Two Can Learn Better than One!

Category: Health

Flying When Pregnant

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health , Tags: air travel, dvt, flying, pregnancy, royal college of obstetricians and gynaecologists, safety

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The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has published a scientific paper on flying during pregancy and concludes that there is no significant risk associated with air travel during pregnancy. Concerns of labour being triggered by air travel appear to be unfounded, as is fear of harm caused by radiation emitted from security scanners. Radiation levels in security equipment are so low as not to pose a risk.

During high altitude flight, the body undergoes physiological change and the levels of oxygen on aircraft are lower than when on the ground. Neither of these have an impact on a baby's development during pregnancy.

There is an increased risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) to all air passengers but that risk remains the same for pregnant women. Pregnant women may also feel more uncomfortable than usual in the cramped conditions of a flight but that poses no health risk to their baby.

Although flying won't trigger an early labour, there is always a chance that women flying close to their due date may naturally fall into labour. That, and the higher chance of other obstetric emergencies occurring in the weeks preceding birth, lead the author of the research to suggest that the general policy of airlines not to carry passengers who are pregnant from 37 weeks gestation is sensible. Furthermore, women with increased risk of preterm labour, perhaps because of multiple births or other complications, should avoid air travel from 32 weeks onwards.

The research was carried out by Professor Ian Greer of the University of Liverpool and is published as an RCOG Scientific Impact Paper. Visit RCOG's website to read more about this study.

Fresh Food vs. Frozen Food

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health, Food, Drink and Eating , Tags: food, fresh food, frozen food, fruit, minerals, nutrition, vegetables, vitamins

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Every parent wants to give their child the most nutritional food to give them a head start in life. Some parents may have views on whether fresh fruit and vegetables are better than frozen fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately the case for which contains more nutrients is not clear cut.

Freezing food does not in itself destroy mineral or vitamin levels - levels are preserved until the produce thaws.  Vitamins and minerals are destroyed by heating, however, meaning that levels start to diminish as soon as you start cooking the food. Some frozen foods are blanched or heated prior to being frozen in order to protect them and this could start destroying nutrient levels, although industrial processes are generally refined enough nowadays to keep levels at their optimum.

There's a strange twist to the tale when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables. Much produce travels from all over the world to reach our supermarket shelves - bananas from South America, beans from Africa, Strawberries from the Middle East...just look at the packaging and you'll be surprised! Many of these items are picked before they ripen fully and ripen on their long journey to our shelves. This means that they aren't as nutritious as they would have been had they been allowed to ripen naturally on their plants. Frozen foods, on the other hand, are picked at their prime, once they have ripened fully in the fields or orchards, and arguably therefore start with higher vitamin and mineral levels than for some fresh produce.

Of course, there's no way to look at produce and know how it has been prepared before reaching our shelves. The best thing you can do is to minimise the 'air miles' that your produce has racked up in transit. Buy fresh produce that has been grown in local markets and it should be the best all round!

Antenatal Classes

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Babies, Health , Tags: antenatal classes, maternity unit, nct, nhs, playgroups

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If you're expecting your first baby then it's a really good idea to attend antenatal classes - not simply because you will learn so much about the birth process, but also because you will meet other local mum's and couple's all going through the same experience as you. Antenatal classes are offered nationally by the NHS and the NCT.

NHS antenatal classes are offered for free in most areas and are open to both expectant parents although it's more usual just for mum's to attend. Classes are held by midwives and cover the birth procedures within a hospital environment. You will usually be able to attend a tour of the maternity unit where you are planning your delivery which is highly advisable so that you can familiarise yourself with the surroundings.

NCT classes are held by trained adult educators either in their own home or at a local venue.  It's common for partners to attend these informal classes which run for several weeks prior to your expected delivery date. The NCT offers a variety of classes in addition to antenatal ones but your first contact will probably be for antenatal classes. You must pay to attend NCT classes but there are significant discounts (90%) for under 18's, students and those on support. The cost of NCT classes also includes optional NCT membership which you can choose to opt out of.

You don't have to choose between NHS or NCT classes - you can attend both.

As well as learning about the birth process and getting the inside track on your local maternity unit, antenatal classes give you the opportunity to meet other expectant mother's who live locally to you. It's common for these mum's to become close friends in the months following birth as you'll seek advice from each other, and start seeing each other in local playgroups, at the doctor's and you'll keep bumping into them in town. Use the opportunity to develop a local support network of other new mum's, it's an opportunity that you won't regret.

