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Does vaginal seeding boost health?

Should Caesarean-section babies be smeared with a sample of their mother’s vaginal fluids as soon as they are born?

“Vaginal seeding” is not mainstream medicine, but it is growing in popularity.

The idea is to give these newborns something they missed when they emerged into the world – the good bacteria that live in their mother’s vagina.

A swab is taken of mum’s vaginal fluid, which is then rubbed on to her child’s skin and mouth.

The hope is this microbial gift will boost their child’s long-term health – particularly by reducing their risk of immune disorders.

It is a crucial time.

We might have been sterile in the womb, but in our first few moments of life an invisible bond is being established between baby and bacteria.

It’s a relationship that will last a lifetime, and the first contact is as important as a first date.

“The first time a baby’s own immune system has to respond are to those first few bacteria,” says Prof Peter Brocklehurst, from the University of Birmingham.

“That we believe is important for, in some way, setting the baby’s immune system.”

There is a noticeable difference between the microbiomes – the collection of bacteria, viruses, fungi and archaea – of babies born vaginally and by Caesarean section.

It lasts for about the first year of life.

A baby born vaginally is first exposed and colonised by microbes from their mother’s vagina and gut.

But for Caesarean-section babies, the first exposure “if they’re lucky”, says Prof Brocklehurst, comes from the very different organisms on their mother’s skin.

He is running the Baby Biome Study to see if these different microbial colonists on Caesarean-section babies explain why they have higher rates of diseases such as asthma and allergies later in life.

The microbiome

  • You’re more microbe than human – if you count all the cells in your body, only 43% are human
  • The rest is our microbiome and includes bacteria, viruses, fungi and single-celled archaea
  • The human genome – the full set of genetic instructions for a human being – is made up of 20,000 instructions called genes
  • But add all the genes in our microbiome together and the figure comes out at between two million and 20 million microbial genes
  • It’s known as the second genome and is linked to diseases including allergy, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, Parkinson’s, whether cancer drugs work and even depression and autism

More than half your body is not human

Gut Instinct: Why I put my poo in the post

The early interaction between the immune system and microbes appears crucial.

Obviously our bodies do attack the dangerous ones – but the overall relationship between microbial and immune cells is about more than conflict, it’s a far deeper dynamic.

Graham Rook, a professor of medical microbiology at University College London, says the microbiome is the immune system’s teacher.

“This is a learning system, it is like the brain. Now, the thing about the adaptive immune system is it needs data, just like the brain needs data.”

Listen to The Second Genome on BBC Radio 4.

The next episode airs 11:00 BST Tuesday April 17, repeated 21:00 BST Monday April 23 and on the BBC iPlayer

And that “data” is coming from microbes and the chemicals they produce. They provoke a reaction in the immune system that can last a lifetime.

Prof Rook says: “The initial setting up of the immune system occurs during the first weeks and months of life.

“We know that because there’s a window of opportunity during those first months of life when if you give antibiotics you can disrupt the microbiota and then in adulthood those individuals are more likely to have immunological problems and are more likely to put on weight.”

This is the idea that some parents are buying into when they perform vaginal seeding.

Do dogs boost a baby’s microbiome?

Even the type of home you bring your baby back to may affect their long-term health.

Research has shown households with dogs have lower rates of asthma.

The idea is they help us swim against the hygiene tide by traipsing their muddy paws round the house and sticking their noses into everything.

“The speculation has always been that the dog brings, from the outside, microbes that are helpful in stimulating the infant’s immune system,” says Prof Anita Kozyrskyj, from the University of Alberta.

She is analysing data on about 3,500 families in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study.

One of its findings is that the microbiomes of three-month-olds is far richer and more diverse (a good sign) if there is a pet in the house.

Two types of beneficial bacteria seemed to be more common.

“The Oscillospira have been associated with leanness and the Ruminococcus have been associated with reduced risk of allergic disease.”

Breastfeeding or formula, antibiotics and method of delivery all affect the microbiome.

But studies into the microbiome and long-term health have often been too small to be definitive.

The Baby Biome study is aiming to collect faecal samples from 80,000 babies.

That will be a lot of soiled nappies to analyse, but it will be an unparalleled resource for interrogating the impact of decisions made around birth.

Many of those will be out of parents’ hands.

No doctor or parent would hold back on life-saving antibiotics because of an uncertain long-term impact.

