Thursday, 14 September 2017

What does it mean to be a parent?

What is parenthood?

  • “Parenthood is a very important period for consolidating identity and for expanding maturity” – Jean MacFarlane
  • “Parenthood brings out the better side of people” – the Foundation for Child Development
  • “If it was going to be easy to raise kids, it never would have started with something called labour” – Scott M Peck
  • “The amount of richness that children can bring into the lives of their parents is indescribable” – John Clever
  • “The most forceful motivation of active fatherhood has been the voice of feminism” – Robert Coleman
  • “Good parenting is not done by formula” – Jerome Kagen
  • “Surrendering to motherhood means surrendering to interruption” – Erica Jong
  • “A mother’s interaction with her children – enveloping, secure, modulated and controlled. More cooing and playing verbal games. Father is playful, exciting, physical” – Vance Packard
  • “We had a mother to answer to. We loved her profoundly, and our driving force was to do what she wanted because we knew how much it meant to her” – James Cogney
  • “Fathers who are more available to their children than average, who are nurturers, accepting and serve as active teachers, tend to have children who excel in school” – Vance Packard
Artwork by Colette Edmonds: from my handbook "Childbirth Education is Fun!"

“Remember that through your parents you were born
And what can you give back to them that equals their gift to you?”
Sirach 7:28

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Top tips for a healthy pregnancy

Ten top tips for a healthy pregnancy

The first 1,000 days (from conception to the age of two) are the most important in your baby’s life. Here’s how you can prepare for them.

1.    Get healthy before you get pregnant. Make sure you’re the right weight for height, your blood sugars and blood pressure are stable and you’re exercising regularly. Ditch bad habits like smoking and drinking.

2.    Once you’re pregnant, don’t miss clinic/ gynaecologist/midwife appointments. There will be about 12 over the next 8 months.

3.    First trimester: Expect to feel exhausted with nausea and emotional outbursts. These symptoms will settle by your third month, so don’t stress too much about them.

4.    What you should tell your doctor/midwife:
Tell your health-care provider about vaginal bleeding – especially if it comes with pain and/or a fever. Report headaches, blurring or problems with your eyes, burning when passing urine and vaginal discharges.

5.    Diet and supplements: You’ll need extra minerals and vitamins when you’re pregnant. There are special pregnancy supplements for these. You’ll also burn extra calories and will need extra protein – especially in the last few months of your pregnancy when your baby’s brain is developing. You don’t need to eat for two – just make sure that you’re eating healthy!

6.    Avoiding and treating infections: Pregnant women have a lower resistance to infections and many viruses are small enough to cross the protective placental barrier. It’s wise to avoid people-busy places during the first 12 weeks when your baby’s organs are developing. Some antibiotics are not good to take during pregnancy. It’s best to boost your immune system with fresh fruit (e.g. oranges, strawberries and guavas).

7.    Look after your breasts. By six months your breasts may start leaking colostrum – your baby’s first milk. Make sure you’re wearing a comfortable, well-fitting bra. You don’t need to ‘toughen-up’ the nipple for breastfeeding. Nipple trauma is avoided when your baby latches onto your nipple correctly.

8.    Staying active: Join ante-natal exercises or simply walk or swim every day. Exercise gets your blood circulating and helps with aches and pains – especially backache.

9.    Working while you wait: Most women work for as long as possible. Some professions like flying, hair-dressing, nursing and lab technicians may have to adapt their working circumstances for the safety of their unborn babies.

10. Be aware of your baby’s movements:
If this is your first pregnancy, you will feel your baby move for the first time at around five months. Second time round, baby’s movements will be felt much earlier. The first flutters of ‘life’ helps you to bond with your baby. In the last two months of pregnancy you may notice a pattern in your baby’s movements.  How your baby moves will give you an idea of your baby’s personality! If you don’t feel your baby move for more than four hours, do something to wake him/her – like eating or taking a shower. If your baby still doesn’t move, phone your doctor.  

Nine months of pregnancy is more than enough time to get used to the idea of becoming a parent. Every child, whether planned or not, is a precious gift. Treasure your pregnancy and use this special time to prepare for and give your child the best possible start in life.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Life with teenagers

Dealing with teenagers
I enjoy reading the Pajama Diaries in our daily newspaper. They remind us to look on the funny side of life with teenagers.

And, teenagers aren’t always the easiest people to get on with. Called ‘hormonal tinderboxes’, they have emotional highs and lows with outbursts of rage and apathy, so you’re never quite sure where you stand with them. You also have to treat them with kit-gloves when they’re feeling self-conscious, insecure and withdrawn. Teenagers can come across as aggressive, rebellious under-achievers, but under that hard exterior, they’re as soft as putty!

The best way to deal with a teenager is to understand their needs.

