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Women’s Health

Big data, Obesity, Pregnancy, Public Health, Women's Health

Maternal obesity linked to earliest premature births, says Stanford study

Maternal obesity linked to earliest premature births, says Stanford study

preemiefeetExpectant mothers who are obese before they become pregnant are at increased risk of delivering a very premature baby, according to a new study of nearly 1,000,000 California births.

The study, which appears in the July issue of Paediatric and Perinatal Epidemiology, is part of a major research effort by the March of Dimes Prematurity Research Center at Stanford University School of Medicine to understand why 450,000 U.S. babies are being born too early each year. Figuring out what causes preterm birth is the first step in understanding how to prevent it, but in many cases, physicians have no idea why a pregnant woman went into labor early.

The new study focused on preterm deliveries of unknown cause, starting from a database of nearly every California birth between January 2007 and December 2009 to examine singleton pregnancies where the mother did not have any illnesses known to be associated with prematurity.

The researchers found a link between mom’s obesity and the earliest premature births, those that happen before 28 weeks, or about six months, of pregnancy. The obesity-prematurity connection was  stronger for first-time moms than for women having their second or later child. Maternal obesity was not linked with preterm deliveries that happen between 28 and 37 weeks of the 40-week gestation period.

From our press release about the research:

“Until now, people have been thinking about preterm birth as one condition, simply by defining it as any birth that happens at least three weeks early,” said Gary Shaw, DrPH, professor of pediatrics and the lead author of the new research. “But it’s not as simple as that. Preterm birth is not one construct; gestational age matters.”

The researchers plan to investigate which aspects of obesity might trigger very early labor. For example, Shaw said, the inflammatory state seen in the body in obesity might be a factor, though more work is needed to confirm this.

Previously: How Stanford researchers are working to understand the complexities of preterm birth, A look at the world’s smallest preterm babies and New research center aims to understand premature birth
Photo by Evelyn

Clinical Trials, Nutrition, Parenting, Pediatrics, Research, Women's Health

Stanford study investigates how to prevent moms from passing on eating disorders

Stanford study investigates how to prevent moms from passing on eating disorders

veggie-stirfryResearchers have known for some time that women who have previously had eating disorders face a special set of challenges when they begin feeding their own children: They may unintentionally pass on problematic eating behaviors to their kids.

Now a Stanford research team is studying how to help these moms. They are recruiting families with a child between the ages of 1 and 5 whose mother had anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge-eating disorder in the past. In the 16-week study, the researchers will work with both the mother and her partner to build healthy family interactions around food.

From our announcement about the study:

“The data on feeding practices of mothers who have had eating disorders are very worrying,” said Shiri Sadeh-Sharvit, PhD, a visiting scholar at Stanford who is leading the new study. “These mothers are good parents who want only the best for their children, but they struggle with eating-disorder thinking. It’s something that comes and blurs their parenting.”

Prior research has shown that mealtime conflict is more common in families in which the mother has had an eating disorder. These mothers may overfeed or underfeed their children, though underfeeding is more predominant. They also have more difficulty recognizing hunger and fullness cues in themselves and their children, which makes it harder for them to help their kids learn to respond to these sensations. Children whose mothers have had eating disorders are more likely than other kids to be dissatisfied with their bodies and engage in emotional eating, binge eating or restrictive eating.

Sadeh-Sharvit is collaborating with James Lock, MD, PhD, who has a long track record of demonstrating the effectiveness of eating-disorder treatments that involve the patient’s family in the treatment process.

Local families who are interested in participating in the research can contact Sadeh-Sharvit at (650) 497-4949 or shiri_sade@yahoo.com for more information. Stanford’s Eating Disorders Research Program also maintains an online list of all of their eating-disorder studies that are currently seeking participants.