Breast milk feeds gut bacteria

This study will let scientists see which microbes the body first hooks up, what that means years later and, tantalisingly, whether damaging relationships with the wrong bacteria can be repaired.

The faecal samples will end up at the Wellcome Sanger Institute in Cambridge and in the hands of microbial enthusiasts such as Dr Trevor Lawley.

“My latest favourite microorganism is Bifidobacterium,” he says.

“It is one of the first bugs to colonise humans early in life, and we believe they feed off sugars in the breast milk.

“So, there’s a very sophisticated evolutionary set-up where the bugs are passed from the mother to child and the mother nurtures that bug to establish the early microbiome.”

Dr Lawley’s lab will be trying to uncover every microbe that colonises a newborn and what that means later in life.

He thinks the end result of the project will be to change policy around avoidable antibiotic use and Caesarean sections.

Or, alternatively, “maybe we could culture the bugs from the mums to purposefully colonise the babies to allow their microbiome to mature and develop properly” – in other words, a scientifically controlled version of vaginal seeding.

So are some parents just ahead of the game?

Prof Brocklehurst says: “At the moment some parents believe this hypothesis enough that they are doing their own vaginal seeding.

“Now, there could be real downsides to that.”

One concern is dangerous bugs could be transferred.

Up to a quarter of women are thought to carry group-B strep in their vagina, and exposing babies to this bacterium could be fatal.

Prof Brocklehurst says: “It too early to start introducing bacteria artificially into the baby until we’ve got a good handle on how likely this is to be the mechanism or not.”

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Illustrations: Katie Horwich

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Parents in Utah can no longer be prosecuted for ‘free range’ kids

(CNN)Helicopter parents are taking a hit in Utah.

It’s believed to be the first state in the nation to pass such a law.
The measure essentially changes the state’s legal definition of neglect, meaning parents won’t be prosecuted for letting their children (of appropriate age) do things like walk to school by themselves, go to the store alone, play outside unsupervised, sit in a vehicle alone or stay at home by themselves.
    The lawmaker who sponsored the legislation, Republican state Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, said he wanted to keep police and state agencies from arresting parents for things like letting their kids walk to school unaccompanied.
    “It’s not neglect if you let your child experience childhood,” Fillmore told CNN affiliate KUTV last month. “The message is you need to protect your kids but we are not doing kids any favors if we shelter them to the point where they are not learning how to function.”
    The bill does not define what the appropriate age is to allow children to be on their own, KUTV said.
    (CNN has reached out to Fillmore for comment but hasn’t heard back.)
    The free-range movement is considered a pushback on helicopter parenting — the idea that kids need to be supervised all the time.
    Free-range parenting gained steam about a decade ago with the publication of the book, “Free-Range Kids,” by Lenore Skenazy, a New York mom, television host and author. Skenazy was called the worst mother on the planet after she wrote a story in 2008 on why she let her then-9-year-old son take the subway by himself.

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    Reading is fundamental — to the family’s happiness

    (CNN)A couple of years ago, when my older daughter was 8, she gently told my wife and me that she’d gotten too old for us to read her books anymore. We didn’t try to talk her out of it or numerate the many benefits of reading aloud to a child (even after they can do so themselves). We were disappointed but respected her agency.

    When she was a toddler, we began a nearly daily ritual called Milk & Books. It quickly became the best part of any ordinary day as we devoured picture and chapter books that ranged from hilarious Shel Silverstein poetry to the dramatic prairie recollections of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some titles came from authors prevalent in our own childhoods (E.B. White, Roald Dahl, Virginia Lee Burton, Dr. Seuss, Kay Thompson), and more came from the ever-growing list of contemporary greats (Mo Willems, Jon Muth, Kate DiCamillo, Andrew Clements).

    Go Ask Your Dad is parenting advice with a philosophical bent as one dad explores what we want out of life, for ourselves and our children, through useful paradigms and best practices. It considers old problems in new ways, and new problems that previous generations didn’t face.

