Rising Rates Of Babies Suffocating In Bed

As a mom (twice!) I understand all too well the lure of cuddling your new baby while they are sleeping.  There is nothing sweeter than holding that sleeping newborn and enjoying ever breath, every twitch, every murmur.

But I also remember the sleep deprivation, the effort it took just to shower and put on clean clothes, the middle-of-the-night feedings where I nearly fell asleep in the glider while nursing.  Shopping, laundry, cooking, relatively simple tasks were two or three times harder than they should be just because I was SO. BLOODY. TIRED!

I know I’m not alone.  All new moms and dads go through this.  That fatigue and sleep deprivation is one of the main reasons why doctors discourage the practice of parents bed-sharing with their newborn.  And when parents cosleep with newborns, we see rising rates of babies suffocating in bed.

A research paper published in JAMA Pediatrics this week reports that rates of babies suffocating in bed have more than doubled in the last 16 years.  Unfortunately the rate of rise is even higher among African-American babies and in babies living in rural areas.  Hispanic babies are less at risk.  The overall rate was about 28 per 100,000 people in 2015.  This means that in 2015 about 1100 babies died from being suffocated in bed.

SIDS deaths have fallen from about 70 per 100,000 to about 40 per 100,000 over the same period.  The reasons for SIDS deaths are not fully understood, but the reason why a baby would suffocate in bed is pretty clear.  A parent rolls on them, or a pillow falls on them, or they get stuck between the mattress and the wall.

Cases of babies suffocating in bed are entirely preventable.  The simple measure of NOT having a baby in bed with their parent(s) goes a long way towards prevention.  Pediatricians and family doctors have advised new parents for years to put their baby to sleep on their back in a crib or bassinet.  A separate bed is the safest place for a new baby to sleep.

Parents cosleep for many reasons.  More well-to-do parents may cosleep because they believe it will improve bonding and make breastfeeding easier to establish and more successful.  Lower-income parents may cosleep because there simply isn’t money to buy a separate crib or bed for the new baby.

Finland started a program in the 1930s for all mothers-to-be to receive a box of supplies for their new babies.  The cardboard “baby box” also contained a firm foam mattress with a tight-fitting sheet, making the box itself a bassinet for the new baby.

In 2017 Ohio became the second state to offer a similar program to expectant parents in our state.  By going to Baby Box Company’s website and watching a 10-15 minute video and taking a short quiz, Ohio expectant moms and dads will be able to receive their own baby box.

The video and quiz help to educate expectant parents on safe sleep practices.  The box gives the new baby a safe and portable place to sleep for the first few weeks of life.

If you or someone you know are expecting a baby, please educate yourself about safe sleep practices.  Grandparents and babysitters need to know the safest way to put a baby to sleep.  Even a short nap can be deadly.

  • Go to Baby Box University and complete the short educational program to qualify for your free Baby Box.
  • Always put your baby down alone, on their back, on a firm sleep surface.  Babies should sleep without blankets, pillows, comforters or stuffed animals.
  • Do not cosleep.  Do not nap on a couch or recliner with your baby.  If you’re breastfeeding and up frequently at night, do not breastfeed a newborn while lying down.  Sit up in a chair to breastfeed then put your baby back in his or her bassinet, crib or Pack-n-Play (or bed box!) before lying down again.

After all, one baby suffocated in bed with their parents is too many.  1100 babies suffocating in bed per year is a horrible tragedy that can be prevented with proper sleep practices.

QUESTION: Did you cosleep with your baby?  Why or why not?

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Meditation For Stress Relief

I’m happy (I think) to report that a major milestone has been reached in my family.  My older son is 15 1/2 years old and yesterday got his temporary driver’s permit.  So it begins!  I may never draw a stress-and-anxiety-free breath again!  He hasn’t had his first lesson and already I’m worried…

In the stress and anxiety department I know I’m not alone.  Would it be fair to say that all of my readers are under some stress?  Yep, pretty much.  Stress is a way of life nowadays.

For those of us who are parents, stress makes our tempers short and tolerance low.  It makes us snap at our kids and keeps us from enjoying our time with them.  It also can lead us to overeat and indulge in other activities that aren’t good for us OR our families.

There are many ways to reduce stress.  Learning time and task management skills, decreasing commitments, and practicing gratitude are some ways.  Some people choose  to take medication.

There is also very good evidence that meditation for stress relief is effective.  Why would meditation be helpful when under stress?

First I want to review a little physiology.  Bear with me, it will help you understand why meditation is helpful.  There is a component of your nervous system that is called the autonomic nervous system.  Its job is to control all of the things that happen in your body without you thinking about them, like breathing, heart rate, circulation, digestion, sweating, bowel and bladder function and sexual activity (once triggered by conscious thought).

