Pregnancy

New depression screening guidelines outline very helpful, yet achievable goals

Michael Craig Miller, M.D.
Michael Craig Miller, M.D., Senior Editor, Mental Health Publishing, Harvard Health Publications

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently updated their guidelines on screening for depression. This time around, they recommended widespread screening through primary care practices, plus gave special attention to women who are pregnant or recently gave birth. These matter-of-fact, achievable guidelines and goals have the potential to reap enormous health benefits.

Lead poisoning: What everyone needs to know

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Even though the use of lead has been regulated for many years, tragedies like the one currently ongoing in Flint, Michigan still occur. Exposure to lead in childhood can have health effects that can change a child’s life forever. We’ve listed steps you can take to keep your child — and everyone in your home — safe from lead poisoning.

What you need to know about Zika virus

John Ross, MD, FIDSA
John Ross, MD, FIDSA, Contributing Editor

Zika, a formerly rare and obscure virus, has recently spread throughout the Pacific islands and the Americas. Although Zika virus rarely makes people seriously ill, it’s been implicated in a huge rise in the number of birth defects in babies born to mothers who’ve had Zika. Although its impact in the U.S. is expected to be much less severe than in warmer climates, we’ve listed some tips to reduce your exposure to the type of mosquito that carries Zika.

Where is best for birth: Hospital or home?

Jeffrey Ecker, MD
Jeffrey Ecker, MD, Contributing Editor

By the mid-20th century, most births took place in the hospital. But increasingly, some women are choosing to have their babies at home in an effort to avoid seemingly unnecessary interventions and find an alternative to hospital environments. We don’t have the best data to assess the safety of home birth. But a recent analysis offers insights that can help women make choices based on what they value the most.

C-section rates: Consider this when deciding where to have your baby

Hope Ricciotti, MD
Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

For years, there has been concern about the high rate of cesarean births — but just how many cesareans are too many? A recent study suggests that a cesarean rate of 19% is about right. The reasons for high cesarean rates may be related more to each hospital’s circumstances and processes than to other, more commonly cited reasons. If you’re concerned, find out the C-section rate at the hospital where you plan to deliver your baby.

Yoga in pregnancy: Many poses are safer than once thought

Marlynn Wei, MD, JD
Marlynn Wei, MD, JD, Contributing Editor

Yoga can help relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress, all of which are common during pregnancy. A new study shows that many yoga poses are safe for mothers-to-be and their babies. However, pregnant women should take certain precautions when doing yoga — for example, avoiding heated yoga classes and being careful not to over-stretch. It’s also important for pregnant women to check with their doctors to be sure there are no underlying health concerns before starting yoga.

Miscarriage: Keep breaking the silence

Hope Ricciotti, MD
Hope Ricciotti, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Many public figures have begun speaking up about their experiences with miscarriage. While it’s wonderful that they’re breaking the silence, a recent survey has revealed that the general public still has a lot of misconceptions about this surprisingly common event. Dr. Hope Ricciotti shares her reactions to the survey results, and her advice to women experiencing miscarriage.

Experts say no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Many women think an occasional drink during pregnancy poses no harm, but a recent report suggests that no amount of alcohol is safe for the developing fetus. Alcohol affects the development of many organs, most notably the brain. While fetal alcohol syndrome, the most severe form of alcohol-induced damage, is unlikely to result from an occasional drink, researchers are finding that smaller amounts of alcohol can still have a negative effect. For that reason, no alcohol at all is safest when you’re pregnant or plan to conceive. If you’d like help cutting back on alcohol, don’t be embarrassed to talk with your doctor about it—she or he can help.

Treating unexplained infertility: Answers still needed

Jeffrey Ecker, MD
Jeffrey Ecker, MD, Contributing Editor

One of the most common treatments for unexplained infertility is ovulation induction, in which a woman takes drugs that will increase the number of eggs the ovary releases in the hope that at least one will result in a pregnancy. But when too many eggs are available for fertilization, the rates of high-risk multiple pregnancies go up. A recent study compared three drugs used for ovulation induction and found that the one more likely to result in a live birth was also more likely to result in a multiple pregnancy (twins, triplets, or more). The options for treating unexplained infertility remain less than ideal, but careful choices mean that the pregnancies that do result will be safer for moms and babies.

Number of babies born in withdrawal from prescription painkillers is on the rise

Claire McCarthy, MD
Claire McCarthy, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publications

Each year, an alarming number of babies born in the United States spend their first few days withdrawing from drugs, often prescription painkillers their mothers took during their pregnancies. This problem, called neonatal abstinence syndrome (NAS), has increased fourfold since 2004, according to a report published online yesterday in The New England Journal of Medicine. NAS occurs in many babies whose mothers took a type of medication called an opioid during pregnancy. (Two commonly used opioids are OxyContin and Vicodin.) These drugs easily pass from the mother’s bloodstream to the baby’s. In effect, NAS is a baby’s withdrawal from opioids. With medication and time, babies with NAS get better, but they have to spend time in the hospital. In short, they get a rough start on life that can set them back and possibly have long-term repercussions. With so many safe options for pain control, women who are pregnant should use opioids only if these medications are absolutely necessary.