Friday, 25 June 2010

Circumcision: What Every Globetrotter Parent Should Know

I'm amazed at the number of sophisticated, educated, international (but almost always American or Canadian) parents that I come across overseas who choose to circumcise their son.  

All true globetrotter parents should be aware of the following facts about circumcision.   

  1. Most men in the world and the great majority of men in Europe, Central and South America and Asia are not circumcised.  Only 10 to 15 percent of men throughout the world are circumcised, the majority of whom are Muslim.
  2. Routine infant circumcision was introduced in the United States in the 1800s to prevent masturbation.  Victorian doctors knew that circumcision desensitized the penis.
  3. No medical association anywhere in the world supports non-therapeutic neonatal circumcision (male or female) on medical grounds or "hygenic" grounds.
  4. The claim that male circumcision protects against HIV is based on studies in Africa.  In Uganda, researchers began with a total of 4,996 men and randomly divided them into two groups, circumcising one group (2,474 men) and leaving the other group (2,522 men) intact. After 24 months, both groups were tested for HIV. Of the circumcised men, 22 tested positive (0.9 percent).  45  men in the uncircumcised group (1.8 percent) tested positive. Of all the participants, a total of 1.3 percent tested HIV positive; the other 98.7 percent remained HIV-negative.  Despite these tiny percentages, researchers derived a 55 percent risk-prevention figure from the difference in results between the two groups.
  5. Similarly, the Kenyan trials began with 2,784 men and randomly divided them, with 1,391 undergoing circumcision and 1,391 left intact. Two years later, testing showed 22 new infections among the circumcised men (1.6 percent) and 47 among those left intact (3.3 percent).
  6. Circumcision is by no means akin to a vaccine against HIV-AIDS. Claiming that circumcision prevents HIV-AIDS is irresponsible and gives rise to a false (and dangerous) sense of security.
  7. The United States has the highest rate of medically unnecessary, non-therapeutic infant circumcision in the world and yet the HIV infection rate in North America is twice the rate in Europe.
  8. Circumcision offers no protection at all to gay men.
And now, some biological facts that everyone should know:
  1. Every normal human being is born with a foreskin. In females, it protects the glans of the clitoris; in males, it protects the glans of the penis.
  2. Before the foreskin can be cut (or crushed) off, it has to be torn away from the glans. This act is akin to ripping your fingernails off your fingers.   
  3. Circumcision removes 50% of the skin of the penis.  Depending on the foreskin's length, cutting it off makes the penis as much as 25 percent shorter. Circumcision cuts off more than 3 feet of veins, arteries, and capillaries, 240 feet of nerves, and more than 20,000 nerve endings. The foreskin's muscles, glands, mucous membrane, and epithelial tissue are destroyed, as well.
  4. Circumcision removes the most sensitive part of the penis.
  5. Circumcision reduces sexual pleasure. The foreskin slides up and down on the shaft, stimulating the glans by alternately covering and exposing it.  No additional lubrication is needed. Without the foreskin, the glans skin, which is normally moist mucous membrane, becomes dry and thickens as a result of continual exposure, thus reducing its sensitivity.
  6. One of the most common myths about circumcision is that it makes the penis cleaner and easier to care for.  This is not true. The glans of the circumcised penis are subject to abrasion and exposed to dirt and bacteria, leaving the urinary tract vulnerable to infection.
Parents who are faced with the decision of whether or not to circumcise their son should have all the relevant information made available to them.  Yet the sad fact is many American and even Canadian parents, including those who live beyond North American borders, choose to circumcise purely out of a sense of tradition and so that baby "looks like his father", and doctors do little or nothing to educate them.

Please, if you're having a baby boy, inform yourself before you decide to circumcise.

Some sources:
The Case Against Circumcision
The Truth About Circumcision and HIV
Policy Statement of Doctors Opposing Circumcision

Monday, 21 June 2010

Language Etiquette

I come across a lot of two-language families.  For example, the mother is Italian and the father is American, or the mother is Australian and the father is German, or there is our case - I'm English-speaking Canadian and I have a French husband. 

The question always arises - which language should we speak to our children in?  For me, the answer was and is simple - English, English and English.  I speak to my children in English, read to them in English, sing to them in English, play with them in English, and listen to the radio and watch television with English!  Call me stubborn but they don't get much English exposure anywhere else - I'm basically IT - so I do everything with them in English.

So far (knock on wood), I've been lucky.  The Bambina speaks to me exclusively in English, this despite the fact that she has a French father and is in a French school. 

Some people are taken aback that I speak to my kids in English even when we are with other non-English speaking people.  I attend a playgroup twice a week, once with my daughter and once with my son.  Both playgroups are francophone.  No matter to me.  When I am speaking to my child, it's in English.  We often have people over here for lunch on the weekends and the conversation with them tends to be in French.  Any discourse with my children remains nevertheless in English. 

If the Bambina has a friend over, I still speak to her in English.  If I am talking to both of them, I say it in English and then in French.  (Actually, the parents of the child are inevitably thrilled that I am speaking English to their child so there is no objection from them there).

I may be in the minority on this one.  I've talked to other moms in two-language families and have discovered that they are reluctant to speak to their children in their own language when they are around other people.  One Italian mother told me that she simply refused to speak Italian to her children at (French) playgroup because it would exclude others from the conversation.  Um, you're talking to your son about his lego tower.  What makes you think we need to be included in this conversation??

Another (once again Italian!) mother told me that she thought it would be rude (gasp!) to talk to her children in Italian when they were with other people.

Well, you know what?  It might be rude but my answer is that my children's bilingual ability takes precedence over showing good manners.  Call me rude, I don't care.  In ALL the cases I have encountered where the parent in a two language family switches languages when around others, the child ends up speaking to the parent in the dominant language rather than in the parent's minority language.

