Should pregnant women shun meat and lust?

Pregnancy advice

The claim: The Indian government is advising pregnant women to exercise, avoid eggs and meat, shun desire and lust, and hang beautiful photos in the bedroom.

Reality Check verdict: Some of the advice is good, some bad, and some downright ridiculous.

India’s Ayush ministry, which promotes traditional and alternative medicine, last week distributed a tiny 16-page booklet on Mother and Child Care to journalists. It’s three years old but it’s been dominating news since its re-release just ahead of the annual International Yoga Day, which is being celebrated on Wednesday.

Produced by the Central Council for Research in Yoga and Naturopathy, which is a part of Ayush, the booklet dishes out advice on the yoga exercises that pregnant women should – and should not – do; lists of food they should – and should not – eat; and also offers suggestions on what to read, what sort of company to keep, what sort of photos to look at, and so on and so forth.

Doctors in India say though there is merit in some of the advice, it would not be wise to follow the guidelines in their entirety.

Take for instance the advice on food.

The booklet prescribes a long list of items that pregnant and lactating women should take and that includes sprouts, lentils, fruits, leafy vegetables like spinach, dry fruits, juices and whole grain. All very good, say doctors.

Then it lists foods to be avoided – tea, coffee, sugar, spices, white flour, fried items and, rather controversially, “eggs and non-vegetarian” food.

An Indian woman makes an omelette in Kolkata

Critics say that is in keeping with India’s Hindu nationalist BJP government’s policy to promote vegetarianism, and that it’s dangerous advice in a country where malnutrition and anaemia among pregnant women has meant India has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world.

Stung by the criticism, the Ayush ministry has issued clarification saying that their suggestion that non-vegetarian food may be avoided is because “yoga and naturopathy doesn’t advocate non-vegetarian food in its practice”. They have also accused the press of “selectively” highlighting the advisory on eggs and meat while forgetting to mention the unhealthy items on the list.

It’s not just the media though, doctors too have questioned their advisory.

“As a doctor I do not see any merit in advising a pregnant woman to not eat eggs or meat. Egg is the easiest and best source of protein,” Delhi-based gynaecologist Dr Sonia Naik told the BBC. “My advice would be that whoever is comfortable with whatever diet, they should continue with it.”

The advice is also at odds with the one offered by India’s health ministry on its website: “The foetus extracts iron from the mother, even if she suffers from anaemia, so iron rich foods such as meat, liver, egg, green peas, lentils, green leafy vegetables… should be encouraged to be taken by the mother.”

If many found the advisory on food unpalatable, the next few paragraphs of the booklet offered advice that seemed even more strange:

Although the Ayush ministry insists that it does not “prescribe” that “pregnant women in India” should “say no to sex after conception”, many say the words “detach… from desire and lust” appear to mean exactly that.

Although the health ministry is silent on the matter, doctors say there’s no harm in having sex during pregnancy.

In fact, Dr Naik says that “because of hormonal reasons, some pregnant women may want more sex than usual and we don’t tell them to abstain unless it’s a high-risk pregnancy”.

Indian women doing yogaImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

There is, however, one bit of advice the booklet offers on which there is general consensus – the benefits of yoga.

Although traditional wisdom believed pregnancy to be a delicate time and advised expectant mothers to rest and take it easy, over the years doctors have been advising mothers-to-be to build some form of exercise into their daily routine.

“We all live very sedentary lives now so yoga and exercise are healthy. In fact, we do recommend to women who come to us to do some form of exercise, we even hold prenatal classes for them,” Dr Naik said.

The health ministry too lists the benefits of staying physically active although it advises pregnant women to stay away from “activities in which you can get hit in the abdomen like kickboxing, soccer, basketball, or ice hockey” or “activities in which you can fall like horseback riding, downhill skiing, and gymnastics”.


Study finds the birth control pill has a pretty terrible impact on women’s wellbeing

So, how’s that male pill coming along?


A new study has reinforced what many women have been saying for years – the oral contraceptive pill is associated with reduced quality of life and wellbeing in healthy women.

The double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial found that healthy women reported reduced quality of life, mood, and physical wellbeing after taking a common birth control pill containing ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel for three months.

 The findings reinforce earlier research and anecdotal claims that women are struggling with the side effects of the contraceptive pill.

But there was no significant evidence that the contraceptive increased depressive symptoms in the latest study… so, there’s that.

Surprisingly, this is one of the most rigorous studies to date to look into the impact of the pill on women’s quality of life.

“Despite the fact that an estimated 100 million women around the world use contraceptive pills we know surprisingly little today about the pill’s effect on women’s health,” said lead researcher Angelica Lindén Hirschberg from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden.

“The scientific base is very limited as regards the contraceptive pill’s effect on quality of life and depression and there is a great need for randomised studies where it is compared with placebos.”

To fix that, her team took 340 healthy women aged between 18 and 35 and gave them either placebo pills, or contraceptive pills containing ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel over a three-month period.

 Ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel-containing pills are among the most common form of combined oral contraceptive pills around the world because they’re the least associated with a risk of blood clots, and they include brand names such as LevlenMicrogynonPortia, and Alesse.

The study was double blind, which meant that neither the researchers giving out the pills or the women taking them knew whether they were getting a placebo or not.

At the start of the study, the women had their general health measured, including weight, height, and blood pressure.

They also filled out two well-known surveys on general wellbeing and depressive symptoms – the Psychological General Wellbeing Index and the Beck Depression Inventory.

They then went through the same tests at the end of the three months so the researchers could compare the results.

The women who were given contraceptive pills reported that their quality of life was significantly lower at the end of the study than those who were given placebos.

This was true for general quality of life and also specific aspects of wellbeing, such as self control and energy levels.

No significant increase in depressive symptoms was observed.

While it’s an interesting first step towards better measuring the pills’ side effects, the researchers caution that the changes were relatively small so we can’t read too much into them just yet. And we can only apply these findings to ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel-containg pills.

Also, the study only looked at women over three months – it will require longer monitoring to get a more accurate idea of how the contraceptive pill affects women.

“This might in some cases be a contributing cause of low compliance and irregular use of contraceptive pills,” said one of the researchers, Niklas Zethraeus.

“This possible degradation of quality of life should be paid attention to and taken into account in conjunction with prescribing of contraceptive pills and when choosing a method of contraception.”

With recent research also providing insight into why periods can be so damn painful and heavy, it seems scientists are finally starting to take women’s reproductive health and contraceptive side effects seriously.

And we’re getting some male options too – scientists are making progress with a hormonal contraceptive injection for men, as well as a reversible, condom-free gel that blocks sperm.

More research is needed before we can identify more accurately how the pill impacts women, but these early results are reassuring for many women who’ve struggled with side effects while on the pill.

Source:Fertility and Sterility.

9 Things No One Tells You About C-Section Recovery

Even if yours is planned and you think you’ve done your homework, these may surprise you.

You know that C-sections are major surgery and you may have heard vague complaints from a friend that recovery was tough, possibly even tougher than she anticipated. But until you’ve had one yourself, you can’t know the entire list of weird and surprising challenges. Here, ob/gyns share all the down and dirty details about recovery.

1. Getting out of bed for the first time may hurt more than any labor pains you experienced.

Of course as a new mom you want to hop out of bed the instant you hear your tiny, brand-new bundle of love cry. But immediately after a C-section, and even up to two weeks after, it can be pretty darn painful to sit up and put your feet on the floor. While you’re in the hospital, you can avail yourself of the magic of the hospital bed, which can prop you up with the push of a button and has rails that you can use for support, not to mention around-the-clock medical care. But sadly, you can’t stay and enjoy the amenities indefinitely.

“Your doctor will prescribe you pain meds, which you should take,” Alyssa Quimby, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern California, tells SELF. “That’s what they’re there for.” Once you’re home, experiment with rolling onto one side, using pillows (that Snoogle comes in handy) or asking your partner to lend a hand when you want to get out of bed.

2. Nursing after a C-section can get pretty uncomfortable.

“It can be difficult to situate your newborn in a position that you can maintain for upwards of 20 minutes comfortably when you have an incision on your lower abdomen,” Quimby says. “I encourage my patients to play around with different positions.” Many find the football hold, where you literally tuck your baby in along your forearm up to your breast like, yup, a football, to be the most comfortable post C-section, she says. (Confused? Ask your hospital’s lactation consultant for help.) You could also try a breastfeeding pillow or stack of soft throw pillows of different sizes and shapes to help get baby in a good position.

3. Going #1 and #2 may be uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.

There are two different situations going on here. Peeing can burn or sting, or you may not feel that you fully emptied your bladder, because you more than likely will have had a catheter as part of standard hospital protocol prior to your epidural. (Women who get epidurals and have vaginal births may experience the same sensation.) “It’s totally normal to be irritated and should clear up in a few days,” says Quimby.

As for pooping—or rather, not pooping—there are a few possible culprits. “Pregnancy hormonestend to slow everything down digestive-wise and things don’t just miraculously return to normal immediately after delivery,” explains Angela Jones, M.D., founder of “So if you were having issues with constipation during pregnancy, they are not likely to resolve spontaneously once your baby is delivered.” Complicating the problem? Those pain meds. Many have a side effect of constipation. Though it’s undeniably difficult to get up and move around, even a short walk around the hospital floor can help get things moving again (ask for help if you’re feeling woozy). You can also try a stool softener, like Colace.

4. Those cute pre-pregnancy shoes you were fantasizing about wearing will have to stay in the back of your closet a little longer.

It’s very normal for your feet and legs and even hands and face to swell after any type of delivery and particularly after a C-section. During pregnancy, blood volume increases, on average, by almost 50 percent, to support your pregnancy. “Between that, and all the IV fluids you received during labor and/or at the time of your C-section, that fluid has to go somewhere,” Jones says. She recommends getting up and walking as soon as you can after surgery and drinking water with lemon to help flush it all out.

