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Jeanelle Sheeder, PhD

Jeanelle Sheeder

How did you get into research, why this area?

I started as an undergrad with an internship in a neuro-imaging lab. I went on to get a Masters in Public Health, started working at CAMP (Colorado Adolescent Maternal Program) and got my PhD.

I really enjoy research; I’m naturally curious. Truthfully I enjoy looking at data; love to find out things that I suspect are true and then see results as they come through the data. I like the surprise of research.

Currently I have a joint appointment in OBGYN and Pediatrics. The majority of my research focuses on family planning and how women decide about having or not having children and to build their families.

Why is this important?

What we’ve learned is that there is ambivalence about family planning. In the US in particular there is a high unintended pregnancy rate. What this means is that many women don’t really plan to get pregnant or build families; there is ambivalence in women about when they get pregnant. We want to understand more about why there is ambivalence and how we can help women be more intentional about planning a family.

We don’t know about the factors that create this ambivalence. What we do understand is the default position is to get pregnant, and in order to prevent pregnancy a woman must decide NOT to do something – the ambivalence comes from that.

We also know that what a woman does while pregnant determines much about her health and the health of her baby and family, including issues related to obesity and heart disease.

What do you hope to learn from your research?

We want ultimately to help young women be intentional about how they plan their families, and to make the best decisions possible about their health.

A big difference our research could make is to decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies and see a rise in proactive pregnancy planning. It’s interesting that the World Health Organization and the March of Dimes have been focused on this for years with the message that intended pregnancies lead to healthier pregnancies and healthier babies.

What can we do to report on your work in a way that can be understood and valued by the general public?

It’s admittedly difficult to report on what is happening because research is about continually answering ‘small’ questions and taking small steps to keep pushing things forward; it’s not often the ‘big ‘ discoveries that people look for.

Having said that, we can report on the work we are doing and what we are learning along the way. We have a great research infrastructure at the Colorado Adolescent Material Program (CAMP), and we are learning more and more every day about the choices women make about having families.

We can also do more through presentations and talks with the larger community. We often speak at schools and through the school nurse programs to reach teenagers, and also speak at community gatherings.