Study: Keeping livestock in the yard just might help your baby’s immune system

black and white dairy cow s head

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Years ago I used to tell people that having a pet that goes outside and inside is good for the immune system of kids. They tend to have fewer allergies. I never connected that to the concept that many human diseases come from livestock. For instance, influenza strains cross over to either chickens or pigs (swine flu). This study is interesting in that it suggests exposure to livestock can also boost the immune system.

It compares the fecal microbiota of Amish (kept cowsand/or horses) and Hutterite (just dogs) infants. The Hutterite children have 4-6 times the risk of asthma and allergies. The Amish households have higher levels and diversity of allergens, bacteria, and endotoxins. Ancestry beyond a couple hundred years of both groups are pretty similar. They primarily differ in environment they shape around themselves such as food consumption (grown vs purchased) which is potentially big confound.

Researchers delivered piglets via Cesarean-section so they had more sterile. The gave the piglets infant milk formula. And then they gave the piglets a fecal microbiota transplant from the infants. Later, they examined the DNA of the microbiota in the piglets to identify what was in the infant guts. Basically, the Amish microbiota resembles rural-types in previous studies and the Hutterite resembled urban-types. And the rural-types are better for properly training the immune system to lower the risk of allergies.

Really, this is more evidence of not being too scared about the presence of bacteria in our industrialized society. Exposure to a diversity of stuff means more will get into the gut. I recently learned in Gut that the immune system learns the bacteria it finds there and the appendix is where a selection are kept so that when diarrhea flushes the intestines, they can be repopulated with the bacteria we need. The rural lifestyle helps the infants get a better earlier diversity. And we as parents need to strike a balance between cleaning and overzealous cleaning. Too much kills eliminates the helpful bacteria.

Dhakal S, Wang L, Antony L, Rank J, Bernardo P, Ghimire S, Bondra K, Siems C, Lakshmanappa YS, Renu S, Hogshead B, Krakowka S, Kauffman M, Scaria J, LeJeune JT, Yu Z and Renukaradhya GJ (2019) “Amish (Rural) vs. non-Amish (Urban) Infant Fecal Microbiotas Are Highly Diverse and Their Transplantation Lead to Differences in Mucosal Immune Maturation in a Humanized Germfree Piglet Model.” Front. Immunol. 10:1509. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.01509

 

A Calming Brain Game

We are starting to see the tantrum behaviors manifest. As she has more autonomy through self-movement and develops preferences, sometimes we run into conflicts over wants. At present, these tantrums make me laugh because mainly they manifest as a little shuffle of her feet and the upset face. Occasionally Fleur lays down on the floor. Limited throwing, hitting, kicking, and screaming so far.

This Lifehacker article: Help Kids Calm Down With a ‘Brain Game’ looks interesting.

  1. Get their attention: They are consumed by their emotions, so it may be required to use a strange stimulus like a Light Switch Rave [1], jumping  up and down, or making a silly noise.
  2. Offer: Whisper… “Hey, do you want to play a little game really quick? It will be fun.”
  3. The Game: “Can you point out <number> things that are <property>?” Do a few of these until has a big smile.
  4. Explain what you intended that caused the meltdown. (Build empathy.)

Essentially, the amygdala reacted. They won’t have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex to properly manage the amygdala until their 20s. So, need to help them interrupt the amygdala by leveraging to hippocampus and memory cortex to distract the amygdala long enough for us to explain.

[1] That was a Strong Bad email #45 from Homestarr Runner reference.

Baby Shark

It is embarrassing how often I invoke Baby Shark. The simplicity of it makes it easy to use. But, kids recognize it. And Fleur smiles for it.

Apparently, protesters in Beirut sung it to a toddler upset about demonstrations.

Because it works.

Book: Brain Rules for Baby

photo of head bust print artwork

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I loved the Brain Rules book. The original discussed why the brain works the way it does (including the studies) and gave specific activities one can do to boost the efficacy. An example: the brain is a major consumer of oxygen, so scientists have found that intense exercise improves function by getting more oxygenated blood to the brain.

I need to re-read it as it has been a decade. I recently got the baby one.

Some quotes:

Having a first child is like swallowing an intoxicating drink made of equal parts joy and terror, chased with a bucketful of transitions nobody ever tells you about.

This is 1,000% true.

As a scientist, I was very aware that watching a baby’s brain develop feels as if you have a front row seat to a biological Big Bang. The brain starts out as a single cell in the womb, quiet as a secret. Within a few weeks, it is pumping out nerve cells at an astonishing rate of 8,000 per second. Within a few months, it is on it’s way to becoming the world’s finest thinking machine.

Some notes I took.

  1. Perception begins at weeks for most senses. And memory persists after birth, but stimulation too early is harmful and later not going to make a genius.
  2. Everything is a balancing act. During pregnancy especially weight, nutrition, stress, exercise.
  3. Chronic or acute stress passes those hormones through the placenta and children seeing it stunt brain growth observing it. Husbands need to keep their wife not stressed. Happy is the ideal, but at least not stressed. This can be 8 IQ points.
  4. Exercise can reduce pushing time and reduce the time baby is without oxygen and reduce stunted brain development.
  5. Kinds of intelligence:
    1. Record information, aka crystallized intelligence.
    2. Improvisation
    3. Desire to explore
    4. Self-control
    5. Creativity
    6. Verbal communication
    7. Decoding nonverbal communication
  6. Ingredients for happy kids:
    1. a demanding but warm parenting style ( responsiveness & demandingness)
    2. comfort with your own emotions
    3. tracking your child’s emotions (don’t ignore & don’t helicopter)
    4. verbalizing emotions (describe emotions)
    5. running toward emotions (emotions are reflexive; behavior is a choice; be consistent with rules on behavior; turn intense feelings into teachable moments)
    6. two tons of empathy
  7. Behavior modification basic principles.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. The thing I liked the most about the original was he named a rule and went on about why it is important and the research justifying it. This book lacked that simplistic and novel model, which put me off.

 

 

Driving Music

Andy Grammer

Andy Grammer

You may have heard of Andy Grammer. I mainly know him as the son of Red Grammer. (I did meet Andy in 2007 when he had just put out The World is Yours and was building up interest and playing the venues who would recognize his name and support him.)

Red has several albums of children’s songs released when my brother was young. They were staples of taking him to daycare and family trips and designed to for singing along. We listened to the Can You Sound Just Like Me? and Teaching Peace cassette tapes over and over. And knowing he was going to play somewhere nearby meant we had to go.

The last time the kiddo was in daycare, a handful of times I stayed home with her and drove her to mom’s office to nurse. She was hungry on those occasions so I sang to her to calm her down. Now that I am taking her to daycare every day, I am sensing her getting bored. And she doesn’t appreciate NPR. My wife plays music when they are together, so I am sure that is what was the normal.

So, I am going to compile a playlist of my favorite Red Grammer songs for her to listen to when I am driving.

Daycare

Daycare is new. Today was the fourth real day. There was a transition period where Fleur got to spend a few hours acclimating to the place. She liked it with Mama there. I am getting clinging and tantrums leaving her there by herself.

The first day, I stayed for almost half an hour letting her get comfortable. She wanted to stay at my feet, but she also wanted to play with toys and investigate what the other kids were doing. She would drift away from me to get a toy, but she would come back. Same with day two. On both days, she only got upset when she realized that I had left the room. My telling her bye, I love you, asking for a hug was ignored because she was intent on something else.

Yesterday and today, she was not going to let me go. Yesterday, it was trying to stay with me as much as possible. Today, it was not letting me put her down. (Also, I screwed up in bribing her with that her cousin would be there who arrived at the same time only for them to be separated.)

elphants standing on brown soil

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One childless advocate of corporal punishment said this shows she is spoiled. (But, also that she is intelligent in that she figured out the pattern and increasing the resistance earlier and earlier.) In Elephant Parenting, I basically said that I aspire to nurture, protect, and encourage rather than being the ultra-strict disciplinarian. So naturally, I am right in the middle of an issue and am conflicted about it.

First, I have to remind myself not to overreact. This is relatively common for the first few weeks. We are not even done with the first week. I think I am discouraged because the trend is getting worse not better, but maybe this is part of the process. She needs to see that her displeasure isn’t going to change the outcome. At the same time, I need to continue the soothing and encouragement.

Second, I need to keep the schedule, routine, and describing them. She understands routines and helps me with familiar processes all the time. I was thinking last week maybe I need a more attention getting goodbye ritual where she understands better that I am going.

Third, the lingering is probably more upsetting and encouraging the undesirable behavior. Instead of hanging out longer in reaction to the crying about it, just do the goodbye ritual and get the teacher to take her. Let the teacher comfort her and help build that bond?

Study: The rough sound of salience enhances aversion through neural synchronisation

Why is is that children’s screams affect us so much? Crying is one thing. But, a scream gets adrenaline revved up and someone is going to die. These researchers looked at why.

They define how the physical properties of a scream differ from other similar sounds. It fits in 30–150 Hz, is loud, and has fast repetitive flicker like effects. These combine to capture attention due to the unpleasantness.

They used iEEG electrodes to measure brain activity. They looked at a small number of patients.

One of the areas that lit up is used in processing language and emotional context. While the superior temporal gyrus is in a part of the brain associated with sound, when analyzing facial expressions, we also leverage this area to understand emotions.

Arnal, LHKleinschmidt, A, et al. “The rough sound of salience enhances aversion through neural synchronisation” Nature Communications volume 10, Article number: 3671 (2019)