5. Forget about a good night’s sleep, starting tonight!

You just had a baby and major surgery, possibly after hours of labor, so of course you’ll be left alone to get a good night’s sleep, right? Not so, in a majority of hospitals. You’ll need to have your vitals checked (blood pressure and temperature) every three to four hours, likely for the duration of your stay. Not to mention that you now have a newborn, who won’t know the difference between day and night for weeks to come.

6. You may be left with a C-section “shelf” above the incision that is more puffy on one side…for years.

During the actual C-section procedure your obstetrician will cut horizontally through skin, your subcutaneous fatty layer, and the fascia, the tough, web-like connective tissue that surrounds all your body’s organs, explains Quimby. After delivery, your doctor stitches back your top layers, but your fascia closes on its own, which can create scar tissue. Sometimes the scar tissue develops unevenly, hence why the puffiness and tenderness can be more pronounced on one side. The scar tissue will soften over time and be less noticeable on the outside, but it may never disappear completely.

7. Itching and numbness along the scar are par for the course.

This goes back to the actual surgery itself, as well. “When your obstetrician cuts through those layers, she may cut some nerves, which can result in the loss of feeling,” says Quimby. It’s not unusual for the numbness to last for several years.

8. You’ll be sidelined for up to eight weeks.

“That means no lifting anything heavier than your baby, no pushing and pulling motions, and no deep bending until your incision heals,” explains Jones. In the real world, that translates into no carrying the laundry basket, no vacuuming or walking your dog, and no emptying the dishwasher for at least the first two weeks. Besides, you’ll have a new baby to tend to, so let your family and friends help with cooking and household chores. “You’ll also have to get used to sitting in the passenger seat for up to the first two weeks as driving is often a no-no, at least until you are comfortable looking over both shoulders without any pain and hitting the break without wincing,” Jones says.

As for exercise, walking and climbing stairs are great right off the bat. But wait a full eight weeks to make sure you’re entirely healed before you do any type of ab work, including Pilates, yoga, and even swimming. “We need to let that incision heal,” says Jones.

9. Planning another baby? A vaginal birth may still be in the cards.

Depending on the reason for your C-section, you may potentially be a good candidate for a vaginal birth after Cesarean section (VBAC). Women who had C-sections because of a non-recurring reason (i.e. breech birth, twins, fetal distress) are the best candidates, says Quimby. But even then, that doesn’t mean your doctor or your hospital will allow it. The biggest concern with VBAC is uterine rupture, which means the uterus tears open where the C-section scar is. It’s rare, but a real risk because it requires an emergency C-section and in some cases, a hysterectomy. Some hospitals simply aren’t staffed to handle VBACs and the potential complications. If that’s the case and experiencing a vaginal birth the next time around is important to you, seek out a second opinion.

Frozen Condoms for Post-Childbirth Pains Are a Thing

One dad recently shared his advice—and doctors say it’s legit.

It’s pretty much a given that you’re not going to feel amazing below the belt after you give birth to a baby vaginally. Many women bleed for weeks afterward, and the entire vaginal area is pretty swollen and sore for days after the birth. Now, one dad in Australia is opening up about a method he discovered for combatting postpartum vaginal soreness: ice packs made with…condoms.

Australian dad and blogger Martin Wanless wrote a post about his discovery on the parenting website DAD. In it, Wanless details surprising things he was sent out to buy after his wife gave birth—including condoms. “This isn’t male bravado, delusion, or wishful thinking,” he writes. “Make sure you’re stocked up on condoms. Filled with water and frozen, they’re the perfect shape to rest in between new mum’s legs and ease a bit of pain and swelling.”

Wanless insists that this is “actually a thing” and says that soon after his wife gave birth, she had a freezer full of condoms. He’s right about not being the only person to do this: Mom blogs and discussion forums are filled with women discussing the “frozen condom trick” and “condom popsicles for new moms.”

Lauren Streicher, M.D., an associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF that she and her colleagues used to make these for new moms in the hospital when she was in her residency. “We had a whole freezer full of them at the hospital,” she says, noting they were for external use.

After a woman has a vaginal delivery, her vulva and vaginal tissues are swollen, Streicher explains. Doctors typically recommend putting ice on the area to ease swelling, but most ice packs are bulky, uncomfortable, and don’t conform to the area well.

Amelia Henning, a certified nurse midwife at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells SELF that the frozen condom idea is “creative” but it should not be placed inside a woman’s vagina. “The risk for infection in the postpartum period is much higher than usual, and for this reason, nothing should be placed inside the vagina until the bleeding has completely stopped and healing has taken place, which is usually around six weeks after birth,” she says.

