Pregnancy browsing by tag


Teen Pregnancy May Be Associated With Obesity Risk in Later Life

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

Concern about the increased prevalence in teen pregnancies has raised a lot of questions societally as well as within the medical community. It is no secret that an event such as childbirth can play a large role in a woman’s health, and the potential changes that may take place are increased in a teenager, whose body is still growing and changing throughout adolescence. From very real concerns such as the potential for premature delivery to the psychological effects of becoming a mother at a very young age or giving a child up for adoption, there is much fodder for examination and research.

One study has even suggested that there is a potential association between adolescent pregnancy and obesity later in life. However, it is important to note that this association is still vague at best, and researchers have yet to uncover a cause for this heightened obesity risk.   While it is possible that the associations between adolescent pregnancy and obesity is caused by the physiological changes that take place in the female body (and in particular the adolescent female body) during pregnancy, there are also many factors –primarily psychological and sociological—to take into consideration in order to determine the underlying cause of this association.  I believe that these young women, obese or not obese, gain so much weight when they are pregnant that obesity is the result of the pregnancy and they cannot lose the weight postpartum, given the additional responsibilities of raising a child.

Demographically speaking, adolescent mothers are more likely to be from a racial minority, to have lived in poverty, or to have attained a lower educational level than many of their peers. Four out of five black women are either overweight or obese.  It is highly likely that at least part of the association between adolescent pregnancy and weight gain is due to this “crossover”, as women of these demographics are also those most likely to be classed as overweight or obese. This is part of the difficulty in determining whether or not there are other physiological factors to take into account.

My take on the conclusions of this study and the entire situation of pregnant adolescents  and future obesity is that these young women are looking for acceptance and have very low self-esteem.  Their feelings are exploited by their male counterparts, who have a biological imperative to be intimate and not be rebuffed. Consequently, sexual intercourse is a form of being “accepted” and “loved”, only to find out later that the girl is pregnant, has gained excessive weight during the pregnancy and is now alone being responsible for a new life.  Her old habits (no exercise and cheap fast food) with a low or nonexistent income lead to her obesity and that of her child.  Then, it becomes a vicious cycle.

Regardless of the reasons for the prevalence of overweight and obese women among those who were pregnant as teenagers, studies like these highlight the importance of increased contraceptive aid and sexual education among female adolescents. At present, it seems that the primary association between these two groups of women, i.e.,  those who become pregnant as teenagers and those who are classed as overweight or obese in adulthood,  is a lack of education or awareness about their bodies.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.


Use of Decongestants During Pregnancy May Be Linked to Birth Defects

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Women have a long checklist list of products to avoid during pregnancy, from alcohol and caffeine to more serious chemicals that can seriously affect fetal development. However, the effects of certain medicines and other products have largely been unknown. One of the more common medications that women ask if they can use during pregnancy is the simple decongestant—something which most people take for granted. For a woman who is already suffering the discomfort of pregnancy, the idea of asking her to shoulder the burden of a stuffy nose and sinus pressure may seem a little harsh. However, new studies are suggesting that decongestants taken in the first-trimest of pregnancy may be a major item on the “to avoid” checklist, as they have been linked to birth defects.

The decongestants that researchers focused on in the study included both oral and nasal remedies. While the correlations between certain types of decongestants and potential birth defects still requires further investigation, this finding presents and opportunity to discuss one of the more important aspects of obstetric medicine. The simple fact of the matter is that there is no way to know all of the potential risks a woman faces during pregnancy.   Some women may not even know they are pregnant when taking these over-the-counter decongestants.  Therefore, any woman in the childbearing years who is not using effective contraception should think twice about relieving symptoms of an annoying stuffy nose as a trade-off  for increasing the risk of a child with birth defects.

While research has come a long way in identifying major risk factors, a number of other risk factors are still unknowns. This is even more so the case as new products are released into the market, new chemicals make their way onto store shelves, and ultimately pregnant women are exposed to an increasingly wider range of products during pregnancy. It is also a good reminder of the importance a woman should place on responsible behaviors during pregnancy, which include rethinking her normal habits and routines and consulting with a medical professional before taking any medication—even ones that seem fairly mild or harmless.

