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IQ linked to nutrition

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2011-03-03 -

I must apologise for not posting lately. I went back to work (full time) about 6 weeks ago and I’ve found the adjustment quite difficult. Actually being at work is actually less stressful for me than staying at home and wrangling small children. However, the combined housework and officework workload is killing me. I’m sinking under piles of washing and dirty dishes. There’s still mould on some of our walls from the big rain period before the Queensland floods but I can’t even get to that job; there’s just so many immediate chores to fit in.

If anyone has any suggestions or tips, please share them – I’m desperate for anything that will reduce the amount of time I’m on my feet at home.

The upside to being back at work is that I’ve got my finger on the pulse concerning child-related research.

Here’s some that validates what teachers have suspected for decades - toddlers fed a diet of junk food can suffer lasting damage to their brainpower.

Great, now I’ll feel guilty about the midweek take-away family dinner Mitch and I have initiated to ease the pressure on household chores!



Flood crisis - how you can help

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2011-01-14 -

I'm so emotional that don’t even know how to begin this post.

I live in inner-city Brisbane. I’m one of the lucky ones - I live out of the river’s reach, on a hill. But I’m surrounded by families who have been devastated by the floods.

These families – as with families across Ipswich, Toowoomba and smaller communities – have lost everything, including family members. You don't need me to recount the news. As a mother, it upsets me greatly every time I think about those families who were torn apart as the floodwaters raged over the Great Dividing Range and through those close-knit communities. It must be unbearable to have your children ripped from your arms, to be still searching for loved ones days after the disaster. The tales of survival just don’t seem to make up for the lives lost.

I was deeply touched by last night's news story of mums in the evacuation centres. They’ve banded together to set up “kids’ corners”. These child-minding and crèche services are giving respite to exhausted parents and giving kids at the centres fun activities to focus on. The community spirit in the face of such despair is truly inspiring.

Personally, I feel quite useless. I’ve got two small kids at home so I can’t even grab my shovel and broom and offer help on one of the hundreds of streets under water. But I know there is something I can do. And you can, too.

The evacuation centres in Brisbane are in need of towels, bed linen and baby clothes. No doubt so are centres across Queensland and northern New South Wales. The Brisbane centres can no longer accept goods at the centres themselves but they’re asking for people to drop off goods at any local charity store. While the Red Cross is coordinating the evacuation centres, all the charities are working overtime so no doubt donations will be funnelled to needy families quickly.

You can also bet that, as thousands of families start their lives again, their children will need toys to help take their mind off those awful memories.

So let’s all go through our boxes of old baby and kids’ clothing, the old toys that will never be played with again, and the back of the linen cupboard. Let’s box up anything we can spare for flood-ravaged families and take it to our local charity store. Alternatively, keep an ear on the ground for community-driven relief efforts and send your donated goods there.

These families will need whatever support we can offer, for weeks and months to come.


Baby-led weaning

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2010-12-14 -


I can’t tell you how pleasant it is not to have to fight my infant every spoonful I feed her. And I swear it’s all thanks to baby-led weaning (BLW) .

BLW, in a nutshell, means avoiding puréed foods as your baby’s first solids. Instead, give them a range of soft finger foods and let them feed themselves. You can read more details about it here, but the idea is that by giving your baby independence and a variety of textures up front, they’ll be more relaxed and open to trying new textures and flavours as toddlers and beyond.

I came across BLW after I asked my favourite child health nurse for advice when Orion refused to take food from a spoon at 6- 7 months of age. Kym suggested I try BLW, as Orion was likely watching her big brother feed himself and wanting to do likewise.

As BLW proponents admit, it will take some weeks for your baby to get the hang of swallowing the food. And it’s a messy process. But for me it’s been worth every minute I spend scraping food off the floor.

We used the traditional method of introducing solids to Tycho (purées-mashed-soft lumps). He baulked at anything that wasn’t puréed and has always been a finicky and unadventurous eater.

Orion is completely different – she’ll put any new food in her mouth and give it a work-over. And soon after she got the taste for BLW (pun intended), she went back to accepting both puréed and stewed foods from the spoon. No fights, no mealtime stress, no offering 8 courses in order to get the right amount of nutrients into her system. Within 10 weeks Orion was eating the same food as the rest of the family – something Tycho wouldn’t do for at least 6 months, and then only sometimes.

Now, I feed Orion her dinner at 4.30pm – usually slow-cooked meals or saucy family meals leftovers. Then she sits with us for the family meal and has chunks of whatever we’re eating.

Orion is a sample size of one, which is not nearly large enough to arrive at some sort of evidence-based findings. I can’t be sure that she eats well as a result of BLW. I might just be lucky to have a good eater for a daughter. But I do feel that she is quite adventurous with foods because we’ve been willing to let her explore a wide variety of things from very early on.

If you’re ready to introduce solids and want some tips of things to offer your infant, try soft foods that are sliced in the shape of chips, or that have a handle baby can hold on to – foods baby can easily mush in their mouth. Here are some suggestions:
• cooked flowerets of broccoli, broccolini and cauliflower
• very well cooked sticks of carrot and green beans
• steamed asparagus and zucchini sticks
• oven-baked potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, apple and pear
• sticks of uncooked avocado and banana.

Happy eating!



Dads' stories

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2010-11-03 -


A good friend of mine, Linda, contributes articles to the Friends of the Birth Centre newsletter here in Brisbane. I wanted to share with you an excerpt of the latest addition - OK, yes, partly because there’s an image of Mitch and Tycho in it (we had some input into an article).

But I mostly wanted to share a touching first-person account about what it means to be a dad. It’s not often that, as a mum, you read such an honest and open insight into the other half of the parenting partnership. I also love the way Tom speaks about his partner. I would love to be spoken of with such admiration. I’m sure most mums would.

