Friday, May 30, 2008

BPA in Baby Bottles

One of the things I forgot from my previous To Do list post, is that I would like to have time to really understand the issues around the hot topic of BPA in baby bottles. I know that some baby bottles are made of plastic which includes this BPA chemical and lots of people are worried about that. This includes the Avent bottles which we used with our little one since they have a nipple which is supposed to mimic a mother's breast, and we wanted to do all we could to make sure little one kept breast feeding even after she had to have bottles as I was back at work.

I feel that as a scientist I ought to be able to understand the BPA issue and make up my mind about it for myself. I'm very disatisfied with most articles I read about it which don't seem to really present the facts - they usually just say that some people are worried about it and provide a list of baby bottles without BPA. What I think I understand is that BPA is dangerous to animals and people in large enough quantities. What I'm not sure about is if large quantities of BPA are really coming out of baby bottles which are made with BPA.... It sounds like if you heat your baby bottle to 200 Celsius enough will come out - but we never do that. Nor do we use (or even have) a dishwasher, or microwave bottles. In fact I've started giving little one cold bottles of cows milk - although my husband still likes to heat the milk in the bottle warmer as he thinks she drinks more that way. So the question is do we really need to replace these bottles. I don't know why - but I like the Avent company, and I feel annoyed that they must be loosing a lot of business over this when it doesn't seem totally clear to me it's really a problem. I feel like someone is playing on parent's concern for their babies. Of course we want to make sure they're not consuming dangerous chemicals.

Avent sticks by it's bottles saying "Scientists around the world have been studying the effects of bisphenol A for years and governing bodies, such as the FDA and EFSA have approved the usage of Polycarbonate plastics in consumer goods, specifically with contact with foods in mind." and "We have full confidence in our current bottle, which has been used by millions of healthy babies in over 70 countries worldwide. We always strive to reach new levels of design and engineering excellence to meet the evolving needs of parents and babies. Building on its already diverse portfolio of infant feeding products, Philips AVENT will introduce new materials into its line this summer."

So that's reassuring, but confusing given everything else out there about avoiding BPA, and also the fact that their new line will be made from BPA free plastic.

I heard a rumor that Babies R Us may be giving store credit for returned BPA bottles, so we might try that this weekend just in case. We still need a couple of bottles, but mostly little on is on sippy cups now anyway. I just feel that I'm being unfair acting on my fears before I really understand this issue. But I really don't have time to chase it down. Does anyone out there know of a good scientific article on this understandable to an astronomer with a physic degree?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

My To Do Lists

I usually have huge and totally unrealistic To Do lists, but lately it's got out of control! I won't even talk about all the work things, or things related to our upcoming transatlantic move, but I thought it would be fun to list some of the things I would like to do if I had more free time.

1. Write letters to Heathrow and Sydney airports pointing out that they ought to let working mothers travel with breast milk. If the TSA can do it, I can't see why they can't.

2. Going along with 1 - in general be more of an advocate for breast feeding, get involved with the La Leche league??

3. Go back to learning Chinese again. Ideally in a class setting, but at the very least start listening to ChinesePod podcasts while cooking.

4. Write more articles about astronomy on this blog. ;)

5. Make more photo books of little one.

6. Fill in little one's baby book.

I'm sure there were more in my head at one point, but now I've forgotten them, and it's time to go pick up little one from daycare - my favourite time of day. :)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

International Travel Part 2

As promised here is my second post about international travel and breast feeding (see Part 1).

This time I went a lot further - to Australia. That's basically a 24 hour trip from where I live, meaning I had to pump enroute. I planned to use the airport facilities during a connection at SFO, but it ended up being a rush to make the connection so instead I pumped in an airplane toilet.... On the way back I was able to use the facilities at SFO. They have a nursery which is available to pumping mothers so I used that. There were two wierd things about it though - the first was the big sign saying it was only for use by parents with children (leading to some odd looks from the family coming out as I went in), the other was that the door wasn't completely opaque (glass window with opaque strips). Anyway I put my back to the door and sat in a comfy chair in a room which wasn't a bathroom to pump. Not too bad! Thanks SFO.

