Tag Archives: health


Park, Alice.  “Exercise During Pregnancy May Boost Babies’ Brain Activity,” Time, November 11, 2013.

Time magazine’s Health & Family section featured an article on the positive effects of exercise during pregnancy.  According to Alice Park, this is the first study to connect mom’s exercise with baby’s brain function.  This study is significant because many people think that while pregnant it is best to “take it easy.” Although some medical issues require extra rest, research is starting show the benefits of maternal exercise during the pregnancy period.  Always consult your doctor for guidelines for keeping your exercise from being too strenuous during pregnancy.


Scientists at the University of Montreal tested the brain function of days old infants by sticking 124 electrodes on the babies’ heads.  While the infants slept the researchers monitored how their brains processed sounds.  Researchers concluded that the babies’ brains showed a maturity of function only 8-12 days after birth in the research group of babies born to mothers who exercised regularly.  The research was presented for the first time at the 2013 Neuroscience conference in San Diego.


Although exercise for pregnant women has been previously recommended, the goals were to prevent obesity by keeping maternal weight down and to prevent gestational diabetes.  Research shows that obesity may contribute to autism and developmental delays in baby.  Keeping maternal weight at a healthy level is extremely important.  Gestational diabetes may result in complications for the mother and/or the baby.  According to the Mayo Clinic gestational diabetes complications for baby include excessive birth weight, respiratory distress, low blood sugar, type 2 diabetes (occurs later in life), and jaundice.   For the mother the complications include  high blood pressure, preeclampsia, eclampsia, and future diabetes.

With this new research there is yet another benefit for baby to some regular exercise during pregnancy.


baby dressed in a monkey costume for Halloween


As you enjoy the holiday, please keep in mind the importance of keeping sugar away from babies.  A recent article in the Wall Street Journal examined how much sugar Americans are consuming.  “Sugar Math for Halloween”  states that on a daily basis we consume more than twice the amount of added sugar than is recommended.   In the article, author Bonnie Rochman explains why children love candy and develop a strong craving for it.  She writes that taste buds in children are more clustered than in adults.  Although they have the same number of taste buds, the size of the tongue is much smaller and therefore pushes them closer together.  This makes flavors more intense.  This is also why children do not like bitter foods, she adds.  Develop habits with baby that develop a sugar-free Halloween tradition.


Some parents are learning tricks to limit treats as education increases parents’ knowledge of the harmful effects of sugar.  Consumption of sugar contributes to baby cavities, obesity, and other harmful health conditions.  As baby grows up, try some clever ideas to reduce the sugar consumption while enjoying the spirit of the holiday.  One parent of a toddler and teenager shares her tip for an almost sugar-free Halloween with WSJ.  She invokes what she calls the Great Pumpkin.  Her children are allowed to choose a handful of candy to eat while leaving the rest next to their pumpkins before going to sleep on Halloween night.  The next morning they discover the Great Pumpkin took their candy and placed a gift in their pumpkin instead.

Here are a few of our posts on the topic of baby cavities:









My baby can not chew and is two years old.  Help, please!

Although stellarcaterpillar.com address primarily topics related to infants and first year milestones, we would like to respond to this question for toddlers from a reader.  We love questions from our readers and believe mothers of infants may learn a lot from this discussion.  To answer the question of how to teach a toddler to chew we look first at what is learned in infancy to facilitate the skill of chewing.  The same techniques applied to teaching babies to learn to chew will help your toddler learn to chew as well.  Chewing is a coordinated skill of moving the jaw and tongue so that a solid piece of food is broken up into tiny pieces and eventually is swallowed.  Many teething toys that babies use while teething generate this chewing action.  While their teeth are coming in they are already preparing their body to carry out the action of the teeth to chew food.  Let’s take a look at some of the items baby may be introduced to that facilitate the chewing action. For the baby in the above question, try some of these activities and see if it helps baby learn to chew.