If any dads are reading this, go and thank your partners for the fantastic job they do raising your children. They deserve it.

You’ll find Tom’s piece and our family’s piece on pages 16-17 of Special Delivery (pages 7-8 of the pdf).




Insight into parenthood

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2010-10-25 -


In my busy working life, decisions were made quickly and work flow was prioritised by deadlines. But kids don’t adhere to time restraints. They don’t run to a meeting schedule. That’s why, intellectually, I find full-time parenthood such a challenge. I feel like I’m wading through molasses to get anything done.

Recently, I came across a Washington Post column that, as they say, spoke to me. I like it not because of its scathing penmanship but because it so accurately describes my life. I think it should be required reading for the breadwinners in the family.




The Naughty Box

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2010-09-20 -

A colleague of mine told me a fantastic idea for teaching your youngsters to clean up after themselves. It works best for kids aged 3 and above. Here’s how it goes.

You need:
1 Tidy Box ( toy box on wheels, with a lid)
1 Naughty Box (box big enough to store toys but small enough to store in a high cupboard somewhere)

The Tidy Box lives in the main play area (lounge room, rumpus room etc). The Naughty Box lives in a high place outside your child’s reach.

When it’s time for your child to pack up, encourage them to put their toys in the Tidy Box. If the child refuses to pack up within an allotted time, put that toy in the Naughty Box.

Use the Naughty Box as a reward. When your child does something you think deserves a reward, let them take one of their toys out of the Naughty Box.

This system provides a great incentive to pack up mess because it’s usually the favourite toys that get played with and so are at the highest risk of being taken to the Naughty Box if they’re not packed away.

Tycho’s still a bit young to grasp this concept but we’ll be instigating it at the end of the year, when he’s 3. I’ll report back on its effectiveness then.




What makes a Superdad?

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2010-09-11 -

In July I mentioned that ABC1 science show Catalyst had aired its special on the fathering gene, based partly on an Australia-wide study on the effects of pregnancy on men’s health.

This week Catalyst aired a second fatherhood special, this time looking at what makes humans such superdads within the mammal family.

It was fascinating viewing. It’s been discovered that a man’s testosterone level drops permanently after he fathers a child. Don’t worry, this is a good thing. It’s evolution’s way of making sure human dads (and bird dads, for that matter) stick around and help raise their kids.

I was particularly interested in the studies that mapped how dads play with their kids. It’s no surprise to us mums that dads love to rile kids up, while we tend to keep our children’s emotions on an even keel during playtime. This can be frustrating for us around bedtime, but the roughhousing actually plays a key role in helping children learn to regulate their emotions.

To learn more – including how having separated parents accelerates menstruation in girls – you can access the program here for the next couple of weeks.




Toddler-proofing tip

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2010-08-29 -


You know how it is. As your toddler grows taller, the things you want preserved are shifted higher and higher. But there’s only so much stuff you can squeeze onto the 2 top bookcase shelves; something has to go down in the red zone.

Tycho was, until recently, driving Mitch and I spare pulling out Mitch’s vinyl collection and rubbing the records into our wooden floors. Then Mitch hit upon a winning idea. It was innovation genius!

We’d established during the DIY Scary Robot Test (when Tycho was one) that our son had no love for our RoboSapien, Thundercleese. He freaks out whenever we attempt to take it off its ledge in the kitchen.

Mitch’s solution - put him on guard duty in front of the vinyl collection.

Tycho hasn’t been near the bookcase since.

If you have a scary toy gathering dust in a cupboard and a persistent toddler, now’s the time to take your toy out of retirement. It’s a surprisingly effective toddler-proofing technique.




It's a thankless job

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2010-08-02 -


I’ve been feeling a bit sorry for myself lately, overwhelmed with the job of looking after a toddler and an infant.

Suddenly I understand what my mother was getting at when she said she lost her identity when my sister and I were small. Amid the endless cycles of washing, feeding, changing nappies and entertaining, you really do start to lose a sense of who you are and why you matter. I can appreciate how slippery that slope to postnatal depression really is.

That’s why I was very grateful when my friend Linda passed on an excerpt from a recent breakfast radio show here in Brisbane. The frustrations expressed by the female caller are all too familiar. And the advice from the psychologist is quite empowering .

You can read a transcript and access audio here. I hope it’s of some benefit to other stressed mums out there. Feel free to share with us your own experiences, thoughts or advice.




The fatherhood gene

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2010-07-05 -

Last year I encouraged new dads to join a study commissioned by ABC’s Catalyst program in the effect of pregnancy on men’s health.

The results are now in.

Last week Catalyst aired its fatherhood special. The program looked at similarities between the best fathers in the animal kingdom and the fact that scientists have now isolated the DNA of fathering. It’s really a ‘family’ gene because it also codes for male-to-female bonding.

Catalyst also focused on sympathetic pregnancies (Couvade Syndrome); when the father manifests some symptoms of his partner’s pregnancy. Catalysts’ study found it was no myth among Aussie dads: 31% of Australian expectant fathers felt the effects of Couvade Syndrome, making them more broody than UK dads (25%). Catalyst found that, among other things, testosterone levels in expectant dads plunged after the birth while prolactin levels increased.

While it’s obvious that not every expectant dad goes through a sympathetic pregnancy, the study does prove that humans can be socially primed for child birth.

What I particularly liked about the Catalyst special were the candid interviews with three new dads, who described the first minutes of their children's lives. They were highly emotional tales and these guys should be congratulated for sharing such an intimate experience with us. So much attention is focused on how mums cope with childbirth that we rarely stop to listen to dads’ points of view. This segment gave me a really valuable perspective.

You should be able to view the special at ABC’s website for a short while. The full results of Catalysts’ study are also available online.