A new study found startling amounts of microplastics in babies’ poop – far more than in adults

amber teething baby beads
A baby wears amber teething beads.

  • Babies may have more microplastics in their guts than adults do, a small study suggests.
  • The researchers found 10 times more microplastics in infant feces than in adult feces.
  • The microplastics could come from baby bottles or plastic toys that infants chew.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Microplastics are everywhere. Even what should be untouched wildernesses – the icy plains of Antarctica, the crushing depths of the deepest ocean chasms – has been polluted by our garbage.

So it’s no surprise that we ingest plastic, too; it’s been found in our feces, probably as a result of eating from plastic containers. But a new pilot study has found something borderline shocking: Babies have greater concentrations of microplastics in their guts than adults living in the same area.

Specifically, on average, more microplastics were found in the feces of six one-year-old babies in New York City than in the feces of 10 adults. The meconium (earliest stool) of three New York newborns, meanwhile, had concentrations closer to those of adults.

The finding suggests that infants have a higher exposure to microplastics than adults do, possibly due to factors such as child-safe plastic feeding utensils, pacifiers, sippy cups, and plastic toys that babies like to chew on while teething.

The results demonstrate that this phenomenon requires further investigation, especially since any health impacts on babies could be a lot more severe.

“Our data provide baseline evidence for microplastic exposure doses in infants and adults and support the need for further studies with a larger sample size to corroborate and extend our findings,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

The researchers found the most microplastics in infant feces

newborn baby and mother
Alexis Small prepares her newborn, Aubrielle Kitchen, to visit family members on November 26, 2020 in Los Angeles.

The health impacts of ingesting microplastics are currently unknown, but it may not be as harmless as we once thought. Recent studies suggest that microplastics below a certain size threshold can cross cell membranes and enter the circulatory system, and can negatively impact cell function.

A team of researchers led by pediatrician Kurunthachalam Kannan of New York University wanted to assess human exposure to two common types of microplastic – polyethylene terephthalate (PET), used to make food packaging and clothing, and polycarbonate (PC), used in toys and bottles.

The researchers collected samples of feces from six one-year-old infants and 10 adults, as well as meconium from three newborn babies. They subjected these samples to mass spectrometry, after scanning samples of plastic to get an accurate signature to look for in the fecal samples. Every fecal sample contained at least one type of plastic, but the difference between adults and one-year-olds was striking.

“We found significant differences in the patterns of two types of microplastics between infant and adult feces,” the researchers wrote in their paper.

“PET concentrations were significantly higher in infant feces than in adult feces, whereas concentrations of PC microplastics were not significantly different between the two age groups. The microplastics measured in infant and adult feces were thought to be primarily derived from dietary sources.”

Baby bottles or teething toys can leach microplastics

On average, the infant feces contained over 10 times more PET than adult feces. Although the sample size was too small to conclusively rule what the reasons might be for this huge discrepancy, there are a range of possibilities.

Plastic feeding utensils, cups, and bowls are considered safer for babies, since they are more difficult to break and therefore less likely to produce sharp shards, as glass and ceramic can do. There are also plastic teething products designed for babies to chew, and plastic toys not necessarily designed for chewing, but that end up munched anyway, because that’s what babies do.

“One-year-old infants are known to frequently mouth plastic products and clothing. In addition, studies have shown that infant formula prepared in PP bottles can release millions of microplastics, and many processed baby foods are packaged in plastic containers that constitute another source of exposure in one-year-old infants,” the researchers wrote.

“Furthermore, textiles are a source of PET microplastics. Infants often chew and suck cloths, and therefore, exposure of this age group to microplastics present in textiles is a greater concern.”

These findings demonstrate, the researchers said, a need to conduct deeper investigation into this phenomenon.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The Elvie wearable breast pump transformed my life as a nursing mom – it reduced my pumping time and I could use it while running errands

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

  • The Elvie Pump is a hands-free breast pump without any cords, wires, or tubes.
  • This wearable breast pump was a life-changing purchase after my baby struggled to breastfeed.
  • For the convenience, I bought the Elvie Pump Double, but you can also purchase a single pump.

person wearing Elvie pump in bra
The Elvie Pump comfortably fits within a bra, allowing you to pump without cords or tubes.

When my daughter was born prematurely, feeding her was a challenge. She couldn’t seem to get the hang of breastfeeding, so I pumped in the hospital during her stay in the NICU and continued to try to nurse her at home without much success.