  1. TEETHING TOYS THAT SQUEAK:  Some teething toys make a fabulous squeak sound when chewed.  The sound motivates baby to bite the toy repeatedly.  Each time she bites the toy her jaw opens and closes.  The movement of the jaw improves with the use of these teething toys.  One favorite is the Vulli Chan Pie Gnon which also develops fine motor skills.
  2. TEETHING FEEDER:  Place a piece of food such as a strawberry into the mesh sack and give baby the ring holder of the teething feeder.  She will place it in her mouth and suck the food through the mesh cover.  The action of sucking also strengthens overall use of the mouth for the skill of chewing.
  3. TEETHING BISCUITS:  One of the first firm foods baby is introduced to is a teething biscuit.  The hard texture requires baby to bite a small piece off of the biscuit and then to move the piece around in her mouth with her tongue.  The tongue is also involved in the action of chewing and eating a biscuit begins to coordinate the tongue with the movement of the jaw.  If the biscuit is not firm in texture, baby does not need to use her tongue and jaw to break it up into small pieces.  
  4. INFANT GUM STIMULATORS:  Resembling a toothbrush without bristles, an infant gum stimulater has tiny bumps on the brush-like tip.  Baby holds the handle and rubs it against her gums.  This stimulation helps her to be aware of this part of her mouth and to use her gums in the action of chewing.
  5. VISUAL DEMONSTRATION OF CHEWING:  Babies love to imitate.  When feeding baby, have a bowl of food for you to eat nearby.  Take a bite and exaggerate the movements of the chewing so baby can see what you are doing.  They will observe you and want to do the same.  

For extra guidance you can work with a feeding therapist.  It is worth the effort to find a good one and invest in some lessons as soon as possible.

Special thanks to our reader who wrote in with this question!


YouTube Preview Image


One out of every nine children born in the United States is born premature, according to a recent article in the New York Times.  Premature babies often need to remain in the hospital for awhile to have their breathing monitored and to be closely watched for a period of time.  Research published Monday in the journal Pediatrics found that live music benefits the development of premature babies.   Researchers found when the music is either played or sung live rather than played from a CD or radio it reduced the stress response in premature babies.  Theoretically, this allows more energy to be directed toward healthy infant development such as growing and eating.  The research was conducted in 11 hospitals, led by the Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, and followed the benefits premature babies received when music therapists worked with the mother and baby.  Watch the above video from TheNewYorkTimes youtube channel to see a baby and mother working with a music therapist while in the hospital.


  • calms breathing
  • facilitates sleep
  • improves sucking
  • slows heartbeat
  • promotes the “quiet alert” state

Researchers clearly emphasize the benefits of music for babies when it is played or sung live.  This is because the music can be changed or adapted to the needs of the baby.  For example, if baby is falling asleep the music can be sung more softly.  The  field of music therapy teaches practitioners to observe baby and adapt the music being played so the baby improves one of his developmental rhythms such as sucking, breathing, or sleeping.  The therapist is trained to observe the minute changes in baby and adjust the music accordingly.  Ideally, the parent is learning to do the same.


Although several instruments may sound interesting to newborn baby, a few were used regularly by the music therapists because of their effects on vital signs.  The external musical rhythm influences one of baby’s internal rhythms. Music therapists are trained in this technique and favor a few particular instruments for their beneficial effects.  The Gato Box replicates the mother’s heartbeat while the Ocean Drum coordinates with the rise and fall of the breathing.  Singing while strumming a guitar also was effective at changing the stress response of babies.  Often parents chose a song they liked and slowed down the tempo while they sang rather than singing a traditional lullaby song.


There is one important difference between music played from a CD versus music played live.  The live music is played in response to the rhythms of the infant.  Tempos should be coordinated with the vital signs of the baby such as the rise and fall of the breathing, the movement of the eyes, or the rise and fall of the chest.  For example, the ocean drum can be tilted one direction as the chest rises and then tilted the other direction as the chest falls so the sound of the drum will be harmonious with the breathing pattern of baby.  The New York Times article states that it is not important for parents to necessarily buy these instruments, but to learn to mimic them as they observe their babies.  We suggest that the practice of playing music and singing to your baby should be embraced by every parent.  If research proves that it benefits premature babies it most likely provides the same benefits to babies carried full term.  And don’t forget, the music also calms the nervous system of the parent.

Source:  “Live Music’s Charms, Soothing Premature Hearts,” by Pam Belluck, New York Times, April 15, 2013.



One of the most popular pieces of baby gear is the pacifier.  Most often we see parents offering it to the baby when she is crying out of control.  Soon after the pacifier is put into baby’s mouth the vigorous action of sucking takes over and mother now has a tranquil child in her arms.  This sucking movement calms the entire body.


