Motherhood, Marriage and Other Wild Rides

Health, Happiness and the Pursuit of Mommyhood

Baby’s language development starts in the womb December 5, 2009

Surprisingly, the sound of a newborn’s cry varies from hospital to birthing center around the world. Two babies born at the same moment in two different countries will cry a melodic rendition of their parents’ mother tongue, according to  a new study published by Current Biology. The findings suggest that infants begin picking up elements of what will be their first language in the womb, and certainly long before their first babble or coo.

“The dramatic finding of this study is that not only are human neonates capable of producing different cry melodies, but they prefer to produce those melody patterns that are typical for the ambient language they have heard during their fetal life, within the last trimester of gestation,” said Kathleen Wermke of the University of Würzburg in Germany. “Contrary to orthodox interpretations, these data support the importance of human infants’ crying for seeding language development.”

In many ways, this news shouldn’t come as any surprise. Early studies have already shown us:

  • Human fetuses are able to memorize sounds from the external world by the last trimester of pregnancy, with a particular sensitivity to melody contour in both music and language. (Anyone who has played a particular song or music while pregnant is delighted when baby shows recognition and preference for it!)
  • Newborns prefer their mother’s voice over other voices and perceive the emotional content of messages conveyed via intonation contours in maternal speech (a.k.a. “motherese”).
  • Earlier studies of vocal imitation had shown that infants can match vowel sounds presented to them by adult speakers, but only from 12 weeks on. That skill depends on vocal control that just isn’t physically possible much earlier, the researchers explain.

Although prenatal exposure to native language was known to influence newborns’ perception, scientists had thought that the surrounding language affected sound production much later, the researchers said. It now appears that isn’t so.

Wermke’s team recorded and analyzed the cries of 60 healthy newborns, 30 born into French-speaking families and 30 born into German-speaking families, when they were three to five days old. That analysis revealed clear differences in the shape of the newborns’ cry melodies, based on their mother tongue.

Specifically, French newborns tend to cry with a rising melody contour, whereas German newborns seem to prefer a falling melody contour in their crying. Those patterns are consistent with characteristic differences between the two languages, Wermke said.

“Imitation of melody contour, in contrast, is merely predicated upon well-coordinated respiratory-laryngeal mechanisms and is not constrained by articulatory immaturity,” the researchers write. “Newborns are probably highly motivated to imitate their mother’s behavior in order to attract her and hence to foster bonding. Because melody contour may be the only aspect of their mother’s speech that newborns are able to imitate, this might explain why we found melody contour imitation at that early age.”

  1. Mampe et al. Newborns’ Cry Melody Is Shaped by Their Native Language. Current Biology, November 5, 2009; DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.09.064

The more the merrier: More kids = more joy for married couples November 15, 2009

On The Soup last Friday, Joel McHale made a crack about TLC‘s penchant for shows about families with multiple kids, chiding them for the two things the network seems to do best–stick to a format and ruin a marriage. While media channels continue to drag Jon and Kate Gosselin‘s troubles to the spotlight, a new study by Dr. Luis Angeles from the University of Glasgow reports findings indicating that having children improves married peoples’ life satisfaction and the more they have, the happier they are. For unmarried individuals, raising children has little or no positive effect on their happiness.

When asked about the most important things in their lives, most people place their children near or even at the top of their list. Contrary to previous studies on this topic, Dr. Angeles’ analysis of the relationship between having children and life satisfaction takes into account the role of individual characteristics, including marital status, gender, age, income and education.

For married individuals of all ages and married women in particular, children increase life satisfaction and life satisfaction goes up with the number of children in the household. Negative experiences in raising children are reported by people who are separated, living as a couple, or single, having never been married. Children take their toll on their parents’ satisfaction with social life, and amount and use of leisure time.

Dr. Angeles concludes: “One is tempted to advance that children make people better off under the ‘right conditions’ — a time in life when people feel that they are ready, or at least willing, to enter parenthood. This time can come at very different moments for different individuals, but a likely signal of its approach may well be the act of marriage.”

