babies browsing by tag


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

Learning Your Baby’s Gender at Seven Weeks –Test is Mixed Blessing

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

For parents-to-be, impatient to know whether to paint the nursery blue or pink, a simple test can provide answers as early as seven weeks into the pregnancy.  These tests have been available for some time but weren’t widely used in the U.S., because their accuracy wasn’t known. Now, The New York Times reports, a new study in The Journal of the American Medical Association, has “found that carefully conducted tests could determine sex with accuracy of 95 percent at 7 weeks to 99 percent at 20 weeks.”

But is it really necessary to know your baby’s sex that early? For some parents, it can be.  The Times reports that European doctors routinely use such tests to:

… help expectant parents whose offspring are at risk for rare gender-linked disorders determine whether they need invasive and costly genetic testing. For example, Duchenne muscular dystrophy affects boys, but if the fetus is not the at-risk sex, such tests are unnecessary.

But the big downside, and one that concerns me greatly as a doctor and a mother, is that some cultures have such a bias against baby girls that the wide availability of such testing will result in ever more otherwise healthy female fetuses being aborted.

Several companies do not sell tests in China or India, where boys are prized over girls and fetuses found to be female have been aborted. While sex selection is not considered a widespread objective in the United States, companies say that occasionally customers expressed that interest, and have been denied the test. A recent study of third pregnancies in the journal Prenatal Diagnosis found that in some Asian-American groups, more boys than girls are born in ratios that are “strongly suggesting prenatal sex selection,” the authors said.
At least one company, Consumer Genetics, which sells the Pink or Blue test, requires customers to sign a waiver saying they are not using the test for that purpose. “We don’t want this technology to be used as a method of gender selection,” said the company’s executive vice president, Terry Carmichael.

Cultural preferences won’t be deterred by a signature on a form, but at least, it’s a start. At some point, all cultures will learn to value both genders equally. Until then, a test that holds promise for some, can be a terrible incentive for the ultimate act of bias against females in others.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

The Latest News From the CDC on Birth Defect Risks

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

In a report published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) [] warned against using prescription opiate-based painkillers such as codeine, hydrocodone or oxycodone (brand names include Vicodin and Oxycontin) during pregnancy.

According to an article about the CDC report:

In the study of data from 10 states, the CDC researchers found that 2 percent to 3 percent of mothers interviewed received prescription opioid pain killers, or analgesics, just before they got pregnant or early in their pregnancy. Any illicit use of painkillers was not assessed.

For those women, the risk of having a baby with hypoplastic left heart syndrome — a critical heart defect — was about double that of women who took no opioid drugs.

Risks of other birth defects, including spina bifida (a type of neural tube defect), hydrocephaly (build up of fluid in the brain), congenital glaucoma (eye defect), and gastroschisis (a defect of the abdominal wall), also somewhat increased among babies whose mothers took these drugs either shortly before or during pregnancy.

I have concerns about the generalization of both articles, but the conclusions may be valid. Taking a drug before you’re pregnant, or up to 17 days after conception, is unlikely to cause birth defects. It will either cause a miscarriage or will have no effect. But because most women don’t know precisely when they conceived, it’s best to avoid taking drugs at any time during pregnancy.

The greatest risk to a developing baby from a pregnant mother taking potentially toxic drugs occurs between 17 days post-conception to 12 weeks (end of the first trimester).

You’ve probably heard of Thalidomide, a sedative given in the 1950s to pregnant women in their first trimester. It dramatically illustrated the risks to a fetus’s development from drug effects during the critical first weeks. Thalidomide given early in pregnancy stunted the development of babies’ arms, legs, hands and feet, and caused other limb deformities.

If you’re pregnant, or planning to be, you should also be aware that most drugs, whether prescription or over-the-counter can have unknown effects on a growing fetus. The bottom line is: Every drug is, in some sense, a poison. Don’t consider any drug safe in pregnancy unless prescribed by someone who knows its toxicity as well as the risks and benefits of the drug.

– 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

When New Moms – or New Dads – Get the Pregnancy Blues

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Most women are familiar with the term post-partum depression.  Start with all the stresses of adding a new member to the family – not just the financial burden, but the schedule upheaval, the sleep deprivation, and the demands of a tiny person who can only make his or her needs known by wailing. Add the wild surge of hormones flooding a woman’s body, and is it any wonder that she might not be the picture of serenity and assurance? Estimates vary on the prevalence but as many as 25 percent of new moms may experience some level of depression either before or after delivery.

That’s bad enough, but now a study suggests that new fathers, just like new mothers, can find themselves overwhelmed when baby makes three (or more).

