Author Archive

It’s Official – Horizontal Stripes Do Make You Look Bigger

It is a much known fashion faux pas to wear horizontal stripes if you are carrying any excess weight.  From an early age, it is instilled in us that wearing vertical stripes will draw the eye down and make you look taller and thinner, and sporting horizontal stripes will do the opposite, making you look wider than you are.  This theory has finally been confirmed as fact by BBC Amateur Scientist of the Year, 53 year old Val Watham.

The research into the effects of wearing stripes involved filming 15 models walking a catwalk in stripes designed and produced by students of the University of the Creative Arts.  The show was presented to over 500 visitors to the Edinburgh Science Festival, who then rated how tall and wide each model looked in their individual striped outfits.

Watham’s research beat over 1,000 other entrants in the science competition, landing her the top prize.  Her findings negate the work of her mentor, Dr. Peter Thomson of the University of York.  He had previously claimed that horizontal stripes actually gave the appearance of a smaller frame due to a visual effect known as the Helmholtz Illusion.  The judges described Watham’s study as “a lovely idea which was well executed”.

Included in Watham’s study was the effect of wearing black.  Not surprisingly, models that appeared completely dressed in black were thought to have the thinnest appearance over any other model wearing vertical or horizontal stripes.  In that case, it would appear that in order to look as slim as possible, it is best to avoid stripes altogether.  Time to pull out that faithful old LBD again so.

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Researchers Map Complete DNA of Unborn Baby

According to a recent study by researchers at the University of Washington, it may soon be possible for expectant parents to screen their unborn babies for up to 3,500 genetic disorders. The study, published by Science Translations Medicine, showed how the group were able to compile a comprehensive genetic map of an 18 week old foetus using tiny DNA particles floating in the mother’s blood.

In order to complete this test, scientists would require a sample of the mother’s blood and the father’s saliva, so that any conditions discovered can then be linked to either the mother or the father’s side.  The test was shown to be 98% effective when the blood sample was analysed at 18 weeks gestation.  An earlier test, taken at 8 weeks gestation, was shown to be 95% effective.

At present, in Ireland, it is currently only possible to test for Down Syndrome using amniocentesis, which has an associated risk of miscarriage, although the risk is small.  This sort of screening, if widely available, could revolutionise the health care system, as doctors could treat certain conditions while the baby is still in the womb, or as soon as they are born. On the other hand, there is a chance that this information could result in an increase in abortion rate, as couples may choose not to continue with a pregnancy should they discover the presence of a serious medical condition.

TV Stars Keep Breastfeeding In Focus

This week saw two Irish TV shows highlighting the attitudes of many Irish people towards breastfeeding in Ireland.  After the recent debates following from a very controversial Time Magazine cover, our low breastfeeding rates in Ireland have come to the forefront.  It would seem that the opinions of Irish people surrounding breastfeeding, our reluctance to openly discuss breastfeeding, and our attitudes towards when it is deemed appropriate to wean a child off the breast, all contribute to our poor success rates in breastfeeding.

On discharge from hospital, less than half of all Irish babies are exclusively breastfed, and this rate drops to only 3% by the time a child is six months.  Considering that the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, following by continued breastfeeding to a minimum of two, why is it that rates in Ireland are so low? As we live in a developed and well educated country, where access to information about breastfeeding is readily available, and the health benefits are so well known, could it be that we don’t consider breastfeeding socially acceptable, and could this be lending itself to low success rates?

The current series of “Come Dine with Me Ireland” aired this week and was set in County Cavan.  On the fourth night, land lady and fussy eater Lorraine brought up the fact that she breastfed her two children, the first for five years and the second for four and a half years.  She was open in her admissions that she would have fed her children anywhere, including restaurants and at mass.  This declaration led to a heated debate about whether breastfeeding in public was acceptable, and a fellow contestant even went so far as to advise that the children should have been fed in the car rather than in public view in a restaurant.