    When our daughter declared that she’d outgrown our family ritual, I suspected that a classmate made her self-conscious about it, perhaps one whose parents had done away with reading books to them. But I didn’t ask her why she wanted to stop or reveal my sadness. She loves reading, so maybe our work was done, I thought. And I consoled myself with the notion that I had years of happy memories with her and more good years of M&B left with her little sister.
      Two weeks after stopping our bedtime readings, though, my older daughter asked whether we could start again. She simply enjoyed the ritual too much to let it go yet. As she later explained, “Everyone likes to be read to, even adults.” We’ve continued uninterrupted since. Right now, we’re deep into Philip Pullman’s “The Golden Compass.”
      The value of reading to our kids — for them and us — is reinforced by the growing body of research on the topic. Just last week, a meta-analysis of 19 studies published in the journal Pediatrics found that reading aloud was significantly beneficial to children and their parents.
      In most of the studies — which involved more than 3,000 families — the parents were assessed as well as their kids, and reading aloud appeared to strengthen parents’ feelings of competence, improve the quality of their relationships with their children and even reduce parental stress or depression.
      Reading aloud to children improves a young mind’s cognitive development (thinking, problem-solving, decision-making) and reduces behavior problems, research shows. As with playing board games, reading to them increases concentration and attention spans. Reading aloud even outperforms conversation when it comes to exposure to vocabulary and advancing a child’s literacy.
      And yet, too many of us stop before the kids want us to. In Australia, more than a third of children aged 6 to 11 whose parents had stopped reading to them wanted to continue.
      Improving a child’s reading skills and cognitive ability is important to their success in school, work and life. “If you are going to get anywhere in life,” Roald Dahl is credited with saying, “you have to read a lot of books.”
      The conversations children have around themes and ideas in books help them make sense of the world. And it’s a joyful way to connect and be close with your kid. While reading in bed, my daughters and I lie next to each other, sometimes leaning into one other. We laugh and are surprised together and have deep conversations sparked by the novels. It’s as high a quality as quality time gets.
      And because reading aloud is pleasurable, parents and teachers reinforce a child’s habit of reading because they create a positive association with it. It’s one of the most virtuous circles of parenting and teaching.
      My first job out of college was as a middle school reading teacher through the public service program Teach For America. In the first week of school, students told me how pointless my job was, since they could already read. I was inexperienced and underprepared and frequently believed they were right about my pointlessness. But one ritual my students grew to love — even those who derided it at first — was how I spent the first 15 minutes of each class reading aloud to them. I read Stephen King short stories, S.E. Hinton, J.D. Salinger. Unlike in math, science and English, rarely were students late to my class. I’m not sure how much I did right, but reading to them was a slam dunk.

      Ritualizing book reading, or even bringing it back

      Turning book reading into a ritual is as simple as repetition paired with a certain time or situation. Reading to kids just before bed is popular because routine makes for easier bedtimes as well — a twofer!
      Once they’re hooked, however, don’t threaten to take it away as a punishment. There was a brief time where my wife and I would leverage the loss of reading time as a way to cajole cooperation with bedtime routines. We threatened it because we knew they cared about it. But it always felt wrong and counterproductive to us, like punishing them by not serving a favorite vegetable at dinner. We want to read to them as much as they want to be read to. So we knocked it off.
      If you’ve stopped reading to your kids and it feels like that era is over, don’t close the book on it forever. Try to bring it back. Maybe don’t make it a ritual, in this case. Ask whether you can read them something short (maybe funny too) as one-offs. Try to sneak it in. Maybe wait until they’re sick and read them the book they’re reading to themselves for pleasure or school.
      Or model reading to your partner and point out that, as my daughter put it, “Everyone likes to be read to.” Reading aloud to another is like a personal audiobook! Nothing baby-ish about that. In fact, it’s how my wife falls asleep many nights.
      Or ask for a single exception — one book you have your heart set on reading to them above all others. I have a couple of these, including Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Betty Smith’s “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.” For my wife, it was Scott O’Dell’s “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and Elizabeth George Speare’s “The Witch of Blackbird Pond.”

      See the latest news and share your comments with CNN Parenting on Facebook.

      When my daughter asked to stop being read to two years ago, I asked whether we could make one exception for a book I wanted to read to her if she ever got sick enough to miss a couple of days of school. The book was William Goldman’s “The Princess Bride,” and we read it last year, starting when she was down with a 24-hour bug. Sharing the book was as magical as I’d hoped.
      When my daughters tell me it’s time to really stop reading to them, I will be sad that chapter has ended. But I won’t regret that I didn’t get as much quality time as I could with them and the books we collectively love.

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      A mom’s dark discovery in a popular app makes parents rethink their kids’ online access.

      Being a smart and caring parent in the age of the internet is complicated.