Growth spurts:

Teenagers are growing at an alarming rate and using up extra energy doing sports and schoolwork. This is mostly because they’re producing more serotonin than usual. In my experience, teenage boys are always hungry, and they’re grumpy and unreasonable when they are. Girls on the other hand, are figure conscious but can’t help binging when they have period cravings. I suggest you stock up the grocery cupboards and fridge with carbohydrates and protein-rich foods rather than sugars and fats.

Interest in sex:

During puberty, the ovaries and testicles pour oestrogen and testosterone into the bloodstream. This not only initiates and maintains body changes – mostly to their reproductive systems – these hormones also send messages to the pituitary gland in the brain that in turn, sends a series of reproductive hormones back the gonads (ovaries and testicles) telling them what to do.

Naturally, this gives them an appetite for the opposite sex. Don’t leave telling your teenager about the do’s and the don’t when it comes to sex to the school sex-ed. classes, the church youth-group, magazines or the internet. Answer their questions honestly. They’re seriously not interested in your sex life – they only want to know what’s happening to them.


Today, it’s all about image and money, money, money – which parents don’t always have. You may not be able to buy your teen the trendiest clothes or popular brand labels, but you can teach them that it’s not what you wear, but how you wear it that counts.

Self-confidence begins with grooming – something that boys don’t think much about and girls take very seriously. You will have to dig deeper into your pocket when it comes to essential toiletries. Girls need sanitary pads and tampons, hair-removal kits, manicure sets, quality shampoo and hair conditioners. Boys need shaving gear and deodorant – even when they tell you they don’t. Teenagers soon learn that when you feel good, you look good – and visa-versa!


Parents often feel snubbed when teenagers prefer spending time with their friends rather than with family. It’s an independence struggle and parents have to learn to let go – while keeping a ‘third eye’ on who their friends are, where they’re going and what they’re up to. Boys will come home when they’re hungry and a bonus is that when the food is good at home, they’ll bring their friends. Girls may object on the surface when (especially their fathers) insist on meeting their latest boyfriend and interrogating his intent before going on a date – but secretly this makes her secure because it shows that her parents care!

Boosting your teenager’s confidence:
  • Giving your teenager responsibilities around the house and for the family may bring on objections, but it will make your teenager feel an important part of the family (especially when these come with financial rewards).
  • Love your teenager unconditionally, but never show this affection in public!
  • Show an interest in what’s happening in your teenagers’ life without interfering.
  • Get your teenager involved when deciding the family rules.
  • As difficult as it is to let go, it’s only fair to allow your teenager to become independent. S/he will behave responsibly when you say “I know you will do the right thing”!

How to do this:

Make time for family meals. Sit around the table together, switch off the TV and TALK!
Stick to routine
Teenagers diurnal rhythm changes and they prefer going to bed much later – but keep bed time consistent and week nights for homework and school projects
Make their friends feel welcome
Learn to walk away when the situation looks like it’s getting out of control. Somebody has to be the adult – and that’s inevitably you!

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Think thin to lose weight

Weight-loss – doing it right

I saw a friend recently that I haven’t seen for a while and complimented her on how good she is looking now that she has lost weight. She told me that she has finally found a full-time job and is too busy to even think about food. My daughter is breastfeeding and managing to lose even pre-pregnancy weight by burning extra calories. Another friend started going to a dietitian, changed her eating habits and is looking and feeling so good, she has stopped taking antidepressants.

Losing weight isn’t easy. While there are a lucky few who are naturally skinny, there’s the most of us who have to say no to all the delicious goodies out there just waiting to be eaten.
It stands to reason that when there’s a lot of food around, people are going to put on extra weight. Our instinctive greediness in times of plenty, fast-foods and the lack of exercise top the list, but there can be other reasons why you’re putting on weight in spite of counting calories.
  • Sleeplessness is often calmed with comfort food that becomes a habit.
  • Stress releases extra cortisol and boosts one’s appetite – so we keep snacking.
  • Depression gives some people the munchies and antidepressants contribute to weight-gain.
  • Long-term steroids like cortisone and contraceptives add fat to the face, neck and tummy.
  • As do medications for epilepsy, migraines, diabetes and hypertension.
  • An under-active thyroid gland decreases metabolism.
  • Menopausal women risk osteoporosis especially of the spine so they get shorter and extra body fat collects around the waist.
  • People who stop smoking eat more to curb nicotine cravings.

What can you do about this?

Don’t stop taking prescribed medications without first speaking to your doctor about alternative treatments.

Wear comfortable loose-fitting clothes and learn to ‘think thin’. If you think, feel and behave thin, you will want to stay that way and you’ll eat less.

Dish-up your food on a smaller plate – less will look like more. Eat with a small fork so that each mouthful is a dainty portion and you’re not shoveling food into your mouth.

Eat slowly.

