Women’s Reproductive, Gynecologic and Mental Health Research

Alumni Profile
Ali MacHendrie Ecklund

Researchers in EpiCH are focused on addressing reproductive issues around fertility and adverse pregnancy outcomes, and gynecologic conditions related to unexplained vulvar pain and factors associated with earlier onset to the menopausal transition. Across the entire reproductive lifespan, women experience higher rates of mental health illness than men, and many of these mental health disorders are associated with adverse reproductive and gynecologic conditions.

Research Focus

Reproductive Research

  • Weight loss and fertility
  • Chronic pain across pregnancy

Gynecologic Research

  • Risk factors associated with the menopausal transition
  • Vulvodynia etiology

Women’s Mental Health Research

  • Postpartum psychosis
  • Postpartum depression


Highlighted Projects

Harvard Study of Moods and Cycles

Investigator: Bernard L. Harlow
A prospective cohort study of women with and without a lifetime history of depression to determine how depression influences the timing of the transition to menopause and the menopausal transition impact on new and recurrent onset of mood disorder.

Immunological Factors and Risk of Vulvodynia

Investigator: Bernard L. Harlow
Community based study of women with and without clinically confirmed unexplained vulvar pain to determine environmental and medical risk factors associated with this debilitating condition.

The Baby Steps Project

Investigator: Deb Hennrikus, Wendy Hellerstedt, Harry Lando, Phyllis Pirie, Jeanne Steele, Caroline Dunn
Maternal smoking during pregnancy and postpartum has been associated with significant infant morbidity and mortality and constitutes a lost opportunity for the mother to quit smoking and improve her own health. Despite these risks, a significant proportion of women continue to smoke during pregnancy and many who quit for the pregnancy start smoking again once the baby is born. The Baby STEPS Project is a randomized controlled pilot study that examines the effectiveness of involving the pregnant woman’s social network in helping her quit smoking. The intervention concentrates on female relatives or friends who serve as sources of advice and information about pregnancy and child-rearing. Subjects are low-income women recruited at WIC clinics and an outpatient obstetric clinic.

ADONIS (Adipose on Infertility Study)

Investigator: Ruby Nyguen
A pilot study investigating the role of weight loss on semen parameters on overweight and obese men.

TIDES (The Infant Development and Environment Study)

Investigator:  Ruby Nyguen
Investigating the role of prenatal phthalate (an endocrine disruptor) exposure on the physical development of male infants.


Investigator:  Ruby Nguyen
A portion of this far reaching study focuses on polycystic ovarian syndrome and other reproductive health issues that may affect women along with cardiovascular disease.

Vulvar Pain Across Pregnancy into Postparum

Investigator:  Ruby Nguyen

Determinants of Pre-conception, Prenatal, and Postpartum Health in an Urban Population

Investigator:  Wendy Hellerstedt
Funder:  Deborah E. Powell Center for Excellence in Women’s Health
This project involves the development of a database that merges pre-conception, prenatal and postpartum electronic medical records; and maternal and infant health care utilization and billing data from approximately 3000 women with live births in 2007 who are clients of HealthPartners. The following questions will be investigated::

  • Do the associations of prenatal risk factors for maternal depression and postpartum health care utilization vary by race and ethnicity?
  • Are occupational exposures related to maternal health, delivery, and birth outcomes?
  • Is prenatal obesity associated with maternal postpartum and infant health care utilization?
  • What is the prevalence of chronic conditions in a pre-conception sample?

Residential Mobility among Urban Pregnant Women

Investigator:  Wendy Hellerstedt
NIH/NICHD (via the National Children’s Study)
This project involves examining the pre-conception, prenatal, and postpartum medical records of approximately 3000 urban women to assess residential mobility during these periods.  The data are intended to inform the methods for a larger study that requires following pregnant women and mothers longitudinally in a defined geographic area.

Characteristics of Pre-conception and Prenatal Methamphetamine Users

Investigator:  Wendy Hellerstedt
This qualitative study involved structured interviews with 15 women who were pregnant and in treatment for immediate pre-conception or prenatal methamphetamine use.  The purpose of the study was to:

  • Characterize women who use/have used methamphetamine during pregnancy;
  • Identify barriers to, and opportunities for, optimal health care for women who have used methamphetamine during pregnancy; and
  • Identify environmental, social, and personal attributes of pregnant methamphetamine users that will contribute to the development of public health and medical programs to serve them.

Characteristics of Minnesota PRAMS Respondents

Investigator: Wendy Hellerstedt, Ruby Nguyen, Judith Punyko, Gyllstrom
The purpose of these analyses are to investigate two questions associated with maternal attitudes and mental health, with approximately 6000 recent mothers in Minnesota:

  1. What pre-conception and prenatal health factors are associated with maternal self-report of postpartum depressive symptoms?
  2. How is maternal report of pregnancy intention associated with prenatal behaviors and health care access?

A second set of analyses focused on substance use and maternal mental health, addressing two questions:

  1. What are the associations of maternal mood and stress with prenatal substance use;
  2. Are reports of preconception stress, prenatal poor mood, and postpartum depressive symptoms associated with smoking relapse among women who quit smoking during pregnancy?

Healthy Weights During Pregnancy

Investigator: Wendy Hellerstedt
The aims of this study are to:

  • Compare patterns of weight gain in a racially diverse urban sample (n=3000)  relative to the 2009 Institute of Medicine guidelines;
  • Examine feelings about pregnancy weight gain in a racially diverse urban sample of 26 women who participated in focus groups.