Postpartum Exhaustion: Is It Okay for New Parents to Solicit Friends to Cook, Clean and Empty the Trash?

November 19th, 2012

Having a baby, as any new mom knows, is just the start of an exhausting cycle of duties that can prompt many a new mom to long for some helping hands.
And many friends and relatives offer it, in the form of casseroles and quiches galore. But that wasn’t nearly enough for one Brooklyn couple, who decided to preempt the “How can I help?” question with a detailed, eight-item list of what they called “helpfuls,” and distributed it in a Google doc to their friends and family via Facebook, according to Gawker: “Come over at 10am, make me eggs, toast, and ½ a grapefruit. Clean my fridge and throw anything out that you doubt — don’t ask me, just use your best judgment. Clean the kitchen stove and the kitchen floor,” read one portion of the letter.
In addition to purging the fridge, the list included folding laundry, going grocery shopping, dropping off “a big super Greek salad with grilled chicken” — and keeping your mouth shut.
As the unnamed mother wrote:

Come over in your work clothes and vacuum, dust, clean the litter box, and then leave quietly. It might be too tiring for me to chat and entertain, but it will renew my soul to get some rest knowing I will wake up to a clean, organized space.

It was one ostensibly offended recipient of the list who turned it over to Gawker, where the writer — whose name was mercifully redacted — has been both lauded for her honesty and vilified for the specificity of her requests.

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One reader wrote:

…a normal person would write “would really appreciate it if you came over and helped us out a bit.” Friends would then come over, ask what needs to be done, and not feel like they are being given a grocery list they are expected to do and for no rational reason.

On the other hand, another reader noted that:

…people often volunteer to “help” but just come over and want to chat. Visitors feel weird taking over someone else’s house to clean or cook and new parents feel awkward about asking someone to do it.

Both reactions are on the money. But while having a new baby is undoubtedly exhausting, this list feels excessively demanding (a big super Greek salad? Is a regular Greek salad not sufficient?) to the point of being rude. Rather than appearing gently humorous, the list smacks of expectations generated for hired help, not for friends or relatives who want to be useful and who are, after all, volunteering their time and services. The most audacious aspect? The fact that new parents emailed their directive proactively. If a friend had asked what she could do, the new mom could certainly offer up a suggestion. But to send this list out unbidden, presumptively assuming that a circle of friends wants to mop your kitchen floor or “empty every trash basket in the house” and “Reline the kitchen garbage can with a fresh bag” just sounds more like chutzpah than a legitimate plea for some relief.
Ultimately, if you’ve made the decision to have a baby, you must also make the decision to care for the baby and for yourselves. Work out arrangements privately with family members, hire help — but don’t guilt your larger community of friends (who may have babies of their own complicating the smooth running of their lives) into scrubbing your stove. Seems to me that if proud mamas and papas have time to devise such multi-part directives, then they have time to do their own mopping and trash-can-emptying.

What exactly does fiber do? By Dr. Melina Jampolis

November 12th, 2012

Q: I’ve heard so much about fiber. What is it, what does it do and should you eat it or avoid it?

Fiber is a plant-derived carbohydrate that cannot be digested by humans, so it passes through your system relatively intact and has little to no caloric value.

There are two types of fiber: Soluble (dissolves in water) and insoluble (does not dissolve in water). Both play an important role in optimal health and occur naturally — often together — in foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans.

Fiber acts as a natural laxative by increasing stool bulk, which allows stool to pass more readily through the colon. It can also help those with loose stools and may play a role in the management of irritable bowel syndrome. Many types of soluble fiber also act as prebiotics, feeding healthy bacteria in your gut, thereby further contributing to colon health.

Fiber, especially soluble fiber, also improves blood sugar control by slowing down the rate that food empties from your stomach, thereby delaying the rise in blood sugar after meals and preventing excess or exaggerated insulin release. Delayed stomach emptying may also help with weight loss by improving hunger control.

In addition, fiber adds bulk to your diet without adding calories and helps to reduce the calorie density of your diet, one of the most important strategies for long-term weight loss. Soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol, and a high-fiber diet may help reduce blood pressure, inflammation and reduce your risk of heart failure (especially fiber from whole grains).

Studies show that those with the highest intake of fiber have a significantly lower risk of dying of any cause. A recently published study by the National Cancer Institute that included almost 400,000 participants found that for every 10-gram increase in fiber intake, risk of death dropped 12% in men and 15% in women.

Women should consume about 25 grams of fiber per day and men should consume 38 grams. The majority of Americans get less than half the daily recommended amount of fiber.

Naturally occurring fiber is generally your best bet. Many products, including cookies, crackers, drinks, sugary cereals and even ice cream, are now adding fiber to appear more healthy. In most cases, these added fibers do not have the same health benefits as naturally occurring fiber.