I hesitate to call women who take these products irresponsible or negligent—after all, not everyone is a doctor and not everybody has the access to medical information that can tell her at a glance what is and is not safe. That is why part of a responsible pregnancy is not only knowing to avoid certain products and materials, but is developing a good relationship with the medical professional in charge of one’s healthcare during pregnancy.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Not Receiving Influenza Vaccinations Increases Infant Mortality

Monday, July 8th, 2013

There has been a lot of talk about vaccinations in the past several years, and the camp of people on the side of going vaccination-free is getting bigger every year. That is something that frightens me as a doctor, as vaccinations are the single most effective way to prevent disease, not just among individuals but also among the general population, known as herd immunity.  Vaccination acts as a “firewall” in the spread of disease.  In herd immunity, the more folks that are vaccinated against a contagious disease, the less likely a single individual will become infected.

However, part of being a doctor is a willingness to look at all the evidence as it is presented to you. As the debate about vaccinations continues, an increasing number of researchers are looking at the effects that vaccinations have on individuals, and whether they have the potential to do more harm than good among certain groups.

Pregnant women are a group of major concern. There are a lot of steps and preventative measures that a woman must take in order to maintain the health of her child while she is pregnant, and vaccinations have always been recommended to prevent the devastating effects of the Influenza virus. Doctors in one study have conducted research on pregnant women and the influenza virus, as well as the mortality rates in the infants of those that choose not to be vaccinated.  While vaccinations against the Influenza virus pose no significant threat to women or to their unborn children, women who go without the vaccination show much higher rates of infection, and those that were infected show much higher rates of fetal mortality.  Another vaccine, known as Tdap, for tetanus, diptheria and pertussis (whooping cough), should be administered to all pregnant women in their third trimester (27 weeks to 36 weeks) in order to maximize the maternal antibody response and passive antibodies that will protect the newborn.

The results are not surprising to doctors, but they are worrying when you take into consideration the fact that this year, many women will choose not to be vaccinated, and will choose not to vaccinate their children. While many trends are silly but otherwise harmless, this “popular” trend could be absolutely devastating. There are certain vaccinations that should not be performed during pregnancy, such as measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), varicella (chickenpox), zoster (shingles), anthrax, BCG (tuberculosis), Japanese encephalitis, typhoid, yellow fever and smallpox, but women should trust their doctors to guide them in the right direction when it comes to making these decisions about the necessary vaccinations.  Choosing to vaccinate against Influenza, even while pregnant, poses virtually no risks. Choosing not to vaccinate could be a big mistake.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Reproductive Science Helps Women With HIV-Positive Partners Give Birth

Thursday, July 4th, 2013

Although sexually transmitted diseases are a very serious matter no matter what an individual is facing, HIV is perhaps the most frightening diagnosis for many individuals. Even with vastly improved life-expectancy rates, there are a number of concerns that individuals and those who have HIV-positive partners face throughout their lives. One of the biggest concerns for those who have HIV is whether or not they will have the opportunity to conceive children.

It is absolutely imperative that among couples in which one partner is infected with HIV and the other is not that protection is used whenever intercourse occurs. This means that a couple in which one partner has HIV cannot conceive naturally—at least, not in a responsible manner. However, studies in reproductive medicine have investigated whether or not the sperm of men that have been infected with HIV can successfully impregnate women while still leaving both mother and child HIV-free.

It sounds like a scary and risky procedure, and there has certainly been a lot of debate over whether these kinds of studies are wise. However, this study has shown that there does not seem to be a risk of infection in cases where the male sperm has been “washed” and the woman has been artificially impregnated. This is intriguing news not only for researchers that study the mechanics of HIV, but also for doctors who specialize in reproductive help. It means that there seem to be more options for couples in which at least one partner is infected. Unfortunately, pregnancy among HIV-infected women can still be dangerous, as the virus can transmit to the infant either during pregnancy or childbirth, and much more needs to be done to determine the possibilities for couples during these cases.

Overall, it is intriguing news and it will certainly continue to raise a lot of questions for those that specialize in women’s health and reproductive medicine. However, it is imperative for any couples in which one partner is infected with HIV to realize that it is necessary to seek medical advice when the issue of conception comes up. Even if the possibility for a safe pregnancy is there, it is better to seek the advice of professionals and to avoid any potential infection. Childbirth is a wonderful and a beautiful experience, but currently the best option for these couples is still to seek alternate methods to become parents.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Studies Show Lack of Evidence that IVF Causes Birth Defects

Monday, June 24th, 2013

From the moment a woman realizes she is pregnant, she is overwhelmed with worries about the health of her future child. These worries are only compounded when the woman in question has had a difficult time becoming pregnant. Those women who have undergone infertility treatment in order to conceive have perhaps the most difficult task ahead of them as they await the delivery of their child—a wait that is made only more difficult by the belief that many people have that infertility treatments cause birth defects and birth complications at a higher rate than among women who conceived naturally.