Melissa Goist, M.D., an ob/gyn from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, agrees. “We don’t typically recommend anything in the vagina for a few weeks after delivery unless it is sterile,” she tells SELF. “Condoms are not sterile, which typically is not a problem but in the immediate postpartum period, when the cervix is more dilated, it could pose an increased risk of infection.” However, she says, using a condom ice pop in the perineal area (the area between the anus and vulva), which is where women are typically sore, is fine. (Keep in mind as well that if you have a latex allergy, you’ll still need to avoid using latex condoms for this.)

The idea is a “brilliant” use of resources, Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and director of minimally invasive gynecology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago, tells SELF. “It’s definitely an innovative way for a dad to be involved with his wife’s recovery,” she says.

Women run the risk of getting a freezer burn down there if they apply a condomsicle directly to their vagina, so Streicher recommends putting a washcloth between the frozen condom and vagina for protection. Then, you can switch it out every 20 minutes or so, as needed.

While they didn’t exist when Streicher was a resident, disposable perineal ice packs—which essentially look like puffy menstrual pads—are now offered at many hospitals to women after they give birth. A new mom can simply stick it to her underwear, get relief, and throw it away afterward. But perineal ice packs aren’t cheap if you have to buy them yourself—Amazon offers some for $35 for a 24-pack. Henning says that women can also slightly dampen a regular menstrual pad and freeze it to get the same effect for less.

New moms are generally advised to use an ice pack for the first 24 to 48 hours after giving birth to help reduce swelling, but if you don’t have easy access to perineal ice packs, it doesn’t hurt to go the frozen condom route (but not actually inserting it in your vagina). “It’s a great idea,” says Shepherd.

Doctors need to actually listen to the women they treat 

Ignoring mothers’ concerns about their unborn babies’ movement is just the tip of the iceberg. We need to stop relying on machines and focus on people.

A line of three pregnant women holding their stomachs

UK maternity care is steeped in patriarchy. Statements like this can sometimes cause outrage or ridicule, but I’m not sure why. We live in a world where most of our organisations and systems are built and run by men with men in mind, so it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the labour ward is no different. The problem here, though, is that childbirth is a uniquely female experience, and the man-made structure that dominates and controls it is failing women on every front.

Women in the maternity care system often do not feel they are listened to or heard. This can have devastating consequences: a new University of Leicester MBRRACE report into cases of stillbirth found that over half of women had reported to concerns to their care providers such as reduced foetal movement, and that in half of these cases, there were missed opportunities to save a babies life.

Unfortunately some of the response to this terrible situation is often in itself patriarchal. Jeremy Hunt has pledged to halve stillbirth rates by investing in high tech monitoring equipment, ignoring the evidence which shows that plugging women into machines during labour is going to be far less effective than investing in human beings to be with women before, during and after the birth. The Cochrane review, for example, has shown that if women and their midwives build up a relationship, there would be a reduction in both premature birth and stillbirth, whereas other studies have also shown continuous electronic monitoring to be not only ineffective, but detrimental to women as it keeps them on the bed.

Childbirth: a risky time

Technological birth in a hospital is not automatically safest  

But just as individual women are not being heard, neither, it seems, is the evidence, and the determination to invest confidence – and money – in machines and technology and give this priority over human connection and relationships continues. Calls for less medicalisation in birth and more kindness, compassion and personalised care so often seems to fall on deaf ears, even when very clear and robust research shows that technological birth is not automatically safest.

Clear evidence now tells us, for example, that for many low-risk women, hospital is the least safe place for them to have their baby. The two major studies on which the latest NICE guidelines were based showed that, for first time mothers, the chance of episiotomy is nearly doubled if they choose an obstetric unit over a home birth. According to the NICE analysis, women having their second or subsequent baby are also five times more likely to have a caesarean in hospital versus home; over four times more likely to have an instrumental delivery and twice as likely to have a blood transfusion.

We do seem to be almost culturally deaf to statistics like these, and the notion that hospital birth is often the least safe choice is one that the majority of people are yet to be able to hear. In the meantime, women who voice their desires for a more holistic experience, perhaps at home or in a midwife-led unit, are often accused of being selfish and of putting their own experience over the safety of their baby. Indeed, the phrase, “birth experience” can even be used in a slightly mocking tone, in spite of the evidence that shows that everything that makes birth more enjoyable for women – a homely, dimly lit environment, carers they know and trust – also makes it safer.

Bev Turner homebirth

Beverley Turner gave birth at home, but women advocating for home birth are often mocked  

In pregnancy women who try to advocate for their wishes or challenge the status quo are often reminded, “A healthy baby is all that matters”. Women know this, of course, and it is their top priority. But should it be the pinnacle of their expectations, or the baseline? Surely, above and beyond a healthy baby, women matter too? This phrase, whilst it may be well meant, suggests quite implicitly that women don’t matter, that they are a mere vessel. It’s used after the birth too, and women who want to raise concerns about traumatic experiences or even downright disrespectful care often feel completely silenced by it.

