Sara-Moukarzel

Meet Speakers from Milk | Mood | Moves: Dr. Sara Moukarzel

As part of our countdown to Milk | Mood | Moves conference, we are highlighting a few of our speakers. Next up: Dr. Sara Moukarzel!

After conducting research as bench scientist studying minor fat molecules in human milk, Sara Moukarzel, Ph.D became frustrated with the lack of research findings that were reaching the public and the large amount of health misinformation reaching the public, especially on social media. With her own frustration as the impetuous, she began a new strand of research looking into how scientists can create accurate and effective social media messages so that their findings can reach a larger audience outside of the scientific community. Dr. Moukarzel entered a relatively new and growing field of research that, until recently had few widely available tools and few researchers. While large organizations and commercial enterprises often analyzed user behavior for marketing purposes, few scientists were looking at the spread of scientific health (mis) information.

However, that changed recently as the term “misinformation” entered the public consciousness with the spread of COVID-vaccine misinformation and the increased scrutiny placed on social media companies and their role in propagating misinformation more broadly. With the public awareness about misinformation as well as the creation of widely available analytics tools and the ever-increasing number of users on social media platforms, Dr. Moukarzel’s research has become all the more timely and relevant.

Her primary findings on how to create engaging posts shows that posts that are short, empowering, and simple to understand as well as show diversity and include photos illicit the most engagement. In addition, her work stresses the importance of using trusted sources such as community leaders to share health information. She recommends campaigns partner with already-existing trusted organizations to garner more attention. In many ways, “we are all influencers” for our communities, she said.

However, she does not want to minimize the challenge of educating the public. Information from researchers can be misconstrued or misinterpreted by more public facing media and by individuals. Nuance can be lost.

Learn more about Dr. Moukarzel and her research here and be sure to register for Milk | Mood | Moves, an interdisciplinary conference on September 23-24, 2021 for health professionals, researchers, and advocates to share the latest science and clinical knowledge of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, focusing on human milk and lactation, perinatal mood disorders, and physiology and biomechanics of the perinatal period. Dr. Moukarzel will be speaking on how you can be an effective on social media especially in the field of chestfeeding.

Monk

Meet Speakers from Milk | Mood | Moves: Dr. Catherine Monk

As part of our preparation for our upcoming Milk | Mood | Moves conference, we are highlighting a few of our speakers. First up: Dr. Catherine Monk!

Dr. Catherine Monk fell into the psychology field by first studying journalism. She realized that what she loved in the journalism field was hearing people’s stories and it was this first love that led her to become not only a Professor of Medical Psychology in the Departments of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Psychiatry at Columbia University but also the founding director of a novel initiative that embeds mental health services into the OB/GYN clinic. Patients of all ages and backgrounds are referred to the integrated and insurance-covered mental health services by their OB/GYN providers and through universal depression screenings. The providing of mental health services is part of an effort to provide “whole person” care by examining the health of the person outside of only the traditionally considered biomedical indicators. While this shift is not new, it is still relatively unique in the OB/GYN field. It is more commonly seen in pediatric clinics, according to Dr. Monk.

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the move to long distance medicine: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the mental health services offered in the OB/GYN clinic have been offered through telemedicine instead of in-person. While there are some cons of this acceleration to care over the internet, according to Dr. Monk, the convenience alone outweighs the cons. Another benefit in addition to convenience for patients, is accessibility of services. She expects more pregnant and postpartum people will receive mental health services after the pandemic. While this may change as state laws are tightening regarding provider licensure after being relaxed during the height of the pandemic, Dr. Monk still thinks more people will still be able to access mental health services with telemedicine. The pandemic has also made a cultural shift towards acceptance of mental health care, said Dr. Monk.

In addition to clinical work, Dr. Monk leads a research lab, Perinatal Pathways, that investigates how influences on the fetus can affect the health of the child throughout development. The lab currently has multiple ongoing projects that have continued throughout the pandemic with the use of videotaping, zoom sessions and other web-based systems with minimal bio data collection. Dr. Monk’s lab is a part of the COVID-19 Mother Baby Outcome (COMBO) initiative, a group of scientists at Columbia that “follows SARS-CoV-2 exposed laboring mothers and their newborns and compare their long- term health outcomes to case-matched dyads without prenatal exposure.” The hypothesis of this study is “that prenatal SARS-CoV-2 exposure affects (1) mother and (2) child brain and behavior, and (3) demonstrate that the socioemotional health of each member of the mother- child dyad is intrinsically related to that of the other.” Monk credits her lab colleagues for their energy and ability to pivot during the pandemic to continue the lab’s ongoing studies and participate in COVID-related investigations.

All of Dr. Monk’s work, both in the clinic and in the lab, indicates that the transition into parenthood is an important biological and psychological one, like adolescence, and that support is crucial to the success of the parents and the child.

To learn more about Dr. Monk’s work, register for Milk | Mood | Moves, an interdisciplinary conference on September 23-24, 2021 for health professionals, researchers, and advocates to share the latest science and clinical knowledge of pregnancy, birth, and postpartum, focusing on human milk and lactation, perinatal mood disorders, and physiology and biomechanics of the perinatal period.

Human Milk Sharing – Part II

With the help of a financial gift from Hannah and Zachary Johnson, the UC San Diego Health will create the region’s first breastmilk bank (The San Diego Union-Tribune) led by Dr. Lisa M. Stellwagen, MD. The goals of the bank are “to help mothers breastfeed, to improve breastmilk donation and to ensure that all premature or ill babies in Southern California have access to donor milk” (UC San Diego Health).

Human Milk Sharing – Part I

Human milk is a critical resource for infants designed to meet the needs of baby at every stage of development. Human milk is alive with immune cells, stem cells, and microbes that come from both the lactating parent and from the baby (Hassiotou et al., 2013; Funkhouser and Bordenstein, 2013). For example, a thick yellow milk produced a few days after birth called colostrum (American Pregnancy, n.d.) can be thought of as baby’s first immunization (Khan, 2012)…. The use of donor milk (or “milk sharing”) is not a new practice for humans. “Allomaternal care” and shared nursing has long been a part of many, if not most, human cultures yet there are no federal laws regulating the use of donor human milk or milk sharing. Milk banks provide a degree of quality control by screening donors based on lifestyle, teaching donors about best practices for expression, storage/transport of breastmilk as well as pasteurizing the donated milk.