Horsemeat Scandal

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health, Food, Drink and Eating , Tags: food, food quality, horsemeat, nutrition

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The continuing scandal surrounding horsemeat in the British food supply chain serves to show that although we pride ourselves on food labelling, there seems to be a huge disjunct between what the label says and what our food products contain. Food labellling has arguably never been clearer but clearly there is still room in the suply chain for malpractice.

While in Britain we don't usually eat horsemeat, there's nothing dangerous about this meat per se, except for the fact that if it has entered into the foodchain illegally, then it's unlikely that any high standards of farming have been applied. The greatest danger in this instance is that horses can be treated with veterinary medicines that may be dangerous for human consumption and must not be allowed to enter the food chain.

It turns out that a supplier in Poland provided meat to a supplier in France who gave it to a supplier in Ireland who sold it to our supermarkets. If ever there appears to be a case of 'too many cooks' then this has to be it!

To make a beefburger, buy some steak, mince it and round it into patties.

Our food doesn't need to travel through several countries, being part processed along the way until we arrive at a product that really doesn't take long to prepare from fresh. Even Lasagne can be made in 30 minutes and left to cook for 40.

What we have seen is the logical conclusion of consumer demand for maximum convenience for just a few pennies. Didn't we ever wonder how supermarkets managed to supply 'value' meals so cheaply? Do you remember 'mad cow disease' that resulted from animals being fed the remains of other animals? Where will the horsemeat currently being sold in the UK as burgers and lasagne end up once it has been halted from our food supplies? Will it enter into animal feed next?

If you want to ensure that your little ones are eating nutritious and healthy food, then find the time to prepare the best meals. Source your food from local providers whenever possible, and buy ingredients rather than processed foods when you can.

Introducing Fruit and Veg

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health, Food, Drink and Eating , Tags: eating, fruit, taste, vegetables

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Babies will usually eat almost any food put in front of them, but as the ygrow older, children become more discerning about their food, fussy even!  If you can encourage your children to eat a broad array of food then life iwll be so much easier. Meal times won't resemble a battlefield, you'll find it easier to eat with other families or out in restaurants, and you won't have any concerns that your little ones are eating a balanced diet.

Grocers and supermarkets offer a huge variety of different types of fruit and vegetables, but we are often creatures of habit, regularly buying only a small selection of fruit and veg that we know well. For example, fruit may be restricted to apples, bananas, grapes and oranges and vegetables to potatoes, broccoli, carrots and peas.

Why not try to broaden your little one's tastes by holding a week long 'Fruit and Vegetable Fiesta' in your home?  See if you can introduce one new type of fruit and one new type of vegetable with your main meal, each day for a week.  You could try old favourites that your little ones may not have had in a while, or you could seek out some of the really exotic foods that are now widely stocked in our shops.

Here are some suggestions for uncommon and more unusual fruit and vegetables, see if you can slip some of these into your Fruit and Vegetable Fiesta. Scour the fresh food department next time your in the supermarket and see what else you can try...!


Kiwi Lychees Sweet potatoes Romanescu
Passion fruit Star fruit Corn on the cob Bok choy
Pineapple Physalis Watercress Swiss chard
Watermelon Dragon fruit Celery Pinto beans
Rhubarb Pineberry Marrow Fennel








Avoiding the Winter Bug

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting, Health , Tags: health, hygiene, illness, norovirus, winter bug

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December saw an outbreak of Norovirus, or winter vomiting bug almost approaching epidemic proportions, and unfortunately it continues on its rounds.

Norovirus is a highly contagious stomach bug, it spreads easily because exposure to as few as 10 virus particles can inubate infection, and also because the virus can survive on open surfaces for a long time.

As with any contagious virus, the key to avoiding it is to practice good hygiene:-

  • Wash hands before handling food, before eating, after touching animals and after going to the toilet
  • Take care if you are treating sick people around you, wash hands after being with them
  • Use an antibacterial handwash
  • Use a tissue to contain coughs and sneezes, then dispose of the tissue and wash your hands again
  • Isolate sufferers until 48 hours after recovery
  • If you catch the virus, remember that you remain contagious for a further 48 hours after you recover, don't prepare food on that time, and be cautious interacting with others

Hospitals and surgeries are keen to prevent contagion amongst the most vulnerable so try to avoid visiting them, telephone for advice if required.