Every day and night soon became an exhausting blur of trying to nurse her, then pumping, then feeding her the expressed breast milk. After about a week of this, I broke down and spent $500 on the Elvie Pump Double – the first wearable, hands-free breast pump I’ve ever owned.

Turns out, it’s exactly what I needed.

Our Elvie Pump review

I went from spending hours pumping, tied to a wall, to being able to hold my baby during pumping sessions, or make breakfast for my other kids, or drive them to school.

I’ve been using the Elvie Pump successfully for the past four months. Here’s my experience with it, and why I think it’s worth considering this wearable electric breast pump.

Elvie Double Pump units being charged with USB cables
The all-in-one seamless units are powered by rechargeable lithium-polymer batteries.

Design and specs

I opted for the Elvie Pump Double, but you can also buy the single – the only difference is that you get one pump instead of two.

The pump is an all-in-one seamless unit that easily fits in your bra. The design is sleek and minimal, with simple, straightforward controls.

Each unit consists of three parts: 1) the Hub, which houses the electronics and actual pumping apparatus, 2) the detachable milk bottle with spout and valve, and 3) the breast shield and seal that houses your nipple and breast.

What’s included with the Elvie Pump Double

  • 2 Hubs
  • 4 5-ounce milk bottles with storage lids – all BPA free and dishwasher-safe
  • 4 seals, 4 spouts, 4 valves
  • 2 24mm breast shields and 2 28mm breast shields.
  • 4 bra adjusters
  • 2 micro USB charging cables
  • 2-year warranty for the Hub, 90-day warranty for the washable parts
  • 2 carry bags

Key features

  • 2 modes (stimulation and expression) and 7 suction intensity settings
  • Infrared (IR) energy sensor monitors milk volume in the bottle
  • Automatically starts in stimulation mode and switches to expression mode after two minutes or if the sensor detects let-down
  • Sensor detects when the milk container is full and automatically stops pumping
  • Free app links to each pump through Bluetooth so you can actively monitor milk while pumping, see your stats for past sessions, and check output levels. The app also works as a remote to start or pause pumping, switch intensity settings, and change to expression or stimulation mode.
  • Manual controls on each pump to start and pause pumping and change intensity levels
  • Though it’s marketed as a “silent” breast pump, the sound is noticeable – though significantly quieter than other pumps.
  • FSA/HSA funds-compatible and reimbursable by many insurance companies

What it’s like to use the Elvie Pump

Out of the box, it took me less than a half-hour to get everything set up. Both pumps were fully charged in about two hours.

The first time I used the Elvie, it took me a few tries to get the nipple alignment right, but now I can literally assemble and place it on in the dark. When I started pumping, it felt too good to be true. Compared to the traditional electric breast pump I’d been using, the Elvie felt downright invisible.

Elvie Double Pump shown front and back

It’s incredibly effective. I went from pumping for 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours to pumping a full feeding of 5 ounces on each breast in around five minutes. While I prefer to use the manual controls on the Hub, the app is handy if you need to switch back and forth between stimulation and expression modes, which cannot be controlled manually.

One of the most clever features is the IR energy sensor that automatically pauses pumping when the milk container is full. Knowing I can just pop the pump in and let it do the rest has been invaluable. It’s also easy to switch out the milk container when pumping is paused and the easy-pour spout prevents messes. I also like that you can easily see the milk container on the Elvie (unlike the Willow Pump), so I can peek to make sure the milk is actually flowing and readjust the pump or settings to ensure milk flow.

The battery charge lasts me through almost a whole day of pumping, which is typically four times a day.

How to clean the Elvie Pump

Aside from the Hub, everything is dishwasher safe on the top rack or can be cleaned and sterilized in boiling water or a microwave sterilizer. Just make sure all of the parts are completely dry before using them again – I’ve found that if the breast shield seals are even slightly wet, it will affect the suction.

Elvie Double Pump parts laid out after cleaning
Aside from the Hub apparatus, I can conveniently wash all parts in the dishwasher.

The Hub itself should only be wiped clean with a damp cloth. I occasionally have some milk splash up onto the Hub and into its crevices but have found a soft toothbrush works to gently remove any dried milk.

Notes on milk overflow

Initially, I had some issues with milk overflow. Milk would back up into the plastic on the Hub, making it difficult to clean. After reaching out to customer service via email, I learned the brand released a firmware upgrade (1.7.0) in October 2019 to improve the milk volume algorithm and increase the accuracy of the overflow sensor. Since upgrading my firmware, my overflow issue has completely resolved.

