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| Bat Midwife | Dental Sealants | Breastmilk & Intelligence |
| Preemies and Touch Therapy | Auto-Immune Disease | Midwifery in Denmark | National Organization for Women

Bat Midwife Aids Mother-to-Be

Boston University biologist Thomas Kuntz observed the behavior of Rodrigues fruit bats where "a female struggling with a difficult birth, [was] assisted for three hours by a female helper." Bat Midwives??

Kuntz made the discovery by chance at a lab in Florida, one of twelve captive breeding facilities for Rodrigues fruit bats. In the wild, there are only 350 of these bats left, due to deforestation, and they are found only on Rodriguez Island in the Indian Ocean. National Geographic says "Although bats usually give birth in a head up, feet down position, this female was laboring to do so head down. Another female approached her and repeatedly assumed the correct position, imitating contractions and straining. Finally the mother caught on, and a wing and a foot emerged in a breech birth-a successful one." If bats can do it, why can't we?

1997 National Geographic, Earth Almanac

Original Artwork Copyright © 1998

Dental Sealants Cautioned

-Reprinted with permission from Mothering Magazine, Jan/Feb 1997 #78, Page 32.

Although fewer than 20 percent of American Children have utilized them, dental sealants, a thin plastic coating painted on the surfaces of the teeth, are commonly recommended by dentists to prevent tooth decay, especially when teeth have deep pits and grooves. The National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR) recommends that children have their permanent molars sealed as soon as they come in.

However, a new study raises questions about sealants. Researchers at the University of Granad, Spain, report in the March, 1996 edition of Environmental Health Perspectives that plastic chemicals used in dental sealants (bisphenol A, or BPA, and a related substance, bis-GMA) act like the female sex hormone estrogen. Significant quantities of bisphneol A leach into the saliva of treated patients, the study found.

Laboratory studies show that BPA, at levels lower than those measured in the study, can stimulate human cells to grow in the same way that estrogen does. Numerous studies document that the fetus is highly sensitive to hormones and hormone-like chemicals. The effects on children and adults are less clear, although the younger the indivivual, the more caution is recommended. Plastic-resin composite fillings also contain BPA-based materials, but a filling's surface area is much less than the surface area covered by sealants. The amount of BPA released into the saliva is a function of the surface area covered by the chemicals (Green Guide, October 7, 1996).

Rooting for Intelligence

"Breastfeeding is good for health and bonding. And mother's milk may have another payoff - boosting a child's IQ scores."

Summarized from an article printed in Newsweek

In a recent article, Newsweek stated that "Breastmilk May be Mother Nature's Ultimate Food", protecting and sustaining babies for the first 16 weeks of life. Containing antibodies to ward off illness; breast-fed babies suffer fewer ear infections, respiratory infections, rashes and allergies than bottle-fed babies. The studies show that nursing a baby lowers the mother's chance of breast cancer, helps her loose weight after pregnancy and may act as a natural contraceptive. (Although this is not a 100% reliable method of preventing pregnancy).

New evidence suggests that breastfeeding may make babies smarter. Researchers have found small increases in cognitive development in breastfed babies when compared to bottle-fed babies. Using various measurements, including standard infant testing and even report cards, give a statistically significant higher measure of intellegence in babies that nursed.

In a 1992 study by Alan Lucas of the Dunn Nutrition Unit in Cambridge, Mass., preemies who were tube-fed breast milk scored much higher on developmental tests than babies who were tube-fed artificial baby milk.

Although the research is showing that breasfed babies are smarter, according to the sources qouted in the Newsweek article, no one is about to come out and say so.

Researchers still cannot say why breastmilk is so fortifying for the human brain. "The precise mix of enzymes, long-chain fatty acids and proteins that make up breast milk is so complex that no human engineer could ever successfully duplicate it. And each ingredient has a purpose. Specific fatty acids found in breast milk have been shown to be critical for neurological development. Certain amino acids are a central component for the development of the retina, which could account for breast-fed babies' increased visual acuity - another way of measuring advanced brain development."

Critics of the research say that the developmental advantages of breast-feeding are hard to pin down, as there are so many variables contributing to cognitive development of children, including "race, age, socioeconomic status and parental intelligence. "

Even the manufacturers of artificial baby milk acknowldge that their products can't match the complexity of human breast milk, even with added amino and fatty acids.

Breast-feeding advocates will certainly capitilize on the latest studies to promote breastfeeding. While skeptics of the studies on the other hand, will suggest that different factors, like loving treatment by it's caregivers, may ultimately prove to be more important than what a child is fed. As qouted in The Newsweek article, a 1996 commentary in the British journal Lancet, William and Mark Feldman of the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto wrote: "The best evidence is that intelligent, loving and caring mothers are more likely to have intelligent children, irrespective of how they feed their babies." Whether or not intellegence ends up being added to the list of benefits of breastfeeding or not, there remain many good reasons to breastfeed, for the health of the baby and the mother.

Giving Infants a Helping Hand

Physical contact may also help preemies gain weight faster and healthy babies digest food better.

Summarized from Newsweek

Scientist's work with fragile neonates and preschoolers points toward the conclusion: that touch is vitally important to the development of healthy, happy children. Bolstering the immune system, cuddling and massage appears to have many positive effects.