It certainly raises a lot of questions. If it were true that births after infertility treatment produced higher rates of birth defects, it would also raise quite the moral dilemma. Do doctors and potential parents have the right to produce children that may suffer health problems and defects? Infertility treatments have been the subject of much debate since the first test-tube baby was born, and many people are still uncomfortable with the idea. However, for millions of parents who would have been unable to conceive, IVF is a blessing. It’s my opinion that everybody has the right to become a parent, and thought it is wonderful that many parents can conceive naturally, it is also wonderful that there is an option for parents who face more difficulty in having children.

Thankfully, studies have shown that the worries people have about children produced through IVF may be unfounded. The rate of birth defects in children born through IVF are no higher than the rates among children born through natural conception once parental factors have been taken into account. People who are still worried about the health “risks” of IVF for children in this day and age need to learn to trust the research rather than the propaganda, and they need to stop spreading misinformation that might lead parents who turn to treatment to conceive to feel guilty about their decision.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Obesity a Direct Cause of Preterm Birth

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Though mothers shouldn’t be forced to think they need to remain svelte throughout their pregnancies, and shouldn’t be shamed of healthy weight gain during pregnancy, there is one serious issue that women need to keep in mind when they are preparing to become pregnant. It is impossible to plan out every step of a pregnancy, and there will always be unexpected complications that arise during the 40 weeks to delivery. However, there are precautions that women can take to prevent serious problems and to decrease the risk of preterm delivery, according to one study.

One of the biggest risk factors for preterm delivery is obesity in pregnant women. One study in Sweden has shown that not only is preterm delivery a risk, but some obese mothers shown signs of extreme preterm delivery. Even though this cohort study was conducted in a country that is not as heterogeneous as the United States, this is a serious concern, and one that may have serious implications for both doctors and potential parents. The most important thing for everybody involved in a birth with one of these risk factors to keep in mind is that such complications are not only possible, but that they are heightened due to the circumstances. Everybody involved must make plans for the possibility of an earlier birth, and everybody involved should be more open to the possibility of safety measures such as bed rest, gestational diabetes, kidney and heart problems as well as a host of other medical issues that can arise. In general, women who are obese when pregnant will likely need to be in contact with their physician more often than a woman who maintains a healthier weight.

Women who have not yet become pregnant and who are considered obese may want to speak with their doctors about their options before pregnancy. Even a small weight loss can be enough to curtail some of the biggest problems related to pregnancy, while a significant weight loss can have even more lasting effects. However, remember that any weight loss plan must be discussed in detail with your doctor—making yourself unhealthy just to drop a few pounds will not do your or your family any favors.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Talking With Your Doctor About Sexuality During Pregnancy

Thursday, June 13th, 2013

Pregnancy can be a wonderful experience, but it can also provoke a lot of mixed emotions in women. From joy to depression and anxiety, and just about everything in between, women will likely experience a full range of emotions. Their mental state is also not helped by the hormonal shifts that are taking place inside their bodies as they prepare for pregnancy and birth.

One of the most common complaints among pregnant women is the shift they experience in their sexual desire. It is hard to predict the shifts that will occur—some women may experience heightened sexual urges, while others may experience a drop or a complete lack of sexual interesting altogether. Some studies have shown a tendency for sexual practices to drop trimester by trimester, with an overwhelming majority of women not having sex in their last trimesters. Among the reasons for this seem to be concern in both men and women that sex could potentially complicate the pregnancy or cause harm to the unborn child.

It is up to the woman to decide whether or not she has an interest in sex. However, women should not feel as if they have to suppress their sexuality just because they are pregnant. It is imperative for women to open a dialogue with their doctors and to feel comfortable discussing sexual issues with her doctor. This can vastly help improve her understanding of what is and is not harmful during pregnancy, and can do much to reduce her anxieties.

Many women have a healthy and natural sex drive throughout their pregnancies, and some may even report an increase in sexual interest toward their second and third trimesters. They should not avoid sexual intercourse simply because they feel that it might do harm to their pregnancy. By speaking with their doctors, they can learn whether or not there are any real risks related to sexual activity, and in many cases they will realize their anxieties are unwarranted.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

How Does “Bedside Manner” Affect Patient Pain?

Thursday, June 6th, 2013

You’ve probably heard somebody talk about a doctor’s “bedside manner”. It can be fun to watch television shows such as House, M.D., where the doctor is not-so-nice to his patients, but there is a very real reason that doctors like this are often not successful in the real world, and why part of a doctor’s medical training includes learning how to communicate with their patients and treat them appropriately, especially after a major medical event such as childbirth or surgery.

