Category Archives: Health Updates

Milestones in a baby’s development

Your baby’s development in the first two years of life is truly remarkable. It is amazing how much they can actually understand and observe even though they may struggle to communicate back to you. Let’s take a look at some of the fascinating stages and milestones of their development.

0 – 4 weeks

  1. Can distinguish the smell of your milk from another mother
  2. Unable to focus their sight, thus everything appears hazy unless it is within 8-10 inches from them
  3. Can distinguish and identify different sounds and voices including the different tones of males and females, but won’t be able to determine the direction the noise comes from
  4. Touch is very important for a newborn to learn about their new surroundings, however initially for the first few months they will only seek comfort, having come from a warm, fluid-filled environment. The warmth and softness of blankets, hugs and kisses help soothe your baby and ease this transition so they can adapt with time. This is where the baby will develop a loving connection with their parents, the providers of comfort.

1 – 2 months

  1. Starts making vowel sounds (cooing begins)
  2. Will start to follow objects visually through 90°
  3. Will begin to smile
  4. Can lift their head up momentarily

2 – 3 months

  1. Will start to recognize the outlines of faces (which babies find fascinating)
  2. Tracking objects visually through 180° (they will enjoy the hanging mobile over the crib)
  3. Hands will begin to open, may start reaching out for objects
  4. Head can lift up to 45° (when lying on their tummy)
  5. Starts kicking legs

3 – 4 months

  1. Will begin grasping objects. At this stage they become aware of their hands and their eyes become fixated with them, this is the beginning of hand-eye coordination
  2. Babbling may begin and they might amuse themselves with noises. Learning to talk is reliant on their hearing. The more you talk to them face to face, the easier they will find it to eventually speak
  3. By 4 months, they will be close to lifting their head up 90°
  4. Starts to distinguish colours. They will enjoy colourful toys and wallpaper, but more so, they enjoy the contrast of colours eg. yellow with black rather than orange with red. At this stage, spend time with them looking through colourful books

4 – 5 months

  1. Teething may begin this month
  2. Once grasping objects, they will start to explore putting things in their mouth
  3. They will begin experimenting with cause and effect
  4. Hands used in a raking action to bring toys closer. The hand-eye fixation will cease
  5. Head becomes steadier for longer periods
  6. Will start to exercise their sense of touch. Let them play with a variety of textures (rough, soft, fuzzy, smooth etc.). Don’t forget they still value the gentle caress from parents to feel safe and loved

5 – 6 months

  1. Can now hear softer sounds from an arm’s length away
  2. Babbling will increase and vary, double syllable sounds are made
  3. Will understand emotions by the tone of voices, as well as identifying accents and when people are not speaking in their native tongue
  4. Able to sit with support, may be able to roll on to their back from their tummy
  5. Vision has extended to see across the room. Being outside and going for a walk (in a pram) provides an environment with many new visual objects to explore. Help them by pointing things out. If something has caught their eye, let them linger and observe. Keep in mind they are still near-sighted, so when possible bring objects in so they can have a closer look. For the most part of the first year, they can only focus on one thing at a time, so there is no need to overload them; one object at a time is plenty

6 – 7 months

  1. Will turn head to the direction of voices and sounds
  2. Begins to self-feed with small finger foods
  3. Transfer objects from one hand to the other. Able to reach and grab objects
  4. Will enjoy the game of “peek-a-boo.” (Why? At this stage they are yet to grasp the concept of object permanence – knowing something is there, even though they can’t see it. Hence it is amusing when someone’s face appears out of nowhere. This game encourages their understanding)
  5. Visual acuity increases. They will be able to see the finer features of faces and develop facial recognition. This is also when they can develop shyness to strangers; they prefer familiar faces around them

7 – 8 months

  1. Will begin chewing on objects
  2. May be able to roll all the way around
  3. Sit unsupported
  4. The separation anxiety from parents may begin. Fear towards seeing or hearing strangers
  5. Will respond to their name being called. Up until now, when people spoke, all they could hear were the different tones. But after 7 months, they will start to identify the different words being spoken

8 – 9 months

  1. Finding the need to explore; scooting and crawling begins
  2. Can go from lying down to sitting without assistance
  3. Might experiment with gravity by dropping toys from high-chair
  4. May use shouting to attract attention, learning to use vocalization as a way of communication
  5. Finer, pincer grip developing to pick up small objects. May show interest in grabbing the feeding spoon

