Pregnant with a boy or a girl? It may impact your health.
Pregnant women have more severe reactions to viruses, infections, and chronic illnesses including allergies and asthma, while carrying girls versus boys, according to a study from The Ohio State University.
For generations, women have reported noticeable differences in their bodies’ responses during pregnancy based on whether they were expecting a girl or a boy. Researchers from Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center say they may have found an explanation after analyzing the immune cells of 80 pregnant women.
“What the findings suggest is that women carrying a girl exhibit greater inflammatory responses when faced with some sort of immune challenge,” said the study’s principal investigator, Amanda Mitchell.
Researchers exposed the women’s immune cells to bacteria, simulating a virus or chronic illness during pregnancy. Cells from women who were expecting a girl produced more pro-inflammatory markers called cytokines.
While some inflammation can help the body respond to viruses and recover after injuries, Mitchell said excessive amounts can cause or exacerbate aches and fatigue.
That was the case for Melissa Fox. The mother of two said she noticed symptoms while pregnant with her daughter that she never had while carrying her son. Her childhood allergies resurfaced and her asthma worsened.
“When I was pregnant with Ren, that’s when I noticed [my allergies] seemed like they were kicking up and flaring up again where I was having to take something on a daily basis,” said Fox.
Allergist say some women who have never suffered from allergies can develop them during pregnancy.
“So it certainly could happen during pregnancy and often does,” said Dr. Paul Keith, associate professor, division of clinical immunology and allergy, McMaster University, department of medicine. “It is possible that they could develop an allergy and it could just bother them during the pregnancy and then it could gradually go away.”
Other pregnant women who already had allergies can see their symptoms improve or worsen.
“We don’t yet understand fully the interplay between hormones and the immune system and why pregnancy can alter that allergic state, but we certainly know that it does,” said Dr. Anne Ellis, associate producer and division chair of allergy and immunology at the Queen’s University Department of Medicine.
Ellis said there are known steps that women can take to minimize health risks during pregnancy such as maintaining a healthy balanced diet and avoiding smoking.
For those like Fox who do end up developing allergy symptoms while pregnant, Ellis recommends consulting a family doctor or allergist for proper care.
“At the very least, make sure you’re not suffering needlessly,” she said.
The study was a first-step and more research is underway, according to Ohio State.
“This research helps women and their obstetricians recognize that fetal sex is one factor that may impact how a woman’s body responds to everyday immune challenges and can lead to further research into how differences in immune function may affect how a women responds to different viruses, infections or chronic health conditions (such as asthma), including whether these responses affect the health of the fetus,” Mitchell said.
The study was published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity.
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