Never go for seconds.

Keep busy and distracted so that you don’t think about food. Ignore food magazines and skip the cooking channels. Take up a hobby instead.

Now for some lifestyle changes:
  • Eat brunch when you’re hungry. Keep it simple and nutritious e.g. a peanut-butter/avocado pear sandwich on brown/whole-wheat bread.
  • Have an afternoon snack when you’re hungry – fruit, yogurt or vegetable sticks.
  • Make sure your supper plate is colourful with something white (carbohydrate), brown (meat, chicken, fish) but mostly green, yellow or red vegetables. Grill don’t fry. Have fruit for dessert.
  • Instead of watching TV, walk around the apartment block/townhouse complex or the park for at least 40 minutes every day. Take the kids with you.
  • Learn to drink your tea and coffee without sugar. Ban soda’s and fruit juice.
  • Boost your self-confidence. Change your hairstyle. Wear outrageous combinations.
  • Weight yourself only after 6 weeks. Then reward yourself with something new – even if it’s only a scarf.

Health benefits:

Being the right weight for your height decreases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, sleep apnoea, kidney problems, period hassles and fertility issues.

Practical benefits:

You won’t get breathless climbing the stairs or feel embarrassed in small confined spaces. You will be able to get in and out of the car easily, ride a bicycle again and run to catch the bus.

Emotional benefits:

You won’t make an excuse the next time there’s a family function, a school reunion or a church fĂȘte. Your confidence levels will soar when people start complimenting you and you will start to love yourself again. You will also enjoy going sales and shopping for new clothes. You will start to live again!  

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Infertility in men

Infertility – from a man’s perspective

To understand infertility, one needs to understand fertility.

Sperm facts:

Sperm is the male sex cell. Testosterone helps to make these microscopic, tadpole-like cells in the testicles. Production begins at puberty (when a boy has his first wet dream) and continues into old age. It takes about 74 days for a sperm cell to mature. It has a head, neck and tail. Sperm are stored in the epididymis and they’re ejaculated from here during an orgasm. 

Sperm are propelled through the vas towards the prostate gland where they’re mixed with semen – a sticky, milky mucous that nourishes, protects and helps sperm to swim. The seminal vesicles add extra glucose to the mixture.

Before the sperm exit through the urethra of the penis, the Cowper’s glands secrete the pre-cum to neutralize this normally acidic tube.

Sperm swim 8 inches or 20 centimeters per hour. Most migrate to the cervix (mouth of the woman’s womb) within 90 seconds after ejaculation. Those that stay in the vagina for longer than 2 hours become immobilized.   


Problems arise when:

Sperm production is low:

Between 40 and 300 million sperm are needed to fertilize a single egg (ova)! This is because only 50% of the sperm are normal and of these 50% only a few manage to survive the grueling journey from the testicles to the Fallopian tubes. A count of less than 20 million sperm is considered problematic.

What affects sperm production?

Heat – sperm are temperature sensitive. Too cold or too hot and they die. The scrotal sac is designed to deal with this problem. Too hot and the skin stretches so that the testicles hang and cool down. Too cold and the skin contracts, bringing the testicles closer to the body where they’re warmed up. 

Treatment: Change from jocks to boxers and don’t have a hot bath before having sex. Inflammation of the testicles (usually caused by a STI/Sexually Transmitted Infection) must be treated ASAP as should varicocele’s (varicose veins of the testicles and scrotum).

Other factors affecting sperm production:
  1. Stress and overwork
  2. Diet
  3. Smoking – especially marijuana
  4. Drinking
  5. Some medications e.g. methotrexate used to treat arthritis
  6. Undescended testicles
  7. Trauma to testicles resulting in antibody reaction. 
Short shelf-life:
Sperm stored too long in the epididymis become immobile.

Solution: Having regular sex replaces and replenishes sperm, ensuring healthy sperm production.

Transporting sperm through the vas:
This delicate tube needs to be undamaged by inflammation caused by infections.

Ejaculation problems:

Erectile dysfunction: Unable to maintain an erection

Premature ejaculation: Besides the normal pre-cum stimulated by the Cowper’s gland, premature ejaculation depletes semen before penetration is achieved.

Retrograde ejaculation: This is when semen is misdirected into the bladder.

These can be medical or psychological causes and should be treated by a urologist, psychologist or sex therapist depending on the cause (see my Facebook insert for details about the urology clinic in Pretoria, South Africa).

And finally, …. oestrogen dominance that’s polluting the environment is affecting fertility in men. This is mostly a by-product of plastics that mimic oestrogen and recycled water from sewerage that contains high levels of oestrogen from women using contraceptives and hormonal replacement therapy. In some countries, this has already affected the fish and alligators where females are outnumbering the male species.

Illustration from ‘The Miracle of Life’: Francisco Redondo