“The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., found that 10.4% of men experienced serious depression at some point between his partner’s first trimester and one year after childbirth, more than double the depression rate for men in general. American men were more likely to experience prenatal or postpartum depression compared with men in other countries, 14.1% in the U.S. compared with 8.2% internationally.”

What can you do when the guy you depend upon to keep you sane is going through his own blue period?

Your most important step –the one you should take if either you or your partner starts to feel sadness, agitation or hopelessness – is to talk to your doctor. Don’t try to tough it out. Reach out for help at the first signs that something isn’t quite right. It’s possible that all you need to get back to your cheery old selves is a good night’s sleep, but sometimes, you need more. The good news is that help is available. But first, you have to be aware of the signs of depression.

Post-partum depression can be debilitating if you let it go, so take steps immediately to get yourself and your new family back into the swing of enjoying things together again.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Babies I’ve delivered, all grown up

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Other doctors deal mostly with unhappy occasions, from a sniffle to serious illness, but obstetricians are there for the happiest times – the birth of a child – which is why I always say I have the best job ever.

I was reminded of just how wonderful my specialty has been to me by an e-mail from a patient transferred to my care 16 years ago, who eventually had to undergo a complicated cesarean delivery. As a maternal-fetal medicine specialist, I was called in by her obstetrician for difficult cases like hers.

She was carrying twins and had been in the hospital for a week. The night before the delivery, she’d had a very rough time. To help get through it, she’d watched “The Sound of Music” on TV.

The next day, in the delivery room, I delivered her babies by cesarean, fraternal twins, one boy, one girl. As I sent the babies off to the nursery, I noticed that her ovaries were very large and purple and asked if she’d been on fertility drugs. She hadn’t been but I called in two more specialists to consult and chatted with her as we reviewed the situation. Despite their enormous size and color, the ovaries did not pose a threat to her health and I decided to leave them where they were and just watch the situation.

We got to know each other better as I visited each day. When she mentioned the movie she’d seen the night before the delivery, I told her that it was one of my favorites and that I’d copied Maria’s wedding veil for my own wedding. After she and her babies went home, we stayed in touch and I sent her a copy of my first memoir, THE DITCHDIGGER’S DAUGHTERS.

Just last week, those twin babies turned 16 and my patient sent me some photographs of them looking all grown up.  It brightened up my day to see them, and to know that I had a hand in bringing them into the world. She also spoke of how she loved my book. So I can’t wait until my new memoir, SOMETHING TO PROVE, is published this fall. She’s going to be one of the first people I send a copy to.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Compared to white babies, twice as many African-American babies die in their first year of life

Monday, January 18th, 2010

As we celebrate the birthday of one of America’s greatest African-American leaders, Dr. Martin Luther King, and we take pride in the leadership of our first African-American president, Barack Obama, it’s easy to assume that racial disparities are a thing of the past.

But our infant mortality rates tell us that that’s not so.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), infant mortality among African-American babies is more than twice that of white babies. Among the other troubling statistics in the CDC report:

  • African Americans had 1.8 times the sudden infant death syndrome mortality rate as non-Hispanic whites, in 2005.
  • African American mothers were 2.5 times more likely than non-Hispanic white mothers to begin prenatal care in the 3rd trimester, or not receive prenatal care at all.
  • The infant mortality rate for African American mothers with over 13 years of education was almost three times that of Non-Hispanic White mothers in 2005.

America is still a country where people of color face discrimination at every turn, even if it’s less overt than it was in our past. Bias limits educational opportunities, employment opportunities, and it even limits the opportunity of pregnant women to get access to good healthcare.

If Dr. King could see us today, I know he’d be pleased at how far we’ve come. But if we haven’t provided our youngest and most vulnerable citizens equality in medical care, we still have a long way to go.

– 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

Yvonne Thornton on the Dr. Nancy Show: Should Pregnant Girls Play Contact Sports?

Thursday, December 10th, 2009

Today on Dr. Nancy, I was invited to appear to discuss a controversial issue. A young pregnant woman, whose high school took precautions against injury to her fetus by treating her differently than other girls on her volleyball team, has filed a complaint, claiming discrimination.

On the show, Dr. Nancy and I explained why this isn’t a discriminatory action but an appropriate one that protects the health of mother and fetus. Although some may not think of it this way, volleyball can be a contact sport. A player can get an elbow shoved into her abdomen when someone else reaches for the ball. A player can get pushed down on the court. There is always risk of injury but for most young women, the risk is minimal. Not so with a young pregnant woman. She risks harm to her fetus in the rough and tumble of such competitive sports.

While exercise is good for a pregnant woman’s health, contact sports are not, certainly not when the sorts of things we see happening in games have the potential to injure a fetus.

This isn’t a women’s rights issue. Dr. Nancy and I are both staunch defenders of women’s rights. It’s about keeping a baby and mother safe.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH