A breakthrough in fertility treatment?

Researchers are calling it a medical breakthrough: A 27-year-old woman gave birth to a healthy baby conceived from ovarian tissue that had been surgically removed and frozen when she was a child. This procedure could prove to be an important achievement in preserving fertility for young women or girls who need treatments for diseases such as cancer that may impair their fertility.

The woman, born in the Republic of Congo, was diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia as a young child. She moved to Belgium at age 11, where she received a bone-marrow transplant that included chemotherapy. Before the chemo, doctors removed her right ovary and froze tissue fragments. Ten years later, doctors thawed some of the frozen ovarian tissue and transplanted it into her body, and her natural hormones started her menstrual cycle five months later.

In November 2014, she delivered a healthy boy weighing 6.9 pounds. And she could have more babies if she wants to, the researchers said.

“This is a message of hope for all the children with high risk of premature ovarian failure to improve their future quality of life,” said lead researcher Dr. Isabelle Demeestere, a gynecologist and researcher in Brussels, Belgium. “This procedure is feasible and efficient in children,” she said.

The study findings were published in Human Reproduction.

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Don’t cut that cord so soon!

When you are making your birth plan, consider this: It may be wise to wait a bit to cut the umbilical cord.

A recent study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that waiting just a few minutes to cut the cord may improve the child’s development. This adds to evidence from a December 2014 study published in Pediatrics that found delaying cord clamping by two minutes results in better development for the newborn during the first days of life.

Researchers believe that delaying the cord cutting allows the baby to get more blood from the placenta, increasing the child’s total blood volume significantly. This increases oxygen exchange and iron storage, which affects brain development.

The World Health Organization recommends delaying cord clamping for at least one minute after birth. Be sure to discuss this with your obstetrician before you are ready to deliver.

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Does baby’s gender affect mother’s risk for diabetes?

Yes, according to data from almost 643,000 Canadian women who had their first child between 2000 and 2010. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that women who were carrying a son were more likely to develop diabetes during pregnancy—called gestational diabetes—and type 2 diabetes after pregnancy.

The link does not prove cause and effect, the researchers said. Nevertheless, “Our findings suggest a male fetus leads to greater pregnancy-associated metabolic changes than a female fetus does,” study author Dr. Baiju Shah of the University of Toronto Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto said in a journal news release.

“It is thought that gestational diabetes occurs because of a combination of underlying metabolic abnormalities in the mother and temporary metabolic changes that take place during pregnancy,” he said. “Public health programs often focus on how a pregnant mother’s health, behavior and physiology can impact the health of her baby. This study, however, suggests that the baby can help us better understand the health of the mother, and can help us predict her risks for future diseases.”

Up to 9 percent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Be sure to discuss your risks for the disorder with your medical team.

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Stop drinking before you get pregnant

By now, most of us know that drinking alcohol during pregnancy can harm the developing fetus. But a new study finds that drinking alcohol as early as three to four weeks into pregnancy—which is before many women even realize they are pregnant—may alter gene functioning in the fetal brain and cause long-term changes in brain structure.

The study, conducted in mice and published in the journal PLOS ONE, also found changes in gene functioning in other body tissues caused by alcohol consumption in early pregnancy.

The researchers gave alcohol to pregnant mice during the first eight days of gestation, which is equivalent to three to four weeks of human gestation. They studied how early alcohol exposure influenced the epigenome of the hippocampus among offspring—that region of the brain plays an important role in memory and learning. The offspring that were exposed to alcohol showed altered epigenomes, which led to changes in the function of several genes in the hippocampus. The researchers also identified changes in gene function in bone marrow and the olfactory (smell) senses.

Alcohol-exposed mice offspring showed symptoms similar to fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) in humans, including reduced growth rate, structural changes to the face and skull and hyperactivity, the researchers noted. Alcohol consumption during pregnancy has already been linked to increased risk of a growth restriction, intellectual and learning disabilities, poor memory, poor coordination and speech and language delays.

The message is clear: If you are even thinking of getting pregnant, stop drinking alcohol before you start trying.

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More reasons to exercise while pregnant

Nearly all pregnant women can—and should—exercise, because staying active offers a host of benefits to both mother and child. New research out of Canada adds two more.

A study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology finds that pregnant women who exercise can significantly lower their risk of undergoing Caesarean sections and giving birth to large babies. Researchers at the University of Alberta conducted a meta-analysis of 28 randomized control studies comprising 5,322 women. Their goal: to examine the influence of maternal exercise on baby outcomes.

“We found that women who exercised had a 31 percent reduction in the risk of having a large baby without changing the risk of having a small baby or an earlier baby,” said lead researcher Margie Davenport, an assistant professor in the faculty of physical education and recreation. “Further, the risk of having a Caesarean section was reduced by 20 percent.

This finding is significant because big babies tend to be heavier as children and adults. Other studies have found that prenatal exercise may help prevent childhood obesity by “normalizing” birth weight—that is, reducing the risk of having a large baby at birth.

Be sure to ask your doctor what types of exercise are right for you, and then get moving during your pregnancy!

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It’s guy time

The joke is that men take better care of their cars than their health. But it’s not funny. To help encourage men—and the women who love them—take their health more seriously, Congress has designated June as Men’s Health Month.

The purpose is to heighten the awareness of preventable health problems and encourage early detection and treatment of disease among men and boys. Throughout June, health care providers, public policy makers, the media and the public are encouraging men and boys to seek regular medical advice and early treatment for disease and injury.