As women we have been raised to be polite to the point of submission: being “good girls” earns us praise as children, and often as adults too. In maternity care – indeed across all areas of life – this can mean we are easily silenced: not only are we raising concerns in a system that is not listening very well, but we are probably raising them in rather apologetic ways, with language such as, “Do you mind if I just ask?” when we should be saying, “I demand answers.” Submissive language also pervades women’s birth stories, which so often contain the phrases, “I was not allowed”, or “They let me” – unthinkable levels of compliance which you would struggle to find in any other areas of 21st century women’s lives.

“Levels of fear are at an all time high: women feel childbirth is dangerous and terrifying and midwives feels disempowered to reassure them otherwise.”

Women who are not being listened to when they report concerns about their baby’s movements are just the tip of the iceberg in a system that is often more reassured by the beep of a machine than the touch of a hand. True improvements to could be made if the patriarchal grip was loosened – but can we trust women enough to put them back in charge of childbirth?

Device Mimicking Female Reproductive Cycle Could Aid Research

EVATAR is a book-size lab system that can replicate a woman’s reproductive cycle. Each compartment contains living tissue from a different part of the reproductive tract. The blue fluid pumps through each compartment, chemically connecting the various tissues.

Courtesy of Northwestern University

Scientists say they’ve made a device in the lab that can mimic the human female reproductive cycle.

The researchers hope the device, assembled from living tissue, will lead to new treatments for many medical problems that plague some women, ranging from fibroids and endometriosis to infertility, miscarriages and gynecologic cancers.

The researchers described the device Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications and dubbed it the EVATAR. The name, they say, is a play on the word “avatar.”

“An avatar is kind of a digital representation of an individual in a virtual environment,” says Teresa Woodruff, a biomedical engineer in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University who helped create the system. “So when we thought about this synthetic version of the female reproductive tract we thought of the word EVATAR.”

To create the EVATAR, the researchers used tissues from human fallopian tubes, a uterus and cervix donated by women who had undergone surgery.

The researchers placed each tissue type in separate plastic chambers that were connected through passageways that allow fluid to circulate among them.

One chamber contained ovarian tissue from mice because human ovarian tissue is difficult to obtain.

The device is about the size of a paperback book. It also includes human liver tissue to filter toxins from the system.

The researchers were able to trigger the system to produce the cascade of hormones that usually occur during a woman’s 28-day reproductive cycle. The cycle culminated in the ovarian tissue releasing an egg.

“We were able to recapitulate the full menstrual cycle — a complete menstrual cycle,” Woodruff says.

The scientists hope to use the system to learn more about the basic biology of how the female reproductive tract functions.

“EVATAR allows us to think about all the organs kind of connected in a way that eventually we hope will be the future of personalized medicine,” Woodruff says.

Lansing Taylor, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Drug Discovery Institute, who was not involved in developing the system, says it could be especially useful in research because of the complexity of the female reproductive system.

“It’s a very important paper,” Taylor says. “Human reproductive tissues and organs have been particularly difficult to investigate.”

The scientists stress that they only want to use the EVATAR to study anatomy and try to develop new treatments.

But at least one bioethicist wonders if others may someday try to combine this kind of technology in worrisome ways with other advances in reproductive medicine.

“Certainly the technologies are rapidly moving forward where one could imagine these technologies being used to create a baby outside the womb in the laboratory,” says Insoo Hyun, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University.

That would raise many ethical issues.

“If, hypothetically, you can fertilize an egg outside a body and carry it all the way to term outside the body, then who’s responsible for this baby now?” Hyun says. He also stresses that scientists are nowhere near being able to do that yet.

In the meantime, the Northwestern researchers have already started to work on a male equivalent of the EVATAR.

They’ve created a system involving male testes and prostate tissue they call the “Dude Cube.” They are working on a more complex system that would connect the Dude Tube to other parts of the anatomy — a system they dub the “ADATAR.”


Side effects of birth control pill.

The birth control pill was introduced in the 1960’s, and it quickly became one of the most popular birth control methods in the world. However, this new pill contained really high levels of estrogen and progestin which had many dangerous side effects.

The amount of hormones in the pill was 10 times than needed for contraception. The consequences were horrible: thousands died or became disabled by blood clots. 40 years later the pill might have a different formula, but the possible dangerous side effects remain.

10 things that every woman should know about the pill:

-The pill is a carcinogen

According to the World Health Organization, birth control pills are in the  same class of toxins as tobacco and asbestos. Moreover, studies suggest that these pills increase the risk of breast cancer for up to 30%.

-The pill leads to plaque buildup in arteries.

Synthetic estrogen’s cardiovascular risks have been known since 1940 including its ability to cause blood clots, varicose veins, miscarriage, and PMS. According to research done at the University of Ghent, Belgium, every 10 years of oral contraceptive use was correlated with a 20 to 30 percent increase in plaque buildup. Studies show that newer birth control pills contain drospirenone, a synthetic version of the female hormone, progesterone, which leads to a higher risk of blood clots than previous forms.

Studies show that newer birth control pills contain drospirenone, a synthetic version of the female hormone, progesterone, which leads to a higher risk of blood clots than previous forms.