The autonomic nervous system also is divided into two components: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system.  The sympathetic nervous system is activated with stress, and brings out the “fight or flight” response.  Blood pressure, respiratory rate and heart rate go up, pupils dilate, circulation is directed away from the digestive tract and towards the brain and muscles (preparing to fight or flee from a threat).  The adrenal glands dump adrenaline into the blood stream.  If stress lasts awhile the adrenals also make cortisol to increase blood sugar production by the liver.

Can you see why chronic sympthetic activation is a bad thing?  Having the blood pressure and heart rate high is really hard on the circulatory system.  Adrenaline itself seems over time to be poisonous to the heart.  Chronic stress is hard on the digestive tract, leading to irritable bowel syndrome.  High cortisol levels can lead to weight gain and diabetes.

So how do you calm down the sympathetic nervous system?

One way is to activate the parasympathetic nervous system.  If sympathetic is “fight or flight,” parasympathetic is “rest and digest.”  One of the most effective ways to purposely activate the parasympathetic nervous system is to meditate.

Meditation has been shown to produce improvement in mood disorders, epilepsy, autoimmune symptoms, menopause symptoms and PMS symptoms.

There are many ways to meditate.  Some well-known techniques include Transcendental Meditation, mindfulness-based stress reduction, various types of Buddhist meditation, and Metta meditation.  All forms of meditation seek to calm the mind, go beyond the mind and enhance concentration.  The physical health benefits are very well documented.

Like many other areas of life, to get the most out of meditation you need a good teacher.  I’d like to recommend to you that, if you’re in the Cleveland area, you should consider MY teacher.  We have a beginning meditation class starting soon.

Dr. Vincent Gentiluomo is a skilled martial artist and spiritual teacher.  You can learn more about him and his background at this link.  He offers both group classes and individual teaching.  If you would like more information, you can contact him via email at docvg1@gmail.com or by phone at 440–773–4004.  He can help you choose the program that’s right for you.

If you’re finding yourself struggling with stress and its effects on your body, meditation is one effective way to reduce your stress and bring your body back into balance.

For more information about the biology of stress, check this link.

QUESTION:  Do you meditate?  How has it helped you?

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Reduce Colds And Flu With Vitamin D

How many colds and bouts of bronchitis do you have in any given winter?  Two?  Three?  Or are you one of those people who gets over one cold just to come down with the next?

Are you envious of those who don’t ever seem to get sick?  What if I told you the difference could be in your blood?  AND that it’s something EASY to change?

Turns out taking a vitamin D supplement reduces the risk of acute respiratory infections!  I’ve written about vitamin D before.  This nutrient has a lot of health benefits that we’re just starting to understand.  It helps keep bones strong.  It has mental health benefits.  Vitamin D levels are linked to the risk for multiple sclerosis.  We really don’t understand everything about how vitamin D works.

Credit: https://www.humnutrition.com/

Researchers in the UK wanted to know if there was a link between vitamin D levels and risk of colds and flu.  Specifically, they wanted to know if vitamin D supplements helped prevent respiratory infections.

Last year their study was published in the British Medical Journal.  They analyzed 25 other papers involving over 11,000 people to see if there was evidence that vitamin D supplements protect against respiratory infection.

They found that people who took vitamin D supplements did have a lower risk of acute respiratory infection, but the effect was pretty modest.  Overall, those who took vitamin D supplements had a 40.3% risk of acute respiratory infection, while those who didn’t had a 42.2% risk.

Not a big effect, right?  Well let’s look deeper, OK?  The authors looked at those who were deficient to begin with, having a blood level less than 25 nmol/L, and found that with supplementation the risk dropped from 55% to 40.5%

The authors also wanted to know if it mattered how you took your vitamin D.  In Europe apparently it’s common to give a huge dose (>30,000 IU) every once in awhile, called bolus dosing.  In the US we usually dose daily or weekly instead.

The study found that bolus dosing was NOT effective, and if you just looked at the studies that gave the vitamin D supplements on a daily or weekly schedule the effect was quite dramatic.

Those who started with low vitamin D levels saw their risk of upper respiratory infections drop from 59.8% to 31.5%.  That is a huge drop!  The fact that correcting deficiency had such a big effect is good evidence that this is real and not just statistical fancy footwork or a coincidence.

They also found a big drop (46.2% to 33.6%) in children aged 1-16 years who were supplemented with vitamin D.  Since kids in school are exposed to germs all the time, this reduction is very important.

