Entries in Infants (37)


Verna McClain Like Most Infant Abductors, Fits Familiar Psych Profile

Montgomery County D.A.(HOUSTON) -- As details emerge on the kidnapping of an infant in Texas on Tuesday, psychologists said the woman who allegedly committed the crime seemed to fit a familiar profile of an infant abductor: a woman who desperately wanted a baby.

Verna Dean McClain, a 30-year-old mother of three, is charged with capital murder for allegedly shooting and killing a 28-year-old mother, Kayla Marie Golden, and kidnapping her 3-day-old son in the parking lot of a pediatrician's office outside of Houston on Tuesday. Police said she admitted committing the crime because she wanted a baby to mislead her fiance into thinking that she had recently given birth to his child.

Witnesses reported that McClain drove up next to Golden's pickup truck in the parking lot and, after a brief altercation, shot her several times before snatching the baby from his car seat and driving away, hitting Golden with the car in the process.

The baby, Keegan Schuchardt, was found alive and well six hours after the kidnapping in McClain's home.

Infant abductions are rare and differ from kidnappings of older children, who are more likely to be the target of sexual crimes and then murdered. Between 1983 and 2012, 283 infants were taken by someone other than a family member from hospitals, homes or "other places," according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Most were recovered unharmed.

But Ken Lanning, a retired FBI agent who has studied nearly all cases of infant abduction for the agency's Behavioral Science Unit, said the abductors usually fit a common profile.

"The perpetrator is almost always a woman who, for one reason or another, has some desperate need to have a baby," he said.

In some cases, infants are taken for ransom or because of a conflict with the parents or family of the baby. It was not immediately clear whether or not McClain had any connection with Golden or the baby's father, Keith Schuchardt.

But in most cases, experts say a woman who takes a baby experiences a void in her life -- a void she believes only a baby can fill.

But neither does a woman take a baby simply for the joy of loving and caring for it.

"In almost every case, it is a woman who is desperate to have a child in order to keep a man," said Jack Levin, a professor of sociology and criminology at Northeastern University in Boston.

Women who commit these crimes may feign pregnancies and, at a certain point, must come up with a child to present as the man's.

Police said McClain told them she recently had a miscarriage.

"The primary reason is an effort to save a relationship with a man by presenting him with his baby," Lanning said.

As much as McClain seemed to fit the profile of a typical infant abductor, her alleged crime appeared to have some unique aspects.

McClain was already a mother of three children, ages 16, 10 and 6 -- but Lanning said older children may not be enough to satisfy the mental and emotional urges of women who commit these crimes.

"The key is [that] she doesn't want a child, she wants a baby," he said.

"It also is possible that she had her other children with a different man," and faced a partner's insistence that she give birth to his child, Levin said.

Whatever the motivation for taking another woman's baby, these crimes are usually the result of months of planning and preparation. Women may wear padding under their clothing to appear pregnant, make fake sonograms or follow prospective mothers to select a victim.

Levin would be surprised if McClain randomly selected Golden as her target.

"There's a very good chance, in my opinion, that this victim was stalked," he said. "She may have been followed by this perpetrator since the day of birth."

McClain is a registered nurse, but it is not known if she worked in the facility where the baby was born.

Infant abductions used to happen primarily in hospitals. Women would monitor the hospitals, find babies they wanted and select the ideal time and place to abduct them. But as hospitals became aware of the problem and increased their security measures, the number of hospital abductions has gone down.

According to NCMEC, of the 17 infants abducted in 1991, 11 of them were taken from health care facilities. In 2009, 11 infants were abducted, but just three of them were taken from a health care facility.

However, lower numbers of hospital abductions have corresponded with increases in the numbers of babies taken from their homes or public places.

Lanning said abducting a baby outside of a hospital usually means a direct confrontation with the parents, which makes violence toward mothers much more likely.

"At some point, when she said, 'That's the baby I'm going after,' nothing's going to stop her," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Fewer Preterm Births Due to Public Smoking Bans?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(GLASGOW, Scotland) -- Do smoking bans mean fewer preterm births?  The answer could be yes, according to a new study published online Tuesday in the journal PLoS Medicine.

