Saturday, September 30, 2006

Healthy mind, healthy baby
There is increasing evidence that a mother's moods and emotions have a significant impact on the development of her unborn baby.
Severe stress is associated with a higher risk of miscarriages, preterm labour and lower birth weight. It may also be associated with changes in babies' behaviour. Long-term studies, such as the Avon study in England which monitored a large group of babies as they grew over a twenty-year-period, indicate that higher rates of emotional and behavioural problems occur in children whose mothers were exposed to extreme stress in pregnancy.

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AdvertisementHow does this happen? One explanation relates to a hormone called cortisol - the "stress" hormone of the body. When we are stressed, cortisol levels surge in the bloodstream. In pregnant women, the placenta blocks most of the cortisol from entering the baby's circulation. Some cortisol, however, does get through. In a woman who is severely stressed, excessive amounts may well reach the baby. It is thought that cortisol alters brain development in the child.
Unborn babies are also finely tuned to their mothers' states. With stress, a woman's heart will rise. Studies in the US have shown that when women are mentally stressed, the rise in their babies' heart rate mirrors that of their own.
SA researchThe MRC Anxiety Disorders Unit at the University of Stellenbosch is doing further redsearch in this field. They are following a group of pregnant women from the beginning of pregnancy, and are looking at detailed ultrasounds of brain development, monitoring foetal heart rate and then following the babies' development. In doing so, they hope to understand more about how maternal stress affects babies.
When to worryA certain degree of stress in pregnancy is normal. Pregnancy is a time of great change - there are physical changes, hormone levels rise dramatically and it's normal to feel anxious about the impending birth. Relationships are also changed by the prospect of a new child and financial pressures increase.
Bouts of weepiness and sudden urges to murder your partner, because he left his dirty socks on the bedroom floor, are probably within the bounds of normality. However, persistent low mood, irritability, marked anxiety and feelings of not coping are definitely causes for concern. Pregnant women who experience these feelings should seek help. A gynae, family doctor or clinic sister are good people to turn to for help. The Post Natal Depression Support Association of South Africa also has help lines and their staff members are always ready to provide support and help.
Even if a pregnant woman is not feeling severely stressed, it's a good idea to look at ways of reducing and coping with stress. Support from others is one of the best ways of doing this and may well buffer the negative effects of even severe stress.
Tips to combat stressThe MRC Research Unit of Anxiety and Stress Disorders offer the following advice to pregnant women:
Get support from others – the partner, friends and family
Join an antenatal class to meet other pregnant mums who may share your concerns.
Pamper yourself a little - even an extra five minutes to yourself every day can make a world of difference.
Gentle exercise (with your doctor's permission) is also an excellent stress reliever.
World Health Day 2005 focuses on the inter-dependence of good mental and physical health at every stage of life. One could start doing that even before children are born by taking care of both the physical and mental health of pregnant women.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Breast milk is the best food you can offer your new baby. The Canadian Paediatric Society recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. At 6 months, your baby will be ready for other foods (see Introducing solid foods). You can continue to breastfeed until your child is two years of age and beyond.
Since breast milk is naturally and uniquely produced—by each mother for her own baby—your baby is less easily exposed to foreign allergenic material. Breast milk also contains antibodies and other immune factors that help him prevent and fight off illness better.
Breast milk has the right amount and quality of nutrients to suit your baby's first food needs. It is also the easiest on her digestive system, so there's less chance of constipation or diarrhea.
Not long ago, many people in western countries like Canada believed that bottlefeeding was better than breastfeeding. Today, we know that breastfeeding offers your baby the best start. If you experience problems, don’t be surprised if some people encourage you to give up. But before you do, ask for help and support—it’s out there

Saturday, September 23, 2006

He bears no malice, but he is a worried man
By Damian Thompson

(Filed: 16/09/2006)

It is ironic that Benedict XVI finds himself accused of crude anti-Islamic prejudice after quoting a medieval emperor's opinion that Mohammed's violent teachings were "evil and inhuman".

Pope Benedict XVI: A multi-faith society 'is not consistent with Islam's inner nature'

For no pope in history has made a deeper study of Islam. Having explored every verse of the Koran, and engaged in long debates with Muslim scholars, he rejects the simplistic notion — held by fundamentalist Christians, and by the Roman Catholic Church until the middle of the 20th century — that Islam is evil. Yet he is convinced that some of its doctrines are morally indefensible.

In Benedict's view, a profound ambiguity about violence lies at the heart of Islam, arising from the Prophet's belief that faith can be spread by the sword. Mohammed, after all, was a general whose troops beheaded hundreds of enemy captives.

Asked recently whether he considered Islam to be a religion of peace, the Pope replied: "Islam contains elements that are in favour of peace, just as it contains other elements." Christianity, by contrast, he sees as a religion of pure peace — which is why he adopts a near-pacifist approach to conflict in the Middle East.

Where the pontiff differs from his predecessor is in his impatience with what might be termed "Islamic political correctness".

John Paul II hoped that prayer could bring Christians and Muslims closer together, and famously prayed alongside Islamic leaders at Assisi in 1986. He also reassured Muslims that "we believe in the same God".

Benedict would emphasise that the Islamic understanding of God is radically different from that of Christians.

He has also refrained from issuing the apologies for historical misdeeds made by John Paul II, arguing that they are never reciprocated.

Last year, at a private seminar, the Pope implied that he agreed with conservative Muslim clerics that the teachings of the Koran cannot be modified in any way. More-over, Islam, unlike Christianity, makes no distinction between sacred and secular.

"The Koran is a total religious law," he wrote in 1996, "which regulates the whole of political and social life." Therefore, a devout Muslim living in the West must aspire to live under sharia law. A multi-faith society "is not consistent with Islam's inner nature".

In other words, the Pope subscribes to a version of the "clash of civilisations" theory, which sees a fundamental incompatibility between Western and Islamic cultures. In his opinion, the primary aim of Christian-Muslim discussion is to avoid conflict.

For example, he supports the right of Muslim children to be taught their own religion in European schools — but on the strict understanding that their communities respect human rights.

Benedict's lecture at Regensburg University merely sought to elaborate his existing views. Beautifully written and constructed, it was intended for scholars interested in the relationship between God, rationality and coercion.

Although he described the Muslim approach to violence as defying God-given rationality, the Pope had no intention of offending ordinary Muslims or creating media headlines.

Yet the leader of the world's Roman Catholics has done both. How could a man who is so notoriously careful with words have committed what, in the eyes of liberal society, is a diplomatic blunder? The answer may be that underlying Benedict's nuanced world view is a deep-seated fear of Islam, which crops up in the daily conversation of Italian Catholics and stretches as far north as his Bavarian homeland.

He does not believe that the Koran condones terrorism; he bears no animosity towards peace-loving Muslims; but he is worried that the aggressive ethos of authentic Islam may provoke a crisis in Western society. And if the price of making that point is a "diplomatic blunder", then so be it.