If users experience overflow, aside from getting in touch with customer service, the representative suggested wearing a dark-colored bra or shirt, as the color contrast helps the auto-sensor detect the lighter-colored milk.

Data privacy

A company representative said all data is kept totally private and not shared with third parties. Their website provides full details on how the data is stored anonymously. If you choose to operate the pumps manually without the app, be sure to open it periodically to check for software updates.

The cons

the lights of the elvie pump show throw lighter colored shirts
The Elvie Pump isn’t completely discreet, a minor con for me.

The downsides are very small in relation to how much I love this pump. I wish it came with a sturdy carrying case instead of two small velvet-like drawstring bags that aren’t at all practical for carrying the pumps.

Second, the Elvie isn’t completely discreet. The pumping sound and the lights on the hub – which can’t be turned off – are definitely noticeable. The lights shine through most of my shirts, and while it’s a lot quieter than any other pump I’ve used, if you’ve ever pumped before and happen to be sitting near me, you’ll definitely know what’s going on. I’d feel comfortable using it in a noisier location where the sound would be masked, but not in a quiet setting.

The bottom line

If you’ll be pumping for any regular amount of time, the Elvie wearable breast pump is worth the investment. It truly gave me my life back, taking the hour-long feeding process with my baby down to minutes and giving me the freedom to pump on the go. I can enjoy the extra time I have with my baby and provide her with breast milk with confidence – a win-win.

If it’s within your budget, I recommend getting the Elvie Pump Double, for convenience’s sake. However, a single pump is fast and efficient enough that you could get away with simply switching sides to pump both breasts.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Economic uncertainty and expanding opportunities for women have lowered the US birth rate – and it could lead to future labor shortages

couple on couple looking at phone reading newspaper
Economists estimate that a family will spend on average $233,610 per child before they are 18 years old.

  • From 1950 to 2021, we saw a 50% decline in US birth rates, from 25 births per 1,000 people to 12.
  • Sociologist Ann Oberhauser says the decline is tied to progress in areas like reproductive medicine and access to education.
  • Lower fertility rates could translate to possible future labor shortages in many sectors of the economy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The decline in population growth in the US from 2010 to 2020 is part of a broader national trend linked to falling birth rates, but also immigration changes and other factors. In May of 2021 the scope of that change became clear, with a record low of 55.8 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 2020, a 4% drop from 2019. Other countries are facing similar slowdowns in population growth.

This shift has been underway in the US for many years.

In the early 1900s, my grandfather grew up in a family with nine children in rural Iowa. They all worked hard to maintain the farm and support the family. Some of the children left the farm to attend college, start families, and find work elsewhere. My father grew up in a city and worked as an adult to support his family as the sole income earner.

Read more: Rich people are having babies, and it’s putting pressure on the market for private nurses and luxury products

The next generation, the baby boomers, was raised during a period of economic expansion that accompanied an uptick in fertility – the average number of children born to a woman in her reproductive years. Post-boomer generations have had fewer children, contributing to a 50% decline in US birth rates between 1950 and 2021, from 25 births per 1,000 people to 12.

Economic opportunities, social norms, and changing gender roles – especially expanding education and employment options for many women – help to explain why fertility has slowed in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. That change has repercussions for trends in workforce numbers, employment, health care, housing, and education.

Explaining the decline in fertility

Each generation experiences unique circumstances that affect fertility. The overall trend in declining birth rates, however, is largely due to women’s changing roles, employment shifts, and advances in reproductive health.

After World War II, the US saw rapid change in gender roles with the expansion of women’s education and entry into the labor force. Starting with the baby boom period from 1946 to 1964, many middle- and upper-class women had increased opportunities to get an education beyond high school, which had typically been the end of women’s formal education.

In 1950, only 5.2% of women had completed four years of college or more. By 2020, this proportion rose to 38.3%.

In comparison, 7.3% of men completed at least four years of college in 1950 and 36.7% in 2020 – a smaller increase than for women.

Increases in college education and rising employment among women tend to delay motherhood. Women with higher educational levels, especially unmarried women, tend to put off childbearing until their early 30s.

In addition, medical advancements and federal regulators’ approval of the birth control pill in the 1960s expanded reproductive freedom for women.

This situation contributed to women’s becoming mothers later in their lives. For example, the median age for first-time mothers among women who were born in 1960 was 22.7 years, compared with 20.8 years for women born in 1935.