After a nationwide smoking ban on public areas in Scotland took effect in 2006, researchers led by Jill Pell of the University of Glasgow found that preterm deliveries dropped by 10 percent, HealthDay reports. The number of infants with low birth weight also decreased by almost five percent (small) and almost eight percent (very small). The researchers noted, according to HealthDay, that decreases in preterm and low birth weight babies were present regardless of whether or not mothers were smokers, underscoring the significance of secondhand smoke.

The researchers found no causal relationship between laws that ban smoking and decreases in preterm births and underweight infants, but say the study's findings do support the consideration of smoke-free legislation.

"The results of our study add to the growing evidence of the wide-ranging health benefits of smoke-free legislation and lend support to the adoption of such legislation in countries where it does not currently exist," the study authors wrote in a journal news release.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


MRI Brain Changes Seen in Early Infants with Autism

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Autism may be detectable in infants as young as 6 months old, according to a study released Friday in the American Journal of Psychiatry, suggesting the condition has a stronger genetic and biological root.

The study, which tracked MRI images of 92 infants from 6 to 24 months, found that infants who went on to develop autism may have had brain abnormalities visible on MRI at 6 months of age, before the development of clinical symptoms.

The infants studied were already considered at high risk for the condition because their siblings were diagnosed with autism.

Researchers tracked brain changes in infants at 6 months, 1 year, and 2 years old.  Then, they formally tested for autism using the standard diagnostic test at 2 years old, the typical age when autism is diagnosed. 

Twenty-eight infants whose MRI results showed slower brain connections went on to be diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

Previous studies have looked at brain changes in babies as young as 1 year old, but researchers said the new study is the first to track changes in infants as young as 6 months old.

According to Dr. Nancy Minshew, director of the NICHD Collaborative Program of Excellence in Autism at the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the study, the current findings suggest that a child might have autism long before he or she begins to show outward signs.

“Parents and primary care physician determination of onset of autism or ASD in the second or third year of life is not an accurate assessment of onset,” said Minshew.  “This adds to the evidence that autism develops on its own, so to speak, and not because parents did something or did not do something to cause autism.”

Tracking changes could lead to earlier autism screening and intervention, which may lead to improved developmental outcomes, the authors wrote.

But, according to ABC News’ chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser, the imaging results are not distinguishable enough to make a clear-cut diagnosis.

“For a diagnostic test to be of value, you want to see extensive separation between your affected and not-affected groups,” said Besser.  “There appears to be a ton of person-to-person variability.  The likelihood that this will ever lead to a diagnostic test is pretty slim.”

The study authors acknowledged that the study was only performed on infants with a family history of autism, which inherently indicated they, too, were at high risk for the condition.  The test might be limited to babies already known to be at high risk.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Iowa Baby Weighs In at Nearly 14 Pounds

Photodisc/Thinkstock(DES MOINES, Iowa) -- Asher Stewardson was born Thursday at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa, tipping the scales at nearly 14 pounds.

Watch the video report below, courtesy ABC News affiliate WABC-TV.

video platform video management video solutions video player

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Infants May Use Lip Reading to Learn Language

Tooga/The Image Bank(WASHINGTON) -- Infants learn language not only through sound, but also through lip reading, according to a new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Researchers say the new findings defy the conventional view that babies learn to speak through sound alone and the research may even assist in diagnosing autism spectrum disorders in the future.

Scientists from Florida Atlantic University studied 89 infants ranging in age from 4 months to 12 months old. They also studied 21 adults. Participants watched a 50-second video of a woman reciting a monologue in their native English, while researchers used an eye tracker to determine where they directed their pupils while watching and listening to the video.

Four-month-old infants, along with adults, spent more time looking at the speaker's eyes. But babies between 6 and 12 months shifted their attention between the speaker's mouth and eyes. It is unknown at what age the shift from mouth to eyes is totally complete, but the older infants tended to look at the speaker's eyes more than her mouth.

"By this time at 12 months, babies are already producing their first words and have mastered the first sounds and structures of the language," said David Lewkowicz, an expert on infant perceptual development and lead author of the study. "They no longer have to lip-read as they ramp up their first speech patterns, and they are free to shift back to the eyes, where you find a great deal of social information."