Previously: Promoting healthy eating and a positive body image on college campuses, A growing consensus for revamping anorexia nervosa treatment and Story highlights need to change the way we view and diagnose eating disorders in men
Photo by Indiana Public Media

Events, Mental Health, Public Health, Research, Stanford News, Women's Health

Promoting healthy eating and a positive body image on college campuses

Promoting healthy eating and a positive body image on college campuses

IMG_2764rtshEncouragement to focus on physical appearance in our culture often fuels negative body image and eating disorders. College students can be particularly susceptible to body image issues, and a past survey shows that eating disorders among college students have risen to affect 10 to 20 percent of women and four to 10 percent of men.

To create a social environment where healthy eating and a positive body image are the norm, Connie Sobczak and Elizabeth Scott established The Body Positive initiative in 1996. The program provides youth and adults with tools and strategies to overcome self-destructive eating and exercise behaviors. This past year, the women worked with a group of Stanford students and staff members to change cultural beliefs of beauty and health on campus.

In celebration of the student-led movement, The Body Positive is hosting an event at the Stanford Women’s Center this Sunday. During the event, attendees will be able to view students’ art, hear them sing and speak out in celebration of their authentic beauty and learn more about their projects to support positive body attitudes. Below Scott discusses The Body Positive model, research at Stanford to measure the effectiveness of the approach, and ways that parents, educators and others can support young adults in developing a healthy body image.

What is it about the college experience that leads students be so critical of their body image and to struggle with eating disorders?

Students report many messages in the college environment that promote a preoccupation with body image and dieting — two risk factors in the development of an eating disorder. In the student community at college, there are a plethora of messages questioning students’ ability to trust their own bodies and promoting the idea that everyone can, and should, transform the size and shape of their bodies to meet a very slender ideal. Both men and women are susceptible to these messages. Women, however, are also trained to be ashamed of their appetites and ambitions and to shrink themselves and their passions. These messages are strengthened by peers who are also afraid that they are not okay as they are, especially freshman who are separated from their family and out in the world alone for the first time feeling uncertain about how to take care of themselves.

What motivated you and Connie to launch The Body Positive?

We founded The Body Positive to prevent eating disorders by teaching youth and adults to experience self-love, inhabit their unique beauty, and listen to the voice of wisdom within to guide sustainable, joyful self-care. Ultimately, our work is about freeing all people to pursue their life purpose and passions. Connie survived an eating disorder and then lost a sister to body hatred. She was motivated to change the world so her daughter, and all children, could grow up loving themselves and seeing beauty in their unique bodies. I was overwhelmed by the suffering of the people I was seeing as a new therapist in my practice in Marin County. I was shocked (and still am) to see so many young people suffering with body hatred and eating disorders and losing years of their lives. Being a social worker and an activist, I was motivated to transform the culture so that people could let go of the fruitless pursuit of transforming their bodies.

What advice can you offer to help parents, educators or others in establishing a social climate where healthy eating, a positive body image and excellent self-care are the norm?

Learn the Body Positive competencies! Learn to cultivate mercy for your impermanent and ever-changing body. Be a role model of self-love, especially to your children. Learn to be generous with yourself and develop peaceful, sustainable self-care behaviors so that you can gently return to balance when you are out of balance. Explore the ways your ancestors are represented in the natural size and shape of your body and celebrate those amazing survivors instead of fighting them. Trust the authority of your own body and test everyone else’s ideas about how you should take care of it against your own experience, like a true scientist. If you do all this you will be a great role model for others and that is the best way to create body positive community.

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Cancer, Fertility, Parenting, Pregnancy, Women's Health

A cancer survivor discusses the importance of considering fertility preservation prior to treatment

pregnancy_testBack in 1998, Joyce Reinecke, JD, was on a cross-country business trip when her increasing fatigue and lightheadedness resulted in her being admitted to the emergency room and the discovery that she had tumors in her stomach, one of which was necrotic and bleeding causing her to be severely anemic. She was diagnosed with leiomyosarcoma, and the tumors, as well as all of the surrounding lymph nodes, were surgically removed. Before she was discharged from the hospital an oncology fellow casually mentioned to Reinecke that since she was scheduled to start chemotherapy she might want to consider options to preserve her fertility.

At the time, Reinecke and her husband hadn’t considered how her treatment would affect their future plans to have a family. The couple eventually decided to complete a round of in vitro fertilization and work with an agency to select a gestational carrier. Their twin daughters were born in February 2000. Reinecke, executive director of the Alliance for Fertility Preservation, shared her patient perspective during a keynote speech at the Family Building After Cancer: Fertility Preservation and Future Options Symposium held at Stanford earlier this month.

To continue the conversation, I reached out to Reinecke about the issue of fertility and cancer survivorship. In the following Q&A, she discusses advancements in the field, why patients need to be proactive in sharing their wishes to have a family with providers, and questions to consider prior to treatment.

What motivated you to focus your career on expanding patient and provider awareness of fertility preservation?

When my girls were around two, I received several inquiries from family acquaintances who had young adults in their lives who were newly diagnosed with cancer. These people had reached out to my parents, to try to understand more about what I had done, where I had gone, etc. in order to preserve my fertility. In speaking to others and hearing about their challenges in finding fertility information and services, I started to really feel that something about the status quo was not right. These patients/family members had learned about possible infertility because they knew of my story, not because their doctors had discussed it with them. This really emphasized to me that my situation – learning about my possible infertility in a very ad hoc way – was not unique, not unusual, but the norm, and perhaps, lucky.

I began doing research around the issue, to see what was out there, what information was available online, etc. I found very little, but I did stumble upon information that Fertile Hope was having a fundraiser. I was in complete shock that a new nonprofit focused on this very issue existed, not to mention that it was based in New York. I went to the fundraiser, signed up to volunteer, met with Lindsay Beck, and signed on as Employee #2. The rest is history.

A past study shows that less than half of U.S. physicians are following the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s guidelines suggesting all patients of childbearing age be informed about fertility preservation. How can patients make sure they get the necessary information about their fertility options prior to treatment?

This question is tricky, because I feel like the onus for initiating this discussion has to be on the provider. Newly diagnosed patients are overwhelmed with all sorts of medical information and decisions to make, not to mention the emotional distress of the diagnosis. Also, patients don’t know what they don’t know. Sometimes providers mistakenly believe a patient isn’t interested in fertility preservation because they don’t ask about it. However, providers have to remember that newly diagnosed young adults probably have very little understanding about how chemotherapy and radiation work – unless they have a cancer that has a direct impact on their reproductive system they probably have no inkling that their fertility is at stake.

That being said, patients need to advocate in their own interest (or enlist a family member to help them do this if they cannot during this difficult time). That means communicating their wishes and values about future parenthood with their providers. That means asking the right questions: Will I be able to have children in a few years? Ever? What can I do about it? It might also mean being able to challenge their doctor’s disapproval or ask that treatment be pushed back [so the patient has time to] bank sperm or eggs. Which is sometimes hard to do.

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Global Health, Health Policy, Public Safety, Women's Health

Lobbying Congress on bill to stop violence against women

Lobbying Congress on bill to stop violence against women

capitol - smallWhen I walked into the U.S. Capitol building this week, it was with the weight of history – my own and my country’s. Years ago, I had walked these hallowed halls as a writer for a Congressional publication and had lived in a house just blocks away. But this time I was there for a very different purpose: I was going to try my hand at lobbying, plying Congress for a cause that had become dear to my heart.

I came to Washington, D.C. with nearly 150 volunteers and staff from the American Jewish World Service, an international development organization that promotes human rights and works to end poverty in the developing world. This year, one of the group’s legislative priorities is passage of the International Violence Against Women Act, now pending in Congress. In February, I had traveled to Uganda as a Global Justice Fellow with AJWS, learning first-hand why this bill is so crucial to the lives of women around the world. I met a gay woman whose life had become hell because of her gender identity; she’d been beaten, raped and robbed and was suffering the emotional trauma of being ostracized by family and community. I also met sex workers, many of them single mothers just trying to make a living, who had been subjected to unprovoked beatings and police brutality. And I met a transgender woman whose home had been burned to the ground and who had been terrorized by her community simply because of who she was. In fact, I would learn that one in three women around the world are beaten, abused or raped at some point in their lifetime – an appalling figure.

