This section of the APPPAH Newsletter is intended to draw attention to items in the news that are pertinent to prenatal and perinatal psychology. APPPAH does not necessarily agree with, or vouch for, the scientific worthiness of any of the news items mentioned here. We mean merely to take note of what is going on, so that you may.


Together with more diabetes and preeclampsia, a higher number of twins and multiples, and advanced maternal age, a rise in the rate of placenta accreta is now suspected to contribute to the rising rate of maternal postpartum mortality. A life-threatening condition where the placenta grows into the uterine wall and sometimes beyond, placenta accrete was once a rare event that affected 1 in 30,000 pregnant women in the 1950s and 1960s; it now occurs in 1 in 2,500 pregnancies, according to a 2007 report in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In some hospitals, the number is as high as 1 in 522. And doctors say the main reason is the dramatic rise in the number of cesarean sections—about about 38 percent of all pregnancies in New Jersey, the second highest in the nation. "The rule of thumb is if you have one C-section and the placenta sits right on top of the scar, the risk of placenta accreta is 25 percent," said Dr. Abdulla Al-Khan, director of the Division of Fetal Medicine and Surgery at Hackensack University Medical Center. "If you've had two previous C-sections the risk is close to 50 percent and three, it's 75 percent and four, it's invariably closer to 100 percent." [ABC News, April 2011]


The journal Birth reports that in 2008, there were 28,357 home births in the United States. From 2004 to 2008, the percentage of U.S. births occurring at home increased by 20 percent, from 0.56 percent to 0.67 percent. This rise was largely driven by a 28 percent increase in the percentage of home births for non-Hispanic white women, for whom more than 1 percent of births occur at home. At the same time, the risk profile for home births has been lowered, with substantial drops in the percentage of home births of infants who are born preterm or at low birthweight, and declines in the percentage of home births that occur to teen and unmarried mothers. Twenty-seven states had statistically significant increases in the percentage of home births from 2004 to 2008; only four states had declines. Authors see this as "a notable development that will be of interest to practitioners and policymakers." [Birth, 38:3 September 2011]


When U.S. regulators approved Monsanto's genetically modified "Bt" corn, they knew it would introduce a deadly poison into our food supply, because that's what it was designed to do: the corn's DNA is equipped with a gene from soil bacteria called Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) that produces the Bt-toxin—a pesticide that breaks open the stomach of certain insects and kills them. Monsanto and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) swore it was only insects that would be hurt; they claimed the Bt-toxin would be completely destroyed in the human digestive system and not have any health impact on consumers. A study has just proved them wrong. Doctors at Sherbrooke University Hospital in Quebec found the corn's Bt-toxin in the blood of pregnant women and their babies, as well as in non-pregnant women. (Specifically, the toxin was identified in 93% of 30 pregnant women, 80% of umbilical blood in their babies, and 67% of 39 non-pregnant women.) The study has been accepted for publication in Reproductive Toxicology. [May 2011, Institute for Responsible Technology; read entire article here.]


Scientists have found that children conceived in spring have a higher chance of being born with one or more birth defects, such as spina bifida, Down syndrome, or cleft palate. A study reported in Acta Paediatrica found that birth defect rates closely track levels of the herbicide atrazine found in surface water. Atrazine's maker, the Syngenta corporation, calls such findings "alarmist," and continues to promote its flagship product. Atrazine is one of the most commonly used pesticides in the U.S, though it's been banned in the European Union since 2003. While researchers in this study were careful to point out their results do not prove a "causal link" between in utero exposure to atrazine and birth defect rates, the findings are nonetheless startling. Children in rural areas are most at risk. [Pesticide Action Network of North America; Ed. note: earlier findings by study author Paul Winchester were featured in a 2007 Media Watch item, which reported that school-aged children conceived during the three summer months had lower reading and math scores, hypothesized to be related to high pesticide exposure during crucial months of fetal nervous system development.]


At least 4 in 10 pregnancies in every U.S. state in 2002 and 2006 were unwanted or mistimed, according to the first-ever state-level analysis of unintended pregnancies. According to the analysis released today, more than half of pregnancies in 29 states and the District of Columbia were unintended; 38% to 50% were unintended in the remaining states. In nearly every state, about 65% to 75% of unintended pregnancies were considered mistimed and 25% to 35% unwanted, according to The Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive issues. "We know we have very high levels of unintended pregnancy in the U.S., much higher than in most places around the developed world," says Kelly Musick, a sociologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., who was not involved in the analysis. The analysis, based on 2006 data, the most recent available, used national and state surveys on pregnancy intentions, births, abortions and miscarriages, including data from 86,000 women who gave birth and 9,000 women who had abortions. It is published online in the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. "There are many, many reasons why people don't plan ahead, even when it's such a crucial decision," says Claire Brindis, director of the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California-San Francisco, also not involved in the analysis. Says Brindis, "We do a better job of planning to buy tickets to see Lady Gaga than we do about being careful in planning for when we're going to have children, how many children and when in our lives we're going to have them." [USA Today, May 2011]