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Dirty Babies– Stronger Immune System

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For the record, I am not compulsive about cleanliness or hand washing. But I will wash my hands, and the kids hands, before eating and after bathroom trips. For some reason, however, my mom thinks I’m a wee bit uptight about the hand washing thing. “A little dirt is a good thing,” she’ll say. Seems like mama really does know best. Here’s the latest from the NYT… dirt can actually help build a baby’s immune system. Here’s the article.
Ask mothers why babies are constantly picking things up from the floor or ground and putting them in their mouths, and chances are they’ll say that it’s instinctive — that that’s how babies explore the world. But why the mouth, when sight, hearing, touch and even scent are far better at identifying things?
When my young sons were exploring the streets of Brooklyn, I couldn’t help but wonder how good crushed rock or dried dog droppings could taste when delicious mashed potatoes were routinely rejected.
Since all instinctive behaviors have an evolutionary advantage or they would not have been retained for millions of years, chances are that this one too has helped us survive as a species. And, indeed, accumulating evidence strongly suggests that eating dirt is good for you.
In studies of what is called the hygiene hypothesis, researchers are concluding that organisms like the millions of bacteria, viruses and especially worms that enter the body along with “dirt” spur the development of a healthy immune system. Several continuing studies suggest that worms may help to redirect an immune system that has gone awry and resulted in autoimmune disorders, allergies and asthma.
These studies, along with epidemiological observations, seem to explain why immune system disorders like multiple sclerosis, Type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and allergies have risen significantly in the United States and other developed countries.
Training the Immune System
“What a child is doing when he puts things in his mouth is allowing his immune response to explore his environment,” Mary Ruebush, a microbiology and immunology instructor, wrote in her new book, “Why Dirt Is Good” (Kaplan). “Not only does this allow for ‘practice’ of immune responses, which will be necessary for protection, but it also plays a critical role in teaching the immature immune response what is best ignored.”
One leading researcher, Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, said in an interview that the immune system at birth “is like an unprogrammed computer. It needs instruction.”
He said that public health measures like cleaning up contaminated water and food have saved the lives of countless children, but they “also eliminated exposure to many organisms that are probably good for us.”
“Children raised in an ultraclean environment,” he added, “are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits.”
Studies he has conducted with Dr. David Elliott, a gastroenterologist and immunologist at the University of Iowa, indicate that intestinal worms, which have been all but eliminated in developed countries, are “likely to be the biggest player” in regulating the immune system to respond appropriately, Dr. Elliott said in an interview. He added that bacterial and viral infections seem to influence the immune system in the same way, but not as forcefully.
Most worms are harmless, especially in well-nourished people, Dr. Weinstock said.
“There are very few diseases that people get from worms,” he said. “Humans have adapted to the presence of most of them.”
Worms for Health
In studies in mice, Dr. Weinstock and Dr. Elliott have used worms to both prevent and reverse autoimmune disease. Dr. Elliott said that in Argentina, researchers found that patients with multiple sclerosis who were infected with the human whipworm had milder cases and fewer flare-ups of their disease over a period of four and a half years. At the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Dr. John Fleming, a neurologist, is testing whether the pig whipworm can temper the effects of multiple sclerosis.
In Gambia, the eradication of worms in some villages led to children’s having increased skin reactions to allergens, Dr. Elliott said. And pig whipworms, which reside only briefly in the human intestinal tract, have had “good effects” in treating the inflammatory bowel diseases, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, he said.
How may worms affect the immune system? Dr. Elliott explained that immune regulation is now known to be more complex than scientists thought when the hygiene hypothesis was first introduced by a British epidemiologist, David P. Strachan, in 1989. Dr. Strachan noted an association between large family size and reduced rates of asthma and allergies. Immunologists now recognize a four-point response system of helper T cells: Th 1, Th 2, Th 17 and regulatory T cells. Th 1 inhibits Th 2 and Th 17; Th 2 inhibits Th 1 and Th 17; and regulatory T cells inhibit all three, Dr. Elliott said.
“A lot of inflammatory diseases — multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and asthma — are due to the activity of Th 17,” he explained. “If you infect mice with worms, Th 17 drops dramatically, and the activity of regulatory T cells is augmented.”
In answer to the question, “Are we too clean?” Dr. Elliott said: “Dirtiness comes with a price. But cleanliness comes with a price, too. We’re not proposing a return to the germ-filled environment of the 1850s. But if we properly understand how organisms in the environment protect us, maybe we can give a vaccine or mimic their effects with some innocuous stimulus.”
Wash in Moderation
Dr. Ruebush, the “Why Dirt Is Good” author, does not suggest a return to filth, either. But she correctly points out that bacteria are everywhere: on us, in us and all around us. Most of these micro-organisms cause no problem, and many, like the ones that normally live in the digestive tract and produce life-sustaining nutrients, are essential to good health.
“The typical human probably harbors some 90 trillion microbes,” she wrote. “The very fact that you have so many microbes of so many different kinds is what keeps you healthy most of the time.”
Dr. Ruebush deplores the current fetish for the hundreds of antibacterial products that convey a false sense of security and may actually foster the development of antibiotic-resistant, disease-causing bacteria. Plain soap and water are all that are needed to become clean, she noted.
“I certainly recommend washing your hands after using the bathroom, before eating, after changing a diaper, before and after handling food,” and whenever they’re visibly soiled, she wrote. When no running water is available and cleaning hands is essential, she suggests an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Dr. Weinstock goes even further. “Children should be allowed to go barefoot in the dirt, play in the dirt, and not have to wash their hands when they come in to eat,” he said. He and Dr. Elliott pointed out that children who grow up on farms and are frequently exposed to worms and other organisms from farm animals are much less likely to develop allergies and autoimmune diseases.
Also helpful, he said, is to “let kids have two dogs and a cat,” which will expose them to intestinal worms that can promote a healthy immune system.

Breastfeeding Goals

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A new day. A new President. New hope, that we’ve entered a new era.
But as President Obama said, it’s up to each and every one of us to bring about change. We can’t wait for government to help us. We can’t wait for someone else to take charge. We have to buckle down, on our own.
And so, my objective, is to help moms feel comfortable breastfeeding anywhere and everywhere. At home. Out in public. That’s my goal, and I’m sharing it as part of this month’s Breastfeeding Bloggers’ Carnival which is about breastfeeding goals.
How will I do this? By posting breastfeeding stories and information as often as possible…as often as my little boys let me get to the computer. So to that end… here is a great public service announcement someone posted on Facebook tonight. Here it is:

Now for the breastfeeding goals posts from the other bloggers:
# Zen Mommy’s 2009 breastfeeding resolutions
# Secrets of Orual’s breastfeeding goals
# Hobo Mama’s breastfeeding resolutions
# Breastfeeding 1-2-3 on the goal of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months
# Blacktating’s breastfeeding goals
# Milk Act’s breastfeeding goals
# Beautiful Letdown’s breastfeeding goals

A View of The Hudson River Plane Crash

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I wrote the following blog post last night for the New York City Moms Blog:
I watched the lights flickering across the river, on the New Jersey side of the water. Ambulances and police cars flashed red and white and blue. A huge cargo ship was anchored in the water, its course through the Hudson River on hold.
Somewhere, about 20 blocks south of us, a plane was floating in the water. People were standing on the wings, and getting into boats. I couldn’t see it from our window. But on the computer, shielding the boys from the screen, I watched the afternoon unfold.
In retrospect, I think I just barely missed seeing the U.S. Airways plane, flight 1549, before it hit the water. Sometime after 3:00 I head a loud, sustained, and somewhat odd noise. We live on the 24th floor of a building along the river. We can see the water. From what I’ve now gathered on the news, the plane flew past our building.
But I ignored the sound. We hear planes and helicopters and strange sounds all the time. Sometimes, I look out the window to see what’s happening. But more often than not, I ignore the noise. I’ve grown blase. There’s usually something much louder going on inside the apartment.
It didn’t take long, however, for the phone calls to start. My mom in Boston: “You live along the Hudson, right?” My husband, traveling on the West Coast: “Hi,” silence. “What’s going on?” And then the email from a babysitter: “Please tell me the boys did not see that!”
The lights have dispersed now. It’s 7:45. Miraculously, the passengers are safe. The pilot, a hero.
And for some odd reason, the boys are asleep, earlier than usual. I think I’ll go kiss them again.

