Aleeca F. Bell, PhD, RN, CNM

  • Assistant Professor

The long-term goal of Dr. Aleeca Bell’s research program is to promote optimal birth & exemplary birth care by understanding the biological underpinnings linking the birth experience with maternal-child outcomes, such as postpartum mood and mother-infant interaction.
Dr. Bell’s research is focused on oxytocin, a neurohormone important in birth and lactation, as well as maintaining positive mood, healthy attachment, and reduced stress reactivity. The oxytocin receptor is a plausible gene candidate linking the birth experience with maternal-child outcomes. Genetic/epigenetic knowledge is important for determining whether there are at-risk women for negative postpartum mood or poor mothering behaviors after exposure to certain birth interventions or birth experiences affecting the oxytocin system.  This program of research may impact policy decisions in support of physiologic birth - known to dramatically reduce health care costs and improve maternal-infant outcomes.

Dr. Bell collaborates with experts in the disciplines of nursing, psychology, behavioral neuroscience, genetics, epigenetics, and epidemiology. As a Certified Nurse Midwife, her research questions are informed by her clinical experience. She has attended home births in the Chicago area, and has provided family planning, well-woman annual exams, and prenatal care at two Illinois federally-funded clinics:  Alivio Medical Center and Will County Community Health Center.

Current Area of Teaching

Dr. Bell currently teaches NURS 550 Evidence-Based Practice. NURS 550 is an online graduate course focusing on how to critically assess and synthesize the literature in order to construct, implement, and evaluate evidence-based practice guidelines.

Selected Honors & Awards
  • University of Ulster, Northern Ireland, Capacity Building Pilot Grant "Change in Oxytocin from Pregnancy to after Birth" (2013-2015)
  • Fetzer Institute Grant, "Oxytocin and the Biology of Love" (2012-2014)
  • UIC Center for Clinical and Translation Science KL2 Scholar Award (2012-2014)
  • Irving B. Harris Post-Doctoral Fellowship Award (2009-2011)
  • Dean’s Award, College of Nursing, UIC, (2010)
  • NIH NRSA F31 Pre-Doctoral Fellowship Award (2007-2009)
  • Mercy Hospital and Medical Center OB/GYN Education Fund Award (2008)
  • Midwest Nursing Research Society/Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science Dissertation Award (2007)
  • Irving B. Harris Scholarship, Women Children and Family Health Science, College of Nursing, UIC, (2005-2006)
Selected Publications
  • Bell, A. F., Carter, S. C., Colin S. D., Golding, J., Davis, J. M., Lillard, T. S., Steffen, A. D., Gregory, S. P., Harris, J. C., & Connelly, J. J. Oxytocin receptor DNA methylation and risk of postpartum depressive symptoms (submitted manuscript)
  • Bell, A. F., Erickson, E.N., & Carter, C.S. (2014) Beyond labor: The role of natural and synthetic oxytocin in the transition to motherhood. Journal Midwifery & Women’s Health, 59(1):35-42. doi: 10.1111/jmwh.12101. Epub 2014 Jan 28. PMID: 24472136
  • Dahlen, H. G., Kennedy Powell, H., Anderson, C. M., Bell, A. F, Clark, A., Foureur, M., Ohm, J. E., Shearman, A. M, Taylor, J. Y., Wright, M. L, Downe, S. (2013) The EPIIC hypothesis: Intrapartum effects on the neonatal epigenome and consequent health outcomes. Medical Hypotheses. 80(5) 656-62. doi:pii: S0306-9877(13)00040-6. 10.1016/j.mehy.2013.01.017. Epub 2013 Feb 12 PMID: 23414680
  • Bell, A. F., White-Traut, R. C., & Rankin, K. (2013) Fetal exposure to synthetic oxytocin and relationship to prefeeding cues within one hour postbirth. Early Human Development. 89:137-43.
  • Bell, A. F., White-Traut, R. C., Wang, E., & Schwertz, D. (2012). Maternal and Umbilical Artery Cortisol Levels at Birth: Relationships with Epidural Analgesia and Newborn Alertness. Biologic Research for Nursing. Jul;14(3):269-76.
  • Bell, A. F., White-Traut, R. C., & Medoff-Cooper, B. (2010). Neonatal neurobehavioral organization after exposure to maternal epidural analgesia in labor. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 39, 178-190.
  • *White-Traut, R. C., Watanabe, K., Pournajafi-Nazarloo, H., Schwertz, D., Bell, A. F., & Carter, S. (2009). Detection of Salivary Oxytocin levels in lactating women. Developmental Psychobiology, 51, 367-73.
  • Bell, A. F., Lucas, R., & White-Traut, R. C. (2008). Concept clarification of neonatal neurobehavioral organization. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 61(5), 570-581.
Current Research

Dr. Bell is currently seeking funding of an R01 project related to childbirth, mental health, and epigenetic marks in the oxytocin receptor gene.

In two recent projects, Dr. Bell's team utilized a population database from the United Kingdom: the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children. In a cohort of roughly 5000 women, they found that a more positive birth experience was associated with less likelihood of postpartum anxiety at 2 and 8 months after birth. In a matched case-control design, they found a potential genetic-epigenetic biomarker of postpartum depression.

She recently completed a 2014 Chicago-based pilot study "Change in Oxytocin from Pregnancy to After Birth" to investigate epigenetic marks in the oxytocin receptor before and after birth.

Her post-doctoral research (2009-2010) funded by the Irving B. Harris Foundation studied the influence of intrapartum Pitocin® on infant pre-feeding behavioral cues within an hour after birth.

Her dissertation research (2007-2009) explored the influence of intrapartum epidural analgesia on nutritive sucking at the first feeding after birth and infant alertness within an hour after birth. Dissertation studies were supported by the following awards: NIH NRSA F31 Pre-Doctoral Fellowship, Midwest Nursing Research Society/Council for the Advancement of Nursing Science Dissertation Award, and Mercy Hospital and Medical Center OB/GYN Education Fund.