9 – 10 months

  1. Understands object permanence (peek-a-boo no longer gets the same reaction)
  2. Able to stand when holding onto someone or something
  3. Babbles tunefully, may start to sound out baby words
  4. Will drop toys and then look around to see where they went. Eventually they will watch the whole dropping process and will be intrigued to see what happens to them after they drop

10 – 11 months

  1. Will develop gestures; begin to clap, able to wave good-bye
  2. Words such as “ma-ma” and “da-da” will be directed to the correct parent
  3. Will hear and understand a few words. Their favourite being “no”. They will begin to grasp the concept of names for objects. This is encouraged when someone can point at an object and say what it is for them. They soon start assigning names to objects they are most interested in. The names are usually a mixture of baby gibberish and what people have sounded out to them

11 – 12 months

  1. Understands the difference between “yes” and “no” as well as the meaning of small phrases
  2. Can crawl or scoot around efficiently
  3. Able to stand on their own for a few seconds, before plunking back down. May be able to walk with assistance, but may not have the confidence in their muscle strength to do it on their own
  4. May enjoy dancing and moving to the beat. Music is a great way to build up their coordination, motor control and timing. Plus it is something they really enjoy

12 – 18 months

  1. A need to explore on their own becomes apparent. They have a greater desire to stand and attempts to walk
  2. Most babies begin to walk by 14-15 months. But many can take a little longer and don’t start walking till the 16th or 17th month
  3. Vocabulary increases to a handful of words
  4. Becomes a helper; extends arms and legs when getting dressed, can hold a spoon and starts the progression to self-feeding. Can also hold a pencil and will start scribbling
  5. Will be able to identify them self in the mirror. Enjoys identifying things that they know

18 – 24 months

  1. Walking becomes the main mode of transport. Towards the end of their second year, they will be able to jump and run
  2. Vocabulary has extended to around 50 words and by 24 months, can string 2-3 word phrases together. They can understand over 200 words and follow simple instructions
  3. By 24 months, localization of sound in all planes and 20/20 vision is developed.

Summary

Milestones are used as an indication for the progression of development. Many parents can become overly concerned and fearful when their child takes a little longer to master a skill. It is important to remember that every child is different and the achievement of milestones can differ by months. Some children are just naturally late developers and others are known to skip milestones altogether. It is not uncommon to have children that will never crawl, than all of a sudden, they start walking. Taking an extra month or two to reach milestones means very little and won’t stop them from growing up perfectly normal. For example, if you came across a couple of 5-year olds, born 2 months apart, would you be able to identify which one was two months older? The end milestone result is not the key, but rather the progression and desire to learn and explore is. By all means, they should be encouraged, but it shouldn’t be forced. When they feel the need to grab, throw, walk or talk, they will figure it out. If you see that your child’s desire to learn is not making any progress or that they appear to be lagging significantly behind, you should discuss your concerns to your doctor.

The importance of iodine during pregnancy and childhood

Are you getting enough iodine in your diet? Recent studies have shown that iodine deficiency has increased dramatically in Australia and this is most concerning for pregnant/breastfeeding women and growing children.

What is iodine and why is it important?

Iodine is an essential mineral required for hormone development, energy and growth. More specifically, it is needed for the production of thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Thyroid hormones play an important role in metabolic processes in particular those involved during general growth and development, with its strongest connection to the brain.

During pregnancy/breastfeeding

Given the role iodine and thyroid hormones play during times of growth and development, it is no surprise that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers require more iodine than any other health groups. The recommended daily intake (RDI) of iodine for adults (both men and women) is 150µg/day. That jumps rapidly during pregnancy (220µg/day) and again for breastfeeding (270µg/day) [1]. This is because during the first two trimesters of pregnancy, the fetus is unable to produce its own thyroid hormones. It relies solely on the mother to increase her production of thyroid hormones by increasing her intake of iodine, so they can be used for fetal brain development and general tissue growth. By the last trimester of pregnancy, the fetus is able to produce its own thyroid hormones, but still relies on an iodine supply from the mother. This is also the case after birth; iodine from breast milk is needed during the crucial stages of growth. Given that iodine deficiency is quite prevalent amongst adults, many women find it extremely difficult to meet the increased demand for iodine during these times and are therefore their babies are most at risk of the problems and disabilities that arise with iodine deficiency (discussed later).

