TIME Research

Babies in Womb Prefer a Mother’s Touch to Her Voice, Study Finds

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A new study shows fetuses respond to touch more than noise

When it comes to mother-baby connections, new research suggests a mother’s touch during pregnancy elicits the greatest response.

In a recent study published in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers looked at what behaviors resulted in the greatest response from fetuses: a mother’s voice, a mother’s touch or nothing. The researchers brought 23 healthy pregnant women who were between the 21st and 33rd week of gestation into a dark room, and had them try three different behaviors.

In one, the mothers were instructed to read to their unborn child, either Little Three Pigs or Jack and the Beanstalk. In another, the mothers stroked and rubbed their abdomen. In a third, control situation, the mothers laid with their arms at their sides.

While the women performed the behaviors, the researchers used sonography to track the response of their fetus. They found that when mothers rubbed their bellies, fetuses had more arm, head, and mouth movements than when the women did nothing or when they spoke to the baby.

“Although it is speculative to suggest, it might well be that the increases in arm movements in response to maternal touch are also directed responses towards the source of the stimulation,” the authors write, suggesting that the movements are indeed responsive and intentional.

The fetuses were also more likely to touch themselves in the 3rd trimester compared to the 2nd trimester. The researchers believe this may because the skin of the fetuses becomes increasingly more sensitive.

The new study is a very small sample size, so definitive conclusions can’t be made. But the findings add to research that suggests that communicating with the unborn baby really does some good.

TIME Birth Control

Quiz: How Effective Is Your Birth Control?

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Photo Illustration by Mia Tramz for TIME; Corbis

Test your contraceptive IQ

Teen birth and pregnancy rates are at a record low, possibly due to teens use of better birth control methods. Do you know how effective your birth control is?

Birth control methods vary widely in terms of effectiveness and duration of use. People choose their methods for a wide variety of reasons, but recent data shows that when women are informed and counseled about different forms of contraceptives, they tend to opt for the most effective types and unintended pregnancies drop. Typical use failure rates are used to determine effectiveness, and show the rate the method fails during “typical use,” which accounts of inconsistent or incorrect use of the method (think missing a pill or a broken condom).

Guess the typical use failure rates of the birth control options below:

TIME feminism

Female Perfect Imperfections Shine Through in Photographer’s New Project

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Ker-Fox Photography

Beautiful portraits of 16 women of all body types make up the first part of the ongoing project

In her new project Perfect Imperfections photographer Neely Ker-Fox goes out of her way to highlight the beauty in women of all sizes, shapes, ages and backgrounds. Inspired by other popular postpartum series by the likes of Jade Beall and January Harshe, Ker-Fox took photos of 16 women for the first series of her project and has made plans to shoot 10 more.

“I wanted to represent everybody,” Ker-Fox told People this week. “I didn’t want there to be anybody that saw this project and felt left out.”

The project came out of Ker-Fox’s own struggles with her body image. “For the last 9 months I have struggled with my postpartum body,” she wrote on her website, saying she “barely recognizes” her postbaby frame and has struggled with stretch marks, sciatic nerve pain and even an umbilical hernia. Acknowledging that “we as humans all have insecurities and we are all scarred, imperfect and flawed in some way physically and emotionally,” Ker-Fox said she hoped to show the deeper beauty that shines through in women.

See some of her photos at People

TIME women

Why I Don’t Want to Have Children

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I’ve spent years carefully crafting the most amazing life I can

What I want is to be happy.

I’m often told that I’d make a good mother. Depending on my relationship with the person making this wildly incorrect statement, I have one of two reactions: either a small, insincere smile and a “mmmm” response that does not invite further discussion or a hearty laugh followed by a firm “No.”

Don’t get me wrong: I love kids. They’re hilarious, they’re adorable, and I (mostly) enjoy spending time with them. But without a doubt, I do not want them. And here’s why.

I don’t want to worry about diaper rash and “tummy time” and I don’t want to know what colic is.

I don’t want to put a kid on a kindergarten waiting list and I don’t want to decide between public and private education. I don’t want to coordinate basketball practice drop-off with ballet lessons pick-up, I don’t want to help with trigonometry and darling, I will not deal with your teenage angst because you best believe I invented that. I’d rather have bamboo shoots shoved under my fingernails than try to figure out how to pay for my child’s college while I still owe roughly twelve kajillion dollars for my own degree. I’ve more than once done something “just to tell the grandkids about it,” but I never actually planned on there being any grandkids.

It amuses me to tell people I don’t want children because no one ever quite knows how to respond. I’ve gotten “Well, when you meet the right guy, you’ll change your mind,” which is basically suggesting I’m incapable of making decisions regarding my own life without consulting a nameless, faceless FutureMan and is, by the way, astonishingly offensive. Others immediately ask what I do for a living, as though my employer holds the key to my womb and has locked it up until I retire. I don’t really consider myself a career-minded kind of girl; I’ve always worked to live, not lived to work.

Two mothers have actually said to me, “I didn’t know what love was before having a baby. You should reconsider.” I’m happy they’re happy now but “not knowing love before kids” is one of the most acutely sad things I’ve ever heard. Occasionally, I get a hearty “yeah!” from like-minded women, some of whom will eventually become mothers and some of whom will not. I appreciate the support.

But at this point, it doesn’t matter how much anyone tries to change my mind because the decision’s been made — permanently.

Last October, I spent a wonderful morning with my doctor, during which he performed a tubal ligation on me.

Yep, I got my tubes tied at 28.

I admit that once my doctor agreed to perform the surgery, I had a moment of panic. It immediately crossed my mind that maybe everyone was right and I was wrong and I would wake up at 30 and want a baby more than anything in the world or that maybe my “hard pass” on kids was a rebellion against expectations simply for the sake of a rebellion.

Maybe I would love the complete upheaval of my priorities and schedule and life in general. Shortly after these hysterical thoughts raced through my mind, though, I regained my sanity. I picked a date for the surgery. Done. Tubes tied.

Here’s the thing: I’ve spent years carefully crafting the most amazing life I can.

I’m surrounded by people I love very much, who love me in return. I’m well-educated and well-traveled. I have endless time to learn about things that interest me and to see wonderful things and to meet the greatest people on earth. I leave piles of library books all over my bedroom and plan fabulous trips all over the world. I stay up until 6 a.m. watching Sons of Anarchy because I know no small person is relying on me to feed them in a few short hours. I occasionally eat chips and salsa for breakfast and drink beer for dinner and feel no guilt that I’m teaching anyone horrific eating habits. I spend my days finding my bliss, like all the inspirational posters beg of me.

All this being said, I can’t wait to be an auntie. Whenever my friends start popping out kids, I’ll be there with inappropriately loud and expensive presents. I’ll be the aunt who slips them a vodka martini on their 16th birthday and I’ll rant and rail with the best of them whenever they feel slighted by other kids.

And when I’m off for six months teaching scuba in Venezuela, I promise to send lovely postcards.

I get the reasons people want kids. I do. I’m not such a heartless, selfish monster that I’m incapable of understanding the appeal of a small person who loves you unconditionally and relies on you to guide them safely through a scary world. Parents are brave and strong and incredible people. But so are astronauts and brain surgeons and I don’t want to be those things, either.

What I want is to be happy.

And I’m doing that. I’m there, I’m living that dream. I’m happiest not being a mom, but hey… Call me if you need a babysitter. I’m great in a pinch.

This article originally appeared on YourTango.

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Read next: What I Learned Living in a Tiny House With Two Children

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Obesity

How Obese Moms May Wire Kids for Obesity

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Kids of obese moms are more likely to be obese, and the latest research suggests that influence may begin in the womb

In a report presented Tuesday at the American Diabetes Association, researchers say that children born to obese moms may be predisposed to being obese due to their womb environment.

Scientists led by a team at University of Colorado School of Medicine analyzed stem cells taken from the umbilical cords of babies born to normal weight and obese mothers. In the lab, they coaxed these stem cells to develop into muscle and fat. The resulting cells from obese mothers had 30% more fat than those from normal weight mothers, suggesting that these babies’ cells were more likely to accumulate fat.

Whether that means the infants are more likely to become obese and develop the chronic conditions associated with excessive weight gain, such as heart disease and diabetes, isn’t clear yet, but the early changes are worth investigating further as possible risk factors for childhood obesity. “The next step is to follow these offspring to see if thee is a lasting change into adulthood,” says the lead presenter, Kristen Boyle, in a statement. She and her colleagues are already studying the cells to see whether they use and store energy any differently from those obtained from normal-weight mothers, and whether those changes result in metabolic differences such as inflammation or insulin resistance, which can precede heart disease and diabetes.

TIME Childbirth

Eating Placenta Does Nothing for Your Health, Study Says

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And researchers warn there might be unforeseen risks

New moms have recently taken a greater interest in consuming their placenta after birth, with celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian touting possible benefits from improving lactation and increasing skin elasticity to decreasing the risk of postpartum depression. But according to new research, there is no data to support any of these claims.