Sadly there's no treatment for Norovirus and you have to let the bug run its course.  Symptoms vary but can include severe vomiting and diarrhoea. The biggest danger comes from dehydration so try to keep hydrated even in the event of vomiting.  Young children (and the elderly) are particularly vulnerable to dehydration and may require hospital treatment, but check with your hospital first as many have shut their doors to Norovirus admissions on health grounds.

Hopefully we all practice the hygiene measures outlined here routinely, this won't prevent catching Norovirus but it will help to contain its spread.

What are Nappies Made From?

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health , Tags: landfill, nappies, plastic, polyacrylate, waste, wood

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Believe it or not, disposable nappies are made from wood and plastic! The main body of nappies are made from pastics and are held together with glue. The clever part of a nappy is the absorbent pad which is made from a mix of wood pulp and 'super absorbent polymers'. The absorbent part is a chemical called Polyacrylate and is capable of absorbing 30 times its own weight of liquid.  When Polyacrylate crystals absorb wetness, they expand into a gel which is how they manage to keep our baby's wetness in.  Incidentally, this same material is used to create artifical snow and is sometimes added to soil to increase water absorption, particularly in the cultivation of potted plants.

Some nappies are made specifically for girls or boys and these are slightly more absorbent at the points that tend to get wettest - for boys this is at the front while for girls, this is towards the middle and back.

Disposable nappies have long been criticised for being environmentally unfriendly.  These days they do break down in landfill but the process is still extremely slow but at least Polyacrylate prevents content from leaching from landfill sites which is one of the dangers of other disposed chemical products. The other point about the environmental impact of dispoable nappies is the amount of energy that they consume during manufacture and transport to market - far higher than for reusable equivalents.

Managing Tangled Hair

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting, Health , Tags: brushing hair, hair, hairdressers, lice

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No matter how cute toddlers are, there can be days when they need to look just a bit smarter than normal and it's a real struggle to brush their hair. It's not just boys who like the messy look, many girls refuse to go near a hairbrush too.

Some question why bother, if they won't stand still and it ends in tears. But besides cosmetic reasons to brush hair, there are practical reasons too.  It loosens any dirt that may be lurking, it's good to get their natural oils working to the ends of the hair and its good practise for that special day coming up (a wedding or family photo event!) when you need them tidy.

Here are a few tips:-

Styles: keep long hair up in plaits or pony tails to avoid knots and hair twiddling (which makes it unbearably tangled).

Tools: use a natural bristle hair brush and be gentle!  Deal with a little at a time and take it slowly.  You don't have to untangle the whole head in one go, so take it bit by bit and work through the whole head gradually.

Lice: don't share brushes to reduce the chance of getting lice, which are a pain to deal with!  Make it easy on yourself by getting each child their own brush and wash it in warm soapy water frequently.

Play hairdressers: making it fun does take the pain out of brushing their hair.  Set up a stool and a few hair clips etc and role play going to a hairdressers.  Add a mirror too as kids love staring at themselves.

Decorations: go shopping together for some new clips and ribbons.  Keep them somewhere special and make a big fuss of how beautiful she looks when her hair is done.

Calls for TV Ban for Children

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health , Tags: computer games, computers, dr. aric sigman, research, screens, technology, television

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Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman has caused controversy by saying that under-three's should have almost no exposure to television. While it would be difficult to argue the opposite, many may be surprised that Dr. Sigman recommends virtual banishment for the very young. Furthermore, he recommends limiting up-to-seven year olds to a maximum of an hour and a half of TV or computer exposure per day, and a maximum of two hours up to the age of 18.

Dr. Sigman's recommendations are based on a number of research observations. One concern is that sitting in front of screens leads to a sedentary lifestyle and is largely responsible for the explosion in diabetes and heart disease in the population. Another concern is that the acts of watching television and playing computer games have an affect on brain development. While brain scans of computer gamers showed different brain patterns, his research does not conclusively prove that gaming alters the brain, or whether people with gaming patterns are predisposed to playing games. His research does suggest that gamers are more prone to addiction and develop a dependency on screen technology.

We probably aren't that surprised to hear all of this; we all remember our own grandparents talking about the perils of television and the harm it would do in modern society, but back then it was pure conjecture and fear of the unknown. That their fears are being realised at a time when screens are appearing in every room of the house and even in our pockets gives us more to think about. We really have entered the information age, and we don't know where this is going!