During childhood development

Throughout development, iodine and thyroid hormones play a crucial role to make sure children grow up and develop properly. Thus during these early years, it is important that children maintain a good level of iodine in their diet. The National Iodine Nutrition Study conducted in Australia has shown that an alarming number of children are iodine deficient[2]. The study involving over 1700 students from 88 schools across five states of Australia, discovered that almost half of the children (46.3%) fall in the range of mild to moderate iodine deficiency. This shows that iodine deficiency poses a significant health problem within children across Australia. In reference to the rest of the world, it has been estimated that 31.5% (266 million) of school children around the world do not receive enough iodine [3].

What happens if you don’t get enough iodine?

Iodine deficiency is the number one cause of preventable mental retardation and brain damage in the world. If a pregnant/breastfeeding mother (or the child) is deficient in iodine, it places the newborn child at risk of becoming mentally retarded and prone to severely stunted growth (cretinism). Iodine deficiency disorders (IDD) predominately lead to intellectual disabilities, growth problems and a wide range of neurological and physical disorders. Commonly linked to iodine deficiency is the enlargement of the thyroid gland (goitre) which can reach the size of a football and protrudes out of the neck. If this continues, hypothyroidism can develop which can result in dry skin, hair loss, slow reflexes, reproductive problems and thyroid cancer.

Why is the level of iodine deficiency so high in Australia?

There are several possible reasons why the country’s high rate of iodine deficiency is comparable to developing countries:

  • The increased consumption of processed foods which are manufactured with non-iodised salt
  • Reduced iodine levels in milk because of changes in treatment methods
  • Lower levels of iodine in Australian soils which reduces its levels in vegetables

To combat the growing trends in iodine deficiency, Food Standards Australia & New Zealand have recently made it mandatory that iodised salt replace non-iodised salt in all bread sold in Australia and New Zealand.

How can you prevent iodine deficiency?

The best food sources of iodine are kelp (seaweed), seafood, eggs, dairy, bread (now that it is fortified with iodine salt) and vegetables (though the amount does vary considerably given the levels of iodine in the soil fluctuate). Including these food sources in your diet is a great way to prevent iodine deficiency.

However during pregnancy and breastfeeding, it can be extremely difficult using diet alone to reach the recommended daily requirements. You would have to consume around 9 cans of tuna a day! Given that this is the most crucial stage for iodine requirements (to prevent mental retardation and stunted growth); it is recommended that women during this period take supplements that contain iodine. It is also important that your growing children reach their recommended targets for iodine, thus they can also benefit from supplements containing iodine to ensure they are growing and developing properly.

References

  1. National Health & Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand, 2005.
  2. Li M, Eastman CJ, Waite KV, Ma G, Zacharin MR, Topliss DJ, Harding PE, Walsh JP, Ward LC, Mortimer RH et al: Are Australian children iodine deficient? Results of the Australian National Iodine Nutrition Study. Med J Aust 2006, 184(4):165-169.
  3. De Benoist B, McLean E, Andersson M, Rogers L: Iodine deficiency in 2007: global progress since 2003. Food Nutr Bull 2008, 29(3):195-202.

Antioxidants

So it’s probably safe to say you’ve heard of antioxidants and know that they’re good for you. But what exactly are they? Are they just the latest health fad or are they actually beneficial to you and your children? Let’s take a look at what all the fuss is about.

What is an antioxidant?

Antioxidants are compounds that neutralize free radicals (oxidants). Many metabolic reactions in the body result in byproducts being formed and a common byproduct are unstable, reactive free radicals that if left in this state can rapidly cause damage to surrounding DNA, cells, tissues proteins and other important structures. The accumulation of free radicals in body can lead to diseases such as heart and liver disease and cancer.  Antioxidants are thus required to keep the levels of free radicals low and prevent oxidative damage and diseases. So they are by no means the latest fad, they are truly beneficial.

We all need antioxidants, but those who generally need more than most are the elderly and aging population, people trying to conceive, pregnant and breastfeeding woman and developing children.

How do antioxidants prevent oxidative damage?

