Sophomore Seminars

Demystifying Pregnancy: Physiology, Policy and Politics


Why should anyone planning a career in politics, engineering, business, economics, environmental studies, journalism, law or any non “health” related field learn about pregnancy? This unique course is designed to educate future leaders in diverse fields about the health of pregnant persons and their babies, and the issues that impact both. Students of all majors and genders are encouraged to join this class. Students will learn strategies for searching and evaluating health information. We will discuss behavioral, social, cultural and economic factors that affect maternal and fetal wellbeing, along with the impact of health disparities and disease prevention strategies. We will also examine current and future legal and environmental challenges impacting maternal fetal health. Material will include introductory basic science of maternal and fetal physiology, prenatal care, labor and birth, breastfeeding, assisted reproduction, surrogacy, teratogens, toxins and environmental change, genetics and epigenetics. We will touch on potentially controversial topics such as prenatal diagnostic testing, ethics, policies and laws affecting pregnancy, access to care, health disparities, homelessness and incarceration, domestic violence and reproductive coercion, teen pregnancy, LGBTQ pregnancy, the impacts of high BMI and eating disorders, substance abuse, problems related to employment, cultural beliefs, myths and misconceptions, and media misinformation. 

Assessments will include in-class activities, short individual and group assignments, two midterms and a final group presentation. Students will be challenged to reflect deeply and think critically about these topics. This is meant to be an introductory course for non-health science related majors. There are no course prerequisites other than enthusiasm to learn and eagerness to participate!


Meet the Instructor(s)

Sylvie Blumstein

"I remember my shock and anger at Nature when, as a very young child, I realized the suffering and even death women could endure as they gave life. I also remember my mother’s stories (she was a polymer chemist at a time when few women worked in the physical sciences) of the bigotry, sexism and professional obstacles she encountered as a full time working mom. These experiences (and the fact that Women’s Health is a really cool field!) propelled me towards my eventual career as an OB-GYN. I have worked for the past 25 years in academic centers and have had the fortune to interact with women from every corner of the globe, to hear some of their stories, to help if only for a transient moment, with their struggles and joys. Along the way, I have been privileged to teach wonderful medical students and residents. I am thrilled to now have the opportunity to share these stories and experiences with undergraduates. It is my hope that you will be as awed as I have been by the strength and fierce determination of women everywhere and that you will channel this inspiration as you plan your own careers."


Cynthia DeTata

"I have over 30 years of experience as an advocate and educator in the field of maternal and child health. Over the course of my career, I have come to recognize the urgent need for accurate scientific knowledge of pregnancy and fetal development for those working in business, politics, global environmental policy and other non-medical fields. This knowledge brings power not only to make better health decisions for oneself, but also for many aspects of life that can affect the health of others. As a contributor for a health app with a target audience of college-aged users, I am aware of the demand for accurate and timely knowledge. As a professional and academic mother of eight, I have experienced and observed how pregnancy and motherhood impacts career trajectories.  Having the gift of working with pregnant people of all backgrounds has shown me that there are many challenges and disparities that impact pregnant people and their infants. Many of these problems are beyond what can be addressed only by health care. I was inspired to create this course hoping to engage students of all career interests, spark curiosity about issues that impact maternal child health and foster a drive to tackle these issues for the sake of all of us."