Moreover, the teen birth rate was a record low in 2019, with 16.7 births per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19. Birth rates remain higher, however, among Latina and Black teens than teens who are white or Asian. In contrast, the share of women ages 40 to 44 years who have ever had children increased from 82% in 2008 to 85% in 2018. Foreign-born women tend to have higher birth rates than US-born women.

Geographic location also reveals important differences in the US birth rate. Women in New England have fewer children, partly because of higher levels of education. In contrast, women in the South and Great Plains have among the highest birth rates in the US.

Finally, economic uncertainty affects fertility trends. Economists estimate that a family will spend on average $233,610 per child before they are 18 years old. Financial upheaval during the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 also contributed to declining birth rates, while the COVID-19 pandemic saw a 4% decline in fertility rates in 2020, the lowest since 1979.

A look at the future

Fewer babies and young people and a growing older population will undoubtedly affect future generations.

Several developed countries in Europe have also experienced declining fertility rates, with widespread social and economic impacts. In Italy, for instance, rapid drops in fertility have led to closing hospitals and schools. In 2019, the average Italian family had 1.2 children, part of a declining trend since the 1960s, when it was more common for families to have four children. As a result, Italy’s percentage of seniors is second only to Japan, with growing concern for future labor supplies.

In the US, lower fertility rates translate to fewer working-age people and possible labor shortages in many sectors of the economy. According to the US Census Bureau, the percentage of people age 65 and older has been growing, increasing by one-third since 2010.

Many economists and social scientists recommend a restructuring of work to support and retain the shrinking number of workers. These recommendations include more flexible work conditions, access to quality and affordable child care, immigration reform, and job security. Several of these measures would provide much-needed support for parents and particularly women in the workforce.

Second, living spaces and residential housing may also have to accommodate this growing elderly population with arrangements that include assisted living, retirement communities, and ways for people to age in place. These housing changes would help women in particular, who live longer than men.

Third, health services such as insurance, medical care, and employment will have to adjust to these demographic shifts as more resources are needed to support an older population.

Finally, declining fertility rates are a growing concern for educators and policymakers. The so-called “demographic cliff” will inevitably lead to school closings and consolidation, and declining student recruitment and enrollment in the US. One projection is that there will be 10% fewer college students in 2054 than today.

The overall decline in fertility rates has far-reaching effects on society and future generations. In the early 1900s, college education and a career were not options for women like my great-grandmother. Advances in reproductive health and women’s expanding access to education and employment have produced a demographic shift with implications for work, housing, health care, and education.

Ann M. Oberhauser, professor of sociology, Iowa State University

The Conversation
Read the original article on Business Insider

The declining American birth rate could actually be good for the economy

birth rate us
The birth rate dropped during the pandemic, as is typical during economic recessions.

  • New CDC data found the US birth rate fell by 4% in 2020, the sharpest decline in nearly 50 years.
  • Experts are worried this is a crisis, but it’s not necessarily bad news.
  • It’s a sign of progress for women and could also be part of a reshaped, better economy.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dropped a new report that revealed the US birth rate fell by 4%, the sharpest single-year decline in nearly 50 years and the lowest number of births since 1979.

The news seemingly sent America – and American media – into shock. One demographer deemed the trend a “crisis” in an interview with CBS, while The New York Times explored how the pandemic may be fast-forwarding American decline, and another demographer told CNN the baby bust could have the opposite effect of the 1950s baby boom.

I wrote about the baby bust a few weeks prior to the latest data, tracing the pandemic’s influence on the decision to have kids and how it could either slow down the economy in the long term or result in a delayed baby boom.

But here’s the thing: A declining birth rate isn’t necessarily bad news. It’s both the continuation of a decades-long trend and a symbol of progress in gender equity. And while it signals some economic distress, it may also represent the start of a solution to America’s affordability problem.

The big question is whether women will end up having babies at a later date or will have fewer babies overall. It’s too soon to tell.

Fewer babies doesn’t have to mean devastation for the US economy, depending on Biden’s success in boosting worker productivity with his infrastructure plans and how the economy continues to reopen. But it does mean change, and maybe the cries of despair over the declining birth rate are more about resistance to the unknown than looking forward to a reshaped America with differently shaped families. The declining birth rate is a step into the great unknown, and that could be exciting.

