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How to win pregnant, classic SF cosplay

An intrepid pregnant cosplayer had an inspired costume idea! It's from George Takei's Twitter feed, and a followup suggests that she's called Alison. (via Wil Wheaton)

Bars in Alaska offer free pregnancy tests


Bars in Alaska have installed free pregnancy tests in their women's bathrooms in an effort to curb drinking among pregnant women. The tests are subsidized by the state of Alaska as part of a campaign to reduce fetal alcohol syndrome, which is more prevalent in Alaska than in any other state.

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Should a past mental health episode mean this mom loses her child?

Steve Herbert for ProPublica


Steve Herbert for ProPublica

At ProPublica, the story of a young woman who had a mental health crisis -- a psychotic episode -- and as a result, lost custody of her infant daughter. In the crisis incident, the mom became delusional and believed her child had been raped. The child had not been assaulted, nor was she ever harmed by her mom. Four years later, the mom is receiving effective treatment for her postpartum depression and psychosis, and capably raising a son. Yet, the courts in Kansas still won't give back her daughter, arguing she is unfit based an principle sometimes called "predictive neglect." Is this right?

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

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!)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

Evolution, pregnancy, and food

The populations at lowest risk for developing gestational diabetes — namely, ladies of European decent — come from cultures that eat (and have eaten, for thousands of years) dairy and wheat-heavy diets that would, normally, increase your risk. Meanwhile, writes Carl Zimmer at The Loom, Bangladeshi women, who have one of the highest risks for gestational diabetes, come from a culture that traditionally ate a low-carb, low-sugar diet. What's going on here? The answer might lie in evolution. It's a particularly interesting read given the ongoing pop-culture debate about whether 10,000 years is enough time for humans to adapt to eating certain foods. This data on pregnant ladies would suggest the answer is, at least in some respects, yes.

Which is more painful? Childbirth vs. Getting kicked in the nuts

Science has the answers. Or, anyway, science has a fascinating look at why this particular question cannot be satisfactorily answered.

Also, being 16 weeks pregnant, this is relevant to my interests. I look forward to the subjective debate in the comments.

Can you influence the sex of your baby by eating cereal?

This article by Monique Robinson is interesting — not because it tells you anything particularly useful about what you can do before conception to influence the sex of your child, but because it provides a rundown of the many random correlations studies have linked to fetal sex determination over the years. From eating cereal to being a billionaire's kid, it's an intriguing look at how easy it is to find patterns, even when those patterns may (or may not) be totally meaningless.

Some context, in case you spent the better part of last night googling eclampsia

For no particular reason, here is a graph of maternal mortality rates in England and Wales between 1850 and 1970. The Daily Beast also has an informative article on eclampsia, specifically, though you should be aware that it contains many television spoilers. Particularly interesting to me: We still don't actually know what causes eclampsia — and the treatments still revolve around preventing the seizures. (Thanks to Ms. Rosenberg for the graph!)

Moms, booze, and why social science is so damn hard

In the past year, I've had multiple social scientists tell me that people are the hardest thing to study. Sure, you don't need a Large Hadron Collider. And the chances of suddenly requiring a HAZMAT suit are pretty slim. But people almost never give you the kind of solidly reliable data you can get out of subatomic particles or viruses. The hard part isn't doing the research. The hard part is getting trustworthy, universal answers for anything. If you want to see a good example of those problems in action, check out this great piece on drinking during pregnancy, written by Melinda Moyer.

Positive pregnancy test diagnoses man's cancer

The science behind the story of how Reddit saved yet another life.

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Baby's First Baby

"Baby's First Baby," by Darren Cullen (2012). via BB Flickr Pool.

Going medieval on the female reproductive system

Speaking of Todd Akin, Cory posted yesterday about the history of the bogus idea that women who were raped (excuse me, "legitimately" raped) can't get pregnant from it, citing a medical/legal text from 1785. In a story at The Week, we learn that this particular bit of misinformation is, in fact, even older than that, dating back to 1290. So Akin is propagating a belief that has been spread—despite a complete lack of evidence to support it—since the 13th century. Good times.

Science, rape, and pregnancy

Kate Clancy is one of my favorite bloggers. An anthropology professor at the University of Illinois, she studies the evolution of female reproductive anatomy. Her blog covers science I don't see anywhere else—the human evolution, cultural anthropology, and behavioral science behind ladybusiness.

So Clancy's blog was one of the first places I looked yesterday after reading about Missouri Rep. Todd Akin thoughtful commentary on female biology. In a long, well-written, and (fair warning) rather graphic post, Clancy talks about what we know about rape—think of it this way, you know way more people who have been raped than who have a gluten intolerance—and the way that emotional trauma affects conception and pregnancy.

First off, there is absolutely no difference in the rate of conception between women who have been raped and those who had consensual sex. Clancy breaks this down nicely in her blog post, and even offers a surprising tidbit from the research literature that all people should consider—at any given day in a woman's cycle (even days when she is supposedly "infertile") there's about a 3% chance of unprotected sex leading to a pregnancy.

The impact of stress on miscarriage is a lot messier. I've mentioned here before that we know very, very little about miscarriage, relative to a lot of other medical issues. To paraphrase my family practice doc, when you start talking about conception and miscarriage you very quickly wander past the small amount of hard evidence and straight into voodoo. And also into the counter-intuitive nature of reality. For instance, from reading Jon Cohen's excellent book on miscarriage science, Coming to Term, I know that one of the very few miscarriage interventions that's ever performed better than placebo in multiple trials is something called "Tender Loving Care". The idea: For whatever reason, women who have had recurrent miscarriages have a greater chance of carrying the next pregnancy to term if they have regular access to mental health services, stress-relieving practices like meditation, and doctors who listen and respond to their fears. But that's not the same thing as saying that stress, or a scare, or a severe mental trauma will, inevitably, cause a miscarriage. Here's Kate Clancy:

Yes, psychosocial stress is associated with fetal loss in some samples. That is not the same thing as saying that stress causes fetal loss. Some women are more reactive to stress than others, and this seems to be based on genes and early childhood experiences. As I pointed out in my post, it certainly isn’t something women have conscious control over. And so it is irrational to link the stress of rape, while awful and severe, to fetal loss, when we understand the mechanism of the stress response and its relationship to pregnancy so poorly, and when we know next to nothing regarding how variation in stress reactivity is produced.

Basically, while stress (and the associated hormones) are correlated with a higher risk of miscarriage in some (but not all) studies, that seems to have more to do with an individual's biological makeup than it does with the source of the stress. And, frankly, we barely know enough to even say that.

Read the rest of Kate Clancy's post on the rape and pregnancy

Read Clancy's earlier (excellent) post on miscarriage

Read Jon Cohen's book, Coming to Term. (I keep recommending this, but, seriously, it's wonderful. And a hugely sane-making force in my life.)

Image: Uterus Embroidery Hoop Art, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from hey__paul's photostream

Our Selves, Other Cells


Photo: lunar caustic

Is it any solace to sentimental mothers that their babies will always be part of them?

I’m not talking about emotional bonds, which we can only hope will endure.

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