While you can guess that the way a doctor interacts with their patient can affect their psychological well-being, you might not have considered the fact that the same interaction can influence the patient’s perception of pain. In fact, one study has shown that discussing pain with patients who have had a Caesarean childbirth adversely affects their perception of pain, and can actually make them feel worse.  This raises several important for both doctors and patients as they consider what it means to have a good “bedside manner”.

There are two ways to quantitate the perception of pain.  One is a numerical scale ( and the other is a visual analog pain scale, also known as the FACES or Wong-Baker scale (,   These pain scales allow the physician or nurse to get a better idea of the extent of the patient’s discomfort.  Still, even with these pain scales, some doctors still will act like “House”.

Talking about pain  is also a complex issue because it forces both doctors and patients to consider how they will manage pain and discomfort after surgery or childbirth. On the one hand, it is important for the doctor to know that their patient is feeling all right, and that there are no potential complications that need to be addressed. Some patients, especially those who have never undergone major surgery before, may feel that certain types of pain are “natural” and will not speak about these issues with their doctor. However, if asking about pain leads to negative effects, it important for doctors to choose their wording carefully in order to acquire the information they need while still aiding in their patient’s comfort.

It is always important for patients to have a doctor whom they feel that they can trust—who they already know through interacting with them has a bedside manner that meets their needs. This is especially important for women who are preparing to give birth, as they will want to heal as quickly as possible so they can begin to care for their newborns.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Even External Products Can Pose Risk to Expectant Mothers

Monday, May 27th, 2013

As an expectant mother, women will hear any number of dos and don’ts. Being pregnant forces women to learn an entirely new way to treat their body, as certain chemicals can cause a great deal of harm to developing fetuses. It is likely that almost all pregnant women know the risks of drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, and a great deal will choose not to drink heavily sugary or caffeinated drinks for the duration of their pregnancies in order to prevent potential damage due to changes in their bodies from these products.

However, many patients still do not understand the importance of monitoring the products that they use externally. Chemicals can just as easily be absorbed through the skin, and can cause as much damage as if they were ingested. This is why women who are pregnant are asked not to dye their hair or to expose themselves to other chemicals until their child is born. For evidence of how easily chemicals can enter into the body, look at this case study in which a pregnant woman was found to be host to considerable amounts of mercury due to a face cream she had purchased in Mexico.

Though that list of dos and don’ts can seem pretty exhausting, there is one easy rule-of-thumb that expectant mother’s can use when it comes to the products that they choose to use during their pregnancy. When it doubt, it is always better to be safe than sorry. Put that food or that product aside if you are uncertain about it and talk to your doctor. He or she will be more than happy to help you decide whether or not the product that you are using is safe for you and your baby. The harmful effects of some chemicals to the body far outweigh the benefits of soft skin or the perfect hair color.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Risk Factors For Urinary Incontinence

Thursday, May 23rd, 2013

There can be a lot of embarrassment associated with urinary stress incontinence, and a lot of women may feel like they can’t talk about it with anybody—even their doctor. However, those women should know that there is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s a fact of life that many women will have to deal with throughout their lives, whether it is after pregnancy, the result of aging, or due to any other number of causes.  In fact, with this study you can see just how many risk factors there are for UI. Moreover, UI (urinary incontinence) is not something to be ashamed of because it is the particular structure of women’s bodies that causes it to be so prevalent in the female gender.  It is also not related to the mode of delivery, i.e., cesarean vs. vaginal delivery.  Nuns have the same prevalence of urinary incontinence as mothers.

UI doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t hold it in at all—it simply means that there may be times or situations where women experience a little leakage, or there may be times when they are unable to “hold it” completely until they reach a restroom. Women may experience UI when they laugh or sneeze, or they might simply find the need to wear a panty liner throughout the day. It is a myth that there is nothing that can be done for UI.

The first and most important step in dealing with this issue is to speak with your doctor and specifically a urogynecologist. This is absolutely necessary, as there may be medical causes for sudden UI. If there are no medical causes, there might be other causes for UI, such as smoking.  If the cause is something like obesity, simply losing some excess weight can help. Your doctor can also recommend exercises that can help strengthen the pelvic wall and reduce UI. In extreme cases, your doctor may even recommend surgery to treat urinary incontinence. However, nothing can be done if patients are unwilling to speak to their doctor about the problem. Communication is always the first step in treating any issue.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.