There are so many pacifiers on the market today, how is a mom to choose just one?  Some designs are adorable, others sparkly, some humorous, and others rather plain.  It is recommended to try a variety of pacifiers with different shaped nipples and see which one baby likes best.  Some have shorter nipples, others have nubbier nipples, and some have long stems.  Try a few and let her choose the one that suits her best.  If there is no obvious preference, just pick one and try it a few times and see if you succeed with introducing the pacifier.


As soon as those cries get out of control, mom quickly reaches for the pacifier.  STOP!  This may not be the best time to try and introduce this new item.  First, calm baby using other methods. Then, when she is calm you can try and introduce the pacifier.  Otherwise she will wonder why you are putting such a strange object into her mouth when she is upset.  Plus, she will spit the pacifier out and sabatoge your plan for introducing something that is supposed to comfort her.  Instead, try introducing it to her at a later time when she is calm.


If baby keeps spitting the pacifier back out, try this tip from Dr. Harvey Karp.  “When your baby is calm, offer her the pacifier.  The moment she starts to suck, tug it lightly as if you were starting to take it out of her mouth BUT don’t tug so hard that it actually does come out of her mouth.”  Dr. Karp explains that baby will then tug hard at the pacifier with her mouth to not let it be pulled out.  This strengthens the action of sucking.  Now baby has learned to keep the pacifier in her mouth.  Now repeat this at least ten times as if it was a game.  Rest, then pull on the pacifier again, etc.  After several times of this game baby will have learned to suck on the pacifier and not let it fall out of her mouth. But, be prepared because the pacifier will fall out of her mouth quite often and need to be cleaned.


Source:  The Happiest Baby on The Block, Dr. Harvey Karp, Bantam Books, New York, 2002.



[Baby] shakes his hands at the wrist like he is revving up a motorcycle.  He does this a lot.  He is 8 months does not sit up well or hold his bottle much.  Should we be concerned? Thank you.


Today I hear many parents and grandparents expressing concerns about baby’s development out of fear that something that is happening or not happening may indicate a neurological condition such as autism.  With the number of babies and children diagnosed with autism on the rise, it makes sense that many are concerned that their child or grandchild may be one of those babies.  Although hand shaking is an early sign of autism there are many babies who shake their hands yet do not have autism.  Take time to learn some hands-on playful activities to facilitate motor skill development with baby at home.  For the baby in the above question, learn some activities for developing motor skills such as lifting the head and improving the use of baby hands.  If your baby has autism, it may not show until later and he will be much better off from these lessons.  If your baby does not have autism, these lessons will teach him to move with much skill and coordination and he will emerge from infancy with a strong self-image.


The most important point I can express to a parent is that it is important to always express your concern to your pediatrician.  If the pediatrician sees something of concern in baby’s development, he or she may refer baby to physical or occupational therapy.  In most states this service is free for babies under the age of three.  Some babies are absolutely healthy, but for whatever reason they just need extra work.  The key here is that the sooner they get the work the better off they will be for the rest of their life.  Remember that expressing a concern does not invite a diagnosis that is etched in stone.  It is a dialoge that evolves as the child grows and develops and is adjusted accordingly.


When they are young they are establishing the patterns of how they move and use their body and it is extremely effective to work with them during this time.  In fact, all babies benefit from movement lessons, especially during their first year when their motor habits are forming so clearly in their brain.  Healthy babies develop tremendous skill in their movement and become very coordinated and graceful from movement lessons.  If a baby has autism which is undiagnosed, motor skill lessons may improve their use of their body and minimize some of the signs of autism.  If you are a grandparent, you may want to take a virtual lesson with Stellar Caterpillar to learn how to work with your grandchild when you spend time with him.  If you have a doll or a stuffed animal, you can learn baby developmental tips from a virtual lesson.


Autism is typically not diagnosed until around the age of three.  However, today there is an increasing success in diagnosing autism at an earlier age.  According to the Mayo Clinic, some babies may develop rather normally until they reach their third birthday and then the signs are more prevalent. The Mayo Clinic categorizes the areas of a child’s development that is affected by autism as either social interaction, behavior, and/or language.  Here are a few early signs of autism as identified by the Mayo Clinic:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Disliking the touch of a parent
  • Not making babbling or cooing sounds by first birthday
  • Repetitive movements such as hand flapping, rocking, or spinning (age 1-3)