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Birth control comes with a weight limit

The average American woman weighs 166 pounds. New data suggests that the Plan B morning-after pill is less effective if you weigh more that 165 pounds, and won't work at all for women who weigh more than 175. What's more, writes Kate Clancy (an anthropologist who studies women's reproductive issues), the dosages for regular old daily birth control are set for average-to-low-weight women. If your BMI is over 25, the pill won't work as well for you. Maggie 68

Three things to know about postpartum depression as you read about Miriam Carey and the Capitol car chase


On the Today Show this morning, a psychologist said "postpartum depression has led mothers to kill their children." This is not true.

Yesterday, Miriam Carey died after being shot by police following a car chase between the White House and the US Capitol building. Carey is reported to have tried to ram through barricades at the White House, hitting at least one officer as well as a squad car. She then drove her vehicle into barriers in front of the Hart Senate Building before being fatally shot by law enforcement officers. She was unarmed. A child identified as her daughter — a little more than one year old — was in the car the whole time.

Today, news outlets are reporting that Carey had a history of traumatic brain injury and postpartum depression, the latter of which may have been severe enough to send her to the hospital at some point in the past year. Nobody knows what, if any, effect this may have had on what happened yesterday. But it's led to plenty of speculation, and the spread of bad information that stigmatizes women suffering from an incredibly common mental illness.

For instance, on NBC's Today Show this morning, psychologist Jennifer Hartstein declared that "postpartum depression has led mothers to kill their children" — a statement that conflates PPD with a different disorder AND overstates the risk that other disorder poses to kids.

Over the next few days, we're all likely to hear a lot of discussion about postpartum depression. As you absorb that news, keep the following facts in mind:

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Why letting a pregnant woman's heart stop could save both her and her baby

I've been describing this Slate piece as the most awesome thing I really should not have read at 38 weeks pregnant. For decades, doctors thought that a pregnant woman whose heart stopped had pretty much no chance of survival. After trying to resuscitate her, attention would shift to rescuing the baby. But recent research suggests a better solution: Spend less time trying to get the mother's heart pumping again. Not only does it give the infants a better shot at survival, it also, insanely enough, saves more mothers. Turns out, once somebody removes the other human from your body, your failed heart will often just start pumping again on its own. Maggie 7

Why new parents (and almost-parents) need pertussis vaccines

I'm 38 weeks pregnant now. Two weeks ago, my husband and I both got Tdap vaccines — tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. This despite the fact that we've both gotten Tdaps relatively recently, within the last six years, thanks to a home renovation lifestyle that involves regular exposure to rusty nails.

So why re-up on the Tdap before the birth of our baby? It's all about the pertussis. Also called whooping cough, pertussis is particularly hard on infants. Pre-vaccine, it killed 4000 Americans every year, and most of them were new babies — and infections are on the rise in this country, so there's actually a reasonable risk of a newborn coming into contact with the bacteria that causes pertussis. But the larger problem is with the pertussis vaccine, itself. It doesn't have the staying power it once did. A little over 20 years ago, we switched the formulation for pertussis vaccines. There were good reasons for doing that — the "new" formula has fewer side effects. But it also doesn't seem to protect people as well for as long. In fact, the protection starts to wear off within a year of vaccination.

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Powerful writing on miscarriage and the decisions women face when pregnancy goes wrong

At the Context and Variation blog (one of the best sources around for solid information on the science of ladybusiness, btw), an anonymous guest post recounts the story of a woman's recent miscarriage, how she ended up deciding to end the pregnancy with surgical dilation and curettage, and what that experience and its aftermath were like. It's powerful, moving, and very much worth reading. (For context, I wrote about my own miscarriage here at BoingBoing last year, and that post is referenced in this article.) Maggie 3

Evidence-based pregnancy should be about decisions, not hard rules

If there's one thing I'm learning from the crop of evidence-based pregnancy books I've been perusing, it's this: Pregnancy ought to involve a lot more complicated decision-making and less blind rule following. That's because the stuff that gets touted as "must-do" or "can't do" is often, in reality, just one way of interpreting a conflicting and correlation-heavy body of data. Usually there is more than one appropriate, evidence-based decision that you can make, depending on your personal beliefs, desires, and goals. At the Wall Street Journal, Emily Oster does a great job of writing about this, using taboo libations alcohol and coffee as the examples. Maggie 41

Gummi vitamins: Not all they've smooshed up to be

Not all vitamins are created equal. Especially troubling, gummi "prenatal" vitamins that don't contain any calcium, thiamin, riboflavin, or iron. As Joss Fong points out at Double X Science, not only are pregnant women one of the few groups that can be shown to statistically benefit from taking vitamins, the missing iron is also one of the key things those women need. So why can you label a vitamin "prenatal" if it doesn't contain nutrients that are crucial to pregnant women? Consider this another friendly reminder that the dietary supplement industry is largely unregulated and doesn't have to answer to the FDA, except in a few, very specific circumstances. Maggie 9

The history and anthropology of birth and parenting

I'm reading a ton of baby and pregnancy books right now, preparing both for the October birth of my daughter and an upcoming BoingBoing feature about evidence-based books for science-minded soon-to-be-parents. After reading this interview at The New Inquiry, I really want to check out The Motherhood Archives — a documentary about the ways culture shapes and reshapes how we understand the biology of birth and the growth of an infant. From the Marxist origins of Lamaze, to the early-20th-century feminists who pushed for pain-free birth, to the rise of the birth center, The Motherhood Archives sounds like a fascinating exploration of how different generations think and rethink the same ideas and an anthropological assessment of what "the right way" to give birth and raise children really means. (Thanks, Emile Snyder!) Maggie 21

Abortions do happen in Catholic hospitals - they just aren't called that

The most dangerous time to be a woman in need of a life-saving abortion at a Catholic hospital is right after that hospital has been consolidated into a Catholic system, according the medical demographer Dr. Diana Foster. That's because doctors with more experience in the Catholic system are more likely to secretly offer therapeutic abortions under the table, and get away with it. Maggie 1

Pregnant? Depressed? Read this

Some kinds of antidepressants might pose a risk to embryos and fetuses at certain stages in their development. But depression in the mother also puts fetuses at risk, so whether or not a pregnant woman should take antidepressants is still a really complicated question. The answer depends a lot of individual experience of depressive symptoms, which drugs are taken, and when. As with most things relating to pregnancy and health, there's not a solid one-size-fits-all answer and individuals still have to weigh risks and make hard choices alone. Maggie

Decline in fertility after age 30 may be vastly overstated

As a woman, you do become less fertile as you get older, eventually culminating in menopause and the end of your potential babymaking years. But what does "less fertile" mean, and at what age, and how quickly does the drop-off in fertility happen?

According to this really fascinating piece by Jean Twenge at The Atlantic, some of the commonly cited scare stats — that one in three women ages 35 to 39 will not be pregnant after a year of trying, say — are based on extremely old data collected from historical birth records that don't necessarily reflect what's happening with real women who are alive right now. That statistic mentioned above, for instance, comes from French records (likely those collected by local church baptismal registries) for the years 1670 to 1830.

That matters because fertility is affected by things like quality of nutrition, infection rates, and even childhood illnesses — all of which have changed drastically for the average Western woman since the 19th century.

Look at more modern records, and the outlook for post-30 babymaking is completely different.

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Evidence-based pregnancy and birth information

A preggo info site that contains links to Cochrane Reviews, an evidence-based maternity care report, and evidence-based resource links for you and your doctor? Um, yes please. Maggie

How pregnancy is like climate change denialism

Hillary Rosner is a fantastic environmental reporter — the sort that digs facts and stories more than outrage-bait and blind activism. She's currently pregnant and, like all pregnant ladies, is finding herself subject to a deluge of warnings and "helpful" advice. When you're pregnant, there is always somebody who wants to let you know what you're doing wrong, why you're being irresponsible, and how you've totally ruined your kid's life already.

But in the midst of this, Rosner noticed something really fascinating: When it feels like the world is conspiring to make you terrified and guilty, it's sometimes easier to just tune out the world rather than investigate which claims are true and which aren't.

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More evidence that your mom's illnesses can affect your mental health

You've probably heard before that people with schizophrenia are more likely to have been born in winter than other seasons — and that this weird fact could be linked to their mothers coming down with the flu, or suffering from Vitamin D deficiency. A new study has now found that people with bipolar disorder had a greater likelihood of being born to women who had had the flu while pregnant. It's a strange connection, and might just be correlation. So far, doctor's don't really understand why a virus-infected mama would lead to her child developing mental illness later in life. Maggie

Baby humans are premature, fetal apes

My dad calls the first few months of a baby's life "the necessary larval stage". I've heard other people refer to it as "the fourth trimester". Basically, newborn human babies are pretty useless, as far as baby animals go. This is especially true in comparison to baby apes, who come out of the womb at a much higher level of development. Scientific American has an excerpt from an upcoming book by Chip Walter that talks about this fact and its connection to two key moments in human evolution — the development of bigger brains (and thus, bigger heads) and walking upright (which has the side effect of creating a narrower birth canal). Maggie