Meet Speakers from Milk | Mood | Moves: Dr. Kate Havens

As part of our countdown to Milk | Mood | Moves conference, we are highlighting a few of our speakers. Next up: Dr. Kate Havens, in her own words!

How did you get interested in perinatal health? Describe your journey to the work you are doing now.

It’s actually a funny story: I had finished my Ph.D in knee injuries in athletes and was really doing some soul searching about what area of research I wanted to study for my faculty career. I went to a professional conference, the American Society of Biomechanics, where I presented my research on quantifying balance during walking. I was wandering around a poster session and happened upon a title that caught my eye: “Babywearing Biomechanics”. I had a 1-year-old at the time and was wearing him constantly. I ran over to the poster and met someone who really changed the course of my career: Dr. Erin Mannen. She is also a Ph.D-trained biomechanics researcher, and we became fast friends. We have collaborated on projects ever since, publishing two manuscripts, presenting at conferences, and writing another manuscript together now. I always wonder how long or whether I would have arrived at perinatal health research if it weren’t for that one chance encounter!

Which of your projects are you most excited about? Describe that project.

Right now, I am analyzing the movement of moms during daily infant care tasks, like lifting them off a changing table, off the floor, and walking while carrying them. My expertise is in biomechanics, so I use a motion capture system to study movements, from how long their steps are to the forces that go through the hip joint. I also collect their muscle activity to understand how they coordinate their body to perform tasks. It’s pretty cool!

How did you get involved with Nurturely?

As an academic, I’m constantly reading scholarly literature on my areas of interest. I read one of [Nurturely’s Founder] Dr. Emily Little’s articles, and thought it was so interesting and a unique perspective from my own. I emailed her, we set up a phone call and again, became instant friends and collaborators!

How will you be participating in Nurturely’s Milk | Mood | Moves?

I’m thrilled to be giving a talk called “Mama Moves: Musculoskeletal Anatomy and Biomechanics of the Perinatal Experience.”

What do you hope participants get out of your portion of the conference? What is the one take-away?

I hope to be able to bring the anatomical and biomechanical perspective to the conference, so my takeaway is: Structure matters!

Where do you want to see your work go? 

I hope to reduce pelvic girdle pain and improve outcomes for pelvic floor dysfunction through targeted, evidence-based interventions. That’s a fancy way to say- I want moms to not suffer with back pain or pee their pants when they sneeze!

To learn more about Dr. Haven’s work, register for Milk | Mood | Moves, an interdisciplinary conference that starts tomorrow, September 23rd 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.


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.


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.

Recent Research Summary: High Temperatures and Perinatal Health

Learn about the connect between climate change and perinatal health through a summary of a recent article titled “Associations between high temperatures in pregnancy and risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and stillbirths: systematic review and meta-analysis” by Chersich et. al.

A recent study from Chersich et. al found that heat exposure can affect perinatal health and possibly children’s health especially for those birthing people who are of lower socioeconomic status. This is particularly concerning given the temperature rises due to the ever-increasing threat of global warming.

Previous research has found that changes that inhibit a birth person’s ability to regulate their temperature, known as thermoregulation, can raise the risks of adverse pregnancy outcomes. Vulnerable groups are unable to limit their exposure to extreme heat, making them particularly vulnerable to the increasing temperatures due to global warming.

The systematic review or metanalysis study published in September 2020 titled “Associations between high temperatures in pregnancy and risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and stillbirths: systematic review and meta-analysis” by Chersich et. al added to the previous research by finding that “exposure to high temperature is associated with an increase in adverse pregnancy outcomes, especially preterm birth and stillbirth, and among women in lower socioeconomic groups”.

The study’s authors looked at 14,880 records and 175 full text articles including 70 studies in 27 countries, seven of which were low- or middle-income countries. Using this method, the researchers found that:

  • In 40 of 47 studies examined, preterm births were more common at higher temperatures.
  • For every 1°C increase, the odds of a preterm birth and stillbirths rose 1.05-fold.
  • Associations between temperature and outcomes were most evident among those in lower socioeconomic groups and those birthing people of relatively old and young age.
  • In 18 of 28 studies examined, higher temperatures were associated with smaller birth weight.