I might add that, of the happy, successful, larger families with whom I’m personally familiar, it really does seem to come down to partnership–not only between the husband and wife, but among their offspring. Committed partners help one annother, and teach their children to do so as well. In happy families with many children, you’ll often find older children assisting younger siblings without begrudging it, because their parents model that value. And let’s not forget gratitude: parents who demonstrate thankfulness for one another and for their children encourage their kids to be thankful for one another as well.

I also look to larger families to learn better time management and organization. In our house, I’m frequently amazed by the chaos created by only two preschoolers–some might say we’ve already reached critical mass–and I can’t imagine having the energy to bring in a third (and let’s be honest, I’m not getting any younger). 

Having children is, to be certain, a tremendous amount of work. Thank goodness our children also bring us a heightened experience of happiness, although I have to wonder how that balance between work and reward is maintained if beleagured by the constant presence of a film crew?


Get 20% off organic Amenity Home baby gear! November 4, 2009

Soft, natural, eco-friendly fibers are a must-have for baby’s soft skin. Beautiful, timeless design often comes with a steeper pricetag, so a discount is certainly welcome.

Eco-friendly Amenity Home  offers lovely and for well-designed products for modern living. These beautiful products are whimsical but not at all babyish, and are sure to be cherished while “growing” with your child. For the first time ever, the company is offering 20% off site-wide (Muir Collection excluded).  Just use the discount code – “fall20” – at checkout.   

While Amenity is available in many cities, the best place to see the all the collections is online.  Among all of the modern organic products, the Amenity Nursery Collection offers an adorable, contemporary take on nature and woodland creatures, and would be perfect for both genders. So sweet! My sons are ages 2 and 4, but they would just love lounging on the animal floor pillows!

If you’re looking for a thoughtful and luxurious shower or baby gift, the organic baby basics are useful and versatile.  Softer than you can even imagine, the organic baby blankets would make a welcome keepsake item.


Dr. Lauren Feder to offer 3 LA-area Safe Vaccination Lectures October 27, 2009

There is a growing movement among parents to question the safety of such standards as vaccines and antibiotics. 

Dr. Lauren Feder, author of The Parents’ Concise Guide to Childhood Vaccinations, presents three Los Angeles-area workshops for parents who are seeking optimum health for their children. Dr. Federer will present an overview of health, disease and each vaccination, including pros, cons, risk, benefits and prevention of vaccine side effects. Syllabus included.

Patients of all ages often ask Dr. Robert and Carri Tanaka of Natural Life Chiropractic this question: “what do you think about vaccinations?” The Tanakas encourage all families to “get education from multiple resources on this important topic. One person we look to and trust is Dr. Lauren Feder. Dr. Feder is a Los Angeles-based doctor and, in our opinion, her lecture is a must for any parent to be, or person concerned about their families health.”

Dr. Feder’s lectures sell out quickly, so early registration is highly recommended.
Cost: $25 per person, $45 per PARENT couple.

See below for details on locations and times. NOTE: Dr. Feder will have books on hand as well as homeopathic flu remedies for sale. Please bring cash for these items. The Swine Flu will also be addressed.

For more info on this topic, for vaccine exemption forms and more, visit

Location: Belly Sprout
Saturday, November 7, 2009
10:30am – 12:30pm
426 W. Commonwealth Ave.
Fullerton, Ca. 92832

Location: Golden Bridge Yoga
Sunday, November 8, 2009
1:30pm – 4:30pm
6322 De Longpre Ave.
Los Angeles, Ca. 90028

Location: Yo Mama Yoga
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
6:30pm – 8:30pm
1404 3rd Street Promenade, Suite 204
Santa Monica, Ca. 90401

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More About: Pregnancy · Health · Things to Do · Education · Child Development · Parents


Trust Birth Conference in March 2010 – Excellent line-up, plan now! September 28, 2009

Moms-to-be, natural birth practitioners, doulas, midwives, OB/GYNs, chiropractors and authors are joining together for the Trust Birth Conference, March 12-14, 2010, in Redondo Beach.

This is a special opportunity for pregnant women, mothers, and those interested in natural birth methods, as conferences of this nature are typically restricted only to industry health professionals.

