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In came Beyoncé and the security guards. Out went the hospital’s common sense—and common decency.

Friday, January 13th, 2012

As an OB-GYN who has delivered thousands of babies—including several with rich and famous parents—I’m scratching my head over the insanity at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City surrounding the birth of Beyoncé’s baby.

Here’s a sampling of what went on, according to The New York Times:

The familiar area outside the neonatal unit had been transformed: partitions had been put up, the maternity ward windows were completely covered, and even the hospitals’ security cameras had been taped over with paper. Guards with Secret Service-style earpieces roamed the floor.

“We were told we could walk no further,” Ms. Nash-Coulon said Monday. And when she and her husband, Neil, demanded an explanation, she added, the guard claimed, unconvincingly, “ ‘Well, they’re handling hazardous materials,’ ” even as a large group of people screened from view were passing through the main hallway he had declared off-limits.

Let me make this perfectly clear: The hospital had no right to bar other patients from having free access to their babies.  Worse, from a safety perspective, doctors were prevented from visiting their own patients on rounds, because of this so-called “security.”

Someone in the hospital decided that the celebrity of a hip-hop artist was sufficient to ignore medical necessity and common decency. Not a good message to send to sick people.

Beyond that, I’m alarmed to learn that the baby was born by Cesarean, as so many celebrity babies are today. I could be mistaken, but I doubt that Beyoncé’s OB-GYN warned her of the risks before treating little Blue Ivy’s birth like just another item on the to-do list. The risks are real: a dramatic increase in maternal deaths due to hemorrhage and infection; more babies ending up in the neonatal intensive care units after Cesarean births because of respiratory distress.

If she’d been my patient, I’d have told her what I tell other mothers-to-be: if God wanted women to have Cesareans, he would have put a zipper in the pubic area.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Baby’s tastebuds mirror Mom’s food choices?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

You’ve probably heard the claim that exposing a baby in the womb to Mozart will increase his or her IQ. Despite the hype, the research doesn’t support major leaps in smarts (but, if nothing else, it might improve your child’s musical taste, later on).

Now, there’s some evidence showing that you may be able to shape a yet-to-be-born child’s taste in food.

“The flavor and odors of what mothers eat show up in the amniotic fluid, which is swallowed by the fetus, and in breast milk. There is evidence that fetal taste buds are mature in utero by 13 to 15 weeks, with taste receptor cells appearing at 16 weeks, according to researchers.

“’With flavor learning, you can train a baby’s palate with repetitive exposure,” said Kim Trout, director of the nurse midwifery/women’s health nurse practitioner program at Georgetown University.

“Trout recently co-authored a paper that reviews the evidence on prenatal flavor learning and its implications for controlling childhood obesity and diabetes, among the country’s most pressing health problems…”


Although I’m just as skeptical of this claim as I am about the one for baby-and-Mozart, I see real benefit in giving this a try, whether it makes your baby want broccoli or not. That’s because, in my practice, I see too many women gaining too much weight during pregnancy, which can not only cause complications for mother and baby, but can be almost impossible to shed once your baby is born.

So, bring on the Brussels sprouts, and eschew the Twinkies. Pass by the apple pie and bite into a nice juicy apple instead. Whether it does a thing to change your baby’s mind about what tastes good later in life, it will do a world of good for you both right now.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

You are what you eat…and so is your baby

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

We’ve all been told how important it is to eat well in order to stay healthy. Now, new research shows that what you eat when you’re pregnant can be as important for your baby as it is for you.

A study published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine shows that when mothers-to-be ate healthful foods, such as those that make up the so-called Mediterranean diet, their babies had fewer birth defects such as cleft palates and neural tube defects.

The Mediterranean diet focuses on vegetables, beans, fruits, grains and fish, and is lower in meat, dairy and “empty” carbs.

Before you panic if you’re reading this while gorging on burgers and fries, no, your baby isn’t going to be born with birth defects just because you’re taking a vacation from your diet. The birth defects researchers looked at in the study are quite rare to begin with. It’s just that they are rarer still among women who eat well.