Aim for a variety of sources of naturally fiber-rich foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds and beans to ensure that you get all the health benefits — along with a host of other health-promoting vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

Refined and highly processed grains and fruit juices are stripped of their naturally occurring fiber (and many nutrients), so it is important to choose whole foods for optimal health.

If you have trouble getting in adequate amounts of fiber daily or suffer from bowel problems or high cholesterol, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian about adding a fiber supplement to your diet.

If you don’t currently eat enough fiber, increase your fiber intake slowly to avoid unpleasant gut symptoms (such as gas and bloating) and make sure to drink plenty of water.

If you are gluten-sensitive or intolerant, there are a number of gluten-free grains, including quinoa, brown rice, oats and corn. For a full list of gluten-free grains, visit the nonprofit Whole Grains Council website.

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More women harness power of fantasy

November 8th, 2012

By Ian Kerner
With the book “Fifty Shades of Grey” still flying off the shelves, women are discovering the power of sexual fantasy, some for the first time.

According to neuroscientists Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, authors of “A Billion Wicked Thoughts,” while men tend to have visually driven fantasies, women prefer to fantasize about what a man might do to them.

For example, the top five female fantasies involve having sex with a stranger, being worshipped in bed, being ravaged in bed, being watched by others and enjoying a threesome. In other words, women tend to fantasize about being the object of desire.

Erotica is wonderful, but you don’t need a book to feel sexy. In fact, indulging in a little bit of fantasy on your own may be even more effective at spurring both sexual desire and arousal, according to a recent study.

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Ian Kerner
Ian Kerner

Researchers at the University of Michigan have shown that different forms of sexual fantasy may have a real impact on arousal and desire, particularly for women.

For their study, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, Katherine Goldey and Sari van Anders randomly assigned 128 women and 98 men to one of four groups, or “arousal conditions.”

One group completed an imagined social situation exercise in which they imagined a positive sexual encounter and then answered open-ended questions about it. The others engaged in typical unstructured fantasy (imagining sexual situations but not writing about them), while others read an erotic story of the researchers’ choice or took part in a neutral exercise (writing about the room they were in).
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Then they rated their perceived genital arousal (how they felt physically), as well as their “state” desire (whether they wanted to have sex).

The results: The first three groups all reported experiencing increased genital and psychological arousal, as well as higher “state” desire, compared with the neutral group. The group who engaged in unstructured fantasy had the greatest arousal.

Interestingly, though, the researchers also measured “trait” desire — sort of a person’s general set point for sexual desire, once believed to be unchangeable — and discovered that the imagined social situation exercise group, the ones imagining a positive sexual situation, reported significantly higher trait desire after that exercise.

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That’s great news for all of us, but particularly for women, who often tend to experience sexual desire in response to the sex they’re already having. In other words, you may not feel quite so “into” sex in the beginning, but your desire and arousal grow as the interlude progresses.

Indeed, female sexual response is typically characterized by “responsive desire,” while male sexual response is more likely characterized by “spontaneous desire,” says sex educator Emily Nagoski, author of the “Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms.”

“‘Responsive desire’ is when motivation to have sex begins after sexual behavior has started: You’re doing something else when your partner comes over and starts kissing you, and you think, ‘Oh yeah! That’s a good idea,’” she explains.

“‘Spontaneous” desire, more typical of male sexuality, works more like this: You’re walking down the street and for no immediately obvious reason you think, “Hm. I’d like to have sex!”

As the new study suggests, actively fantasizing about sex isn’t just a way to pass the time. It can create real changes in your body, moving you from thinking about sex in the abstract to fueling real desire and arousal.

Fantasy is also a sign of a healthy sex life, and sharing those fantasies with your partner doesn’t just have the potential to spice things up in the bedroom. It also means that you feel secure and confident in your relationship.

It’s often been said that the brain is our biggest sex organ, and this study only confirms that. So, give your brain a workout with a fantasy or two. You might be surprised where it leads you.

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, writes about sex for CNN Health. Read more from him on his website, GoodInBed.

Mother-to-daughter womb transplant ‘success’ in Sweden

November 8th, 2012

Two Swedish women could be able to give birth using the wombs in which they were carried, doctors say, hailing the world’s first mother-to-daughter uterus transplants.

The weekend procedures were completed by more than 10 surgeons at Sweden’s University of Gothenburg.

The names of the patients have not been revealed.

Doctors caution they will not consider the operations successful unless the women achieve pregnancy.

“We are not going to call it a complete success until this results in children,” said Michael Olausson, one of the Swedish surgeons told The Associated Press.

“That’s the best proof.”

