The Blossom Project
With the help of Mary Greeley Medical Center, Iowa State University's Christina Campbell is paving the way for mothers and babies to lead healthy lives.
When Christina Campbell, Ph.D., R.D., Iowa State University associate professor of nutrition, was expecting her first child more than 10 years ago, she had many of the same questions common among first-time mothers. She wanted to know what nutrients are important and what type of physical activities result in a healthy pregnancy.
“I researched the activity guidelines for pregnant women, but at the time, I could only find two papers pertaining to it,” Campbell says. “Both papers suggested very minimal activity, like 15 minutes while maintaining a heart rate under 140 beats per minute.”
But Campbell wasn’t satisfied with the guidelines she found. Her pregnancy sparked an interest in the exercise and diet of pregnant women. She wanted to know how they contributed to the health of mothers and babies. With that, Campbell formed the Blossom Project.
“We named the project after my first child,” Campbell says. “When I was pregnant, my mom went into a quilt store and found some fabric with orange blossoms in full bloom. Since we didn’t know the sex of the baby, we called it Blossom until the baby was born.”
The initial goal of the project was to assess the Omega-3 fatty acid consumption among pregnant women. When the project began, Campbell was working at Montana State University. Because of her location, she was curious to study the effects of non-coastal living on the Omega-3 consumption among the expectant mothers.
“Even though Montana isn’t coastal, the attitude among the people was similar to a coastal community,” Campbell says. “The expectant mothers were, for the most part, getting their fulfillment of Omega-3 fatty acids.”
But when she moved to Ames to work at ISU, Campbell discovered that expectant mothers in the Ames area had very low levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), indicating that they weren’t absorbing enough Omega-3 fatty acids.
With the help of Mary Greeley Medical Center, McFarland Clinic and the Doran Clinic for Women, Campbell recruited women between the 18th and 35th week of pregnancy to participate in the Blossom Project. Women must be non-smokers free of chronic disease. The project requires women to wear an armband for seven days, tracking their physical activity levels. Women also track their nutritional intake, and a core blood sample is taken after birth to measure nutrition levels of the mother and baby.
“Getting the blood sample after birth is really non-invasive,” says Candace Flakoll, R.N.C.-O.B., B.S.N., C.C.E. “After the umbilical cord is cut, we fill two tubes with blood from the cord. Nobody loses any blood in the process.”
Flakoll says the Blossom Project is a great way for Mary Greeley Medical Center to be involved in nutrition education among expectant mothers. “We’re not considered to be a research hospital, so for us to partner with Iowa State University provides a great opportunity to contribute to life-changing research.”
Maternal Child Services Director Nyla Carswell, R.N., B.S.N., M.P.A., works with Campbell to ensure that researchers have all necessary patient information, while maintaining patient privacy in line with HIPAA guidelines. Mary Greeley Medical Center staff assists in recruiting patients and collecting blood samples at birth.
“A couple of months prior to due dates, we receive a list of participants,” Carswell says. “We make a note on their prenatal records, so we’re aware when they come in for delivery. The patients bring in the collection supplies, and we call someone to pick up the sample, which goes back to Iowa State for research.”
Campbell says the staff at Mary Greeley Medical Center has played a key role in helping the Iowa State University Nutrition Department improve the health of the community, one pregnancy at a time.
“The staff ’s willingness to collaborate and connect with individuals has been incredible,” Campbell says. “Mary Greeley Medical Center, McFarland Clinic and the Doran Clinic for Women have been crucial in helping us find potential candidates and draw cord samples. They provide us with everything we need while making sure we stay within HIPAA guidelines.”
After receiving the samples, Campbell records the Omega-3 fatty acid levels and compiles them with activity level information of expectant mothers. “We’re getting a good idea of the activity levels in this community, and like the Omega-3 levels, there is room for improvement in increasing activity.”
Campbell chose to study the nutritional and activity-level effects on pregnancies because disease prevention starts in utero. For example, gestational diabetes can lead to type 2 diabetes in the mother or baby later in life.
“If a mother starts and ends her pregnancy in the obesity category, she sets the stage for both her and her baby to be obese later in life,” Campbell says. “The way the mom handles her pregnancy physiologically, like with preeclampsia or hypertension, provides a good indicator to future disease patterns.”
Campbell plans for the next phase of the Blossom Project to include intervention. Instead of simply measuring activity and nutritional levels, expectant mothers will be assigned to groups measuring either activity or DHA levels, or both. With the help of Mary Greeley Medical Center, the upcoming research will help test markers related to gestational diabetes and prevention.
“We’re a part of the Blossom Project because we’re interested in helping research that will improve the outcome of the babies and mothers,” Carswell says. “We’re excited to be a resource for their research and that they can utilize us for data that will improve those outcomes.”