But the study does hint at something we know: your baby’s development depends, in part, on the nutrients you consume. So, give your little one a head-start on a good future. You’ll be doing a favor for both of you.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Time to Deliver? Mother Nature Knows Best

Thursday, December 30th, 2010

For years, I’ve been sounding the alarm about Cesarean delivery on-demand, and have persuaded my patients that childbirth isn’t something you can simply pencil into your schedule when convenient. It’s not just that a baby needs all the time nature gives her within the womb to develop, and that delivering just a few days early can mean that lung development and other functions may be potentially compromised. Cesareans are major surgery, which brings inherent danger to both mom and newborn. Necessary Cesareans are often life-savers. Unnecessary Cesareans can be just the opposite.

And now, at last, the word is spreading.

The San Jose Mercury News reports:

Babies born early through induction or C-section without a medical reason are nearly twice as likely to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit, researchers say. They also are more likely to contract infections and need breathing machines, according to a 2009 study in the New England Journal of Medicine and a number of other reports.

“We are finding out that the last weeks of pregnancy really do count,” said Leslie Kowalewski, an associate state director for the March of Dimes.

“At 35 weeks, the brain is only two-thirds of what it will weigh at 40 weeks.” Many organizations are responding with programs designed to eliminate early elective deliveries. Most significantly, chapters of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have begun to notify doctors about the serious consequences of performing early elective births.

With luck, as information about potential consequences spreads, expectant mothers and their doctors will decide to let nature take her course, for the sake of the mom’s health and her baby’s.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Leading Ob-Gyn Group Backs Findings of My Weight Gain in Pregnancy Study

Tuesday, January 12th, 2010

Last June, in the Journal of the National Medical Association, I published the results of clinical trials that showed that it was safe for obese pregnant women who followed a well-balanced diet to gain little or no weight. Prior to my study, the conventional wisdom was that all women, even obese ones, should gain 26 to 35 pounds. That guidance had come from the most august body of ob-gyns in the U.S., The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), whose recommendations were based upon what we knew in the 1980s. That was before we fully understood the dangers of obesity in pregnancy. Yet, the guidelines had never been updated.

Being obese during pregnancy greatly increases the risks of preeclampsia, diabetes, stillbirth, and blood clots, among other problems. Gaining more weight if you’re already obese makes complications more likely while limiting weight gain makes them less so.

But until my study was published, obstetricians lacked the evidence that limiting weight gain among pregnant women was safe. The ACOG’s guidance from the 1980s stated that, unless a woman, obese or not, gained at least 26 pounds, the baby in her womb would be at risk of dying.

Right before my study results were published, a government body recommended that obese women gain somewhat less weight: between 11 and 20 pounds. It was a start but still not enough. And most board certified obstetricians would wait for the ACOG to – you’ll excuse the pun – weigh in before they changed their practices.

I’m delighted to say that, in a commentary in the peer-reviewed journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, the ACOG has just come out in favor of limiting weight gain among obese pregnant women. My study, which was quoted in the commentary, appears to have been instrumental in effecting this turnaround.

Now that the ACOG is changing its recommendations, obstetricians are more likely to change how they manage their patients. Fewer women will be told that it’s fine to gain weight during pregnancy if you’re already obese. And that will mean healthier moms and healthier babies.

I’m proud to have played a role in helping to make this happen.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Why newborns wear hats in the nursery

Wednesday, May 27th, 2009

When I began my faculty OB practice at The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center Lying-In Hospital in 1982, I made sure that all the babies I delivered were outfitted in little Thinsulate® turbans: blue for boys; pink for girls.

At first, some of the other obstetricians thought this looked a bit strange but I wasn’t making a fashion statement. Newborns can have difficulty stabilizing their body temperature when they first leave the womb. There is a precipitous drop in temperature from in utero existence (~99 degrees F.) to room temperature 72 to 75 degrees F. in the delivery room and the nursery. Up to 50 percent of your new baby’s body heat can escape through the head as he or she adjusts to life outside mom’s cozy body. This heat loss differential is lessened by drying the infant, placing him or her under a radiant warmer and covering its head.

Today, almost all hospitals cover newborns’ bald little noggins to compensate for this heat loss. As a side benefit, they do look cute in their blue and pink caps.

– Yvonne Thornton, MD, MPH