PowerMom: Working Towards Healthier Pregnancies and Healthier Babies

With Mother’s Day approaching, it’s a time to celebrate the joys of motherhood and honor mothers everywhere.

For me, as a hardworking mother of three, a researcher and a physician, it’s the one day of the year I’m afforded the gift of sleeping in a little! It’s also a day I cherish for the time my family spends together, enjoying a family activity and simply celebrating our lives together.

We are able to do this because my children and I are all healthy — and that is something I wish for all mothers and their children.

That’s why my work on the PowerMom research platform, a product of Scripps Research, is so important to me. As a new mom — my youngest daughter just turned one — and someone who was going through my second pregnancy during the pandemic, I know how scary it can be to not have the information we need about our maternal health due to the lack of research on pregnant people.

As a pediatrician, I’m also informed of the grim statistics about infant and maternal mortality in the United States, the only developed country whose maternal mortality rate has been steadily rising over recent decades. In fact, the most recent CDC statistics show that there were 20.1 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019, up significantly from 17.4 the year prior.

And, critically, as a person of color, I’m even more acutely aware of disparities among racial and ethnic groups, with Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women. They are disproportionately affected by pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension, and gestational diabetes.

These inequities underscore the need to include marginalized populations in research on maternal care to reduce these disparities and improve the outcomes for ALL pregnant people.

That’s the goal of PowerMom, an innovative research platform designed to collect and contribute important pregnancy-related health information through app-based surveys and wearable sensors like a Fitbit or Apple Watch. PowerMom is a community for a community — a community of pregnant people who have endless questions, fears and concerns about their health and the health of their unborn babies during an exciting — and sometimes scary — time of their lives.

At PowerMom, we recognize that every pregnancy is unique — so whether it’s a mom’s first or fourth, she’ll still have questions. Our goal is to gather data from a diverse population of pregnant people to not only help them find answers to these questions and learn more about their own pregnancy, but also to help researchers uncover patterns and make discoveries to improve maternal-child health for all pregnant women.

As the lead researcher for PowerMom, the study is both a professional and personal project for me. Wearing my researcher hat, I see how critical this work is to increasing research on pregnant people, who have typically been excluded from health studies; to improving access to maternal health care for underserved populations; to understanding a mother and baby’s health risks early on; and to answering important questions about what makes a healthy pregnancy for the diverse pregnant population.

Wearing my mom hat, I see how empowering this research can be for mothers with questions about their bodies and their growing babies; for women of color who, like me, have been blatantly discriminated against during our pregnancies and have not had an outlet to be heard; and for any mother experiencing postpartum depression or other concerns in the vulnerable postpartum period.

PowerMom is a personal and professional passion project of mine — one that is empowering pregnant people with their data, providing them with a tool they can share with their health care provider and a record they can keep track of their baseline and their changes. It’s a tool that allows them to advocate for themselves and their babies — and, in turn, increase their chances of having a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby — and even improve maternal health care and the health and wellbeing of all moms and babies for generations to come.

Now that is the greatest Mother’s Day gift of all. For more information or to enroll in PowerMom, visit powermom.scripps.edu/.

Dr. Tolúwalàṣé Ajayi is the lead researcher for PowerMom at Scripps Research in La Jolla.