Free radicals (as a result of metabolic reactions) are left with an unpaired electron in their outer shell which they don’t like. They will go in search and steal electrons from surrounding molecules causing damage to important bodily structures. This damage can arise very quickly unless the body has a rich supply of antioxidants. Antioxidants sacrifice themselves, like jumping in front of a bullet to protect the body. They will donate one of their own electrons to free radicals to make them stable, meaning they do not need to steal electrons and cause damage to surrounding cells and structures. Once a free radical has a paired electron in its outer shell again, it is no longer a “free radical” and is stable once more.

The effect of oxidative damage

The body can handle a few free radicals lying around, but when they accumulate in large numbers, it can contribute too many different diseases and health problems. Most notably is their role in degenerative diseases.

Some common diseases and problems caused by free radicals:

- Infertility problems (damage to sex gametes)

- Contributes to a number of birth defects, miscarriages and stillbirth cases

- Cardiovascular diseases

- Deterioration of vision and hearing

- Inflammatory diseases (such as arthritis)

- Damage to nerve cells leading to neural disorders such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s

- Acceleration of the aging process (dementia and wrinkles)

- Cancer (damage to DNA)

- Liver diseases

- Autoimmune diseases

What accelerates free radical accumulation?

There are a number of factors that can significantly raise the level of free radicals in the body, thus contribute to the resulting disease states. Some can be avoided, some are inevitable. These include: Smoking, alcohol, sunlight, sugary and saturated fatty foods, pollution, fatigue and stress. Smoking, alcohol, pollution and stress have been well linked to many cases of birth defects and complications, conception failure, cancer and liver disease. Sunlight is mainly responsible for skin damage, wrinkles, sunburn and skin cancer. Sugars and saturated fats are linked in particular to cardiovascular diseases.

Are there different types of antioxidants?

There are many different types of antioxidants which range in their potency and abilities. Some are only able to donate one electron, while more potent antioxidants can donate many electrons and have the ability to regenerate surrounding antioxidants. Different antioxidants can also work on specific free radicals and in specific areas of the body. So it’s important that you obtain a good variety of different antioxidants for them to have the best overall affect. The body also has its own antioxidant enzymes which are crucial for the prevention of oxidative damage. However the production and function of these enzymes require various nutrients from the diet.

Here is a list of some of the most common antioxidants:

Essential nutrients: We require these antioxidants every day. They include: vitamins A, C and E and the minerals, copper, selenium and zinc. While the vitamins are antioxidants themselves, the minerals are technically not antioxidants. These minerals are required for the production and function of many, very important antioxidant enzymes in the body.

Polyphenols: This group of antioxidants contains some of the most potent antioxidants due to their unique structure. The term for these antioxidants often gets mixed up because there are so many different types of polyphenols. The different types of polyphenols include: Proanthocyanidins (the most potent antioxidants), catechins, bioflavones and isoflavones.

Compounds: These particular antioxidants are also very potent, but are most known for their specific nature against certain free radicals and prevention of particular diseases. These include: Allium sulphur compounds, lycopene, lutein and β-carotene.

What are good food sources of these antioxidants?

Essential nutrients:

Vitamin A – carrots, spinach, tomatoes and sweet potato

Vitamin C – citrus fruits, blackcurrants, capsicum and strawberries

Vitamin E – vegetable oils, nuts, avocados and seeds

Minerals (Copper, Selenium & Zinc) – seafood, lean meat, milk, nuts and whole grains

Polyphenols:

Proanthocyanidins – berries, grapes, wine and eggplant

Catechins – wine and green tea

Bioflavones – citrus fruits, tea, wine, dark chocolate, onions and apples

Isoflavones – soybeans, tofu, lentils, peas and milk

Compounds:

Allium sulphur compounds – garlic, onions and leeks

Lutein – green leafy vegetables, corn and tomato

Lycopene – tomatoes, pink grapefruit and melons

β-carotene – tomatoes, pumpkin, carrots and spinach

Tips for creating a diet to maximize the intake of these antioxidants

From the list, you can see a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will provide the best source and variety of antioxidants. Drinking red wine and green tea with a side of dark chocolate are handy additions. Combine these with servings of seafood and lean meat and you are set. For children and pregnant/breastfeeding women, wine can be substituted for more grapes and berries.

Many people see this huge list of fruits and veggies and immediately turn to drinking fruit and veggie juices. This is ok (better than soft drinks), but is not the best way to obtain antioxidants. The majority of the antioxidants in fruits and veggies are located in the skin or seeds. So when possible, to maximize your antioxidant intake, eat fruit and veggies with the skin on. Another alternative is drinking smoothies where the seeds and skin have been mixed in to the juice.