How can you help? The Men’s Health Network is glad you asked. The organization has a list of fun, interesting things to do in support of Men’s Health Month on its website. Check them out!

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Unlocking the secrets to ovarian disorders

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have solved a long-standing mystery about the origin of one of the cell types that make up the ovary. The team also discovered how ovarian cells share information during development of an ovarian follicle, which holds the maturing egg. Researchers believe this new information on basic ovarian biology will help them better understand the cause of ovarian disorders, such as premature ovarian failure and polycystic ovarian syndrome, conditions that both result in hormone imbalances and infertility in women.

The ovarian follicle contains the egg surrounded by two distinct cell types, known as granulosa cells and theca cells. Scientists had known the cellular origins of the egg and granulosa cells, but did not know where theca cells came from or what directed their development. Without theca cells, women are unable to produce the hormones that sustain follicle growth.

One of the major hormones theca cells produce is androgen, which is widely thought of as a male hormone. The granulosa cells convert the androgen to estrogen. The researchers uncovered the molecular signaling system that enables theca cells to make androgen. This communication pathway is derived from granulosa cells and another structure in the ovary called the oocyte, or immature egg cell. The crosstalk among the egg, granulosa cells and theca cells was an unexpected finding, but one that may provide insight into how ovarian disorders arise.

More research needs to be done, and it may potentially uncover several roles theca cells play in female fertility, the researchers say.

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Can pregnancy cause a stroke?

Yes. Pregnancy is a recognized risk factor for stroke, the third leading cause of death in women. But many women are unaware of the warning signs and symptoms of stroke that are unique to females, a new study from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center revealed.

Although men and women share some risk factors for stroke, such as smoking, being sedentary and having high blood pressure, others are specific to women. Pregnancy increases the risk of stroke, particularly in the final months and the immediate period after delivering the baby. But a survey of 1,000 women found that only 11 percent knew that pregnancy—as well as lupus, migraine headaches, birth-control pills and hormone replacement therapy—increase stroke risk. Just one in 10 knew that hiccups that occur with unusual chest pain is an early warning sign of stroke in women.

“I think we have a ways to go when it comes to educating women about stroke and their unique risk factors,” said Diana Greene-Chandos, M.D., a neurologist and director of neuroscience critical care. “Things like pregnancy, hormone replacement therapy and even something as trivial as a case of the hiccups can all play an important role when it comes to strokes in women, and we need to be more aware of it.”

Other stroke symptoms the researchers say are unique to women include:

• Dizziness not associated with vertigo

• Headaches

• Numbness over the entire body that is more severe on one side

Signs of stroke in both men and women can include sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding, sudden trouble seeing, sudden difficulty walking, or loss of balance and coordination. Identifying symptoms of a stroke early and seeking immediate medical attention is critical because clot-busting drugs are an option only within three hours of the onset of a stroke.

Each year more than 137,000 Americans die from stroke, and about 60 percent of them are women, according to the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. If you notice any of these signs or symptoms, get medical attention quickly.

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Miscarriage: separating fact from fiction

Do you think miscarriages are rare? You’re not alone. Most people think that—and they are wrong.

Misconceptions about miscarriages are common, according to a survey of 1,000 adults. Those mistaken beliefs can make miscarriage even more painful for those who suffer one.

The findings, published in the June 2015 issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, also revealed that many people thought a miscarriage could occur for reasons that in fact have no effect at all. Three out of four respondents thought stress could cause one; two in three thought lifting heavy objects could be to blame; and one in five believed past sexually transmitted infections, past abortions, past use of birth control, getting into an argument or not wanting the pregnancy could cause miscarriage. None of these are causes. Genetic or medical problems are the root cause of miscarriage.

“A striking finding from the study is the discrepancy between what medicine and science teach us about miscarriage and what people believe,” said study co-author Zev Williams, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “Miscarriage seems to be unique in medicine in being very common yet rarely discussed, so that you have many women and couples feeling very isolated and alone.”

Among the study subjects who had a past miscarriage, nearly half said they felt guilty, 41 percent believed they did something wrong, 41 percent felt alone and 28 percent felt ashamed. More than one-third thought they could have prevented the miscarriage, even though that is rarely possible.

Don’t let mistaken beliefs affect your understanding of miscarriage. Get the facts from your doctor. And please share your feelings about this difficult subject below.

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Moms are more highly educated

If you are an older, highly educated woman with children, get this: You are trendy.

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis of Census Bureau data, more and more highly educated women in the U.S. are having children and bigger families. That data show that childlessness among women in their 40s with an M.D. or Ph.D. has fallen significantly over the last two decades.

Around 22 percent of women aged 40–44 with a master’s degree or higher are childless; that’s down from 30 percent in 1994. Those women who have an M.D. or Ph.D. are having kids even more dramatically—their childless rate has fallen from 35 percent in 1994 to 20 percent today.

Highly educated women are also choosing to have bigger families. Sixty percent of women with a master’s degree have two or more children, up from 51 percent in 1994.

“This trend has likely been driven by demographic and societal changes,” writes Gretchen Livingston, the study’s senior researcher. “It coincides with women’s growing presence in managerial and leadership positions and suggests that an increasing share of professional women are confronting the inevitable push and pull of work-family balance.”

What do you think of this trend? Share your thoughts below.

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