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Baby’s sex affects a woman’s immunity while pregnant

The new medical evidence shows that the sex of a baby is associated with pregnant women’s immune responses. How this is manifested in terms of physical signs varies, but it appears that some women experience differences with morning sickness and food cravings depending on the sex of their baby.

The research into this has been conducted by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The researchers tracked 80 pregnant women during the term of their pregnancy, focusing on levels of immune markers termed cytokines. Cytokine levels were matched up with the sex of the baby. In particular, levels were higher in women carrying girls compared with boys.
At the same time, laboratory testing was performed in relation to cytokines levels in the blood when exposed to bacteria. Cytokines are proteins which act through receptors and they modulate the balance between humoral and cell-based immune responses. Inflammation is part of the body’s response to a disease threat; however, too great an immune response can lead to heightened feelings of nausea and muscle ache. Cytokines serves as useful biological markers for the immune response.

Outlining the findings in a university research note, the lead scientist Amanda Mitchell explains: “While women didn’t exhibit differences in blood cytokine levels based on fetal sex, we did find that the immune cells of women carrying female fetuses produced more pro-inflammatory cytokines when exposed to bacteria”

The inference of this, the medic explains is that “women carrying female fetuses exhibited a heightened inflammatory response when their immune system was challenged, compared to women carrying male fetuses.” In other words, women carrying female babies could experience greater feelings of sickness compared with women carrying males. This finding may shape the way women who are carrying female babies are checked during pregnancy since there could be elevated risks when the pregnant woman responds to infections or if she has pre-existing health conditions like asthma.

The research has been published in the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, under the research heading of “Fetal sex is associated with maternal stimulated cytokine production, but not serum cytokine levels, in human pregnancy.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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