, but chances are exactly the same thing would have happened. If you are prone to fevers or convulsions then it is still safer to get the vaccine, because it is a milder form and a smaller dose so you are much less likely to have problems.

Guillane Barre syndrome (GBS) is another dangerous side effect caused by the virus. This is a form of paralysis that resolves in 95% of cases, though it takes weeks or months of therapy and is dangerous. It is possible that there is a 1 in a million chance of developing GBS syndrome after a flu vaccine, although I’ve recently seen a researcher say there is no link. That sounds dangerous, but there is a 40-70 in a million chance of developing GBS because of flu. Once again, it is safer to have the vaccine.

Summary

  • Currently H1N1 is mild for most people, but it is more dangerous than seasonal flu and is seriously affecting people who are not considered at risk for seasonal flu – people who are young and otherwise healthy.
  • It is more infectious that seasonal flu.
  • A major worry is that it will mutate and become more deadly, like the 1918 Spanish flu. Our health system could not cope with a pandemic on that scale.
  • The vaccines are based on very well known and studied technology and have been tested.
  • Most of the dangerous side effects are caused by the virus itself. You are less likely to react to the vaccine virus than you are if you actually catch the flu.

Real Women

This post has been a long time coming, it’s probably still a bit confused.

First of all, there is another push for the use of ‘real women’ as models.  A group led by Mia Freedman and Sarah Murdoch met with Federal Minister Kate Ellis about it, and I suppose the government is the way to go if you don’t have any connections in the modelling/fashion/media industries.  (Heavy irony here, for those who don’t know Mia Freedman is an ex-editor of Cosmopolitan and has written for most of the women’s magazines, and Sarah Murdoch is host of Autralia’s Next Top Model and married to a Murdoch.  Mia Freedman did introduce non models, ban diets and show different skin colours while editor.)

And that’s great.  But all of the commentary I’ve seen is focussed on weight.  Or let’s be honest, fat.

I struggle with fat and body image.  When I was a kid I wasn’t fat, but thanks to comparisons with my family and all the other little girls at ballet I thought I was.  Since uni I’ve swung between mildly overweight and mildly obese.  I don’t yoyo diet or anything like that, but I’m aware that I don’t have healthy eating habits and periodically try to improve.  And that’s really the key to some of my ambivalence – health.

No matter how happy you are in your skin, heart disease is the number one killer in the world.  You can be confident and glowing and look good, but it’s not going to save you from clogged arteries or insulin insensitivity.  I don’t think that overweight people are stupid, or lazy, or anything like that.  And I know that there are medical conditions or lifestyle factors that make it hard to stay thin.  But I have to admit to a little voice that says come on Deb, you know you could do it if you cared enough.  You could find the time to exercise if you really wanted to.  You don’t have to buy chocolate.  It would require a lifestyle change, but I could do it if I was really serious.  And that’s the problem – I certainly don’t think it’s ok to discriminate against fat people, that’s me too! but it doesn’t quite fit in with the other isms.  You don’t have control over your skin colour, your ability, your gender or sexuality.  But most of us do have at least a little bit of control over our food and exercise.

So I struggle and I stress about what to teach my girls.  I want them to be happy and healthy, so I’m aware I somehow have to teach them better habits than I have and give them, and me, better food choices than I usually make.  It has nothing to do with how they look – it’s about giving them healthy eating and exercise habits.  But at the same time, I want them to be happy with their bodies and confident however they are, and not think that they have to conform to some limiting ideal.

And then I received a sewing magazine I subscribe to, and there was an article about French women and their body confidence.  As children they generally aren’t put down as we are, and are much more successful at living by “If you feel good, you look good.” At first I thought this was wonderful, because here was a rule I could use.  You don’t have to conform to an artificial look, but it’s important to be healthy so you will feel good.  But then I started thinking about all those other little body flaws.  And I realised I’d bought in.  Whether you like seeing skinny models because we shouldn’t let muffin tops be the norm or think there should be ‘plus-size’ models because that’s how most women are, you are still defining worth by weight.  Either they have eaten right/had lucky genes/exercised hard to be skinny, or they are confident in themselves/not bowing to societal pressure – whichever is important to you.

Real women aren’t just fat or skinny.  Real women have short legs.  Or hooked noses.  Or moles.  Or big hands.  These are the things that have nothing to do with health and we can’t control, it is just the way we are born.  So these are the things I need to work on, or rather not work on and not mention.  These are the things my girls never need to hear about, because if they feel good, they’ll look good, and I can help them develop that confidence.  And I can also try to give them healthy eating and exercise habits, not because it will fit in with society, but so they can continue to feel good for a very long time.

Cooking with Kids: Frozen Banana

This is so simple it really doesn’t deserve to be called cooking.  On the other hand, I’ve done it with both my girls since they were about 15 months, and they love the fact they can do it themselves.  And it’s perfect for summer – healthy, quick, fun and cold.

 

Ingredients:

  • Banana
  • Toothpicks
  • Knife
  • Airtight container
  • Freezer

Either cut the end so your child can peel the banana or peel it for them if they are very little.  Give them the toothpicks and let them go!  At 4 big girl does a straight line of beautifully spaced toothpicks, at 18 months baby girl sticks them in all over the place.  It doesn’t matter.  Gvie them a blunt knife, even a butter knife will work on ripe bananas, and let them cut between the toothpicks.  Big girl can do this all by herself, I guide baby girl.  Put them in an airtight container and freeze!  Time depends on how thick the slices are.  When you get them out, you have little banana iceblocks with their own handle.  Kids love them.