Give Yourself a Makeover

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting, Health , Tags: charity shops, clothes, fashion, glamour, makeover, manicure, nails, pedicure

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Some days just get you down, and being cooped up with young children all day, with no other adult company, can take its toll.  Don't let depression hit you though, make sure you get out and treat yourself every once in a while!

Look at giving yourself a special treat, why not a makeover?!  Head out and treat yourself to a manicure or pedicure, a massage or just a nice hair do.  Go out and buy some new clothes.  It's so important that you get some time to pamper yourself, to get out of the house, and make yourself feel just that little bit extra special.

If you have a young baby then there is pretty much constant demand on your time as you have to feed and change so regularly.  However, that doesn't mean that you have to stay home.  Look for a shopping centre that has creche facilities and you might be able to leave your baby there for a couple of hours while you treat yourself.  If you have little ones in nursery, or at school, then get out while they are being looked after.  If your little ones aren't in regular childcare then approach a local nursery and just ask for some ad hoc sessions.  Whilst some chains might find the administration to fulfill such a request just too mindboggling, there is bound to be a local nursery who will welcome your money on an occasional basis.  If you're in full time work then you might have to fall back on your partner, or perhaps your parents or other family to help you out so that you can get a few hours off.

A makeover might sound expensive, and it really can be.  If you don't have that sort of money to spend on yourself then do what you can.  Find a nail bar that might do nails quickly and cheaply, leaving you feeling slightly glamorous.  Maybe do your own nails but treat yourself to a pedicure.  If you have a college that runs beauty courses (nails, hair, massage), then you may find that they have a heavily subsidised salon where you can treat yourself at a fraction of high street prices.

If you can't afford a new look in high street fashion shops, then try charity shops instead.  So many clothes end up in charity shops because they are the wrong size or a bad fit for someone else, or they simply don't like them.  Look out for a bargain - you'll enjoy the 'chase' and feel really pleased with yourself if you find something that you like!

Having a healthy family requires a healthy Mummy, and if you can't find a bit of time to perk yourself up from time to time, then you simply aren't doing it right!

Watch Your Language

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health , Tags: illiterate, language, literacy, riots, school, speech, toddlers

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It has been reported in a recent study that language checks should become a routine for all toddlers and that speech and language checks should be as regular as those for checking a child's weight and growth.

It is said that without the necessary help, children with undiagnosed speech problems could suffer a life of failure if they go unchecked and unaided.  By two years old, children are already destined to failure or success at school.

The review stated that children with problems just slip through the net and that without help they could literally find themselves with greater problems in later school life. Waiting until school age is just too late.  By the age of five the problem is just too ingrained and children are likely to never catch up with their fellow school mates. They are more likely to be unemployed in later life and even end up in prison!

Although the screening and helping of children will cost money, it is estimated that for every £1 spent on children with impairments, the return on the investment is actually over £6.  It could be costly while the child grows up, but it will effectively negate the cost of dealing with problems in later life.

It was even suggested that better literacy and speech education may have prevented last year's riots, and it was estimated that 90% of the rioters were illiterate.

Sobering thoughts...

Why Shouldn't Babies Eat Strawberries?

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health, Food, Drink and Eating , Tags: allergen, nappy rash, pineberries, strawberries

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Nobody knows why, but fresh strawberries are a common allergen, especially in babies under 6 months of age.  Some suspect that the protein responsible for turning strawberries red is the culprit, but whatever it is, many babies develop a rash around the mouth and face after consuming fresh strawberries.  Strawberries can also contribute to nappy rash although this is down to acidity rather than allergens.

Cooked strawberries very rarely cause allergic reactions so you will frequently find strawberry deserts and purees for the youngest children.  These are usually perfectly safe as the cooking (and often pasteurising) process destroys whatever causes reactions in the first place.

If you wish to introduce strawberries into the diet of your young children then be aware of their allergic nature and observe your children after feeding strawberries to look for adverse signs.  If your children react then leave it for a few months and then try again.  The majority of children grow out of any allergic reactions by 6 months and very few display adverse signs after 12 months.

White strawberries and the 'pineberry', which some supermarkets have introduced over the last few years, do not appear to cause allergic reactions, perhaps strengthening the argument that it is the red pigment in strawberries that is to blame.