"This research confirms and extends what we already know about typical development: Language is not just an auditory process, it is the integration of visual and auditory information as the child learns words," said Stephen Camarata, professor of hearing and speech sciences at Vanderbilt University. "What happens in infancy has important ramifications for later development."

Researchers said the data could contribute to autism research, as well. Two-year-old children with autism attend more to speaker's mouths, according to past literature on the developmental disorder. This study shows that attention to the mouth is a normal developmental phase during the first year, and the comparision could aid in autism diagnosis at an earlier age.

"Right now, the earliest one can diagnose a child with autism is 18 months, so this could possibly be a way in the future to diagnose infants as early as 12, 13 or 14 months if we find babies are not making a shift back to the eyes around this age," Lewkowicz said. "If that is the case, this would be a huge step forward in the development of diagnostic tools for autism because it would be six months earlier than what we can do now."

But Rhea Paul, director of the Yale Child Study Center's Laboratory of Development Communication Disorders, warned that an autism diagnosis is not so easily simplified, and it could be dangerous to make blanket claims regarding autism and eye attention.

"I think caution is always warranted when attempting to identify a single early 'marker' for a developmental disorder, such as failure to go back to looking at eyes at 12 months as a sign of autism, simply because of the great variability in behavior and development that is normal in the first couple of years of life," Paul told

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Dogs Can Mimic Human Gaze, Researchers Find

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Dogs may be as receptive to certain human communication signals as infants are, according to a new study published in the journal Current Biology.

Hungarian researchers found that dogs' eyes follow where a person is looking if the person first communicates with the dog, such as through eye contact.

The researchers showed 29 dogs a series of videos depicting a person turning toward a pot. If the person looked in the direction of the dog and said, "Hi, dog!" in a high-pitched voice before looking at the pot, the dog was more likely to follow the human's gaze and also look at the pot than if the person didn't look at the dog and only said, "Hi, dog," in a lower-pitched voice. The dogs' eyes were followed with an eye tracker.

This phenomenon, known as gaze-following, is well-documented in infants and young children, the authors wrote.

"Our findings reveal that dogs are receptive to human communication in a manner that was previously attributed only to human infants," co-author Jozsef Topal of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences said in a journal press release. "Increasing evidence supports the notion that humans and dogs share some social skills, with dogs' social-cognitive functioning resembling that of a 6-month to 2-year-old child in many respects."

Veterinarians and animal behavior experts not involved with the research said that while it may seem obvious that dogs are able to follow nonverbal cues, this is one of the few studies that offer scientific proof about dogs' ability to communicate.  

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Addiction to Salt Starts at an Early Age, Study Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- If you were exposed to treats rich in sodium during your infancy, chances are that's where your lifelong addiction to salty foods came from.

A new study from the Monell Center found that kids who started nibbling on starchy table foods at the age of six months seem to enjoy these salty treats more than babies who were steered away from them. Results of a preference test showed that children who had been exposed to starchy foods ate 55 percent more salt than infants who hadn't been exposed to them yet.

The strong role of early dietary experience was also evident in preschool, according to the researchers, as the kids who were turned on to salty foods were also more inclined to use plain salt than their contemporaries who didn't eat starchy treats.

Lead author Leslie J. Stein, Ph.D., a physiological psychologist at Monell, concluded, "More and more evidence is showing us that the first months of life constitute a sensitive period for shaping flavor preferences.  In light of the health consequences of excess sodium intake, we asked if the effect of early experience extended to salt."

Health experts have been trying to wean Americans off of salt for years, arguing that reducting intake would save 100,000 lives annually, not to mention billions in medical costs, since sodium is linked to hypertension, a major cause of heart attack and stroke.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Infants and iPads? It’s Not So Farfetched!

Tooga/The Image Bank(ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill.) -- Just as adults are increasingly grabbing for their digital media devices, so too are their children.

A new study has now taken a first-ever look at children’s use of new digital media devices. The study, by Common Sense Media, finds the devices are quickly becoming a part of a children’s world.

Researchers surveyed more than 1,300 parents of children up to age 8. They found that 40 percent of 2- to 4-year-olds and 52 percent of 5- to 8-year-olds have used smart phones, video iPods, iPads, or similar devices.