The bill would help combat this trend by using the full force of U.S. diplomacy, as well as existing U.S. foreign aid funding, to support legal, social, educational, economic and health initiatives to prevent violence, support victims and change attitudes about women and girls in society. When women become victims of violence, everyone suffers; gender-based violence can reduce a nation’s GDP by as much as 3 percent because women are so key to collective productivity.

“If you want to get a barometer on how a country will fare – its stability – just look at the way it treats its women,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) told our group as we prepared to head out to visit Members of Congress. “Women invest in children and family. Men invest in war.”

With the recent kidnapping of more than 250 Nigerian school girls, the need for the legislation has become all the more pressing. “This is the moment to strike,” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said during a meeting with 20 members of our group. We met with Boxer in the sumptuous President’s Room in the U.S. Capitol, adorned with gilt, frescoes and historical portraits and the spot where Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King once stood. Boxer had just come from a vote on several new judges and was gracious enough to stop by to spend 20 minutes listening to our pitch and discussing strategy.

A strong women’s rights activist, she has been an ardent supporter of the bill from the start. With 300 nonprofit groups now clamoring for its passage, she said she felt it was time to introduce it into the Senate, which she did a week ago. It’s now critical, she said, to enlist additional Republican co-sponsors of the legislation, particularly among members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to give it greater weight and bipartisan appeal. In the House, the bill already has 63 Democratic and 11 Republican co-sponsors, with more being sought.

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Fertility, Women's Health

Mother’s Day and not-by-choice non-mothers

Mother's Day and not-by-choice non-mothers

mother's day partyThe fictional character Bridget Jones drew melancholy in the presence of “smug marrieds” as a single woman. I thought of her term, and other ways experience shapes one’s perspective and perceived status in social interactions, when reading a CommonHealth blog post today by guest contributor and executive producer Karen Shiffman.

Shiffman explains why, through no fault of the happy parents, someone else’s celebration can feel particularly abrasive to the childless-not-by-choice around Mother’s Day. Whether because of infertility, previous illness, divorce or other reasons for not becoming pregnant, or losing a child through miscarriage, death or estrangement, she writes, Mother’s Day isn’t “flowers, manicures, homemade cards” to every woman.

From the piece:

…For me, Mother’s Day is the hardest date on the calendar: I can’t have children and will never be a biological mother. Bad genes, bad luck and a huge cancer scare a while back left me without a womb and a few other body parts.

…As Mother’s Day approached, I didn’t do much better. My family went out for a celebratory brunch; I stayed home. I said it was too painful to be out with all those happy moms and families. I took my mother out to dinner later that week.

She later advises: “So on Mother’s Day, celebrate to the hilt. And the week after, check in on a friend who might have struggled that day.”

Previously: An in-depth look at fertility and cancer survivorshipStudy highlights fertility-related concerns of young cancer survivorsA need to provide infertility counseling to cancer patients and Ask Stanford Med: Director of Female Sexual Medicine Program responds to questions on sexual health
Photo by Quinn Dombrowski

Events, Global Health, Stanford News, Women's Health

2014 Stanford Women’s Health Forum to focus on global health

2014 Stanford Women's Health Forum to focus on global health

I’ll be spending next Wednesday afternoon at the Fifth Annual Stanford Women’s Health Forum, where the best thing about the event is also its most frustrating: There are a lot of good speakers. How does one choose between hearing about the power of training adolescent girls to say no to unwanted sexual advances, and learning from Shuchi Anand, MD, MS, a Stanford nephrologist and epidemiologist who tracks gender-related risk factors for chronic disease in developing regions?

