Friday, 29 August 2014

Blue for the boys.....

ToysRUs may have withdrawn gender labelling from its toys, but a casual glance round my local Asda Living reveals that gender-specific baby clothing is big big big.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

My little scientist

Only sixteen months old and my son has already made four separate contributions to science! I'm so proud.

On monday we went to babylab, Oxford's centre for research into child psychology. Orso had to watch a video showing different objects traveling down a tunnel, while a gaze tracker checks where he is looking to see if he has formed expectations based on categorisation yet. He got a very nice t shirt for his troubles.

This is the third time we've been to the lab. Anyone can sign their baby up to the register and you'll then be contacted when there are trials running which need participants in your baby's age group. The activities are all fun and totally non-invasive, and you get a free t shirt each time! Oh and you get to help Science too.

Orso's first ever experiment was while he was still on the inside. We went along to see Liz Braithwaite at Perinatal  Psychopathology and Offspring Lab  to watch a video and spit into some tubes to help her find out about the effects of maternal stress on the neonate's cortisol levels. She followed up by having me gather some of Orson's saliva when he was a few days old. It's a cool experiment, and a topic about which rather little is known, so I'm keeping a keen eye out for the results here.

I thoroughly recommend that other new mothers take their little ones along to be scientific guinea pigs. Its not like you're busy or anything right ; )

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Baby and me, and Bifidobacterium makes three

It has long been contended that breastfeeding boosts an newborn's immune system. But I've never quite understood how this is supposed to work. Antibodies  are made of protein, so wouldn't any antibodies in the milk just get digested before they were any use to the baby? Actually, newborn stomachs are not actually very acidic, and digestive enzymes are targeted at snipping only particular proteins in particular places. We have also known for a while that breastfed babies have different gut flora from bottlefed babies. Now we know that there is a surprising connection.

Trisha Gura at science mag explains that breastmilk contains lots of oligosaccharides, a type of carbohydrate that is too complex for humans to digest. What's that doing in there? Providing a food supply for baby's 'good' bacteria, it turns out.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Joots me up, Dennett!

Intuition Pumps, and Other Tools for Thinking

by Daniel Dennett
Allen Lane, 2013

Ever since I devoured Darwin's Dangerous Idea as an undergrad I have loved,  and will always love, Daniel Dennett. In fact, at a wine reception after a public talk he gave in Bristol, I told him so. Not my finest hour,

Thursday, 14 August 2014

We should be ashamed of this

It has long been recognised that childbirth is a pretty dangerous activity to undertake. Pre-eclampsia, post-partum haemorrhages and infections, there is the ripping and tearing and then all the hazards associated with the pain relief. For as many generations as hominids have had massive heads, women have been dying trying to birth them.Of course, now that we have modern medicine, antibiotics and doctors that wash their  hands, it isn't nearly as dangerous as it used to be.Good old science.

Its not all great news though, because medicine largely continues to suffer from a sort of Cartesian schizophrenia, maintaining a steadfast blindness to conditions of the mind, rather than of the mind's more tangible transport: the body. And so it is that the United Kingdom in the year 2014 must report an embarrassing fact: one of the leading causes of postpartum death in this country is suicide.