Here is a typical discussion that takes place on this matter:

Other mom: I speak to him in Italian but he'll only answer me in French.
Me: But I just heard you speaking to him in French.
Other mom: Well, yeah but when we're with other people, I speak French.  Otherwise the other person won't understand what I'm saying.
Me: Hmmm. I don't think he'll speak to you in Italian unless you speak to him exclusively in the language.
Other mum: Well, he understands everything I say and I guess that's good enough.

Fair enough.  If bilingual comprehension is your goal, then that's all you need.  But if your goal is for your children to be bilingual and you are in a two-language family, you need to keep it exclusive in your language when you talk to your children - no matter where you are.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Getting Burned by Sunscreens

During our summer travels, I have come across many parents who simply cannot understand why my kids wear sunsuits rather than normal bathing suits at the beach and pool. 

"But doesn't it work just as well to slather them in cream?" they ask. 

Here are a few reasons why I avoid putting sunscreen on my kids.

- Most sunscreens protect primarily against UVB rays - the rays that cause your skin to burn.  They do not protect against UVA rays.  When you see a package that says SPF 50, they're talking about the protection against UVB rays.  The protection against UVA rays will be more like SPF 10, at best, but of course the packaging doesn't  say anything about that.   So basically, the sunscreen will protect your child against sunburn but not against melanoma cancer ten or twenty years down the road.

- Most sunscreens contain parabens and/phenoxethanol, preservatives that are believed to be carcinogenic.  Parabens is also a hormone disruptor.

- Many sunscreens contain a synthetic filter called oxybenzone.  Oxybenzone is a chemical that sinks through the epidermis to filter out the sun's rays.  Some of it ends up in your bloodstream and acts as a hormone disrupter, reducing male sperm reproduction in boys and causing early menarche in girls.  That's not something I'm keen to slather on my children. 

- You can't trust anything claimed on sunscreen packaging, so you can never be sure what to buy.  Here are some prime examples of products and players that typify what’s wrong with the sun protection business.

- I do put sunscreen on my kids' faces - the kind with no chemical filters and no parabens or phenoxethanol.  It wears off after an hour.  I can't imagine how burnt my kids would get if I put that stuff all over their bodies.

I just came across this article on sunscreens a few weeks ago.  It reiterates a few of the concerns that I have raised. 
Still not convinced that sunscreens don't do what they are supposed to do and can do more harm than good? Check out the Environmental Working Group's Sunscreen Guide. Make sure you read about their 9 Surprising Truths. I was particular interested in what they said about European sunscreens:
Sunscreen makers and users in Europe have more options than in the United States. In Europe, sunscreen makers can select from among 27 chemicals for their formulations, compared to 17 in the U.S. Companies selling in Europe can add any of seven UVA filters to their products, but have a choice of only three when they market in the U.S. European sunscreens could earn FDA’s proposed four-star top rating for UVA protection, while the best U.S. products would earn only three stars. Sunscreen chemicals approved in Europe but not by the FDA provide up to five times more UVA protection; U.S. companies have been waiting five years for FDA approval to use the same compounds. Last but not least, Europeans will find many sunscreens with strong (mandatory) UVA protection if proposed regulations in Europe are finalized. Under FDA’s current proposal, Americans will not.

So, my kids get sunsuits as their principal sun protection.  Here is a photo of the Bambino in long-sleeved version of a sunsuit from Skin Savers.  If you order one for your toddler, make sure you get the long-sleeved kind.  You would not believe how easily their little arms burn, even with cream on them.

Here is a photo of the Bambina in her sunsuit from Konfidence swimwear.  It looks great on her and she loves the fact that she just zips it on rather than having to pull it over her head. 

The UV Hoodie made by Konfidence is a great option for when we are out on a boat and the sun's rays hit hard.  Both the Bambina and the Bambino wear one when they are not in the pool or sea and they are in direct sun.  They keep you cool and protect completely against UVA and UVB rays. All you need is sunscreen on the face.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Guest-posting on Infant Formula Marketing in Madagascar

Hey everybody, I'm guess posting on Blacktating this week on the subject of infant formula marketing in Madagascar - Nestlé and Blédina say they don't do it but they do!

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

No, he won't take longer to learn to talk.

Raising bilingual children is sometimes believed to cause language delay, though evidence does not support this position.  Raising children bilingually neither increases nor reduces the chance of language disorder or delay.
I read this in this article on Multilingual Living today, an internet resource site for bilingual and multilingual families, and I couldn't help nodding in agreement.  For both my children, people would tell me that of course, my children would start talking later because they were being exposed to two languages (or in the case of the Bambino, THREE languages) simultaneously and it would take longer for them to absorb it all. 

This supposition is, in a fact, nothing more than a supposition.  It sounds logical but there is simply no evidence that supports this conclusion.  It certainly didn't hold true for my kids.  The Bambina was using around six to ten obvious words at 17 months (more, if you consider all those babytalk words that we might not understand) and was talking in complete sentences at age two years - well within the norm. 

The Bambino said mama at six months, papa (bahbah, in fact) at seven months, and now, at 13 months, says bah (ball), dide (outside) baba (baby) and some others.  In addition to mama, he says maman (French version) and mummy (anglo version).  The nanny says that he says some words in Malagasy as well (the nanny speaks Malagasy to the Bambino).  And to think that I know monolingual kids who started talking only at two or even three years of age!

The difference is that, while little monolingual Mikey might know 50 words in the one language he knows, Bilingual Beatrice will more likely know 25 words in each language.  She may seem like she's behind because you only recognize the words she says in your language, but in fact, she's not.