      Most of us who are parenting school-aged kids today didn’t grow up with the internet. Cyberbullying didn’t happen to us. Porn at the push of a button didn’t exist for us. Social media wasn’t a thing we had to figure out until we were well into adulthood.

      Still, when Anastasia Basil’s 10-year-old daughter asked if she could get the app so she could make fun lip sync videos on her phone, Basil told her she had to check it out first, just in case.

      Basil dove in headfirst and what she found was a dark and disturbing reminder of what children can trip into on the internet. She’d recently read Nancy Jo Sales’ “American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagersand followed Sales’ advice to explore the app like a kid would, not like a mildly interested, impatient adult. basically looks like a bunch of short selfie videos, like the good old days of Vine but with users all lip-syncing to song excerpts. Like other social apps, users can like and comment on videos and use hashtags to categorize. There are stars in the platform, known as “musers,” and the user base is extraordinarily young.

      After exploring the app for about 15 minutes, however, Basil encountered her first pornographic livestream. She also found children making pro-anorexia, self-harm, and #killingstalking videos (in which a young boy holds a knife up to a young girl’s throat), and she soon learned about the constantly changing hashtags that get around the filters designed to keep exactly this kind of stuff off the app.

      Screen images via Anastasia Basil (left) and Annie Reneau (right).

      Basil was so shocked by what she encountered from kids on the platform — hashtags like #suicide, #cutting, #selfhate, and more — that it took her months to write about it.

      I checked out the app myself, and at first glance, it looked fairly benign. But it didn’t take long to see what Basil was talking about. Within minutes, I’d seen enough pre-teen girls making cunnilingus gestures with their mouths and fingers to make me want to move my family to Amish country.

      How do we protect our kids from the pitfalls of the internet while also preparing them for the eventuality of unlimited access to it?

      In this brave new world, even the experts have a hard time figuring out the best ways to balance being internet-savvy with being internet-safe. As internet safety expert Frank Gallagher points out, “Multiple studies have shown that children often won’t go to parents and caregivers when something bad happens online. That’s because they think mom or dad won’t understand, will take away their phone or computer, or will intervene but only make things worse. It’s hard to keep kids safe when they’re not letting you into their digital life.”  

      With our own children, my spouse and I feel conflicted about this stuff every day. We try to take the approach of honesty combined with age-appropriate limitations — as much as we can anyway.

      We held off on portable internet devices for as long as possible. Our kids are 17, 13, and 9. Our 17-year-old has had her own smartphone since she was 15, but we have to approve apps before she can download them.

      We own tablets for the other two, but they only use them at home when we’re around to monitor what’s happening on them. We’ve always conveyed to our kids that we trust them, but we don’t trust the internet — and neither should they.

      Just a few months ago, my 13-year-old daughter came to me with a spam email she’d received from an online hook-up site with a photo of an erect penis in it. (Spam filter fail — big time. And mom fail, for not setting up her email account to not have images autoload. Seriously, being internet-savvy is hard.)

      Ideally, I want my kids to not be exposed to horrible things online, but that’s not always going to be realistic. They’re going to have full access at some point.

      Ultimately, I hope they’ll feel secure enough in who they are and wise enough about what’s out there to consciously avoid being sucked into the unsavory and unsafe corners of the internet. Most importantly, I want them to feel comfortable talking to me about all of it. One thing internet safety experts agree on is the importance of communication with our kids when it comes to the realities of the internet.

      After she got that terrible email, my daughter showed it to me. I told her I was proud of her for sharing it with me, even though she felt embarrassed. We discussed how important it is to stay on top of filters and controls to keep out most of the stuff you don’t want invading your space or your psyche.

      So far, this approach seems to be working about as well as it can. My eldest avoids most social media of her own accord, which has saved a great deal of drama for everyone.

      Basil says her approach of keeping her kids off the internet — and deeply exploring any apps they want to use — is working well for her kids, who are in the third and fifth grade. My oldest two are entering and exiting high school. Our kids are only a handful of years apart, but that difference is vast. As Basil tells me, “If you read books on child brain development, you’ll see that each year is distinctly different, distinctly its own in terms of development. I don’t have to prepare my 10-year-old for being 13. I’m just going to let her be 10.”

      She has a point.  But those few years go by fast, and I think the more we communicate with our kids and prepare them — in age-appropriate ways — for what they might encounter, the more savvy and safe they will be in the online world when they enter it.

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