A sign of progress

American birth rates have been declining for six years as millennial women have been waiting to have babies until a later age. Birth rates among teens, which have fallen nearly every year for the past three decades, were down by 8% last year.

This is normal, if you look at worldwide trends.

Christine Percheski, associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University, told me last month that there’s been a broader shift among high-income countries and some middle-income countries for women to postpone having kids until later ages. The US, she said, was a little slower to see that increase.

Look no further than the declining fertility rate, or the number of live births a woman is expected to have over her lifetime. It tracks closely with birth rates and since 1950, the worldwide fertility rate has dropped from an average of 4.7 children to 2.4 children.

It all signals economic progress. “It’s about women having access to education and employment opportunities,” Percheski said. “It’s about the rise in individualism. It’s about the rise in women’s autonomy and a change in values.”

baby mask covid19
A declining birth rate is partly due to a rise in women’s autonomy.

Women, she continued, are choosing to stay in school longer and waiting until later to marry. The Pew Research Center found that the more educated a woman, the more likely she was to postpone having a child until her 30s. This stat can be partly explained by the fact that women today find themselves with more life options than women 50 years ago (it could also indicate that educated women are financially burdened, but we’ll get to that soon).

Clare Mehta, an associate professor of psychology at Emmanuel College who studies established adults, previously told Insider that millennials are finding fulfillment in building a professional life for themselves because of new opportunities previous generations didn’t have. “Women want to have careers now before they settle down, people want to feel as though they’re financially secure,” Mehta said. “That wasn’t happening in the past.”

It’s part of how millennials are redefining adulthood. While many people have described the generation as “behind” due to their myriad economic woes, they’re really just creating a new normal.

A turning point for the economy

Now, while the rise in women’s autonomy has helped birth rates climb for women in their later 30s and in their 40s in recent years (amid the overall declining birth rate), they declined for this cohort during 2020. This might spark some concern over just how severe the effects of the pandemic are.

Declining birth rates during an economic downturn also aren’t abnormal. Recessions typically have the strongest economic influence on birth and fertility rates. “People tend to wait during periods of political and social unrest,” Percheski said.

The Great Recession saw a 9% decline in births, per Brookings, about 400,000 babies fewer than there would have been otherwise. And while the Spanish Flu only resulted in an economic contraction instead of a recession, that public health crisis also led to a drop in births. That the pandemic combines both health and economic crisis could have a greater impact on birth rates.

But recession or no recession, underlying macroeconomic factors are influencing the birth rate. Millennials have long been facing an affordability crisis, plagued by the lingering effects of the Great Recession and soaring living costs for things like housing, healthcare, and, of course, childcare.

Looking back at the stat that more educated women are more likely to have kids at a later age in this context points to a new perspective: Education often comes with student debt. Women may be waiting to have kids not out of choice, but out of a desire to get their financial footing and pay off student debt first.

A declining birth rate therefore also reflects how expensive the US economy has become. It’s not the drop in births that’s distressing, but the affordability problem that it signifies. If we look closely at these issues, the birth rate could serve as a turning point for a better economy.

Not an economic decline, but an economic change

Experts are worried today’s baby bust will result in an economy plagued by an aging population that isn’t replaced by enough young workers. That might result in higher government costs and a smaller workforce that would have to front the care costs for aging populations, creating a shortage of pension and social security-type funds.

But what if it doesn’t?

Percheski said the country will likely need to make structural adjustments like creating new policies that accommodate to changes in population in size.

Percheski has company in the form of President Joe Biden. His American Families Plan proposes investments of $1.7 trillion in the care economy, with a focus on support for families including an expanded child tax credit and universal pre-K. It’s an ambitious proposal that, combined with a large infrastructure investment via the $1.7 trillion American Jobs Plan, seeks to boost the productivity of American workers in a 21st-century context.

Less births and less workers may not spell economic disaster if these plans – or others like them – can boost American workers’ productivity. I’ve already written about evidence that productivity has increased during the pandemic, while reopening has brought a wage boost for most workers. Inflation comes with these trends, but a more productive worker could essentially pay for that inflation, as well as paying for a prosperous society with less babies in it.

millennialskids_ Alexi Rosenfeld
Fewer births could be the way of the future.

By examining some of the factors contributing to the decline in births, we can start with preventative adjustments now. Work structure in America – like expensive childcare and lack of paid parental leave – is a big deterrent to having kids.

That’s only the beginning of a few issues that could be addressed: expensive healthcare (or lack thereof), climate change, and debt are other hindrances to having kids. For many millennials, the latter comes in the form of student loans. While Biden’s Education Department has canceled billions in student debt, trillions remain outstanding. Borrowers and politicians alike have been arguing for more student-debt relief.

The exact impact this would have on births is unknown, but society needs these improvements anyway. If we do get to the point of having to make population-based changes 20 or 30 years from now, it doesn’t have to mean the economy is going downhill, but rather in a new direction.

Maybe the declining birth rate is not a problem, but a way of telling America it’s time to start a new chapter.

Read the original article on Business Insider

A woman gave birth to a baby boy during a Delta flight to Hawaii. This viral TikTok captures how the passengers reacted.

baby born on flight
After a baby was born mid-flight, TikTok user @juliabernice recorded passengers’ reactions.

  • A baby was born during a Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Hawaii.
  • Passengers broke into a round of applause after the birth was announced on the loudspeaker.
  • A TikTok video of the event, posted by a passenger, has gone viral and has over nine million views.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, a woman onboard a Delta flight from Salt Lake City to Honolulu gave birth to a baby boy.

Julia Hansen, 23, was one of the passengers on that flight.


It’s the ‘baby being born while we’re above the Pacific Ocean’ for me

♬ original sound – Julia Hansen

When she first got word of the birth, she started recording and later posted a video of the unexpected event on TikTok. It went viral and now has over nine million views.

“It’s the ‘baby being born while we’re above the Pacific Ocean’ for me,” she captioned the post.

Read more: Airline workers have lower rates of COVID-19 than the general population – and airline CEOs say it’s proof that flying is safe

Hansen and her friend Siearra Rowlan, 23, were napping when flight attendants asked passengers if there was a doctor on the flight, according to The Washington Post.

“Everybody’s kind of turning back to see what’s happening, and then there’s a lot of shuffling between flight attendants,” Rowlan told The Post. “The speaker goes on and off like they’re about to announce something but they don’t. Then there’s a little baby crying.”

The video captures some of that commotion. At first, a crew member can be heard making an announcement that a baby has been born. The passengers then break into a round of applause.

In the next clip, passengers are asked to remain seated while the woman seeks medical assistance. Around three hours later, the woman can be seen making her way off the plane in a wheelchair while the newborn baby sits on her lap.

“After she had gotten out, everyone just kind of got up, got their carry-on, and left,” Hansen told The Post.

Delta confirmed that the baby was born on the six-and-a-half-hour flight on Wednesday. No other information was provided.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Women are taking a ‘rain check’ on babies, and it could change the shape of the economy

millennialskids_ Alexi Rosenfeld
The number of births have been declining during the pandemic.

  • America is seeing a “baby bust” as women put off having kids during the pandemic.
  • The drop in births intensifies a pre-pandemic trend of decreasing birth rates and fertility rates.
  • It could slow down the economy in the long term, but it could also result in a delayed baby boom.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The predicted baby boom is looking more like a baby bust.

While many thought a year locked up would lead to some serious babymaking, Brookings Institute economists Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine forecasted the opposite last June: The pandemic would lead to 300,000 to 500,000 fewer births in 2021, they said.

So far, their predictions are on track.

Nine months after the first lockdowns began in the US, the number of births in the country had declined by 7%, according to data provided to CBS News by health departments across more than 24 states. And fertility rates – the number of live births a woman is expected to have over her lifetime – are already lower in the first few months of 2021, said Christine Percheski, associate professor of sociology at Northwestern University.

“We’re going to see many fewer babies in 2021,” she told Insider.

The drop continues a pre-pandemic trend of declining birth rates and fertility rates, as childbearing women, many of whom are millennials, delay having children. Both of these rates decreased by 2% from 2017 to 2018, per the latest CDC data, with the birth rate hitting its lowest in 32 years. As of January 2020, the US fertility rate sat at 1.73 births per mother – a stark contrast from the peak in 1957 at 3.77 births per women.

Demographers have expressed concerns over what this means for the future of America, as the fertility rate is below the replacement rate – producing as many births each year as deaths – of 2.1 births per woman.

The decline in births over time is the result of both economic distress as well as progress for women in the workplace, with potential long-term implications, such as a smaller workforce and higher cost of caring for the aging. It’s too soon to say whether we should be concerned about these economic effects, but it’s already clear the economy is in for a big change based off what happens to the American birthrate.