In conclusion, this study adds yet another negative affect of the global climate emergency; perinatal health and indicates that children’s health may also be affected by the heat exposure during the pregnancy of their birth parent.

To read the full paper, visit https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m3811.

Nurturely recently hosted a panel discussion on the intersection of perinatal health, planetary health, and racial and social justice. To learn more about this session and receive a recording, visit nurturely.org/planet/ and register.

Perinatal Planetary Health Equity Panel Recap

Learn about Nurturely’s recent Perinatal Planetary Health Equity Panel and how climate change is affecting perinatal health.

To honor Earth Day, last month, Nurturely hosted its first Perinatal Planetary Health Equity Panel on Friday, April 23rd featuring panelists Elydé Arroyo, a birthkeeper from The Grounded Womb, Rupa Basu, PhD, MPH, a climate epidemiologist from CalEPA and Haley Case Scott, a grassroot organizer in Eugene. The session was moderated by Nurturely’s Equity and Inclusion Lead Ayisha Elliott.

Scott started the session with an overview of how planetary health affects health, specifically perinatal health. Due to fossil fuel combustion and greenhouse gas emissions, the temperature is projected to increase by 8.2 degrees Fahrenheit by the 2080s, according to Scott, with increased precipitation during the winter and decreased precipitation in the summer. The snowpack will accumulate more slowly reaching lower peak value and melting earlier. These and other effects of climate change will negatively impact pregnant people and their children: Low birth weights, more birth complications, decreased milk supply, an increased risk to heat related illness and death and increases in violence amongst families have all been shown to be caused by climate change, according to Scott. Worldwide air pollution accounts for 20 percent of newborn deaths. Scott then connected these effects to climate equity, the concept that the benefits of climate action are equitably distributed. She stressed the importance of including the community in the planning process and in the process of drafting legislation to address climate change and build resilience: This means “a community leads their planning process based on their own community’s needs” and “communities who write and pass legislation that slows down the impacts of climate change and creates a safer and healthier community for future generations.”

Next, birthkeeper Elydé Arroyo discussed her work in postpartum care. She stressed how, because of systemic racism, indigenous communities who often have knowledge of the earth and have unique experience caring for birthing people are ignored and pushed aside. Their experience has been “capitalized upon” instead of used to create safe spaces for individuals to be seen and cared for. She spoke to how there is a disconnect between birthing people and their families and native plants. She would like to build spaces to support all birthing people.

Finally, Dr. Rupa Basu discussed her 2010 study on how temperature affects pre-term delivery. In the study, she found an association between increased temperature and preterm birth for all birthing people with an even greater risk for birthing people of color. She stressed the importance of including communities of color in the research process to combat health disparities. She would also like to see more diversity in the healthcare and research professions.

The panelists then answered a series of predetermined questions. Arroyo stressed the importance of selfcare in order to “show up for earth”. Basu highlighted how health disparities begin even before someone is born and how unfair that can be. Health education such as community gardening can also begin at a young age so it “it all feels very natural” and “is a part of life” Basu added. Health education can come from the community: “It is very important to figure out who that health educator is” to ensure the information is shared in the best way for that community. She said that heat exposure may be a hidden symptom creator that is not addressed in a doctor’s office and yet can lead to serious, potentially fatal outcomes. She also discussed how there are education disparities in health.

Arroyo said there is a disconnect between when people speak up and who gets heard. Scott added that BIPOC community members need to be included at the decision-making table in order for the voices of BIPOC communities to be heard. There is a clear connection between the degradation of the land and BIPOC people, Scott said. Community grassroots organizing can also promote agency though Arroyo cautions that currently funding requires specific care be given and metrics be met even if these are not what the patient or community wants. “The money is not necessarily accessible,” said Arroyo. “It is governed by a system that tells us how and when to do it”. “A lot of these folks are immigrants and a lot of these practices [at government funded community clinics] don’t resonate with them,” Arroyo added.  Each speaker urged listeners to support of grassroot movements and BIPOC communities to ensure culturally appropriate care and climate equity.

To learn more about this session and receive a recording, visit nurturely.org/planet/  and register.