Both women started in-vitro fertilisation before the surgery, he said, adding that their frozen embryos will be thawed and transferred if the women are considered in good enough health after a year-long observation period.

Up and walking

Both recipients, who are aged in their 30s, were tired after the surgery but recovering well, said the university in a statement.

One had her uterus removed due to cervical cancer and the other was born without a uterus, they added

“The donating mothers are up and walking and will be discharged from the hospital within a few days,” said Mats Brannstrom, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the university.

He is the leader of a research team – comprising 20 scientists, doctors and specialists – which has been working on the project since 1999.

Turkish doctors said they had performed a successful uterus transplant last year, giving a womb from a deceased donor to a young woman, but Dr Olausson said he was not sure whether the recipient had yet started undergoing fertility treatment.

The first widely reported womb transplant from a live donor was performed in 2000, in Saudi Arabia, but the organ had to be removed three months later because of a blood clot.

Last year, 56-year-old Eva Ottoson, who lives in Nottinghamshire, said she hoped to become the first woman to have her womb transplanted into her daughter, Sara, 25, who lives in Sweden and was born without reproductive organs.

It remains unknown whether they were involved in the weekend’s procedures.

Women Who Give Up Smoking Extend Lives by 10 Years

November 7th, 2012

A new study of over a million women reports smokers more than triple their risk of dying early compared with nonsmokers, and that kicking the habit can virtually eliminate this increased risk of premature death.

Smoking remains the leading causes of preventable death in both the U.S. and the U.K. Lead study author Richard Peto, a professor at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and his colleagues conducted one of the largest studies looking at the hazards of smoking and the benefits of quitting among women born around the 1940s. These women were among the first generation of females to smoke regularly throughout their lifetimes, and tracking these women into the 21st century provided the most comprehensive look at the prolonged effects of smoking, as well as the benefits of quitting.

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“Only in the 21st century could we observe directly the full effects of prolonged smoking, and of prolonged cessation, on premature mortality among women,” said Peto in a statement. Between 1996 and 2001, the researchers recruited 1.3 million female participants ages 50 to 65. The women filled out questionnaires detailing their lifestyles, medical status and sociodemographic factors. The researchers followed up and resurveyed the women three and eight years later.

At the start of the study, published in the journal Lancet, 20% of the women were smokers, 28% were former smokers and 52% never smoked. Each of the women was registered in the U.K.’s national health system, so their deaths and cause of death were recorded. By 2011, 66,000 had passed away.

The researchers found that women who smoked cigarettes throughout their adult years had three times a greater risk of dying compared with nonsmokers and women who quit well before middle age. They were much more likely to die of smoking-related causes like lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. Even light smokers who smoked one to nine cigarettes per day had two times the mortality rate of nonsmokers.

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More encouraging, however, was the positive effect that quitting seemed to have on the women’s life span. Those who quit smoking before they reached 40 avoided more than 90% of the increased risk of premature death from cigarettes, while women who stopped even earlier — before age 30 — avoided 97% of the added risk. And it’s never too late, the authors write, to stub out those cigarettes. “Even cessation at about 50 years of age avoids at least two-thirds of the continuing smoker’s excess mortality in later middle age,” they write. The hazards of smoking on health and mortality for women who continued to smoke past 40, for example, were 10 times greater than among women who quit before age 40.

Rachel Huxley, a professor at the University of Minnesota who wrote an accompanying editorial to the study, says that the latest data on women are a welcome addition to existing knowledge, which have underestimated the full impact of smoking on women. “Unlike in men, we have had to wait until now to fully understand the hazards of smoking and the associated benefits of quitting in women,” she says. “This is because smoking only first became popular among women born in the 1960s — decades later than men — and because of the long time lag between smoking and disease onset, we’ve had to wait until these women were in their 50s to really see the damage to health that smoking has.”

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Huxley and the study authors note that compared with those who don’t smoke, women who smoke are at greater risk of heart disease than male smokers. Although the underlying mechanisms are largely unknown, researchers speculate that smoking’s effect on dampening the potentially protective effects of estrogen on the heart might put women smokers at a higher risk for heart disease than men who light up. Behavioral factors, like the fact that women tend to inhale more deeply than men, may also play a role. “We just don’t know, but it’s intriguing and warrants further study,” says Huxley.

Although smoking rates have largely declined in the West since the 1940s, new evidence suggests the practice may be on the rise in developing countries. In August, the World Health Organization released a report showing global smoking rates remain strong, with 1 in 10 women picking up the habit. More people from middle-income countries are smoking, and women are starting at younger ages.

Given these trends, data on the long-term health effects of smoking are desperately needed, says Huxley. “The main message is that quitting smoking works, and the sooner the better.”