In the private interviews later, Lorraine’s peers labelled her extended breastfeeding as “strange” and “not normal”.  As the average weaning age worldwide is four, it is fair to say that Lorraine is closer to the global norm than 97% of the Irish populace, and hence is more “normal” than most.  The reaction of the contestants towards public breastfeeding and extended breastfeeding are representative of the attitudes of Irish people and testimony to the fact that it is the mind-set of our citizens that is negatively affecting our breastfeeding rates.

On the new series, “Dublin Housewives”, we saw Virginia Macari welcome her son, Troy Sebastian into the world.  He was a gorgeous healthy baby, whom Virginia successfully and openly breastfed.  She discussed her desire to breastfeed even before Troy was born, and when later out for a girls’ lunch with her six week old son in tow, she continued to discuss the fact that she was breastfeeding.  Her co-star from the show, clinician Danielle Meagher, was animated in her attempts to get the ladies to cease their discussions around breastfeeding, and even went so far as to say that she was cringing as it was the discussion was turning into “My Big Fat Gypsy Breastfeeding Wedding” or “expressyourbreastmilk.com”.

Whilst Virginia was showing herself to be a great role model for breastfeeding, discussing how she expressed and proving that it doesn’t have to impact on your social life, Danielle was representing the other portion of the population who have overly sexualised the breast and refuse to discuss what is the most normal and beneficial activity a new mother can engage in.

Both of these programmes are continuing to keep breastfeeding in focus and this can only be seen as a good thing in a country where we so desperately need to improve our breastfeeding rates.  The downside to this, however, is that any susceptible or naïve people may take on board the negative attitudes that have been represented.  The ill-treatment which both starring breastfeeding women were subjected to is unjust and shameful and the reactions of the characters are indicative of the attitudes of many Irish people today.  Let the breastfeeding exposure continue and hopefully a sizeable shift in our breastfeeding culture will follow.

Come Dine with Me Ireland and Dublin Housewives may be viewed on www.tv3.ie/3player.

Extended Breastfeeding Debate Continues

Before I became pregnant with my son, I hadn’t given a huge amount of thought to breastfeeding.  It was something you would often see women doing when out for lunch and I knew that there were certainly many health benefits, but that was the extent of my knowledge.  It was only after my son was born, and he refused to feed for the first two days that I realised how important it was to me that he did receive this “best start in life” and how passionate I actually was about wanting him to be breastfed.

I used every website that I could find to research about breastfeeding and inform myself about how best to get him started.  I am so glad that I had this option, as the midwives in the hospital certainly did little to assist.  On one occasion, I was warned that if my son didn’t feed for at least 20 minutes at each sitting, he would be at risk of cerebral palsy, and so should be supplemented with a bottle.  In hindsight I can see how very wrong she was.

What nobody seems to prepare you for is that fact that most breastfed babies will want to feed almost every two hours for the first three to four weeks.  This is normal.  This is tiring.  This will not last.  Breast milk is easier to digest than formula milk, and so breastfed babies will feed more often.  This also means they will probably take longer to sleep through the night.  This will apply to some babies, not for all – there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to babies.  Always remember that.  On the flip side, breastfed babies will generally be more content, are at a reduced risk of colic, have stronger immune systems – the list goes on.

Anyway, once I really relaxed into the swing of breastfeeding, I found I really enjoyed it.  Yes, there were times it was tiring, especially as I didn’t tend to express so I was responsible for all the feeds, but it also meant that my son always received fresh milk, there was never any worries about sterilising bottles and I felt that he could form a trust that I would always be there for him.  Not all breastfeeding mothers need to do this.  It’s a personal choice, as are most aspects of parenting.

Anyway, when I did finally settle into breastfeeding, I decided I would feed my son for the first six months, as recommended by the WHO (World Health Organisation) and would see how things were after that point.  In the meantime, I kept informing myself further on the benefits of breastfeeding and I discovered that the WHO actually recommends exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, followed by breast milk until the child is two and can receive cow’s milk as a drink.  So if I was to give up breastfeeding, we would have to move onto formula instead.  This didn’t sit well with me at all.