Catching up to a global shift

American women are having babies later. While US birth rates have declined for nearly all age groups of women under 35, per latest CDC data, they rose for women in their late 30s and early 40s.

But this is actually bringing the US in line with worldwide trends – or helping it catch up, depending on your perspective. High-income countries, and increasingly middle-income ones, have long seen women delaying their first child until later ages compared to American women, Percheski said.

It’s a sign of better access to education and employment opportunities, a rise in individualism and women’s autonomy, better sex education, and a shift from religious-based to more secular values, she said. But on a more individual level, having kids at a later age is also a result of women choosing to stay in school longer, waiting until later to marry, and paying off student debt first.

mother baby
American women delaying childbearing is bringing the US in line with worldwide trends.

To be sure, macroeconomic forces are another major factor in the decision to postpone having kids. Millennials have grappled with several of these, from the lingering effects of the Great Recession to soaring living costs for things like housing and, of course, childcare.

Finances are one of the top reasons why American millennials aren’t having kids or are having fewer kids than they considered ideal, Insider’s Shana Lebowitz reported, citing a survey by The New York Times. To raise a child to age 18 in America, it’ll cost parents an average of $230,000.

A ‘rain check’ on babies

Recessions typically have the strongest economic influence on birth and fertility rates. “People tend to wait during periods of political and social and rest,” Percheski said.

The Great Recession saw a 9% decline in births, per Brookings, about 400,000 babies fewer than there would have been otherwise. And while the Spanish Flu only resulted in an economic contraction, that public health crisis also led to a drop in births. A pandemic lumps together economic and health turmoil, which Brookings says could result in a greater impact on births.

parents pandemic
Sara Adelman became a working-from-home mom during the pandemic. Birth rates typically decline during periods of economic crisis.

But whether the current lapse in babymaking will translate to fewer babies overall or just a childbirth postponement, Percheski said. She said she thinks we’ll see a reduction in the number of women having two or three kids, as happened during the financial crisis.

Mauro Guillén, Wharton professor and author of “2030: How Today’s Biggest Trends Will Collide and Reshape the Future” told Insider that the decline in births is a “temporary blip,” likely to last one to two years.

“Young couples have said, ‘Give me a rain check, I don’t want the baby now because there’s too much uncertainty,'” he said. “But they will have those babies later. They don’t cancel their plans to have babies for life.”

A ‘demographic time bomb?’

A decline in birth rates has sparked worries that the US may be headed for what’s known as a “demographic time bomb,” in which an aging population isn’t replaced by enough young workers.

This could slow the economy in the long term by creating higher government costs and a smaller workforce, who will have to front the care costs for aging populations. It could also create a shortage of pension and social security-type funds and impact things like school enrollment and college demand.

Japan is a famous example of just such a time bomb, long ticking demographically. Experts in that country are now worried that a pandemic-fueled baby bust could worsen the country’s aging crisis that strains the working population. Like Japan, Italy is facing an aging population and dropping fertility rates, to the point where the government has begun issuing fertility ads. So far, high levels of immigration have kept the US from seeing the same economic impact that has hit these other countries.

But Percheski said a decline in births isn’t necessarily bad – it will just require structural adjustments, like creating new public policies that respond to changes in population size.

family child tax credit mothers
Today’s baby bust could end up being tomorrow’s baby boom.

In some ways, fewer classmates for those born in 2021 could be good, she added.”If there are fewer people competing for jobs when they hit the job market, that’s not bad from their perspective, but it does require us to make adjustments.”

America can also change now to avoid having to do it later, such as making childcare more affordable. “Raising children is one of the great joys of life, but it’s also one of the great burdens,” economist Tyler Cowen said in a recent panel with the American Enterprise Institute. “If we don’t have innovations to make raising children either easier or more fun or less costly, we’re in big trouble.”

But if the pandemic-fueled birth decline just results in women bearing children at a later age rather than having fewer kids or none at all, per Brookings, the fertility rate may be underestimated. It could even result in a delayed baby boom.

Guillen said he thinks we’ll see a higher number of births in 2022 and 2023, which could make preschools fuller. He said he’s more concerned with the mortality rate than the birth rate, but in any case the full effects of the birth decline won’t truly be seen until 20 to 30 years later.

“Generally, it would be better to have a smoother evolution of pace, but recessions always have their effect,” he said.

Read the original article on Business Insider

KiwiCo subscription boxes for kids are loaded with fun, educational activities – the box for toddlers was perfect for my 18-month-old

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Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

The KiwiCo Panda Crate subscription box is a win-win for babies & parents
The “Solve With Me” box came with four different activities, all designed to help toddlers learn shapes.

