Childbirth & delivery browsing by tag


Know the Facts When Making the Decision to Breastfeed

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

There is not a doctor out there who will deny there are some definite benefits to breastfeeding. Both mother and baby experience these benefits, which range from helping mom to lose some of her baby weight to helping your infant gain greater immunity to childhood diseases. But when my patients ask me whether or not they should breastfeed after they give birth, the last thing I want to do is bully them, or use scare tactics to pressure them into breastfeeding if they don’t think that it is the best option for them.

Perhaps it’s just me, but I think these decisions are best left to the mother. It is not my job as a doctor to make those decisions for you. However, it is my job to make sure that you have the facts, and all the facts, before you decide either way. A lot of women might not know just how many benefits there are to breastfeeding, but on the contrary, a lot of women may have heard information that is just plain false. For example, plenty of people trying to push breastfeeding on young mothers will tell them that mother’s milk can prevent obesity later in life, but studies show that this is not the case at all.

Why is this important to me? Because I don’t think that any woman should be shamed for making the decision not to breastfeed if she doesn’t think that option is right for her. And there are plenty of women who have good reasons not to, whether they produce low amounts of milk, they need to return to work or take care of the rest of the family, or the process is just too painful for them. This is an important choice to make—possibly the most important choice that new parents will make in the first months of their child’s life. I want people to be informed about every option that they have, and will always encourage those who are uncertain about that choice to know everything they can, and to get their information from a source that isn’t trying to push some sort of an agenda. Let’s face it—parenthood is hard. You need information to make the right decisions. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with formula feeding. Unlike the milk from breastfeeding, which is deficient in Vitamin D and iron, formula feeding has enhanced those vital nutrients and there is also a quantitative check on just how much your baby is receiving in milk.  There are NO randomized clinical studies or trials (Level I) that have compared exclusive breastfeeding with formula feeding.  Therefore, the recommendations made are not based on evidence-based medicine.  Breastfeeding sounds good, so it must be good and sound.  With breastfeeding, that may not be the case.  Each mother has to decide what is best for her family, her baby and her self.  A panel of “experts” cannot recommend a course of action based on what “sounds” good without definitive outcomes of the two modes of management.  This has not been done when it comes to comparing breastfeeding to formula feeding.  Only observational studies exist and they are not the appropriate study design upon which to make decisions about such an important aspect of infant nutrition. The goal is to give your child the nutrition that he or she needs in order to grow.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

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

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

Ready to Deliver and Morbidly Obese: One of My Most Challenging Cases

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

A recent article in The New York Times talked about how the obesity epidemic is affecting pregnant women and their babies:

About one in five women are obese when they become pregnant, meaning they have a body mass index of at least 30, as would a 5-foot-5 woman weighing 180 pounds, according to researchers with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And medical evidence suggests that obesity might be contributing to record-high rates of Caesarean sections and leading to more birth defects and deaths for mothers and babies.

New York City’s health department reported last Friday that half of the 161 women who died because of a problem with their pregnancy between 2001 and 2005 were obese. Black women were hit hardest, with a mortality rate seven times that of white women. While deaths are extremely rare in pregnancy, the city’s rate of 23.1 per every 100,000 births is twice the national average.

My new book, SOMETHING TO PROVE, is a personal memoir first, but because I’m a maternal-fetal medicine specialist and a surgeon, it also details a number of gripping moments in the operating room.

One of my most challenging cases involved a pregnant patient transferred to my care. When I walked into my new patient’s hospital room, I discovered she weighed more than 500 pounds and her baby was showing signs of distress on the fetal monitor.  The patient needed to be delivered. Let me give you a sense of the challenge with a brief excerpt:

…Many surgeons would begin their cut above her navel in an attempt to avoid that enormous layer of fat, while trying to find the uterus to get the baby out. …The area above the pubis, even in a morbidly obese woman, is usually flat and firm. Instead of a vertical incision from the navel down, I’d lift up the apron of fat and do a horizontal incision just above the pubis. That would allow me to get into the uterus and get the baby out. …We taped her massive belly to her chest, swabbed her with an antiseptic solution, and I went in. I was able to perform the cesarean quickly, without incident or excessive bleeding, and delivered the baby in only a few minutes.

The surgeon who handled the case recounted in The New York Times decided to cut through all the mother’s layers of fat, rather than using my technique of retracting and taping the massive layers of fat, which a colleague dubbed the “Thornton suspenders.” While there might have been excellent reasons for the physician’s decision, I hope more obstetricians learn to use the “Thornton suspenders” for such difficult deliveries in obese moms. Because, as the Times article explains:

… where every minute counted, it took four or five minutes, rather than the usual one or two, to pull out a 1-pound 11-ounce baby boy.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

How late can you wait to have a baby?