-The pill lowers your libido.

The pill inhibits the production of certain hormones called androgens, such as testosterone, which directly interfere with sex drive and pleasure.

-Clitoral shrinkage

According to doctors, synthetic hormones in birth control pills can shrink the clitoris by 20% causing her to refer to the pill as “genital mutilation”.

 -The pill and weight gain

The estrogen dominance leads to insulin resistance, weight gain, depression, and psychosis.

-The pill is linked to weaker bones (osteoporosis)

According to Canadian researchers, women who are taking birth control pills have a lower bone mineral density than women who have never used oral contraceptives.

-The pill and diabetes

According to a new study, women who used the pill before getting pregnant are 40% more likely to suffer from gestational diabetes than women who do not use any method of birth control.

-The pill damages our gut flora

Birth control pills destroy the good bacteria in your digestive system which opens up a pathway to yeast infections and other illness. Usually, when women decide to get off the pill and have babies, they develop a severe microbial imbalance in the intestines.

It can cause arthritis, autoimmune illness, vitamin B deficiency, chronic fatigue syndrome, cystic acne, eczema, food allergies and food sensitivities, inflammatory bowel disease, irritable bowel syndrome, psoriasis and more. Besides, when you give birth naturally, your baby inherits your gut flora. If your gut flora is imbalanced, your baby consequently inherits it.

-The pill and nutritional depletion

Oral contraceptives can result in the following nutritional deficiencies: zinc, magnesium, selenium, vitamin C, vitamins B2, B3, B6, and B12, along with folate. These deficiencies can occur because the liver uses more of these nutrients to metabolize estrogen and detoxify it out of the body.

-Other risks

Other risks include migraines, gallbladder disease, high blood pressure, mood changes, depression, nausea, irregular bleeding or spotting, benign liver tumors, breast tenderness, and more.

Think twice before taking the pill. You need to take into account future long-term health implications that can ruin your health and potentially the health of your baby.


Polycystic Ovary Syndrome Might Start in the Brain, Not the Ovaries

Finally, some answers.

A new study has found evidence that the common and debilitating reproductive condition, polycystic ovary syndrome, could start in the brain, not the ovaries, as researchers have long assumed.

If verified, the research could change the way we think about the painful and severely misunderstood condition, which affects at least one in 10 women worldwide.

Anyone who has polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – or knows someone with the condition – will be aware of how incredibly frustrating it can be.

Thanks to the variety of symptoms it can cause – from weight gain, large ovarian cysts, difficulty ovulating, acne, facial hair, depression, and agonising and heavy periods – it can take women years to get diagnosed.

Even then, there’s very little in the way of treatment options. Most women are simply told to go on the pill or take other hormonal medications to manage their individual symptoms, but not the underlying cause.

In the long-term, PCOS can lead to metabolic disorders, such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hormonal dysfunction, including infertility. In fact, PCOS is the cause of more than 75 percent of anovulatory infertility, which is infertility caused by a woman not ovulating.

And yet, despite the severity of the condition, researchers still don’t understand how PCOS arises and how we can treat it.

Now, researchers led by the University of New South Wales in Australia have shown that mice without receptors for androgens – a group of steroid hormones commonly associated with males, such as testosterone – in their brains can’t develop PCOS. But if the androgen receptors in the ovaries are removed, the condition can still arise

 Seeing as mouse and human reproductive systems share many similarities, it’s compelling early evidence that doctors and scientists might have been focussing on the wrong piece of the puzzle all along.

“For the first time we have a new direction of where we should be looking to try and develop treatments that will treat the cause of PCOS, the androgen excess in the ovary but also in the brain,” said lead researcher Kirsty Walters in an emailed press release.

Before this, researchers knew that an increase in androgens, known as hyperandrogenism, was linked to the onset of PCOS. But exactly how and where these androgens act in the body was poorly understood.

“Hyperandrogenism is the most consistent PCOS characteristic; however, it is unclear whether androgen excess, which is treatable, is a cause or a consequence of PCOS,” the researchers write in their paper.

To get a better idea, the researchers took four groups of mice:

  • a control group of normal mice
  • a group of mice genetically engineered to have no androgen receptors (ARs) anywhere in their bodies
  • a group that had been engineered to have no ARs in just their brains
  • a final group that only had ARs missing from their ovaries.

The team then used a high dose of androgen to attempt to trigger PCOS in all four groups of mice.

While the control group developed PCOS as they expected, the mice missing ARs entirely, or just missing them from their brains, didn’t get the condition.

Interestingly, the mice that were only missing ARs from their ovaries still went on to develop PCOS, although at a lower rate than the control group. That means androgens acting on the ovaries can’t be the sole cause of PCOS.

The result suggests two important things: researchers were right about an excess of androgens triggering the condition; and the action of androgens on the brain is important to the development of PCOS.

That means if we can find a way to stop those excess androgens in the brain, it could signal a new way to treat PCOS.

