Archive for the ‘ Pregnancy ’ Category

Autism Linked to Pesticide Exposure During Pregnancy

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

Pregnant women who are exposed to chemical pesticides, especially those used to treat large farm fields, may be more likely to have babies who are later diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other developmental delay.  A new study conducted at the University of California Davis reported these findings–the third major study to link pesticide exposure with autism rates–but stopped short of saying that pesticide exposure is definitely a cause of ASD.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest numbers suggest that 1 in 68 American children has an autism spectrum disorder, with its causes remaining one of the most vexing mysteries in modern medicine.  The debate over whether vaccines cause autism is ongoing despite copious research disproving any link, and a recent British study found that genetics may play as much of a role as whether a child is autistic as environmental exposure does.

Reuters has more on the new study, which was conducted in California where agricultural pesticide use is carefully reported and mapped:

For the new study, the researchers used those maps to track exposures during pregnancy for the mothers of 970 children.

The children included 486 with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), 168 with a developmental delay and 316 with typical development.

….

In the new study, about a third of mothers had lived within a mile of fields treated with pesticides, most commonly organophosphates.

Children of mothers exposed to organophosphates were 60 percent more likely to have an ASD than children of non-exposed mothers, the authors report in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Early Signs of Autism
Early Signs of Autism
Early Signs of Autism

Image: Tractor spraying a field, via Shutterstock

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Nutrition May Make ‘Neural Tube’ Birth Defects More Common Among Hispanics

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

A set of birth defects of the brain and spine, called neural tube defects, have been found by a new study to be more common among babies with Hispanic mothers.  The March of Dimes report also found that Hispanic mothers are more likely to give birth prematurely–both findings are possibly linked to nutritional deficiencies more common to that community.

More from HealthDay News:

This report, updating a similar 2008 paper by the nonprofit foundation, also highlights the fact that a greater proportion of Hispanic women have babies each year than any other population in the United States, making it the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country.

“One of the things that caught our eye was, while Hispanics represent 17 percent of the population, 24 percent of premature babies are Hispanic,” said Dr. Edward McCabe, senior vice president and chief medical officer of the March of Dimes, an organization aimed at improving the health of mothers and babies.

Hispanic women may be more prone to giving birth prematurely — defined as before the 37th week of pregnancy — because of risk factors such as being three times as likely as white mothers to be younger than 17 years old. They are also less likely to have graduated from high school and more likely to lack health insurance. The rate of preterm births among Hispanics was about 12 percent higher than that of white mothers in 2012, the report said.

Neural tube defects, which include conditions such as spina bifida and anencephaly, are malformations of the brain and spinal cord that can cause death or disability.

Experts suggested that Hispanic mothers are significantly more likely to give birth to babies with these birth defects than white or black women because corn masa flour is a staple of the diet of a majority of Hispanics. Corn masa flour, used to make tortillas and other foods, is not fortified with folic acid, a B vitamin that can help prevent neural tube defects. Wheat flour manufacturers are required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to fortify that type of flour with folic acid, also called folate.

Also, Hispanic women are less likely to report taking a multivitamin containing folic acid prior to becoming pregnant, according to the report.

“This is why the March of Dimes is striving to have masa cornmeal fortified with folate,” said Dr. Diana Ramos, an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles.

“Corn masa flour is not part of the standard American diet, so, since 2012, we’ve been working on this, making progress slowly,” added Ramos, co-chair of the newly established March of Dimes Hispanic Advisory Council.

McCabe said the March of Dimes has launched a Spanish-language site, Nacersano.org, that offers information about the specific health needs of Hispanics. He said a variety of outreach efforts, including the website and new advisory council, are needed to help raise awareness in the Hispanic community about the need for folic acid consumption and prenatal health.