So I continued to breastfeed.  But for some reason I found my support network got smaller.  Society in general seems to have an issue with extended breastfeeding.  The breast is sexualised and once the child is no longer a helpless baby, society deems it no longer appropriate to breastfeed.  I’m not sure I understand why, but I found myself breastfeeding only when I was in the comfort of my own home.  As if I was harbouring a dirty little secret.

But the benefits of extended breastfeeding are based on fact, and society’s lack of support is based on the opinion of uninformed members.  Breast milk actually increases its immune factors in the second year of feeding, hence children who are weaned before that are at a higher risk of illness.  Breastfed children are statistically smarter, and are at a lower risk of obesity.  They are less likely to suffer from behaviour disorders and are more socially adjusted.  Fact.  And the benefits extend to the mother, as she will be at a reduced risk of many cancers.

Time magazine in the US this week sparked great controversy by putting an image of a four-year old boy being breastfed on the cover, with the caption “Are you Mom enough?”.  Judging my social networking sites, there is very little support for this mother.  Whilst she should be admired for her selfless act of caring for her child, instead she is ridiculed and shunned.  She is labelled as being “weird”, “sick” and “wrong”, when in fact the global average for weaning a child is four.  Most children will self-wean, when they are ready.  Why are we in such a rush to do this?  It is the most natural act in the world.  We’re not talking a “Little Britain” skit of a man in his twenties continuing to breast feed, but if the health benefits extend into the second and third year of a child’s life, and they continue to enjoy it, why are we pushing them to stop?

Breast really is best – it is a functional part of the human body and it would do society no harm to consider that before making judgments about when a mother should stop breastfeeding.  I am under no illusion that the breast will be desexualised anytime soon, but for a child, the two are not correlated.  To an infant, the breast is for feeding and for comfort.  Allowing them to extend this part of infancy past the first six months is to be applauded – the facts about the benefits speak for themselves.  Maybe then women like me won’t feel we have to hide behind the comfort of our four walls once our babies pass the six month milestone.  And maybe then we can celebrate our achievements instead.  In Ireland, it is only 3 percent of women who see their breastfeeding journey last beyond the six month milestone.  I’m proud to say I am part of that top 3 percent..

How To Be A Baby Fashionista This Summer

Harper Seven Beckham, daughter of Victoria and David, has recently been spotted wearing a pair of tights from high fashion designers, Chloé.  These tights retail for £15, when the adult version sells for only £7.  It is a personal choice whether a parent wishes to invest in expensive clothes for their children, but when it comes to small babies’, the length that they will wear the clothes has to be considered.  Infants grow at a rapid rate, and are extremely active, so their clothes need to be suitable for this period.  We look to the high street for some fashionable clothes for a summer baby, that won’t break the bank.

Boys:

  1. 2-pack polo neck bodysuits, H & M, €6.95
  2. Stripe polo shirt, Next, €9.50
  3. Straw hat, H & M, €4.95
  4. Shorts, H & M, €9.95
  5. Red Chinos, Next, €12.00
  6. Skinny Jeans, Next, €17.00
  7. Purple Shirt, Next, €12.00
  8. Espadrilles, Next, €12.00
  9. Stripe T-Shirt, Dunnes Stores, €4.00
  10. Chino Shorts, Next, €12.00
  11. Cardigan and T-Shirt Set, Next, €21.00

 

Girls:

  1. Stripe Top, Next, €7.50
  2. Bright Pumps, Next, €13.00
  3. Belted Shorts, Next, €13.00
  4. Floral Jersey Dress, Tesco, €6.00
  5. Denim Shirt Dress, Next, €19.00
  6. Cable Knit Cardigan, Next, €17.00
  7. Bow Dress, Dunnes Stores, €6.00
  8. 2-pack ruffle sleeve tops, H & M, €5.95
  9. Towelling dress, Next, €14.00
  10. 2-pack leggings, Next, €10.00
  11. Knit Dress, Next, €16.00

Declining Rates Of Women At Home

Years ago, it was almost unheard of for a woman to go out to work once she had children.  Her role as a mother took precedence over any previous career agenda she may have had.  She was to stay at home to care for the children, cook and clean. The husband was the provider.  Many women these days continue to work after they have had children, and there are few who will argue that this shift is a bad thing.  For those that either can afford to stay at home, or choose to for personal reasons, however, there may be a lack of a very important support network that was available previously.

