Baby Science round-up – June 2018

Parenting fails, late nights on the maternity wards, womb transplants, and… errr… sperm donations in coffee cups – here’s the June round-up of stories from babyworld.

Helicopter parenting could affect behaviour and school performance later in childhood

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In a warning to “helicopter parents” everywhere (including The Geekfather, at times), researchers have found that micromanaging toddlers hinders their ability to learn how to control their emotions and behaviour – and may affect their social and academic ability in later childhood too.

A study which followed 422 children between the ages of 2 to 10 years old, showed that parents who were more controlling – e.g. telling their kids what they can and can’t play with, how to play with a toy, being too strict – could be removing the opportunities for their children to learn how to deal with stressful situations. Conversely, the children who could control their emotions and impulses effectively at age 5 were also more likely, at age 10, to have good social skills and be productive at school.

“Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment,” said Dr Nicole Perry, from the University of Minnesota, and lead author of the study.

Research published in Development Psychology.

Babies in England most likely to be born at 4am

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Here’s a tip for mothers in labour and their birthing partners – bring a pillow and a sleeping mask, you may be in for a long night…

Using the records of over 5 million babies born at NHS hospitals in England between 2005 and 2014, researchers at City University of London compared the time and day of births after spontaneous or induced labour, via either vaginal or caesarean birth. The researchers found that babies born “naturally” (vaginal birth after spontaneous labour) are most likely to be born between the hours of midnight and 6am, peaking at 4am. They also confirmed previous research that babies are slightly less likely to be born on weekends holidays, particularly Christmas Day or Boxing Day. Babies born after an induced labour are most likely to be born around midnight. Information from this study could be used to inform staffing levels at maternity units in England.

There may be an evolutionary reason for a strong pattern for births at night time – it would be advantageous for our ancestors to give birth when their group was gathered together at night, and able to protect them from any potential predators. However, interestingly, births in the USA occur in a different time pattern, with American births most likely between noon and 5pm.

Research published in PLoS One.

Setting rules about ‘screen-time’ can undermine school achievement

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In another example of well-meaning parenting backfiring spectacularly, researchers have found that children whose parents restrict their use of technology may actually have worse academic performance.

Over 1,000 students at an American college were asked to recall if their parents ever set rules about technology use (TV, computers, and mobile phones), and crucially, the reason behind the rules. The researchers then compared the grade achievements of these students in their first year of college. Their analysis showed that students whose parents gave any reason at all for setting ‘screen-time’ limits had lower grades than peers who had no screen-time rules. Ironically, this negative effect was even larger if the students said their parents restricted screen-time so that they could spend more time doing school homework – a reason recalled by 68% of participants.

Conversely, students who had screen-time restrictions only performed better than peers if health was given as a reason – for example, to avoid bad posture or poor eyesight, or to get more exercise. The researchers suggest that parents who are particularly concerned about their child’s health may not only discourage screen-time, but encourage other activities which aid academic performance.

The study adds to existing research on technology use in children, which gives a mixed picture of the long-term benefits and dangers of screen-time.

Research published in The Communication Review.

First UK womb transplant “before the end of 2018”

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A team of surgeons have announced that they intend to carry out the first UK womb transplant by the end of this year.

The announcement follows the publishing of a review of all the womb transplants that have been carried out across the world to date. The first baby born following a womb transplant was in 2014 in Sweden. The 34-year old mother, who was born without a womb, had one donated to her by a 61-year old friend, and had IVF embryos transferred into her one year later.

Mr Richard Smith, consultant gynaecologist and leader of the research team at Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea Hospital, London, said that recent advances have meant the time taken to retrieve a womb from a living donor has been reduced dramatically, from twelve hours to just four. The team, which is funded by the charity Womb Transplant UK, have had approval to retrieve wombs from five living donors, in addition to 10 recently deceased donors.

News story from Womb Transplant UK, and review published in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.

And finally… prolific sperm donor banned by Israel

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A man who donates sperm in public bathrooms has been banned by Israel from handing over his seed. Ari Nagel, a maths professor from New York, has risen to infamy after fathering 33 children after giving out free samples of his semen to hopeful mothers, typically making his deposit into cups in coffee shop and supermarket bathrooms.

There are several women in Israel who have made an agreement with Nagel, a man some people call “the Sperminator” (not The Geekfather, however). Israel’s sperm donation laws only allow anonymous gifts, unless the donor has agreed to co-parent the child. Nagel claims he has signed documents consenting to this, though the Israeli Ministry of Health has so far refused to acknowledge them. The case has made its way up to the highest court after one of the women sued the Ministry for Health for permission to use Nagel’s sperm.

Of the decision, Nagel is said to be confused. “There’s a do-not-donate list, and I’m the only one on the list”.

Story from the New York Post.

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