Brain Food

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health, Food, Drink and Eating , Tags: b12, food, magnesium, omega-3, superfood, supplements, vitamin c

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Whilst you shouldn't believe all the hype around 'superfoods', there is strong scientific evidence that certain foods can improve the development of the brain and your cognitive functions.  We're not talking weird supplements and pills that might be dangerous for your kids, but natural elements, compounds and vitamins present in everyday foods.  Including a sensible amount of these foods in the diets of your little ones can only be a good thing.

Vitamin C is known to enhance mental agility, not because of the effect it has on the brain itself, but because as an antioxidant it prevents other more harmful minerals ('free radicals') from reaching the brain.  Vitamin C is present in citrus fruits, brassica's (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower etc), potatoes and strawberries, although you should avoid feeding strawberries to babies under six months because they are a common allergen.

Deficiency of Vitamin B12 is linked to memory loss and other cognitive deficiencies.  Minor deficiency of B12 is linked to fatigue and  depression.  Many breakfast cereals are fortified with B12 making this a great start to the day.  B12 is also found in animal products including meat, eggs, milk, fish and shellfish.

Magnesium is important for the development of all the cells in our bodies.  High levels of magnesium are obtained from foods such as nuts, spices, coffee and cocoa - none of which, perhaps with the exception of cocoa, are common in children's diets.  Spinach is another good source of magnesium that is perhaps easier to include in your kids' diets.

Omega-3 fatty oils are found in marine and plant oils and are associated with improving mental health.  Although the scientific evidence is not fully established, it is widely believed that Omega-3 helps to treat ADHD and other autism spectrum disorders.

All these substances, and many more, are available as supplements from a pharmacy, but a healthy, balanced diet should give the body all it needs.

How to Create Shade in the Garden

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Health, Kids Activities , Tags: blankets, camp, parachute, shade, shade sails, sheets, tent

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On hot, sunny days, you might have a battle to keep the little ones outside direct sunlight, but there are ways to encourage them to enjoy the outdoors and remain in the shade.

Small children will adore having a playhouse but if your budget doesn't stretch that far, play tents can be bought very reasonably.  Many toy retailers sell themed 'pop up' tents such as castles or shops.  These store away neatly when you want them away as they fold down into a flat bag and can live behind a door or the sofa.  Kids camping style tents and sun shade tents can also be purchased very cheaply these days.

For a more grand design, shade sails are making their way to the UK.  First created in Australia, shade sails are large fabric sails that attach to posts.  You can buy these in bright colours or in more subtle shades.  This is not a cheap option, but for the professional childminding setting, you can establish a great looking area of shade.

A cheaper alternative to shade sails is to buy a play parachute - these come in an array of sizes from 2m to 6m.  Peg this out in the garden and this will create a large shady area.

If you have any old sheets or blankets, these too can be turned into an impromptu, and shady, camp in the garden.  Use your washing line or clothes dryer, airers, garden furniture or trees or bushes as anchor points and use clothes pegs to fix a 'camp' arrangement into place.

As well as keeping your children safe from the sun, your little ones can have a lot of fun playing pretend games in their new setting. Don't forget always to keep your children covered with sun cream and covered with clothes to protect their delicate skin.  The sun will still reach them even if they are confined to shade, so keep them safely protected at all times.

Sure Start Children's Centres Consultation

Permalink by Tikal, Categories: Parenting, Health, Child Development , Tags: childrens centres, childrens services, consultation, department for education, sure start

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The Department for Education is partway through a consultation exercise on changes planned for Sure Start Children's Centre's, if you wish to respond to the proposals then you must do so by the 1st June 2012.  The consultation period is shorter than for most similar exercises and is looking for feedback on draft statutory guidance relating to Sure Start centres.

Sure Start Children's Centres are places managed by or on behalf of local authorities to ensure children's services are offered in an integrated way.  Children's services might be made available onsite but if not, advice and assistance should be given to obtain children's services.  Early years provision covers early education and childcare.  Children's services include social services, health services, training and employment advice and information for young children, parents and prospective parents.

The aims of Sure Start Centres are to open equal access to opportunities and education to all from an early age so that children reach a level playing field by the time that they reach school.  The centres particularly target more deprived communities who may not have access to such good facilities to help educate and nurture young children prior to reaching school.

Anyone is entitled to respond to the proposed changes, even if you aren't engaged in offering professional services to the young or parents.  If you would like your voice to be heard then put forward your view on the Department for Education's consultation website.

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Hi! I'm Tikal the Toucan, the mascot for ToucanLearn. Follow my blog to find out interesting things relating to babies, toddlers and preschool children!

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