How can we use this information?  If you live in northern Ohio (or anywhere north of 40 degrees north latitude) you ARE vitamin D deficient unless you are taking a supplement.  So everyone in Cleveland needs to take a supplement all year ’round.  You also should have your levels checked periodically by your doctor or health practitioner.

I prefer to have my patients take their vitamin D every day rather than once per week.  It is easier to remember to take something every day, just make it part of your morning routine.  The best dose I’ve found is 2000-3000 units daily.  What is in your multivitamin is NOT enough.

While taking a vitamin D supplement is helpful, there’s more to staying healthy and warding off colds and flu than taking vitamins.  Make sure you’re washing your hands regularly.  Drink plenty of fresh clean water, get enough sleep, and watch your stress levels.  Stress depresses the immune system so if you’re feeling overwhelmed make sure to beef up your self-care routine!

If you’re a Shaklee customer of mine, please check out Vita D3.  It’s an inexpensive way to add insurance for heart, bone AND immune health!  If you’re not already a Shaklee family member, why not click this link to get your personalized health assessment?  There’s no cost and no commitment, just individual recommendations for diet and lifestyle changes (and smart supplementation of course) to meet your health goals.

I have so many friends and patients suffering cold after cold this winter.  Now you have one more tool in the toolbox to keep you well!

QUESTION: Do you take vitamin D every day?

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Mediterranean Diet Better For Older People

Falls and fractures.  Getting weaker.  Memory loss.  Inability to take care of oneself.  Nursing homes.  This is the grim future that many people see as they get older.  The truth is that poor lifestyle choices, heart attacks, diabetes and other health problems DO increase the risk of this future.

Is there anything we can do to prevent it?  Is there any way to prevent this grim future from becoming a reality?

In January an article was published by a group who wanted to look at diet as a risk factor for frailty as people age.  They analyzed 4 studies and found that there is a link between the Mediterranean diet and decreased risk of frailty.

What is frailty?  I think everybody can look at one older person and classify them as “frail” and another older person and classify them as “robust.”  Frailty is difficult to define!  However, it is generally described as a syndrome that gets more common with older age.  It is the accumulation of physical deficits and low physiologic reserves that make it hard to recover from and increase the risk of injury and illness.

There are a number of ways doctors measure frailty but one of the more commonly used scales uses 5 criteria:

  • unintentional weight loss
  • self-reported exhaustion
  • weakness
  • slow walking speed
  • low physical activity

People who are more frail are more likely to fall, more likely to have a fracture, more likely to be hospitalized and more likely to wind up in a nursing home and to die prematurely.  So whatever we can do to prevent frailty, we need to do it!

We know that nutrition is very important in preventing frailty.  Lots of research has been done on using nutrition to prevent frailty, and most of the research shows that it’s the overall quality of the diet, not individual nutrients, that is most important.  Preventing nutrient deficiencies and getting enough protein seem to be particularly critical.

Dr. Kojima and his colleagues found that people were less likely to become frail if they followed a Mediterranean diet.  They analyzed research articles published from China, France, Spain and Italy that compared risk of frailty with dietary patterns.  People who ate a more Mediterranean-style diet were less likely to become frail over the study period (an average of about 4 years).

What is the Mediterranean diet?  The Mediterranean diet consists of mostly plant foods (like vegetables, fruits, beans, cereals, root vegetables, nuts and seeds), olive oil as the main source of added fat, and small amounts of dairy, eggs, fish and poultry.  Alcohol (particularly red wine) is consumed in low to moderate amounts.

This study showed that the more the participants ate a Mediterranean diet, the less likely they were to become frail over the follow-up period.  The authors believe that the effect may be tied to inflammation.  More frail individuals generally have higher inflammatory markers, and the Mediterranean diet is known to produce less inflammation in the body.

What are the limitations of the study?  Well this study was an analysis of four other studies, all of which were observational.  That means they asked people what they ate, then watched to see what happened over a certain period of time.  They didn’t assign people to eat a Mediterranean diet.  It’s possible that there are other characteristics of people who choose to eat a Mediterranean-style diet that also contribute to lower risk of frailty.  This is called confounding, and is difficult to assess in studies like this.

Still, there’s a principle of behavior change that if you want what someone else has, you find out how they got it and do that same thing.  If the goal is to avoid becoming frail as you age, then eating the Mediterranean diet is one good way to begin.

Not sure how to start?  Here is a link to Amazon’s list of top-rated Mediterranean diet guides for beginners.  The food is tasty, the recipes are simple and the health benefits are amazing.  Please consider giving the Mediterranean diet a try!

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