Such difficult choices have been typical of the abundant schedule for each year’s forum, organized by the Stanford WDSM Center, previously known by its longer title, the Stanford Center for Health Research on Women and Sex Differences in Medicine. WSDM selects a theme for the forum and doubles the opportunities for audiences by offering two talks each hour. Last year’s forum focused on breast cancer and featured keynote speaker Susan Love, MD, a breast cancer specialist and leukemia survivor. This year’s theme is global health, and the impressive list of speakers begins with Ruth Levine, PhD, director of the global development and population program at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

In addition to the talks, whose moderators include Jesse Draper, creator and host of “The Valley Girl Show,” the event features  informational presentations on the Stanford Health Library, Stanford Hospital’s Aging Adult Services and Navigation Services programs, lung CT screening, new breast cancer screening technologies, peripheral artery disease diagnostics, and the medical application of the latest in immersive 3-D technologies.

The free event is held at the Arrillaga Alumni Center on the Stanford campus, and those who are interested can register here. For those who can’t make the event, WSDM will post videos of its forum on its YouTube channel.

Previously: Empowerment training prevents rape of Kenyan girls, Videos from Stanford 2013 Women’s Health Forum available online and At Stanford event, cancer advocate Susan Love talks about “a future with no breast cancer”

Cardiovascular Medicine, Health and Fitness, Research, Women's Health

Lack of exercise shown to have largest impact on heart disease risk for women over 30

Lack of exercise shown to have largest impact on heart disease risk for women over 30

woman_running_londonHeart disease, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease claims the life of someone’s wife, mother, daughter or sister every minute in the United States, according to statistics from the American Heart Association. Now a study shows that an inactive lifestyle outweighs other risk factors, such as obesity and smoking, for developing cardiovascular disease among women age 30 and older.

In the study, Australian researchers tracked the health of more than 30,000 women born in the 1920s, 1940s and 1970s. Findings showed that for women under the age of 30, smoking had the most significant impact on women’s risk of heart disease. But as women got older, and kicked their nicotine habit, the biggest factor shifted to lack of exercise. According to a recent MedPage Today story:

The results highlight the fact that population attributable risks for heart disease appear to change throughout women’s lives, the researchers concluded.

The study findings highlight the importance of emphasizing regular exercise for reducing cardiovascular disease risk, especially in young adulthood and middle age, the researchers said.

“Our data suggest that national programs for the promotion and maintenance of physical activity, across the adult lifespan, but especially in young adulthood, deserve to be a much higher public health priority for women than they are now,” they wrote.

They estimated that “if every woman between the ages of 30 and 90 were able to reach the recommended weekly exercise quota — 150 minutes of at least moderate intensity physical activity — then the lives of more than 2,000 middle-age and older women could be saved each year in Australia alone.”

Previously: Study shows many women have a limited knowledge of stroke warning signs, More evidence that prolonged inactivity may shorten life span, increase risk of chronic disease, Exercise is valuable in preventing sedentary death and Ask Stanford Med: Cardiologist Jennifer Tremmel responds to questions on women’s heart health
Photo by James Roberts

Parenting, Pregnancy, Stanford News, Women's Health

A team of high-risk birth specialists intervene to remove a large lung cyst and save a newborn’s life

A team of high-risk birth specialists intervene to remove a large lung cyst and save a newborn's life

baby-elijah-fetal-maternal-stanford-childrens-200x200When Elizabeth Rodriguez-Garcia was six months pregnant with her first child, she received some frightening news about the development of her baby: The fetus had a large, fluid-filled cyst that was impeding growth of his lung, compressing on his esophagus and pushing on his heart. As the cyst grew larger, the baby developed fluid retention, a condition known as hydrops, and was at high risk of dying in utero.

A Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford press release explains how a team of high-risk birth specialists collaborated to intervene both before and after delivery to save the newborn’s life:

A week after the cyst was first found, Jane Chueh, MD, director of prenatal diagnosis and therapy at the hospital’s Johnson Pregnancy and Newborn Center and a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the School of Medicine, inserted a large needle into Elizabeth’s abdomen and into the fetus’ chest using ultrasound guidance, then threaded a small rubber shunt through the needle into the cyst. It was the first use of the procedure at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford.

“It immediately started to drain,’’ Chueh said. “It’s like popping a water balloon. Most of the fluid came out in seconds.”

Relieving pressure from the cyst came at a critical time, said Chueh. The dangerous fluid retention that doctors worried was endangering the baby’s life improved dramatically.

After the intervention, mother and baby continued to be frequently monitored and it soon became clear that an emergency surgery would be necessary after delivery to make sure the newborn could breathe properly on his own. At 39 weeks, Rodriguez-Garcia had a scheduled C-section to simplify the transition between delivery and surgery. Nearly three dozen surgeons, obstetricians, anesthesiologists, neonatologists and respiratory therapists worked quickly to ensure mom and baby’s safety:

The operating team, led by surgeon Karl Sylvester, MD, the center’s executive director as well as an associate professor of pediatric surgery, stood by. Within minutes of birth, the baby was quickly moved into Sylvester’s operating room, where he and the surgical team, including assistant professor of pediatric surgery Matias Bruzoni, MD, removed both the cyst and more than two-thirds of the baby’s lung that was adversely affected by the cyst.

“Our ability to provide all these subspecialists in two rooms to care for both the mom and the baby is what led to the successful outcome for this family,” Sylvester said. “It made a huge difference in this young family’s life; without it, he may not have survived at all.”

Today, Rodriguez-Garcia and her husband have a happy, healthy 5-month-old named Elijah. His mother said, “If you see him, you’d never know what he went through and that he doesn’t have most of his left lung. The cyst is completely gone. I feel blessed.”

Previously: From womb to world: Stanford Medicine Magazine explores new work on having a baby, Special care to protect newborns’ fragile brains and A family’s grace in crisis

Complementary Medicine, Mental Health, Parenting, Pregnancy, Research, Women's Health

Ah…OM: Study shows prenatal yoga may relieve anxiety in pregnant women

Ah...OM: Study shows prenatal yoga may relieve anxiety in pregnant women

Desi_smallDuring a pre- and postnatal yoga module of my yoga teacher training, I was enchanted by instructor Desi Bartlett‘s reference to “pregnant goddesses” – our future students – as we learned how yoga could help them prepare for delivery day. (Think deep squats.) Methods to empower goddesses throughout and beyond pregnancy included modifications to traditional poses to stay fit while providing a safe “house” for the fetus, breathing and meditation to steady a busy mind, group activities to build community with other new parents and restorative poses to find calm during a period of change.

Now, a study (subscription required) has investigated how yoga can help relieve pregnancy-specific anxiety in mothers-to-be. Researchers at the University of Manchester and Newcastle University in the U.K. followed 59 women, each pregnant with her first child and receiving normal prenatal treatment during the late second to third trimester, and asked them to self-report their emotional states. A randomized group attended eight weekly prenatal Hatha yoga sessions, and researchers measured those participants’ saliva cortisol levels before and after the first and last classes of the intervention.

From a release:

A single session of yoga was found to reduce self-reported anxiety by one third and stress hormone levels by 14%. Encouragingly, similar findings were made at both the first and final session of the 8 week intervention.

“The results confirm what many who take part in yoga have suspected for a long time,” John Aplin, PhD, one of the senior investigators in Manchester and a yoga teacher, said in the release. “There is also evidence yoga can reduce the need for pain relief during birth and the likelihood for delivery by emergency caesarean section.”

The study was published in the Journal of Depression and Anxiety.

Previously: Toilets of the future, and the art of squattingA reminder that prenatal care is key to a healthy pregnancyPregnant and on the move: The importance of exercise for moms-to-be and Ask Stanford Med: Pain expert responds to questions on integrative medicine
Photo of Desi Bartlett by Natiya Guin

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