“These data highlight the previously overlooked importance of extraovarian [outside the ovary] neuroendocrine androgen action in the origins of PCOS,” the researchers explain.

To be clear, this study has only looked at mice so far, and the results need to be replicated in humans before we can get an idea of whether the same thing is happening in our own reproductive systems.

But this is a big deal because, until now, the focus when looking for effective treatments and preventions has been on the ovaries – and we haven’t had much luck.

The new study, though it’s still early days, gives researchers a new target to look into, and it could hopefully lead to new, more effective treatments for people with the condition.


Why Young Women All Over the World Are Still Dying in Childbirth

Why Young Women All Over the World Are Still Dying in Childbirth

Almost 800 women die every day while giving birth, and the curse of maternal mortality stretches from Sierra Leone to Myanmar.

By the time the pregnant 17 year old arrives at a hospital in Sierra Leone, it is already too late. Her baby has died—maybe the day before, maybe even longer. She has been left in labor for far too long—approximately 36 hours—waiting for a caesarean section that has been delayed due to an electricity cut. When power resumes, there is no doctor to help her. Now the race is on to save this teenage mother from death as well. Her womb is infected; the tissue falling apart. The doctors try their best to repair it, but her severe infection worsens overnight. The next morning is her last.

“Too much, too late,” writes a Médecins Sans Frontières obstetrics/gynecology registrar, Benjamin Black, on his MSF blog. This girl’s tragedy is shared by thousands more. In 2013, an estimated 289,000 women died during pregnancy or while giving birth. That’s almost 800 women every day. 99 percent of these deaths occur in the developing world.

Nearly all of these deaths and serious injuries are preventable and needless. Very few of them would happen in the west. Reading the statistics, we don’t need the World Health Organization (WHO) to tell us that maternal mortality is “unacceptably high” and that these deaths are a tragedy. The numbers speak for themselves: 800 maternal deaths every day are 800 too many. And yet, despite a 45 percent drop in maternal mortality since 1990, family planning organization Marie Stopes International still reports that the lifetime risk of dying from such complications is one in 22 in sub-Saharan Africa. In some African countries, the rate is as high as one in eight.

The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), whose work involves improving reproductive health, states on its website that the world has made “significant strides, but not enough.” While some developing countries have seen maternal deaths fall significantly in recent years, sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia are still struggling.

A doctor with a baby Maasai patient in Kenya.

In Europe and North America, it is too easy to assume that death during childbirth is a thing of the past. A sensational plot development on an Edwardian costume drama—Downton Abbey, perhaps—or a Victorian tragedy in a Charles Dickens novel. You may be surprised to find that the five main causes of maternal death are, according to Marie Stopes: Hemorrhage, infection, unsafe abortion, eclampsia (a condition where convulsions occur in a pregnant woman with high blood pressure) and obstructed labor. Surprised—and horrified. Preventable, treatable, and avoidable; yet happening here and now in 2015.

 It’s worth underlining that there has been a significant and steady drop in numbers over the last 25 years. In addition, during the 2010 Millennium Development Goals Summit at the UN, secretary-general Ban Ki-moon unveiled a ‘global strategy for women’s and children’s health’ that aimed to save 16 million women and children over a four-year period. I asked Luc de Bernis, the UNFPA’s senior maternal health advisor in Geneva, if we are doing enough.

“Certainly not, but this is encouraging,” he said. “The challenge now is to maintain this gain in lives saved, and to accelerate the progress towards the goal and targets for 2030. Women’s health, maternal and adolescent health are not receiving enough attention, even if it has been demonstrated that the major part of the maternal and newborn mortality is preventable, even in poor settings.”

A woman had turned up to a hospital clearly needing a caesarean section. But there was no people to work the generator, no electricity, and no light.

“Unfortunately the answer isn’t simple and it’s not a purely medical answer,” said Black, the oby-gyn whose work with Médecins Sans Frontières has taken him to the Central African Republic and Sierra Leone. When it comes to maternal health, there is no “silver bullet,” as he puts it, to remedy this complex issue. “You’ve got to look at the social, political, economic dimensions to the problem,” he explained.

Benjamin talked about “the three delays”: A trio of barriers that too often prevent women from receiving the timely and effective medical attention they need. Delay one: The delay in recognising that something isn’t right. “If you’re a woman in sub-Saharan Africa who is in labor in your local village with your local birth attendant, they may not realize at first signs that there’s a problem. It may take more than a day,” he explained.

The second delay lies in actually getting to a place where you can even receive care. Benjamin recalled working in Sierra Leone, where it can take patients more than a day to reach a hospital because of poor roads, or because patients have no access to transport nor the money to pay for a taxi. Then there’s the third delay: The delay in receiving care once you’re there. Benjamin recalls the time “a woman had turned up to a hospital clearly needing a caesarean section. But there was no people to work the generator, no electricity, and no light.”

I was ‘a child giving birth to a child’ because I was only 14.