Keynote speaker Dr. Sarah Buckley is a family physician with qualifications in GP-obstetrics and family planning; a writer and lecturer on pregnancy, birth and parenting; and currently full-time mother to her four children, all born at home. Sarah’s book, Gentle Birth Gentle Mothering: A Doctors Guide to Natural Childbirth and Gentle Early Parenting Choices is published in the US and worldwide by Celestial Arts. Sarah brings a unique and powerful blend of solid scientific, anthropological and psychological perspectives, along with a deep trust in the natural processes.

Each day of the conference offers numerous seminars facilitated by some of the world’s leading natural birth advocates:

For more info: Check out the impressive list of conference faculty. See the listings for all sessions.
See detailed info on conference pricing. 


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FDA says toxic lead makes lipstick dangerous, especially for pregnant women September 25, 2009

Did you know that top selling lipstick brands contain more than 10 times higher than U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)s standard for lead in candy? Health experts say lead in lipstick is a health concern in any amount.

While the FDA noted that three manufacturers had the highest levels of lead, they did not reveal the names of  those brands. In 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics reported consistently higher lead levels in lipsticks manufactured by L’Oreal, Maybelline and Cover Girl.

“Since recent science suggests that there is truly no safe lead exposure for children and pregnant women, it is disturbing that manufacturers are allowed to continue to sell lead-containing lipsticks,” said Sean Palfrey, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston University and the medical director of Boston’s Lead Poisoning Prevention Program.

According to Dr. Palfrey:

  • Lead is a proven neurotoxin that can cause learning, language and behavioral problems such as lowered IQ, reduced school performance and increased aggression.
  • Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable to lead exposure, because lead easily crosses the placenta and enters the fetal brain where it can interfere with normal development.

Dr. Mark Mitchell, president of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, agrees; “Lead builds up in the body over time and lead-containing lipstick applied several times a day, every day, can add up to significant exposure levels.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention plainly advises avoiding all sources of lead exposure, stating, “No safe blood lead level has been identified.”

Yet FDA has no standard for lead in lipstick. Lisa Archer, national coordinator for the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics at the Breast Cancer Fund reports, “Pregnant women using lipstick are unknowingly exposing their fetuses to unknown and unregulated levels of lead. FDA should immediately set standards to require manufacturers to make lipstick as safe as possible.”

For more info: Women should be encouraged to shop for natural, organic cosmetics. Visit the EWG’s Skin Deep Cosmetic Database for a list of the world’s safest beauty products.
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At-home fetal monitoring no substitute for med eval August 26, 2009

This article is from my Parenting column on the L.A. edition of

The joys and worries of pregnancy–especially the first time!–can be numerous. One way moms-to-be often comfort themselves is with an at-home personal fetal monitor (Doppler device). The sound of baby’s heartbeat is certainly reassuring, but can the sounds of a normal heartbeat give the entire picture of a growing infant’s health?

A hand-held Doppler device assesses the presence of fetal heart pulsations only at that moment, and it is used by midwives and obstetricians to check for viability or for intermittent monitoring during labor, explains Dr. Thomas Aust and colleagues from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral in a recent article in the British Medical Journal.  “In untrained hands it is more likely that blood flow through the placenta or the mother’s main blood vessels will be heard,” say the authors.

The article outlines a case of a 27-year-old mom-to-be (at 32 weeks into her first pregnancy) with reduced fetal movements; She had first noted a reduction in her baby’s activity two days earlier but had used her own Doppler device to listen to the heartbeat and reassured herself that everything was normal.

Further monitoring by the antenatal care team was not reassuring and the baby was delivered by Caesarean section later that evening. The baby remained on the special care baby unit for eight weeks and is making steady progress.

Following this case, they searched the internet and found that a fetal Doppler device could be rented affordably by the month or purchased outright. Although the companies state that the device is not intended to replace recommended antenatal care, they also make claims such as “you will be able to locate and hear the heartbeat with excellent clarity.”

Speaking as the mother of two sons born in a birthing tub at home, assisted by midwives, I can agree that it is tempting to try to assuage worries for our baby’s health using a variety of methods; I purchased my own hand-held doppler at a drugstore (but it didn’t work nearly as well as my midwife’s. In fact, I put it aside because the intermittent, faint sound caused me more worry). The bottomline: A safe, low-risk birth of a healthy infant requires regular and attentive care by a licensed midwife or docrtor.  There are no appropriate subsitutes for experienced care by qualified health practictioners.

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