Great New Yorker Story: “Baby Food”

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Here’s a great piece about breastfeeding from The New Yorker. And an excerpt:

In 1997, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement on “Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk,” declaring human milk to be “species-specific” and recommending it as the exclusive food for the first six months of a baby’s life, to be followed by a mixed diet of solid foods and human milk until at least the end of the first year. In that statement, and in a subsequent revision, the A.A.P. cited research linking breast-feeding to the reduced incidence and severity of, among other things, bacterial meningitis, diarrhea, respiratory-tract infection, ear infection, urinary-tract infection, sudden-infant-death syndrome, diabetes mellitus, lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, obesity, and asthma. The benefits of breast-feeding are unrivalled; breast-feeding rates in the United States are low; the combination makes for a public-health dilemma. In 2000, the Department of Health and Human Services announced its goal of increasing the proportion of mothers who breast-feed their babies “at initiation” (i.e., before they leave the hospital) from a 1998 baseline of sixty-four per cent to a 2010 target of seventy-five per cent; until the age of six months, from twenty-nine per cent to fifty per cent; at one year, from sixteen per cent to twenty-five per cent. (The same targets were announced in 1990; they were not reached.) Attempts to improve initiation rates have met with much, if spotty, success. The Rush University Medical Center, in Chicago, which runs a peer-counselling program called the Mother’s Milk Club, has achieved an astonishing initiation rate of ninety-five per cent; nationally, the rate is not quite seventy-five per cent. More difficult has been raising the rates at six and twelve months. The C.D.C., which issues an annual Breastfeeding Report Card, has announced that for babies born in 2005 the rate of exclusive breast-feeding at six months was only twelve per cent (although the rate of some breast-feeding at six months had risen to forty-three per cent).
One big reason so many women stop breast-feeding is that more than half of mothers of infants under six months old go to work. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees only twelve weeks of (unpaid) maternity leave and, in marked contrast to established practice in other industrial nations, neither the government nor the typical employer offers much more. To follow a doctor’s orders, a woman who returns to work twelve weeks after childbirth has to find a way to feed her baby her own milk for another nine months. The nation suffers, in short, from a Human Milk Gap.
There are three ways to bridge that gap: longer maternity leaves, on-site infant child care, and pumps. Much effort has been spent implementing option No. 3, the cheap way out. Medela distributes pumps in more than ninety countries, but its biggest market, by far, is the United States, where maternity leaves are so stinting that many women—blue-, pink-, and white-collar alike—return to work just weeks after giving birth. (Breasts supply milk in response to demand; if a woman is unable to put her baby to her breast regularly, she will stop producing milk regularly. Expressing not only provides milk to be stored for times when she is away; it also makes it possible for a working woman to keep nursing her baby at night and on weekends.)

Massachusetts Governor Signs Breastfeeding Law

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It’s official. My home state of Massachusetts finally has a law that protects a mom’s right to breastfeed in public.
Here’s the link to the story in the Patriot Ledger.
Now just two states left to go before moms have some protection everywhere across the country. Come on North Dakota and West Virginia.
But let’s raise this question…. Why are we talking about a mom’s right to feed? Really, babies have a need to eat, wherever, whenever. Isn’t that what this is really about?