Pregnancy and Lactation Weekly Digest

For the week ending March 26, 2017.

Designer babies? Not so fast

Gene therapy – in which a disease causing genetic mutation could be fixed right in the DNA strand, eliminating the disease – has been a dream of researchers and clinicians ever since such disease causing mutations were identified. But there are a host of problems with the process, technically as well as ethically. On the technical side, CRISPR is currently the method with the most promise. It is a system used by bacteria to raise immunity against the viruses that attack them by cutting up the viral DNA, and researchers have coopted it to cut and paste specific DNA sequences where they will. Researchers in China have used CRISPR to edit human embryos, and found that it worked in some of the cells, but not all of them – meaning that it is not ready for prime time yet. This type of work is much more highly regulated in the US. Read more here and in Pregistry’s The Pulse here.

This is important for you because as biotechnology progresses, it is important (and interesting) to stay abreast of the ethical ramifications of cutting edge developments.

Skin to skin contact essential for preemies

Baby massage may seem to be among the more ridiculous of the myriad mommy and me classes on offer.  But skin to skin contact is good for all babies – and may be so for preemies in particular. Soft caresses can help them better cope with the stresses of being separated from their mothers before they are ready and perhaps undergoing the painful procedures they may need, and may help their emotional development later in life. Read more here and about Kangaroo care in Pregistry’s The Pulse here.

This is important for you because “if you’re a parent in the NICU, you feel incredibly out of control. It’s important to know that you are making a tremendous difference every time you touch your baby,” in the words of Nathalie Maitre of the Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, who made the observation.

Fewer babies born with HIV

The number of babies born in the US that are infected with HIV has been declining and is at record lows. This is largely attributed to women getting tested and starting antiretroviral therapy before they get pregnant. Read more here.

This is important for you because if you are unsure of your HIV status, get tested as soon as possible to keep your baby healthy.

DHA supplements don’t seem to boost brain power

DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in fish, is known to play a key role in brain health. It is essential throughout our lives, but especially so during infancy when the brain, eyes, and nervous system are still developing. It is found in breast milk, and manufacturers have added it to baby formula. Some have sold it as supplements to be taken by pregnant women alongside prenatal vitamins. Now, a study in Australia has found that seven year olds whose moms took DHA when pregnant did not do any better on cognitive tasks than those whose mothers didn’t get the supplement. Read more here.

This is important for you because while you should take a prenatal vitamin to make sure your baby is getting everything she needs to thrive, bear in mind that many herbal supplements are unproven and wastes of your money.

New rotavirus vaccine saves babies’ lives

Hundreds of thousands of children die every year in the developing world from diarrhea, often caused by rotavirus. A new vaccine that was developed in India is 67% effective at preventing infection, making it the most effective rotavirus vaccine made to date. Importantly, it can be stored without refrigeration, which is a key element in making it viable for dissemination throughout remote settlements in the tropics that may lack a consistent power source. Read more here.

This is important for you because – remember how lucky you are. And get your baby vaccinated.

The most popular article on The Pulse this week was What You Should Know About Breastfeeding A Teething Baby. Bottom line: you may get an occasional exploratory nip, but if the baby is latched on properly it shouldn’t really be a problem. Read more here.

Diana Gitig
Dr. Diana Gitig has a Ph.D. in cell biology and genetics from Cornell University, and has been writing about issues in biology – from molecular biology to cancer to immunology to neuroscience to nutrition to agriculture - for the past fifteen years. She has three teenaged children.

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