Even infants are not immune: ten percent of those under age 1 have handled one of these devices, the researchers found: the kids are playing games, watching videos, or using other apps.

On any given day, 11 percent of those up to age 8 are using one of these devices; those who do may spend as long as 43 minutes tapping away.

While this trend may be growing, the youngest media consumers still spend far more time in front of a television than they do on one of these mobile devices. Those up to age 8 spend an average of one hour and 40 minutes watching TV or DVDs on a typical day. And those under age 1 spent about 53 minutes, more than twice as much time as they spend being read to.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no television for those under age 2. The group doesn’t have a position on this new media and its affect on children. Study authors say they’re hoping their data will start a discussion on whether this type of screen time is any better or worse for children than TV.

Kids are also mimicking their parents in another modern past time: media multi-tasking. Nearly a quarter of 5 to 8-year-olds use more than one media device most or some of the time.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Male Circumcision Is Medically Beneficial, Experts Say

David De Lossy/Digital Vision(NEW YORK) -- Male circumcision continues to be debated in America.

This spring ABC News tracked the war waged on the procedure in San Francisco as anti-circumcision “inactivitsts” attempted to ban infant circumcision altogether. This summer Colorado became the 19th state to defund Medicaid coverage for infant circumcision, following in the footsteps of South Carolina, which made the cut in February.

With more states considering defunding as a way to cut health care costs, two Johns Hopkins epidemiologists decided it was time to speak up for circumcision. In an editorial published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Aaron Tobian and Dr. Ronald Gray argue for the medical benefits of circumcising boys in infanthood, citing several observational studies and recent clinical trials that show it reduces the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, HPV and herpes by about a third in both men and their female sexual partners.

“This is a simple surgery that’s been performed for over 6,000 years.  Clearly it’s safe to perform, and it has clear medical benefits,” says Tobian.

Just 20 years ago as many as 67 percent of all male infants born in U.S. hospitals were circumcised. Today, that number hovers around 32 percent, in part due to decreased funding for the poor and a rise in controversy over the ethics of the practice. Opponents claim circumcision is a form of genital mutilation without medical benefit.

“The foreskin is there for a reason,” Lloyd Schofield, who spearheaded the San Francisco anti-circumcision bill, told ABC News in May.  Shofield called circumcision an “unnecessary surgery” with no “sound medical evidence” behind it.

Recent studies suggests otherwise, Gray and Tobian argue.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Study: Anesthesia Exposure before Age 2 Could Disrupt Development

Photodisc/Thinkstock(ROCHESTER, Minn.) -- Infants who are put under for surgery more than once before the age of 2 may be at increased risk of learning disabilities later in life, according to research from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

The use of general anesthesia in infants undergoing surgery is currently considered very safe, but mounting evidence -- first in animals and more recently in humans -- suggests that repeated exposure to anesthetics in the first few years of life could cause brain damage if carried out during certain key developmental periods.

The Mayo Clinic study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, tracked the medical and school records of a thousand children born between 1976 and 1982 in Rochester, Minn., 350 of which were given general anesthesia at least once in the first two years of life.

Among infants who had had more than one surgery during those years, almost 37 percent experienced a learning disability later in life, compared with only 21 percent in the children who did not undergo surgery.  Even for those children who had only one surgery during infanthood, the rate of learning disability was slightly higher, at 24 percent.

Learning disabilities seemed to center on speech and language difficulties, says Dr. Randall Flick, Mayo Clinic pediatric anesthesiologist and lead author of the study.

Researchers controlled for characteristics that might also affect development later in life such as birth weight, gestational age and maternal education level, by matching each of the 350 study subjects to two control children in the same population who shared similar characteristics.

"Kids who were exposed were three times as likely to later need a special education program to address speech and language difficulties than kids who weren't exposed to anesthesia," he says.

The research is preliminary, and shouldn't change surgical protocol at this time, the authors say.  But even the possibility that anesthesia is damaging to infants' brains is disquieting for physicians and parents, especially because infant surgery is so seldom elective -- surgery in infants is almost always medically necessary.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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