If you’re after a quick boost of the most potent antioxidants, then look for acai berry, blueberries, pomegranate, green tea, grape seed extract and tomatoes.

Living a Healthy and Happy Life,

Q&A with celebrity chef, Anna Gare

What tips do you have for getting children into cooking and eating healthy?

Some kids are fussy eaters and I was lucky enough to receive one as a challenge. I tried every trick in the book- hiding the peas in the mash, pureeing the vegies and adding blitzed spinach to bolognaise sauce. Sadly she could detect anything green and wouldn’t eat it!  I really didn’t want food to become an issue for us at every meal time so I just made sure I gave her plenty of the few fruit and vegies that she did love.

I think if we encourage our children into the kitchen at a young age it helps them to develop a healthy attitude towards cooking and eating. Sometimes as a mum you don’t get a lot of time to cook, so I used to sit my kids up on the bench and give them cooking utensils to play with while I prepared the dinner, offering them samples along the way.  There’s nothing I loved more than watching my babies faces as I introduced them to new tastes and textures. They would usually scoff it down or spit it out and I soon learnt what they liked and didn’t!  Kid’s tastes do change, so if you keep exposing them to all types of foods they may just develop broad and healthy tastebuds.

Getting kids into the kitchen and doing a bit of creative cooking is a great interactive activity to have with your children.  My kids loved making simple recipes like Ginger bread men, pizza faces or tiger toast, but most of all they enjoyed getting their hands dirty and making a mess.  It was a great test of my patience!

Growing vegies in the garden is another great introduction to fresh produce. My kids loved watching the vegies and herbs grow. I would constantly send them out to pick me herbs for cooking and when they were little they would often return proudly with a handful of weeds.

My kids are all teenagers now - I have taught them good safe knife skills and they can all whip up a simple home-cooked meal.  I have made them feel very comfortable in the kitchen and now I hope to reap the rewards.

In a world of pre-packaged food, fresh food cooking skills are very valuable.  As a family, we rarely have fast food, and when we do we always regret it afterwards!

Aside from the means of nutrition, what role does food/cooking have on you and your family’s life?

The kitchen is the center of our home; I often get the kids involved in the preparation of dinner, not just to make them food savvy but to get all the latest teenage goss! It’s a great catch up space. Some of the best conversations with my kids have been had while peeling the potatoes. As parents we are all so busy these days and although we think we are doing special things with our kids when we take them to a movie or watch them play sport, we are not really interacting on a social level. There’s nothing I love more than getting into kitchen with my family, having a cook up and then sitting down to a yummy dinner. A family that cooks and eats together stays together.

With a busy lifestyle, how do you find time and the motivation to exercise regularly?

When I’m on track I exercise 3 times a week, first thing in the morning before the kids wake up and before I can talk myself out of it.  I arrange to meet a girlfriend so I have to show up.  I am exercise lazy if left to my own devices.   I make the effort because it really makes a difference to my psyche. It makes me feel physically and mentally stronger, frees my mind and makes me feel more in control of my busy life. I am also motivated by the elated good feeling I get at the end of a work out………….. Thank god it’s over!

Being a mum involves a lot of time looking after others. What are some things you love to do, for yourself, that make you happy? What benefits are there for allocating some time to yourself?

I love going out to see live music and dancing; it’s a great way to dust off a busy week.  It’s like exercise without watching the clock or having a goal.

I also enjoy lazy and delectable long lunches with the girls or my husband. Lunch is one of my favorite meals and making an occasion of it can highjack a whole day in the nicest possible way.

Once I have done something for myself I can deliver the best me to my children and my job.

Parents can often find it difficult maintaining a balance between encouraging and supporting their kids without being too overbearing. What advice can you give to parents who just want their children to live a happy and successful life?

I grew up in a big family where we were all encouraged to follow our passions. As a result we are all working now in jobs we love.  You can’t give a kid a passion but you can expose them to lots of different things in life and they will soon work out what flicks their switch. I encourage my children to study the subjects they are interested in. Happily as a result they have all been getting top marks because they enjoy what they are doing.

“Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life” Quote by Confucius

Anna Gare is a judge and co-host of the hit television show, Junior Masterchef.