At the University of Miami's Touch Research Institute, director Tiffany Field cites many studies on the effects of touch. "Premature babies given daily massage gain 47 percent more weight and are discharged from hospitals six days earlier - at a savings of $10,000 each in medical costs. Cocaine-addicted and HIV-infected newborns show lower levels of stress as well as say that better weight gain and motor skills with touch therapy. From colic to sleep disorders to hyperactivity, therapeutic touch seems beneficial. Says Field, 'Most of us think touch only has psychological benefits, but it's actually an important stimulus to the central nervous system."

Researchers found that newborn rat pups failed to grow when removed from their mothers. Without their mothers licking them, baby rats showed decreased levels of growth hormones. When a lab assistant imitated the mother's licking with a wet paintbrush, "hormone levels rose and the pups resumed growing". Likewise for human babies. Studies have shown that touching can also lead to weight gain. The pressure releases hormones that make food absorption more efficient -- and babies grow faster. Touch also decreases stress. Infants who receive massage show lower levels of the stress hormone in their urine -- a hormone that kills important immune cells at higher levels.

While many parents of preemies are seeing the benefits of infant massage, the medical establishment isn't always quite as enthusiastic. Many doctors stop short of prescribing massage to help babies grow or reduce their stress. Touch research is still relatively new. Many questions remain unanswered. Yet more and more neonatal intensive care units are beginning to add touch to their therapy, and parental interest in infant massage continues to grow.

So once again, science is catching up to the wisdom of a mother's intuition.

Pregnancy and Auto-Immune Disease

Summarized from an article in Self Magazine

It has long been a mystery why certain autoimmune diseases, like schroederma (in which the skin becomes increasingly hard), occur ten times more frequently in women than in men. Research now indicates that pregnancy may increase the risk of having autoimmune diseases because of a flux of fetal cells in the mother's bloodstream during delivery. Researcher Diana W. Bianchi, M.D. Chief of Genetics at the New England Medical Center in Boston, has harvested fetal cells from mothers up to 27 years after giving birth. This has given rise to the idea that not all "autoimmune" diseases are reactions to the cells of the body and may instead be related to the "foreign" genetic material still present from childbirth. If this hypothesis is proven to be correct, scientists might be able to formulate new and better ways to fight diseases such as schroederma.
Midwifery in Denmark

Midwives in Denmark are Amongst the Brightest in the Land
Summarized from an article printed in National Geographic, July 1998

Denmark's stable, sophisticated society is due, in part, to the similar upbringing of all it's children. Whether born rich or poor, "at birth you become a member of the Lutheran Church", and then go off to uniform day care centers and kindergartens, and "folkeskole" for grades one to nine. Here language instruction in English begins, continuing with German and French in seventh grade. This education is the same for all children--no matter what their economic status. However, in the ninth grade, official social stratification begins. If you are a serious student, you will attend "gymnasium"; if you are vocationally-minded, you will attend technical or business school. About 40 percent of the population will attend gymnasium. The state then starts paying students a small stipend, based on parental income, "to even up the odds" a bit. (I bet they don't have to it pay back!). After three years in gymnasium, students take the test that will decide their future career (sort of like our Graduate Records Exam?). This is called "The Studenter Exam". It comes as no suprise that those with the highest scores get admitted to the best colleges and professional schools. But in contrast to the U.S., it takes a high score to get into the humanities and a lesser score to major in math, physics, chemistry and theology. Like the U.S., those with the highest scores get the first dibs at medicine, dentistry and psychology programs. "On the other hand, to become a midwife ("Earth Mother" in Danish), it takes a very high score, it being a popular career. So the woman in blue scrubs who tells your wife to take a deep breath and push hard may be a great deal brighter than the guy in the pulpit who explains the parable of the vineyard."

National Organization for Women

The largest and most important feminist organization in the country has expanded it's definition of reproductive rights to include choices in childbirth.
A Report on The NOW National Conference Committee on Health and Reproductive Rights, July 3, 1999


WHEREAS, The National Organization for Women has long supported reproductive freedom as a priority issue; and

WHEREAS, NOW believes that women should have compete authority over their reproductive lives; and

WHEREAS, reproductive freedom not only includes the ability to decide whether or when to bear children, but also the right to devise a birth plan with a medical provider of their choice in either a hospital or an alternative setting such as a freestanding birth center or private residence; and

WHEREAS, women have historically given birth with midwives; and

WHEREAS, the practice of midwifery has many benefits including lower costs, lower rates of premature births, higher rates of breastfeeding; and greater satisfaction with the birthing experience, and has been endorsed by The World Health Organization; and

WHEREAS, midwifery has a lower incidence of medical interventions during the birthing process, including routine episitomies and cesearean sections; and

WHEREAS, women's access to midwifery and traditional birthing practices are many times limited by restrictive laws and non-coverage by private insurance companies and state-subsidized funding;

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that The National Organization for Women's policy statements, brochures and fact sheets on reproductive freedom shall include references to birthing choices, safe childbearing practices, midwifery; and

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED that NOW work in cooperation with state and national midwifery organizations to increase women's limited access to midwifery and community awareness of childbirth, pregnancy and early parenting choices.

Submitted by: The Health and Reproductive Rights Hearing of The National Organization for Women, National Conference, Beverly Hills, CA July 3, 1999, Chair: Shiela Moore. Submitted by: Linda McCabe, Sonoma County N.O.W. (with assistance from: Suzette Henderson, Ohio-NOW and and Mary Ceallaigh, Midwifery Childbirth Awareness Project of California Association of Midwives ).

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