I am a research scientist and mother of three. I was born in Chicago, but for the past 10 years I have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area with my software engineer husband (a cliché, I know).
I love digging into the scientific literature and summarizing research findings. In this blog, I try to present an unbiased and sane take on research topics of interest to soon-to-be and new parents.
I always love getting feedback and suggestions from my readers. You can contact me here.
I also write for a small medical device startup called Bloomlife, which produces a in-home contraction tracker, similar to the ones hospitals use during delivery. Contractions show up on your phone. I used it during my third pregnancy and noticed I was having a lot of contractions by 32 weeks. Sure enough, it was the one pregnancy where I went into labor early, at 37 weeks.
Some More Background About This Blog
Here I cover the science behind conception, fertility treatments, pregnancy, breastfeeding, and early childhood. Many of these posts are born of my friends’ and my own personal quandaries, which have sent me burrowing into the research literature to find out more and to help us make educated, informed decisions.
Oddly enough, this blog was inspired in part by my desire to experience savasana during my second and third trimesters of my first pregnancy. Being my first–as opposed to second or third–pregnancy, I was still attending my regular yoga classes about three times a week. (With two kids under four, yoga 3 times a week sounds like an unbelievable luxury right now.) After I was about 3 months along, I told some of my instructors that I was pregnant. They explained that once in my second trimester, I would need to stop performing any poses that required lying on my back. Savasana, my favorite pose, was going to require bolsters.
At that time, I had recently finished my postdoctoral fellowship at UCSF and was living in San Francisco. It seemed natural to go to UCSF for my prenatal care. Unlike many centers, UCSF had a rotating practice. Instead of being assigned a single OB, each patient would see multiple OBs and nurse practitioners, depending on who was available. This setup–whatever its drawbacks–gave me the opportunity to ask the exact same question of multiple OBs. I was basically guaranteed a second opinion.
I was intrigued and a bit confused by the prohibition regarding lying on my back. At my next prenatal appointment, I asked the OB, “Can I safely lie on my back during pregnancy? What about sleeping on my back?” She replied that it was fine to lie on my back for now, but starting once I was 4 or 5 months along, I would definitely need to avoid it.
A few weeks later, I came back for a routine check up with a different OB. Taking advantage of the free second opinion, and still a little foggy on exactly why I needed to avoid lying on my back, I asked her the same question. She told me that I didn’t need to worry about this until I was about 7 or 8 months pregnant.
Perplexed, I asked yet a third OB at my follow up appointment, who told me that I was probably fine until the last few weeks before delivery. Neither she, nor the other two OBs, seemed to know where this advice came from. She did not know at what angle it was okay to lie on my back (couldn’t I just prop myself up with a couple of pillows?). Nor could she answer seemingly straightforward questions: What was the data behind this recommendation? Just how risky was sleeping on one’s back for mom, or for the baby? As the third OB, clearly flustered by this unexpected interrogation, was ushering me out the door, I realized I was going to have to look into this myself.
A quick search through the major parenting sites–I won’t name names–came up lacking. Most of the pregnancy- and parent-oriented were filled with advice and opinions, but provided scant real data or even information about their sources.
And this is when I realized I was very, very lucky. I had the background and training to search through and understand the relevant medical research. Apart from a mountain of student debt, my many years of postgraduate education had granted me a thorough understanding of medical research. Experimental design, randomization of subjects, observational studies, sample size, meta-analysis, and hypothesis testing–these were my bread and butter. I knew how to sift out good studies from bad, and how to fit a single study into a larger research context. I knew when researchers had used some statistical sleight of hand, and when more research was needed to draw a firm conclusion.
In the case of lying on one’s back, after a thorough search through the research, I became convinced there was no data behind this recommendation. None at all.* In fact, I found a research review expressing the same opinion:
“In conclusion, advising women to sleep or lie exclusively on the left side is not practical and is irrelevant to the vast majority of patients. Instead, women should be told that a small minority of pregnant women feel faint when lying flat. Women can easily determine whether lying flat has this effect on them, and most will adopt a comfortable position that is likely to be a left supine position [lying on one’s back tilted towards the left] or variant thereof.
Since healthy pregnant women often require more pillows than non-pregnant cardiac patients, and since finding a comfortable position in bed in late pregnancy is not easy, physicians should refrain from providing impractical advice.”
From then on, I did much of my own research on the pregnancy and parenting topics.
So, the purpose of this blog is to share what I have learned. Here I promise to share real data, to make clear what comes from research and what is my own opinion, and to provide all my sources, because we all need to be able to make our own informed decisions.
*Since then, a study was published suggests that sleeping on one’s back may increase the risk of late stillbirth. More on this here.
Disclaimer: The information and opinions on this site do not constitute medical advice. Please consult your obstetrician, pediatrician, or other medical professional if you have medical questions.