  • KiwiCo subscription boxes contain fun and educational activities designed by child development experts.
  • I tested the Panda Crate for babies and toddlers, but KiwiCo offers subscriptions for kids of all ages.
  • My toddler didn’t just engage with these toys – she wanted to go back to play with them again and again.
  • Depending on your subscription, prices range from $20 to $30 per crate.

I often feel overwhelmed by making sure I’m teaching my daughter everything she needs to know and appropriately stimulating her to help her development. She doesn’t go to daycare and she’s not old enough for preschool, so it all falls on me.

According to the US Department of Education, up until age 5, it’s important to talk, read, and sing with your child every day. The American Academy of Pediatrics also advocates for regular play to support the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and so parents can fully engage with their children.

This is where play subscription boxes like Lovevery and KiwiCo come in handy. KiwiCo sent me its Panda Crate subscription box for babies and toddlers (ages newborn to 24 months) to try out with my daughter, so we could see for ourselves.

What is the KiwiCo Panda Crate?

KiwiCo offers different versions of the Panda Crate for five age bands: 0 to 2 months, 3 to 6 months, 7 to 12 months, 13 to 18 months, and 19 to 24 months. Each box has fun educational activities designed specifically for a child’s age.

The boxes are created by experts, including former educators and child development professionals, and tested by kids. This certainly makes my life easier, knowing I can spend less time researching which activities are appropriate for my daughter and more time playing with her.

The crates deliver activities in your child’s zone of proximal development, according to KiwiCo. This is a fancy way of saying the activities provide a little bit of a challenge so your child learns – but not so much of a challenge that they give up. It’s the sweet spot of learning, and as a former teacher, I’ve seen how students flourish in this zone.

What KiwiCo is like to use

The box definitely hit the sweet spot for my daughter. She is currently 18 months old, and her “Solve With Me” box came with four different activities, all designed to help her learn shapes: a peg puzzle, lacing beads, squishy shapes, and beanbag shapes. It also came with the book “Poppy’s Shape Search.”

My daughter immediately started exploring the activities, attempting to stack shapes onto the correct peg and playing with the large plush shapes that can be used for multiple games and activities.

panda crate ellie
Many lacing toys are too difficult for my daughter, but these beads are designed to  allow her to have success.

My daughter rotates through the activities pretty evenly but seems to gravitate toward the lacing beads. Many other lacing toys are too difficult for her, but these beads are designed to perfectly hit that zone of proximal development and allow her to have success. For that reason, the lacing beads are my favorite activity in the box, too.

She also enjoys playing with the three large squishy shapes. The magazine in the crate provided a song to sing about the shapes, and she often holds them and dances while we sing the song.

What makes KiwiCo stand out

My favorite thing about the Panda Crate is that it comes with activity cards that explain how to play with each of the toys. The box also comes with a an issue of “Wonder Magazine” and “Beyond the Crate” cards that offer many additional ways to play with your child and support their development.

When my brain is fried from sleepless nights or I’m just not feeling creative, these ideas are a lifesaver. After my daughter was done exploring the box on her own, I used the ideas to encourage her to learn more.

panda crate 1
My daughter and I keep returning to these toys and activities to learn and play more.

Open-ended toys like the ones in the Panda Crate help extend play and ensure that kids won’t just engage with toys once and then toss them aside, never to be played with again. My daughter and I continually come back to her box to learn and play more.

How the subscription works

When you sign up for a subscription, KiwiCo will send you a crate every two months. Each crate is specifically tailored to meet the developmental milestones of your child’s age.

Because it’s a subscription-based service, you can save money by purchasing a longer subscription. Depending on your subscription, box prices range from $15.50 to $39.90 each. For an extra $9.95, you can also upgrade your box to include a book like the one I received in my box.

The bottom line

Babies and toddlers don’t need a lot of stuff, and you don’t have to spend a fortune on toys to make them happy. Play with them, read to them, sing to them, and talk to them, and you’re setting them up for success.

Sometimes, though, we all need a little help when it comes to planning and setting up activities that will enrich our kids while they have fun. If you’re like me and you want some structured ideas for play and to encourage proper development, the KiwiCo Panda Crate makes it easy. It will give you the confidence and peace of mind that you’re continually providing educational activities for your child at each stage of their development.

Read the original article on Business Insider