Staying at home all day with a child is a full-time job.  They require constant attention, monitoring, nurturing, feeding and cleaning.  In an office environment, there is always that 5 minute coffee break for a quick chat, the passing in the stairwell that turns into a post-mortem of the previous nights’ TV and the boardroom meeting that runs over due to idle chit-chat at the start.  Some people would claim it is all those little break out moments that make their day bearable.  For a stay at home mother, it is important to have an avenue where this idle chit-chat can happen too.

Over an eight year period from 2002 – 2010, the number of women staying at home dropped by 27,000.  The number of men staying at home has increased, but not proportionately, with a rise of only 1,000.  This may be largely due to our current economic climate, but as more women do go out to work, less social interaction is available to those women who continue to stay at home.  Baby and toddler groups do exist to help with this, but many new mothers report that they can be very hard to integrate, leaving them feeling more isolated than before.

It’s very easy to look at a stay at home mother and think “well isn’t it well for some”, especially when you’re crawling out of the bed at six to begin the mad dash to get the kids ready and be in work for nine.  But the grass isn’t always greener, and the mother who remains at home still has a day’s work to do.  Her day might just lack any adult interaction and she won’t have a scandalous Christmas party to look forward to at the end of her working year.  Greater support networks are needed for these women, for their mental health is just as important as the little ones’ that they spend their day running after.

Low Cost Retailers Leading The Way

For anyone who struggles to find clothes to fit their body shape, it is easy to appreciate the importance of a low priced high street retailer introducing their particular size.  But whilst retailers bringing out a range of clothes for plus size women gets huge exposure, it is rarely highlighted when a range of clothes to fit smaller women is introduced.  This may be in part due to an under-appreciation of the difficulty buying clothes presents when you don’t quite fit into a size 8.  Or it may be that society doesn’t feel sympathy for women who struggle with their weight, when it is a struggle to put on weight that is the problem.

Regardless of the reasoning, it is great to see that Penney’s in Ireland have now launched a core set of items in a size 6.  As a leading retailer in Ireland, offering fashions to suit the modest budget, the significance of this for smaller women is huge.  To date, Dunnes Stores, another leading Irish retailer in the same bracket, has failed to supply clothes to fit the more meagre figured women, but perhaps this move by Penney’s might spur them to follow suit.

Whilst UK retailers do cater better to this market, with Topshop, Miss Selfridges and River Island all stocking clothes in a size 6, they still have a way to go to fully recognise the need of smaller women.  Evans, for example, is a chain of stores stocking clothes aimed solely at the fuller figured woman.  No similar store for petite women exists to date.  And some retailers fail to cater to this market whatsoever.  Oasis and Monsoon, for example, are slow on the uptake and leave a lot to be desired when it comes to fulfilling the needs of our petite population.

When it comes to maternity clothes for petite women, the market almost completely fails to cater to their needs whatsoever.  There are many women who maintain their same dress size when expecting a baby, and merely have the baby bump, but retailers fail to acknowledge this, stocking maternity clothes in sizes 8 – 16 and upwards only.  So for the nine months of pregnancy, petite women are forced to buy maternity clothes in need of alteration, or choose normal clothes in a bigger size than they would normally choose.  But the latter option will result in a poor fit around other body parts, and also, in dresses that are shorter at the front than they should be.

So, well done to Penney’s for finally coming up with an exciting new addition to their range and here’s hoping that other retailers will take heed of Penney’s lead and follow suit soon.  There is a niche market of women out there who are waiting with bated breath for further advancements in this area.