I tend to do this at morning or afternoon tea time and use several bananas, the girls eat as much as they want unfrozen then we put the rest into the freezer.

13 Things I Have Learnt This Week

  1. It’s not actually possible for your head to explode.  You may want it to, but that’s another story.
  2. I’m ridiculously in love with my big girl.  She has been so worried about me being sick and she’s been adorable, cleaning, playing with her little sister and a pleasure to be around.
  3. The little one can sleep for 5 hours straight.  Several other nights there’s been a lot of crying, but that one gives us hope.
  4. I’ve never had sinusitis before.  I thought I had, but a dull ache above and below the eyes is nothing to the drill/knife/jackhammer that’s been active this week.  My entire eye socket and even my teeth hurt.
  5. There are actually about 15 trains a day from Rome to Venice, but for some reason I can’t get tickets after the 12th of December.  Later ones had better become available in the next couple of weeks.
  6. There is a Charlie and Lola live show in London on the 23rd of December.  My girls are going to LOVE it.
  7. I’ve worked out how to put together a yoked jacket with a lined hood and bodice with minimal instructions.  Now I just need time to finish the hems and buttons and for baby girl to actually try it on.
  8. It’s ok to let something go.  I always over-commit myself ridiculously and stepping back from something has changed my stress levels enormously.
  9. There is a local woman who does clothing alterations/repairs who put a new zip in my favourite jeans.  Now I just need to lose the weight so they’re comfortable again.
  10. It’s much less painful if you don’t look at everything as you sort it.  Two big boxes of baby clothes ready to go to playgroup and be passed on.
  11. I should have left the corn on the cob for both girls.  They ended up hijacking ours and we ate the kernels I’d cut off for them.
  12. I love my husband.  He’s helping deal with baby girl at night, doing his normal job and painting our new investment property after work.  And he’s been looking after me while I was sick.
  13. Between 1 and 2 is such a happy, loving, exciting, adventurous age.

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“All Natural!” … So what?

Firstly let me say I’m an evolutionary biologist by training.  So I love nature.  I think nature is amazing, awe-inspiring, incredible, and just about every other superlative.  I do not think nature is good.  In fact, I find the idea incredibly offensive.

Let me explain.  ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are human constructs based on morals.  It is a way of judging things and seeing if they measure up to our personal sense of right and wrong.  In fact I’ll go further and say the whole idea of ‘good’ nature is religious thinking, because it is based on the idea that nature was created for us, to look after us.  This is incredibly limiting.  Nature is bigger than us, and to me it takes a special kind of arrogance to think you can judge nature by human standards or in human terms.

Yes, nature has given us some amazing systems such as skeletal development, bee colonies and coral reefs.  It has also given us diptheria, tetanus and earthquakes.

Some of the most dangerous things to eat include eggs, fish and nuts – all natural.  And in the long term, fat and sugar are more likely to kill you than BPA.  Heart disease is the most common cause of death in the industrialised world, and the obesity epidemic wasn’t caused by artificial additives.  If you make homemade goodies with the most natural of butters and sugars it doesn’t matter if they are free from artificial preservatives – they are still firmly in the ‘sometimes food’ category, not ‘everyday foods’.  It is perfectly possible to be incredibly unhealthy on an ‘all-natural’ diet.

Some of the most important drugs are anti-biotics and pain killers like aspirin and morphine – all natural.  Whole classes of pharmaceuticals are based on natural chemicals from plants and moulds, because nature has been in the business of creating bio-active chemicals for a very, very long time.  But those important drugs also have side effects and can be dangerous, exactly because they work so well.  A side effect is just a biological effect of a drug other than the one we want – and nature created those drugs without worrying about what humans might want.

If you are ever told that something is ‘has no side-effects’ because it is natural then a) they’re lying or b) it doesn’t work.  How can I be so black and white?  Easily.  Natural things are messy and complicated.  They contain many different drugs in different doses, meaning there are more things there to affect your system.  And then there are interactions between drugs, where we have trouble even guessing what might happen.  Even eating fruit changes the way your gut absorbs things and can give you a dangerous overdose of some drugs!  So being natural is actually a guarantee that there will be effects other than the one you are after, which is the definition of a side-effect.  Unless of course it doesn’t have an effect at all.  Because that’s the only way you can guarantee no side-effects – if there is no effect.  Which means it doesn’t work.

As far as nature is concerned, we are one moderately successful species out of the billions that have ever lived.  It doesn’t create anything especially for us.  And the past 10,000 years of human history are largely the story of trying to get away from nature.  Fire, planting our own food, living in one place, sanitation, electric lights, comfortable beds, these are all ways of avoiding nature.  And I like it.  I like being able to stay up past sunset because I have light.  I like being able to have a hot shower and a flush toilet.  I like being able to keep my food fresh in a refrigerator, and get fruit and vegetables that are out of season and don’t grow in this area.  I especially like that my children are not likely to die.  Living to see my grandkids grow up will be another bonus.  All of these things are ‘against nature.’

Like I said, I love nature.  I am fascinated and awed by it.  It has created some amazing things, including planets and ecosystems and even the human brain.  But it is not human so I don’t judge it in human terms.  And I don’t use it to judge other things.  It’s not a way to tell if a food is healthy – it might be, it might not.  It’s not a way to tell if a drug will work and be safe.  It’s not even a way to tell if a parenting practice will be good for my children.  These are complicated questions and lots of factors need to be considered, not just how natural they are.

So if you try to sell me something by telling me it’s “all natural!”  my considered response will be “So what?”