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

Today, many women are delaying starting families, most likely due to career and  economic concerns. Pregnancy rates are down in all age groups except for those 40 to 44 years of age, says the CDC, where pregnancy rates are up by 4 percent.

With all those over-40 women having babies, does this mean you can wait indefinitely if you hope to get pregnant? Not really.  A woman’s peak of fertility is about 25 years of age.  After that, “it’s all downhill.”  The likelihood of becoming pregnant drops dramatically well before you reach menopause, which is what many women think of as the end of their fertile years. A great number of those after-40 pregnancies are the results of medical interventions such as in vitro fertilization and donor eggs from 25 year olds.  Unlike our male counterparts who keep producing new sperm every 74 days, women are given their complement of eggs way before they are even born and there are no more new eggs to be produced.   Therefore, at 36 years of age, a woman’s eggs are 36+ years old with all the attendant risks that accompany any aging process.  According to the March of Dimes:

“At age 25, a woman has about a 1-in-1,250 chance of having a baby with Down syndrome; at age 40, the risk increases to 1-in-100 chance; and at 45, the risk  of carrying a child with a chromosomal anomaly such as Down syndrome, continues to rise to 1-in-30 chance.”

The advent of artificial reproductive technologies virtually transforms a woman’s “biological clock” into a perpetual calendar, but not without risks.  In studies, babies born via in vitro fertilization have been shown to have a higher risk of birth defects.

If an older woman doesn’t mind having a baby who carries none of her DNA, she may opt for a donor egg from a younger woman, which is then fertilized by her husband and the embryo transferred into her uterus.  Many of the older celebrities have chosen this route for their family planning.

Medical interventions, while they seem miraculous when they work, aren’t guaranteed to be successful. Just as in getting pregnant the old-fashioned way, your chances of success drop the older you are.  In vitro fertilization will result in a live birth among women past 40 only 6 to 10 percent of the time versus a 30 to 35 percent success rate among women younger than 35.

Nature’s message is clear, and unfortunately, it doesn’t offer any leeway in difficult economic times or while you are working your way up the corporate ladder: if you want to start a family, you’re more likely to be successful if you begin well before you turn 40.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Labor & Delivery: Don’t try this at home

Monday, November 30th, 2009

Most women today have no idea how dangerous it once was for a woman to give birth. The maternal death rate today is about eight per 100,000 births.  When home births were in style, the maternal death rate was 83 per 100,000 births – 10 times the number of deaths.

Women today almost never die in childbirth because, when things go wrong during labor and delivery, medical professionals can step in and prevent emergencies from becoming tragedies.

Which is why I want to scream when I read nonsense like the following, from a website calling itself “Born Free.”

“Welcome to Bornfree! This site is based on the belief that childbirth is inherently safe and relatively painless provided we don’t live in poverty, and do not interfere either physically or psychologically. Drugs, machinery, and medical personnel are not only unnecessary in most cases, they are also no match for a woman’s own intellect and intuition.”

The site quoted above advocates for unassisted childbirth at home. No doctor. No midwife. And no professional help at the ready if something goes wrong.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t get too exercised over an obscure website. But, it’s how I found this website that has me troubled. It was featured in an article on ABC in the “Entertainment” section. The article mostly extolled the concept of women giving birth at home, with neither a midwife nor a doctor present, giving only the briefest nod to the caveats from an ob-gyn.

In the age of reality TV, maybe a piece about women risking their lives to experience “freebirth” makes good copy. Maybe, because it was in the Entertainment section, this quote from a mother who recently gave birth on her own didn’t raise any eyebrows: “…it is not risky if you do your homework.”

But ask an ob-gyn and you’ll get a much different albeit less entertaining quote.

Yes, so-called “freebirth” is risky. And no, you can’t mitigate the risk by doing “homework.” Approximately 40 percent of high-risk patients appear to be low-risk before labor and delivery. No amount of “homework” can prepare a woman for suddenly finding herself among those 40 percent. If she’s at home, without medical attention, she and her baby could be in serious danger.

Most certified nurse midwives are affiliated with hospitals today precisely because the unexpected can and does happen during childbirth and having medical and surgical teams within shouting distance can mean the difference between life and death. The birthing process is still the 11th leading cause of death in women between 15 and 44 years of age.

When I was in the military, we received a stat call about a home birth gone wrong. The woman lost all muscle tone in her uterus after the birth of her child. By the time the ambulance got her to Bethesda, she had bled to death.

So I’ve seen firsthand how “freebirth” can be a recipe for disaster.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH