Donna Baird, Ph.D.

Scientist Emeritus

Epidemiology Branch / Women's Health Group


David P Rall Building


Research Topics

My research has focused on women's reproductive health, especially understudied conditions. In addition to research in specific content areas, I am interested in developing new methodologies including techniques for data collection and analysis.

My primary research focus is uterine fibroids. Not only is this an important, understudied women's health issue, but as an hormonally-dependent condition, fibroids can also serve as a model for looking at windows of susceptibility and mechanisms of hormonal action.

An important finding in our fibroid research program since the last review is that vitamin D may be protective for fibroids. This could have direct public health impact. In addition, our data on pregnancy-related fibroid regression will stimulate mechanistic research into the natural processes of fibroid regression, which could lead to new strategies for treatment. We have also shown that a single ultrasound screening for fibroids can be highly predictive of having a major medical procedure during an 8-year follow-up period. This is important for clinicians and patients, but has implications for developing new fibroid management strategies that shift focus to early treatment.

The investigation of fibroid epidemiology has unique challenges. Because so many women have undiagnosed fibroids, even ultrasound screening studies do not provide adequate data on incidence. We have begun a new prospective study, the first to enroll women who have no ultrasound evidence of fibroids. Building on our previous work, we aim to identify factors related to increased (or decreased) risk of fibroid onset and growth in African American women, a group with particularly high risk of fibroids.

I also maintain my long-standing research interests in fertility and pregnancy. The methodologies we developed for quantifying subfertility opened up the research field, and researchers across the world have identified exposures that may adversely affect fertility, findings I have recently summarized in a chapter for the 2nd edition of Women & Health. In addition, we have argued in a recent commentary that it is time to begin investigating biomarkers of fecundability. A related research focus has been early events of pregnancy and miscarriage risk. We are finding more evidence that very early pregnancy events shape a pregnancy's ongoing viability and health. From a public health perspective, our two most important fertility and pregnancy-related findings since the last review are that African American women have a nearly 2-fold higher risk of late miscarriage than US white women and that early pregnancy events influence the natural length of gestation, even for pregnancies that continue to term.


I was trained as an evolutionary/population biologist in the Ecology Department of the University of Minnesota before discovering epidemiology. My post-doctoral work at the University of North Carolina provided the opportunity for me to get training in reproductive epidemiology (MPH degree) and begin my work at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. I began by studying fertility and developing epidemiologic methods for studying it. I've maintained this longstanding interest in hormones and fertility as well as early pregnancy events (implantation, corpus luteum rescue, the luteal placental shift in support of the pregnancy, as well as pregnancy complications and pregnancy outcomes). More recently I have developed a research program in uterine fibroid epidemiology. Mentoring at all levels has been a special interest throughout.

Selected Publications

  1. Baird DD, Wilcox AJ. Cigarette smoking associated with delayed conception. JAMA. 1985;253(20):2979-83.
  2. Baird DD, Dunson DB, Hill MC, Cousins D, Schectman JM. High cumulative incidence of uterine leiomyoma in black and white women: ultrasound evidence. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2003;188(1):100-7.
  3. Peddada SD, Laughlin SK, Miner K, Guyon JP, Haneke K, Vahdat HL, Semelka RC, Kowalik A, Armao D, Davis B, Baird DD. Growth of uterine leiomyomata among premenopausal black and white women. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008;105(50):19887-92.
  4. Baird DD, Hill MC, Schectman JM, Hollis BW. Vitamin d and the risk of uterine fibroids. Epidemiology. 2013;24(3):447-53.

Related Scientific Focus Areas

This page was last updated on Monday, January 8, 2024