A Northwestern Medicine review of previously published studies showed that whether consumed raw, cooked, or in pill form, there are no proven, tangible benefits to consuming the placenta. Perhaps more importantly, the risk level of doing so is currently unknown, so moms may be putting themselves (and their babies, if they are breastfeeding) in harm’s way by consuming afterbirth.

The review’s lead author, Cynthia Coyle, said it is problematic that there are “no regulations as to how the placenta is stored and prepared, and [that] the dosing is inconsistent…Women really don’t know what they are ingesting.”

Coyle hopes this news will encourage doctors to help their patients make informed decisions.

Read next: Harvard Obstetrician Speaks on Safety of Giving Birth at Hospitals

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TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Why Taking Antidepressants During Pregnancy Might Not Be So Risky

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The warnings against using SSRIs during pregnancy may not be accurate, a new study suggests

The risk of taking antidepressants late in pregnancy may not be as high as previously suggested.

A new study published in JAMA shows that the risk for serious complications among infants whose mothers take selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)—key compounds in some antidepressants—is lower than previous studies have shown. Earlier, studies have suggested that taking SSRIs late in pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN): when an infant’s circulation system doesn’t correctly adapt to breathing outside the womb. PPHN can be fatal in 10 to 20% of infants and is linked to serious health problems in those that survive. In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a health advisory about the link.

“When making a decision whether to continue treatment with antidepressants during pregnancy, patients need to weigh all the potential risks with the benefits in terms of improved maternal health and well-being,” says study author Krista F. Huybrechts of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “In the past, an important consideration in this treatment decision has been the potentially large increase in the risk of PPHN, which is a severe and life-threatening condition.”

In the new study, Huybrechts and her co-authors looked at a group of 3,789,330 pregnant women enrolled in Medicaid from 2000-2010 to determine the risk of PPHN linked to use of SSRIs versus non-SSRI antidepressants. They found that while there was a higher risk of PPHN associated with SSRI use in late pregnancy, the overall risk was low.

Among the women studied, 3.4% used an antidepressant during the 90 days before they gave birth. Of those women, 2.7% were on an SSRI and 0.7% were on a non-SSRI. The results showed that 20.8 per 10,000 infants who had no antidepressant exposure had PPHN, compared to the 31 per 10,000 infants who also had PPHN and were exposed to an antidepressant. There was a higher risk among both babies exposed to SSRIs and non-SSRIs. The SSRIs contributed to a slightly higher risk.

The researchers conclude that women and their physicians have to balance the potential risks for complications with the benefits of taking antidepressants for mothers’ mental health. “Our findings should be reassuring for women who suffer from severe depression that doesn’t respond to non-pharmacological treatments, requiring them to stay on treatment during pregnancy,” Huybrechts says.

TIME Research

Babies Who Are Breast-Fed Are Better Protected Against Pollution, Study Finds

Human milk counters impact of airborne pollutants

In a newborn infant’s initial four months, exposure to pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and airborne particles can cause negative effects on motor and mental development, but a new study reported on in Science Daily says those effects are countered in babies who are breast-fed by their mothers.

Researchers in Spain began monitoring rural, pregnant women in 2006 and analyzed samples from 638 women and their infants at 15 months. They discovered that babies who are breast-fed did not suffer from the potentially harmful developmental impact of PM2.5 (pollution particle matter) and NO2 (nitrogen dioxide).

Read more at Science Daily.

TIME medicine

Tylenol During Pregnancy Could Harm Male Babies, Study Shows

It reduces testosterone production in the womb

Taking too much Tylenol during pregnancy could reduce testosterone levels in male babies, according to a new study.

The study, published in Science Translational Medicine, found that prolonged use of acetaminophen, the drug in Tylenol, by a pregnant mother reduced production of testosterone in her unborn son.

The study used mice that carried grafts of human tissue. After one day of exposure to the drug there was no effect on testosterone production, but after seven days the amount of testosterone was down by 45 percent.

Limited testosterone in the womb is related to increased risk of infertility, testicular cancer and undescended testicles.

“We would advise that pregnant women should follow current guidance that the painkiller be taken at the lowest effective dose for the shortest possible time,” said Rod Mitchell, one of the authors of the study from the University of Edinburgh.

Acetaminophen drugs like Tylenol or Panadol are the most common medicine for managing pain or fevers during pregnancy.

MONEY Careers

Elon Musk Denies Scolding New Parent for Missing Meeting

A new biography claims Elon Musk criticized an employee who missed a work event to witness the birth of his child. The man behind Tesla and SpaceX says it never happened.

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