There’s another twist in this narrative: Teenagers are most at risk. Marie Stopes International, which provides sexual and reproductive healthcare to women around the world, reported on the case of 16-year-old Mi Aye, who lives in Myanmar. Married at 13 and pregnant at 14, Mi Aye told the organization: “Nobody told me about how you have children or how I could avoid getting pregnant, so of course, I got pregnant. I was ‘a child giving birth to a child’ because I was only 14. And afterwards I was really frightened about getting pregnant again but I didn’t know what to do to stop it.”

 Women aged between 15 and 19 are twice as likely to die during pregnancy or childbirth as women over 20; girls under the age of 15 are five times more likely to perish. Bethan Cobley, senior manager of policy and partnerships at Marie Stopes International explained why teens are most at risk. “Sometimes their bodies are not mature enough for pregnancy and childbirth, but more often it’s because young people are less likely to have access to quality health services, particularly in the developing world.”

Benjamin Black referred to this as an issue of ‘vulnerability.’ “Your vulnerability increases according to the wider socio-economic situation that you’re in,” he said. “For example, if you’re a 15-year-old girl from a poor [and] rural family, your vulnerability to each of those delays is much higher than, for example, a professional woman who’s working in a capital city, even in the same country.”

According to the UNFPA, access to trained midwives could help avert two-thirds of maternal and newborn deaths. According to de Bernis, “midwives can implement more than 85 percent of the recommended essential evidence-based RMNH (Reproductive, Maternal and Newborn Health) interventions”—yet there is so much more than mere medical intervention to tackling these horrifying mortality numbers.

Dr Azhar Abid Raza, a health and immunization specialist with UNICEF in New York, agreed that a holistic approach is “essential” and “is working.” Antenatal care and maternal vaccinations have improved. UNICEF also has programmes targeting child marriage. “In addition, UNICEF, WHO and UNFPA are collaborating to improve the nutritional status of mothers, and in promoting the concept of early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding,” he said.

Access to family planning is equally vital—as is ensuring abortions are a safe option for all women. As it stands, there are 222 million women in the world who would like to use contraception but aren’t able to access it. “An estimated 22 million unsafe abortions are performed each year, resulting in 47,000 deaths and leaving 8 million women with medical complications,” Bethan Cobley of Marie Stopes International told me. “It may sound obvious, but when women have access to contraception, the number of unplanned pregnancies falls dramatically.”

 It’s about the choices girls should be able to make—freely and safely—about their own bodies, without feeling stigmatized or judged.

Family planning and termination of pregnancy is still taboo in many developing countries. As a result, abortion becomes a secret and often deadly operation that can involve ingesting poisonous herbs or using sharp instruments. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these methods often lead to medical complications, infertility, and in the worst cases, death.

So what’s the bottom line? It’s about the choices girls should be able to make—freely and safely—about their own bodies, without feeling stigmatized or judged. When the political will, support and funding is there, women’s lives are saved.

“Where governments have made the decision to fund family planning services and remove policy restrictions, we have seen maternal mortality dramatically fall in a relatively short period of time,” Cobley said. “For example, the Ethiopian government has invested in family planning and as a result maternal mortality in the country has more than halved, falling from 990 deaths in 100,000 live births in 2000 to 440 in 2013.”

Pregnancy shouldn’t be an imposed death sentence for any woman, wherever she lives or whatever her financial circumstance. In 2015, it doesn’t have to be.

Over-the-Counter Birth Control Safe for Teens, Research Finds.

Days could be coming when birth control is harder to get, with no-copay contraception potentially dropping off the map. Even though costs could increase, researchers say there’s no reason oral contraception should remain restricted by prescriptions. While some have been recommending over-the-counter birth control pills for years, some have worried about safety. But new research shows birth control pills are very safe and effective — especially for teens.

NPR reports that a review of birth control pill research published in the Journal of Adolescent Health makes the most comprehensive case yet for allowing over-the-counter birth control for teens. In fact, the research found birth control pills might be safer for young people, because your risk for negative side effects such as blood clots is greater if you’re older.

“There is a growing body of evidence that the safety risks are low and benefits are large,” Krishna Upadhya, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the lead author of the review, told NPR.

And when you’re young, Upadhya added, research shows you are less likely to experience some of the negative side effects of the Pill. While pills containing estrogen and progestin increase risk of a certain type of blood clot, Krishna said teens are less likely to develop that side effect and others, meaning the pill is “potentially safer the younger you are.”

 Research shows that good things happen when we reduce barriers to birth control. According to a 2016 research report from Urban Institute, about 63 percent of women reported that birth control reduces stress in their lives, about 54 percent said it had provided them health benefits, about 49 percent said it had helped them get their education, and about 49 percent reported more stable romantic relationships. On top of that, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists backs access to over-the-counter birth control, as do many doctors.

With this new research, Upadhya told NPR, everyone, regardless of age, should be able to get the Pill from her local pharmacy, no prescription needed.

“These pills are safe and effective and we should reduce barriers to using them,” she said. “And teens should benefit just as adult women do.”


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