One thing I didn't find out last time is that Medela does not recommend using power converters for international travel (something about putting two transformers in serial? I should know this having a Physics degree!) so what I did in the UK was technically wrong. Instead you should either buy a new Medela plug for the appropriate country, or use the battery pack. The positive things about this - you can pump anywhere (eg an airplane toilet) as you don't need an electrical supply. The negative - well it uses a lot of batteries. Although for my week away, pumping twice a day, I used only 1 set of 10 AA batteries, so not so bad.

Anyway I pumped enroute - leading to one big question.... Could I bring this milk in Australia? They have fairly strict customs rules, and I could not find any reference to breast milk except if your baby was with you. In the end it turned out to be fine. I declared it and had a funny moment with a customs officer who asked where it came from... me..?! What he meant was where did I pump it.., although I can't see why that matters. As in the UK, there was much confusion at this point as to why I would have breast milk but no baby - I don't understand why this is such a difficult concept...

The other question of course is if for the return can I go through airport security with breast milk in Australia? Turns out they have two kinds of security. For domestic travel all liquids are allowed, and in fact boarding at the small regional airport there was no security at all! For international travel they have similar liquid rules as the US, except that (like the UK) the exception for breast milk only applies if you are traveling with your baby... Lucky for me I saw some friends with a baby early on in my trip so I left them 2 days worth of milk, and the milk from the remaining 4 days was little enough to meet the regulations. So no problem....

Sadly all this travel is dwindling my milk supply. I pumped about half as much each time on this trip as I did in the UK. Of course the fact that I was working 12+ hours a day (night?), had to pump twice while observing in the control room with no privacy (at 3am I didn't expect any visitors, but that would be just my luck!), and the huge time difference/sleep deprivation probably didn't help. I'm home now for a while which is great.

(Little One's contribution to this blog - apart from making it take about 3 hours to write: "```````````", got to go - we're having one of "those" mornings.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Good Job News

Much to my amazement I finally have some good job news. I got the first grant I applied for to work at the place near my husband's new job. It's actually a fairly prestigious sounding award too, so it'll look great on my CV. It's about 50% support so there are some details to work out, but there is another pot of money I'm waiting to hear about which may sort all that out. I'm having a hard time taking it in after the job season we've had, but it is fun to finally have good news to share, instead of news of yet another job I didn't get.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Beautiful Saturn

One of the things which initially attracted me to Astronomy was the beauty of astronomical images. Astronomy is almost unique among the sciences in that it produces images which can be appreciated both for their science as well as for pure aesthetic pleasure. A prime example of this duality has recently opened at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. It's an exhibit of images of Saturn from the Cassini-Huygens mission.

Quoted in the Cornell Daily Chronicle, Elizabeth Bilson (retired administrative director of the Cornell Astronomy Department) says of the image which inspired her to suggest the exhibition, "it glowed". She put forward the idea to members of the Cassini-Huygens team at Cornell who then worked together to select other images to be included in the exhibition which includes about 100 images in total.

And what a beautiful sight it truly is. This image was taken when Cassini-Huygens passed into the shadow Saturn allowing it to be shown spectacularly back-lit by the Sun. This image could never have been taken from Earth and is only available to us thanks to the dedication of astronomers, planetary scientists and engineers who worked on the Cassini-Huygens mission.

Thanks for indulging me, and what a delight is has been to write a post about Astronomy. Finally the job season is over and I hope for more of this to come. I chose "Astronomom" as a name (instead of some generic science mom title) not only because I thought it sounded cool but also because I actually wanted to talk about Astronomy as well as the challenges of being a scientist and a mother. After all I wouldn't be doing this if I didn't love the subject!