New research, recommendations for parents

(CNN) –– Current and expectant parents may be interested a few of the many studies that have been released in recent days as researchers gathered for the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies, the largest international meeting focused on research in children’s health. The meeting, in Vancouver, British Columbia, ends Tuesday.

Here are some of the findings presented:

Not all parents are putting their babies ‘back to sleep’

Since the early 1990’s, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been recommending parents put their babies on their backs when they sleep to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). While the number of SIDS deaths has gone down, the CDC reports more than 2000 infants under the age of 1 died in 2010 as a result of SIDS.

However, a new study finds that the word hasn’t gotten out to everyone that babies should sleep on their backs. Researchers presented their data on Saturday. They found that two-thirds of full-term babies in the United States sleep on their backs and less than half of preemies are put in what’s officially called the supine sleep position (on the back).

Where you live also makes a difference. The study authors found in Alabama, only 49.5% of all infants were placed in on their back to sleep, compared to Wisconsin, which had the highest number at 81.4%.

The goal is to keep babies alive, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics’s recommendations to prevent SIDS and other sleep-related deathscall for supine positioning along with “use of a firm sleep surface, breastfeeding, room-sharing without bed-sharing, routine immunizations, consideration of using a pacifier, and avoidance of soft bedding, overheating, and exposure to tobacco smoke, alcohol, and illicit drugs.”

Environmental factors may play a bigger role in autism

The latest statistics from the CDC must be alarming to expectant and new parents. Six weeks ago, the CDC announced the latest autism prevalence statistics: 1 in 68 children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the United States.

While the exact cause and causes of ASDs are not known, most experts agree that autism is a condition that begins before birth, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Many experts also believe that children with autism have a genetic predisposition, and that environmental factors can play a role. The neurodevelopmental disorder can cause significant and chronic social, communication and behavioral challenges.

Twin studies have shown if one identical twin has autism, there’s a 90% chance the other twin will be affected too. However, researchers are suggesting that the role of genes may much smaller – 50%. More than 2 million families in Sweden were studied; scientists looked at full siblings, half siblings and even cousins of full siblings.

“Heritability of ASD was estimated to 50%, suggesting that genetic factors explain half of the risk for autism,” according to the study, published in JAMA on Saturday. “This is considerably lower than the 90% in earlier twin studies and closer the 38% reported in a recent California study.”

The idea that environmental factors play an important role in autism has only started to get traction in recent years. Irva Hertz-Picciotto, who studies environmental factors in autism at the UC Davis MINDS Institute, told CNN in 2011 that there may be a “somewhat smaller role for genetics and somewhat larger role for the environment” in the development of autism, something she hoped would change the emphasis in the research community.

The researchers in Sweden also conclude that this information may be helpful to parents who already have a child with autism, and are considering or concerned about having another child.

Pediatricians can help prevent cavities in baby teeth

Parents may not realize this, but tooth decay is the most common chronic disease in children aged 6 to 12 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC data shows that about 42% of children as young as 2 and up to age 11 have cavities in their baby teeth. A study from 2007 found that since the mid-90’s, dental caries (cavities) has been on the rise again, particularly in young children between ages 2 and 5.

So the The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is updating its recommendations for preventing caries or tooth decay in children from birth to age 5. After reviewing the latest research, the panel recommends pediatricians, who see children at regular wellness visits anyway, should give:

– babies as young as 6 months of age oral fluoride supplementation, when there’s not enough fluoride in their water supply (that means water fluoridation levels are below .0.6 parts per million)

– all infants, who have had their baby teeth pop out of their gums, and children periodic fluoride varnish applications, regardless of fluoride levels in their water.

However, the USPSTF is not recommending that pediatricians do regular oral check-ups because pediatricians cannot reliably detect tooth decay. That’s where pediatric dentists come into play. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistryrecommends a so-called dental home be established with every child before his or her first birthday.

Study questions benefit of taking fish oil supplements during pregnancy

When women find out they are pregnant, their doctors will have a lot of recommendations, including taking a Omega-3 acid, particularly DHA supplement or fish oil, a fatty acid, to optimize fetal brain and eye development. There are 20 different edible fatty acids, but the human body can’t produce Omega-3 and 6 fatty acids, and most pregnant women probably don’t get enough of these nutrients through their diets.

A 2008 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology concluded that along with vegetable oils and two servings of seafood per week, women should get these important Omega-3’s from supplements. Now, a research letter published Saturday in JAMA throws a wrench in that.

Researchers studied pregnant women who were given an 800 mg DHA supplement or a placebo and their children’s’ brain development at age 4 (the children had been previously assessed at 18 months). They found prenatal DHA supplementation did not result in improved cognitive, problem-solving or language abilities for children at age 4. They even report, surprisingly, that girls in the DHA group had poorer language scores than girls in the control group.

“Our data do not support prenatal DHA supplementation to enhance early childhood development,” the study authors say.

“I have no reason to doubt their results,” says Dr. Mark Klebanoff, a professor of pediatrics and of obstetrics and gynecology at The Ohio State University College of Medicine, who specializes in the prevention of pregnancy complications and has studied the benefits of fish consumption to prevent another preterm birth (his study did not follow the children).

“It’s not that easy to make up any deficiencies by taking a pill,” he says.

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