On this episode of the Healthy, Wealthy and Smart Podcast, I welcome Dr. Kameelah Phillips on the show to discuss Optimizing Health During Pregnancy. Dr. Kameelah Phillips is a board-certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist, wife, mother, and lifelong women’s health advocate. Since high school, she has been involved in local, national, and international organizations aimed at advancing women’s health care issues through advocacy and direct patient care.
In this episode, we discuss:
-The impacts of COVID-19 on pregnancy and post-partum
-Factors that impact the United States’ maternal mortality rates
-Six ways to optimize your health during pregnancy
-The importance of interprofessional collaboration
-And so much more!
For more information on Dr. Phillips:
Dr. Kameelah Phillips is a board certified Obstetrician and Gynecologist, wife, mother, and lifelong women’s health advocate. Since high school, she has been involved in local, national, and international organizations aimed at advancing women’s health care issues through advocacy and direct patient care.
Dr. Phillips graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Human Biology with an emphasis in Women’s Health and Human Sexuality. After graduation, she worked at the San Francisco Department of Public Health in the AIDS office as a Research Assistant on HIV vaccine studies. She relocated to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine.
During medical school, she received numerous community service awards. She was privileged to travel to Ghana, Cuba, and Tanzania on health missions during this time. Upon completion of medical school, she attended a competitive OB/GYN residency at the New York University School of Medicine. She also served on an emergency medical mission in Port-au-Prince, Haiti to provide women’s health care during the 2010 earthquake.
Dr. Phillips is an educator, mentor, and expert in women’s health issues. She loves to help women and girls feel comfortable with their bodies, so that they can be aware of changes or new developments. Her interests include Minority Women’s Health and health care disparities, lactation, sexual and menopause medicine. Dr. Phillips is a member of the International Board of Lactation Consultants and speaks Spanish. She enjoys teaching residents and medical students.
Her guilty pleasures include reality T.V. As a Real World Alumnae, she has used this platform to travel nationwide to discuss domestic violence, smoking cessation, and other health-related issues. She loves a good bargain, flowers, and deep-tissue massages.
You can follow her on Instagram @drkameelahsays
Read the full transcript below:
Karen Litzy (00:01):
Hi, Dr. Phillips, welcome to the podcast. I’m excited to have you on. And this is the first time I’m having an OB GYN on the program. I’ve had lots of physical therapists who work with women’s health and pelvic health. So this is really exciting to get a different point of view on women’s health and on pelvic health. And now, before we get into the meat of the interview, we are still living in a pandemic, COVID-19 is still here. It has not mysteriously disappeared or vanished. And so there are a lot of women who are getting pregnant, who are living through pregnancy at this time and who might be a little nervous, a little concerned about what can happen during their pregnancy is COVID affected. So what I would love for you is any advice for those pregnant women in the time of COVID?
Kameelah Phillips (00:58):
Yeah, absolutely. You know, one thing I really try and impress on patients that is absolutely unique to OB GYN is despite what’s going on in the world, whatever chaos is going on, women still have babies women still go into labor. Women still take healthy babies home. So for us in particular we’ve made some minor, not, I shouldn’t say minor there there’s significant, we’ve made some changes in how we deliver care and the hospital setting, but for us, it’s really been, you know, not so huge of a change because you know, hurricane Sandy earthquakes in Haiti, I’ve been through both of those, we still deliver excellent care to women. So one thing I would ask them to do is just really take a deep breath and while things are going on around us remember that their primary concern is to take care of themselves so that they can take care of their baby.
Kameelah Phillips (02:11):
I have told patients that a little bit of their OB care is changing. So we might have fewer visits, but really the important things we will always make sure that we hit the important time points and hallmarks of a pregnancy. So you won’t miss anything. I’ve been telling them that labor and delivery has changed a little bit. And I think this changes pretty much coming across country, but whereas it used to be a time where, you know, extended family was welcome. It’s important that they recognize now that only one or maybe two people will be allowed to be present for labor and delivery. And our hospital in particular, both moms and support family are being asked to wear a mask. We do check moms for coronavirus. We use the nasal swab. The extended family is not tested, but they’re expected to keep their mask on.
Kameelah Phillips (03:16):
And most of the time our moms are coming back negative, but if they do come back positive, you know, we have a discussion and education with them as to what it’s going to be like, knowing that they’re now corona virus positive and going to be taking home a newborn. So we talk about those things. But for all intents and purposes, women are coming in. They’re having healthy, safe deliveries, both C-sections and vaginal deliveries. Their hospital stay we’ve shortened a little bit in New York, we’re going back to keeping women two days or four days, but other places in the country are, are shortening. The hospital stays in an effort to get women home safely and so that they can use hospital resources for the people that need them. But we’re having healthy and safe deliveries. There was a panic, I think, amongst the pregnant community at the beginning of the pandemic, and everyone wanted to have a home delivery that still continues to not be the best response to this.
Kameelah Phillips (04:28):
It is still safest to deliver in a hospital or birthing center, certainly not at home to have best outcomes. We still recommend that women breastfeed that’s the best way to feed your baby despite Corona virus, even if you were previously infected. And when women go home, I just ask them to be considerate of the new immune system in their house, right? So limiting visitors, washing their hands. If people come over, keeping them not being afraid to say, Hey, keep your face mask on while you’re with the baby or around the baby. And really using the technology that we have to their benefit. So while it’s not what we’re used to, the grandparents meet their babies over FaceTime or zoom now. And that’s not going to be forever, but you know, if you have people who are unable to quarantine and can guarantee that they’re negative, I asked them to defer visiting.
Karen Litzy (05:29):
Yeah. Thank you. That’s all really great advice. And I should have mentioned in the beginning that we are both located in New York city. And so right now it’s different.
Yeah. So obviously New York was the epicenter of the pandemic, certainly in the United States, if not the world at one point we have now our numbers have gone down, but the safety for the pregnant and new moms have, has not is right. Yeah. Right. So we are still on top of new infections, preventing infections in the hospital, the doctors, the nurses, the people who clean your rooms, we’re all washing our hands, wearing gloves, keeping our mask on because it is our priority that you come in healthy and that you leave healthy.
Karen Litzy (06:33):
Yeah. Perfect. All right. Well, thank you for that. And hopefully if there’s any pregnant moms or other healthcare practitioners that are working with pregnant women kind of give them a little bit more information to pass along or to kind of keep in their heads. So now let’s switch gears slightly here. I’d love to talk about maternal mortality rates in the United States now in the United States. We know, unfortunately that we do have a very high maternal mortality rate amongst advanced countries, or what’s the best word for that advanced countries? Is that the right developed countries, industrialized countries, like we know what you’re talking about, you get it right. So the questions that I have are what populations are most effected. And then what, in your opinion, do you feel like needs to be done to improve those maternal mortality rates?
Kameelah Phillips (07:32):
I am firmly under the belief that we can as a nation, as a country walk and chew gum at the same time to make these rates better. So to answer your first part of your question we have plenty of data that show that black women, African American women in particular are most vulnerable during pregnancy labor and delivery. And postpartum times the rates of increased death can be anywhere from five to seven times higher than their white counterpart. And these rates are abysmal for a developed country to have such a discrepancy in healthcare is really saddening and frankly just discussing it’s unacceptable. But there are other ethnic groups that are also at risk that, you know, we always talk about black and white and really this country is so diverse, but our native American population is also significantly affected by maternal mortality rates that are poor as well as Alaska.
Kameelah Phillips (08:57):
We always forget about Alaska. So African American women, native American women and Alaska women, and it’s complicated. It is a combination of access to care. It’s unfortunate that we seem like we’re talking about the same things over and over, but access is a big issue. We live in the biggest city in the United States, but you know, Manhattan alone, what the Island of Manhattan has four hospitals there used to be more, there used to be more can you imagine? But some of our outlying communities that are more ethnically diverse or Latino or African American have far fewer hospitals. And certainly in those hospitals, the resources aren’t comparable to anything that you would see in Manhattan. So along with, you know, access there’s hospitals, there’s doctors there’s birthing centers, all of these are less often found in lower resource places.
Kameelah Phillips (10:06):
So access is a big one education both on the part of the health field and of patients themselves is a problem. I think we’re starting to really get some traction on the African American population, helping them understand that this is a very critical time in their life. And so they have to be hypervigilant about blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes, all of things, all the things that can be triggers for issues in pregnancy. Those are the big things that stand out access and education.
And do you also find that, and I find this in other aspects of healthcare especially when it comes to feeling pain that oftentimes women are not believed as much as men are. And, that is in other parts of healthcare, certainly true. Do you find that women maybe during pregnancy or even post pregnancy, like maybe that the day they gave birth, if they’re there trying to explain things that are going on and perhaps they’re not being believed and are just yeah brushed to the side so that I think is absolutely the case for a lot of the issues that women experience around the maternal period.
Kameelah Phillips (11:22):
And it’s not limited to women. It also crosses ethnic and socioeconomic boundaries. We have a real issue and I’m part of the establishment, right? I’m part of the medical community. So I feel free to air up our dirty laundry, that we have a real issue with bias and medicine and we talk about racial bias and how that can impact black people. But we have a bias against women. We have a bias against women and, you know, she’s being hysterical, she’s being dramatic or pain’s really not that big women in our discomfort in our needs are routinely downplayed and even by other women, because we’ve sort of ingrained in our head that, you know, women tend to be more dramatic, whatever.
Kameelah Phillips (12:30):
We downplay the needs of poor patients who come in, Oh, you know, she’s just being loud for no reason or, Oh, that’s just how they’re. So this isn’t just an issue of women. It goes across class, it goes across ethnicities. But for us, when we’re pregnant, it has to be addressed and highlighted because when a woman is saying something isn’t right. Something isn’t right. And that should be taken seriously because in the postpartum period we get lucky a lot of times because women are generally young and healthy, but when things go bad in obstetrics, they happen quickly and then its big. So for example, if a woman was like, my bleeding is kind of heavy and say, maybe she just delivered a baby, a woman could easily lose one to two liters of blood in like a few minutes. So we had a really bad postpartum hemorrhage the other day. And I was like, this is impressive when you see what the body can do. Especially in labor, it happens quickly. And so it’s incumbent upon us as healthcare providers to take women seriously.
Karen Litzy (13:27):
And then I would also think there is, and again, I don’t know if this is true or not, but I know kind of where I come from more looking at the pain world and from my own experiences, as I personally would downplay my own pain. So as not to bother someone. Right. And do you feel like in the world of OB GYN, if you’re going for pregnancy, like, do you have to kind of really educate those patients to say, listen, if you’re feeling something doesn’t feel right, like you need to speak up, right. Well, like you’re bothering us. Have you encountered that?
I have encountered that. And it’s really incumbent upon all of us to relearn these narratives that we’ve picked up just growing up in the United States of like not being the complainer or not being the squeaky wheel, not rocking the boat. Like those all have negative connotations right.
Kameelah Phillips (14:47):
In the obstetric space. When you don’t speak up, we can have really negative, horrible outcomes. So part of my experience with patients is to listen to what they’re saying really repeat back what they’re saying, like, okay, I hear you’re having X, Y, and Z. Did I get that right? And if it’s something that is quote unquote normal in the space of a, you know, a growing uterus or a growing body part of my job is to really provide education, to help them manage their expectations for what they should expect. Growing uterus, growing weight gain, swelling, what they should expect from their body. If it’s the first time they’ve been pregnant or the sixth time they’ve been pregnant, you know, all the pregnancies are different. And if we have a clear understanding her giving me her complaint, me giving her feedback on what I think she’s saying, and then giving her the anticipatory guidance, I think she needs, and we still have an issue. Then it’s incumbent on me to escalate it and really make sure that there’s nothing there that’s going to hurt her.
Karen Litzy (16:01):
Yeah. Great. That’s perfect. And I love the kind of handling of expectations and monitoring expectations because that goes such a long way when, especially if it’s your first time or not, like you said, your first or your six times, but kind of knowing what to expect at certain times is very comforting. And so then as if you’re the patient, then you can say, Oh, you know, she said, this might happen, but I’m not, you know, it’s not happening or it’s going above and beyond what she said. So maybe this is time that I reach out and contact my physician on this, there are times where you may need to reach out to your doctor. And so knowing when those times might be, is really helpful.
Kameelah Phillips (16:53):
Exactly. So when a woman leaves the office and you know, it’ll be maybe a month before I see her again, I tell her, you know, this is what I think might happen. It’s okay. If it doesn’t happen to you, but in the next four weeks, you might expect, you know, your pants size to change general discomfort in this area. You might feel something fluttering in your belly, like giving her those points to look out for. And again, managing those expectations and I’ll get a phone call, Hey, this is maybe more I’m having this. Plus this is this in the realm of normal. No, it’s not come in. You know, we can really help women out by giving them education cause it’s empowering. And it helps us do a better job taking care of you.
Yeah. And it also keeps people away I would think from dr. Google or far down the rabbit hole of how many doctor Googles do you get?
Kameelah Phillips (18:17):
You know what, I can’t anymore. Just so many doctor Google’s with doctor said, I can’t even more. Or my Facebook friend Sally said, Stay off. And it’s funny cause when their partner comes with them, the partner inevitably just looks at him and like glares at them because they know that they’re on Google or they’re on these, you know, small chat rooms where everyone is on the T level 10 when the patient’s issue is actually maybe a one or zero. And so it freaks her out. Yeah. I encourage patients to stay off of Google. Because yes, there are some times when it might answer your question, but really we’re aiming for individualized personalized care and Google doesn’t offer that to you. And so I really ask my patients to stay off of it. That’s what their visits are for to write down the questions as they go. And honestly, it’s so funny. They’ll come in with like, say there’s five questions just in the scope of time, given them the anticipatory guidance.
Kameelah Phillips (19:17):
Like by the time they actually get to the appointment, they may only have two questions because they’re like, Oh yeah, she said that was going to happen. They know exactly, exactly. It helps to stay off Google.
Yes, yes, yes, yes. And now I think we’ve touched a little bit, I think on this, but let’s see if we can delve into this more and that are what are ways women can stay healthy throughout their pregnancy so that maybe it can contribute to a decrease in the maternal mortality rate, even if it’s just chinking away at the tiny little bit, because like you said, it’s a big bucket with a lot of stuff going into it. But if there are ways that women can, like you said, empower themselves to stay healthy and give themselves the best chance, what advice do you give to women to stay healthy?
Kameelah Phillips (20:04):
Yeah. So in thinking about this, I have six points that I usually share with patients. So I’ll go over them really quickly. But my first point is to find a doctor that you trust. I’m really big on that. I’m really big on that. I tell people to find someone that they trust because inevitably, you know, most pregnancies are fine, but if we get into some mess, I need to know that you know that I am your advocate and I am on your side. And if you hesitate or you don’t feel like you can trust me a hundred percent, I’m going to ask that you explore other op, find another doctor because I want you to the best experience possible. And I even say this with my GYN patients, like if I tell a patient, you know, I really think you need surgery for this.
Kameelah Phillips (20:56):
I don’t sign them up for surgery that day. I’ve let them go into the world, do their due diligence, meet with three other doctors. And I promise you, I have not had a patient not come back because they trust me. So that’s a big thing. Find someone you trust. I think it’s really important that patients meet with their doctor frequently, meaning that you come to your visits, you got to show up, right? So we can get data from you like your blood pressure, your weight how you’re feeling, checking the baby regularly, blood work, this data that we’re collecting at every visit. And it might not sound like a lot 15 minutes, but it actually gives us a picture of where we’re going with your health. So that’s important. I asked my patients also to stay active and exercise. I am not sure why there’s this misconception that you should be sedentary during pregnancy first trimester.
Kameelah Phillips (21:55):
I get it that progesterone knocks everyone out there on the couch. They can’t, you know, they’re nauseous. They don’t want to, I get that. But for the most part, when you feel healthy in pregnancy, I need you take care of yourself. And that means exercise and eating healthy and patients are, Oh no, but the baby really wanted the chili cheese fries. No, no she didn’t the baby requests. Yeah. Did she send you a text message to get that? So really encouraging, like if you would feed your six month old, you know, a Coke and chili cheese fries for lunch, that’s a separate conversation, but you know, trying to do as best they can. In terms of staying active and eating healthy education is a big piece for me. Every time they leave, I’m like, okay, we’re entering this phase. These are the major risks for this phase.
Kameelah Phillips (22:53):
So I need you to go home and look at this website and read two minutes about diabetes, cause you’re doing your diabetic test and this is why it’s important. Being flexible is huge. Patients, I think often have the misconception that physicians or that I control their pregnancy. And really, I see myself as just like a tour guide, ushering your baby safely into this world. And so it’s important that they’re flexible to whatever the results come back as whatever the ultrasounds tell us, however, the baby is behaving in labor, that they’re flexible. In my industry, I’m not sure what the corollary will be with physical therapy, but people who come in with very strict demands as to how they expect their process to be are the main people who have complications as opposed to just letting us do our job, to get you guys to the finish line.
Kameelah Phillips (24:02):
So being flexible is really important. And then my last one is to not refuse life saving treatments. We were, it was in the, I told you the other day I had a postpartum hemorrhage and I might back of my head. I was like, this woman’s going to bleed. So as we were pushing or when she got admitted, I was like, you know, this is the type of situation where I see XYZ happening and when XYZ happens and she lost all that blood. When I came to her about needing a blood transfusion, she was already on board to not refuse treatment that could possibly save her life. So not refusing like blood products or blood pressure management, those are increased surveillance. Those are the big things that hurt and cause women to lose their life. So really not refusing important treatment.
Karen Litzy (24:58):
Yeah. And I think thank you, those are great ways that women can stay healthy. And you know, as you were saying, they need to be flexible. And I always go back to movies where they show the woman going in and she’s got a birth plan and it has to be this and it has to be this. And there’s no flexibility around that. So I could see how that could be really dangerous if you’re going in with that kind of a mindset of, you know, I have to have this baby without any drugs and have to have it vaginally. When in fact there might be some complications where that’s just not possible and it’s just not possible. And, or advised or safe.
Kameelah Phillips (26:00):
And again, we don’t decide that, right. The baby’s position, the mom’s uterus, the pelvis, like all of these things that are outside of our control decide that we’re just here to make sure you both come out on the other side. Okay. And I can’t underscore that. Cannot underscore that. Like I don’t have anywhere to be there’s this misconception that doctors always have like tickets. So like I have to be at the opera tonight. No, we don’t have anywhere to be we’re here for your baby, but you know, we have to have some flexibility, like let us just do our job and we’ll get you through this.
Yeah. I think that’s great. And then of course, I always love the third point, which is stay active and exercise and move during your pregnancy. And I think I’ll give a quick plug for physical therapists. I think this is where physical therapists and women there are a lot of physical therapists who are pelvic health specialists and who work specifically with pregnant and postpartum women. And this is where I think we can actually maybe make an impact in that maternal mortality rate as physical therapists.
Kameelah Phillips (26:54):
Yeah. Yeah. I spent the first part of my career in a group dynamic and it was very hard for us to think outside the box with complimentary specialties that can help make this process of pregnancy, which is physically mindblowing. Like people, if you haven’t necessarily been pregnant before or been in an intimate relationship with someone who’s going through pregnancy, you can not imagine how physically difficult it is to have a baby. And so when I was bringing up the options of like physical therapy, no, no, no, she’s fine. The body heals itself. I’m like, but it’s not like, look at her walk. You know, I’m looking at her. Diane is like, like, let’s think outside the box. So in my new practice, I’m making much more of an effort and actively establishing relationships with people that, okay, you’re having this issue.
Kameelah Phillips (28:07):
Now let’s connect with the physical therapist because you know, the hips give women the most trouble, the hips, maintaining flexibility labor and delivery, the act of pushing literally separates your pelvis. You know, it’s not, of course you have issues with your pelvis afterwards. Lacerations, you know, women who undergo episiotomies that pelvic floor has literally hit the wall and back. So to not expect that pregnancy is a hundred percent, the most physical activity you can do with your body just really undermines and belittles the whole process. And so part of my process now is to send women to physical therapy, postpartum, even if it’s just for one visit so they can have an idea of how to improve their core, how to keep their pelvic girdle in shape and engaged because most women have more than one kid.
Kameelah Phillips (29:11):
So that’s a lot of, you know, trauma to the body. And we can do better. We know that it works, we know that it’s available, but it’s up to us to provide the education and the next steps for them to heal.
Yeah. Well said, well said I love it. And now as we wind things up here what would be, what would you like the audience to take away from our discussion today?
Kameelah Phillips (30:29):
I think that it would be helpful to really understand that most doctors do their best to provide women with excellent obstetrical and Gynecological care. I think that a good doctor is really open to receiving information from other specialties in this case PT, physical therapy as modalities that can compliment what we offer. That’s not in opposition to what we do so that if we could somehow strengthen the relationship between obstetrics and physical therapists, everyone would win. Like it’s for all of us, the patient the obstetrician, the physical therapist the patient’s family. It’s, you know, pregnancy is the deal. It affects literally you physically, emotionally, psychologically, and sometimes the physical impact of sometimes a lot of times the physical impacts the emotional and the psychological and your sense of wellbeing and health is so impacted by like how you physically look and feel. And you guys have a direct, you know, you have the keys to helping us, you know, improve women physically. So if we could strengthen that relationship and not see it as so oppositional, I think it’s a triple win for everyone.
Yeah, I agree. And the last question I have is one that I ask everyone. And given where you are now in your life and in your career, what advice would you give to your younger self?
Kameelah Phillips (31:41):
So I’m out of residency 10 years, and I’m just starting my first private practice venture. And looking back, I probably should have done this five years ago. And yet I had a lot of other things going on. I was like birthing my own children and that kind of thing. But at the root of it, honestly, I was scared. I was scared of failing. I was scared of the unknown. I was scared of doing things that I’d never been taught before. Like formally I didn’t consider myself an entrepreneur, all these like negatives, right? Negative, negative, never didn’t have it. Shouldn’t wouldn’t, couldn’t like, and I would give my younger self, like a kick in the butt to like, just get out there and you know, unless it seems so cliche, but you don’t know unless you try. And when you’re young, there’s nothing to lose.
Kameelah Phillips (32:53):
Except the fear that’s like this imaginary fear that’s holding you back. It’s a time to be brave and courageous and adventurous. And so I would probably give my younger self like the little push off the ledge the encouragement that I needed to have started this venture and experience earlier. And I would just tell her to be fearless. What do you got to lose? You can always, you know, move back in with your parents. That’s what we’re doing these days. Right. So like, why be afraid to fail like that just now it’s so funny. Cause I think about it cause I’m in it now, but what did I have to lose? Nothing. Nothing. Yeah. Like time, but that would have been a learning, you know, you would have learned so willing to learn.
Kameelah Phillips (33:52):
So yeah, I would have jumped sooner.
Excellent advice. Thank you for that. And now where can people find out about you about your new practice? Where are you on social media? Where can we find you?
Kameelah Phillips (34:57):
So on social media? My main page is drKameelahsays, my practice page is Callawomenshealth, like the flower. I love the like beautiful erotic nature of the calla lily. So that’s my practice Calla women’s health. I’m on the upper East side of Manhattan, but also available for telehealth visits, physical visits throughout coronavirus. I’ve been on the grind in this office. So taking new patients of course also happy to see them.
And for everyone listening, we will have all of this information, one click straight to all of the practice and the social media at the podcast.healthywealthysmart.com. Under this episode, it’ll all be in the show notes. So if you didn’t get it, don’t worry, you can get it that way. So thank you so much for coming on. This was a great episode and I think you’ve given a lot of wonderful advice to healthcare providers and to women who may be pregnant or want to be pregnant or maybe has already been pregnant. There’s a lot of stuff here. So thank you so much. I appreciate it. And everyone, thank you so much for listening. Have a great couple of days and stay healthy, wealthy and smart.
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