Image: Pregnant woman, via Shutterstock

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Overweight Women May Have Uterine ‘Switch’ that Makes C-Section More Likely

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Pregnant women who are overweight may have an electrical “switch” in their uterine muscle that makes Cesarean section delivery more likely, according to new research published in the journal Nature Communications. The switch is believed to play a role in the progression of labor, and in overweight women is often found to be faulty. More from ScienceDaily:

It’s well known that strong rhythmic contractions of the uterus are needed to allow the baby’s head to dilate the cervix. However little was known about what controls these contractions until now.The groundbreaking research from Monash University, the Royal Women’s Hospital and the Hunter Medical Research Institute, show that a potassium ion channel called hERG in the uterus is responsible.

Acting as a powerful electrical brake, hERG works during pregnancy to suppress contractions and prevent premature labour. However, at the onset of labour a protein acts as a switch to turn hERG off, removing the brake and ensuring that labour can take place.

The team, led by Professor Helena Parkington from the School of Biomedical Sciences at Monash University, found that in overweight women the switch doesn’t work, failing to turn hERG off.

“We’ve known for years that women who are overweight are much more likely to experience complications during pregnancy and labour — but we didn’t know why,” Professor Parkington said.

“Pinpointing the mechanism is a major breakthrough, not only does it ensure a smooth pregnancy, but knowing when contractions kick in at more or less the right time, is crucial to our understanding of the labour process.”

Image: C-section prep, via Shutterstock

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CDC: 1 in 10 Pregnant Women Develop Gestational Diabetes

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is reporting that 1 in 10 American pregnant women develop  diabetes during pregnancy, with obesity standing out as the major risk factor for the disease.  More from HealthDay:

Gestational diabetes develops in women who have never had diabetes before but who have high blood sugar during pregnancy. As with type 2 diabetes, obesity is a significant risk factor for gestational diabetes. The increased prevalence of gestational diabetes has closely paralleled the rise in obesity, according to background information in the study.Gestational diabetes can have short- and long-term effects for both mother and baby.

Dr. Alessandro Acosta, a neonatologist at Miami Children’s Hospital, noted that the condition can cause the baby to be abnormally large, which may result in damage to the baby’s shoulders during birth. Many of these babies are so large they need to be delivered by cesarean section, he said.

The problems caused by gestational diabetes don’t end at delivery. “The bad news is that down the road these women are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes,” he said.

DeSisto added: “Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes have more than a seven-fold increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the five to 10 years after delivery. Children born to mothers with gestational diabetes are also more likely to develop pre-diabetes.”

Although the exact causes of gestational diabetes aren’t known, one explanation is that hormones from the placenta block the action of insulin in the mother’s body, according to the American Diabetes Association. This makes it hard for the mother to use insulin, so she may need up to three times as much insulin to properly use the sugar in her body.

Obesity is another possibility, DeSisto said. “Other researchers have reported that gestational diabetes has been steadily increasing consistent with the rise of obesity,” she said.

Obesity has also been linked to insulin resistance, which blunts the effect of insulin and allows blood sugar levels to rise, according to the American Diabetes Association.

“Preventing obesity is a key component of well woman care and diabetes prevention. Furthermore, maintaining a healthy weight throughout the reproductive years benefits women and improves the health of any future pregnancies,” DeSisto said.

Image: Pregnant woman, via Shutterstock

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New Technology Could Allow Surgery on the Unborn

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Some birth defects, including spina bifida, may soon become correctable conditions, if a new robotic technology that can perform surgery on a growing fetus comes to fruition.  The technology, which is a tiny robotic arm, is currently under development by British researchers, as CNN reports:

Spina bifida is one such disease, affecting approximately 1 in 2,500 newborns worldwide, where a lesion on the back leaves the spinal cord exposed in the womb, leading to severe disabilities, learning difficulties, and sometimes death.

The best option is to perform surgery to correct the problem before the baby is born but the complexities of such a procedure mean this currently only takes place in five countries worldwide. Most countries instead perform surgery after a child is born, but when the majority of damage has been done.

To reduce the risk involved in fetal surgery, scientists at University College London (UCL), and KU Leuven in Belgium are developing a miniscule robotic arm to enter the womb with minimum disruption to mother and baby. The robotics are targeting spina bifida but also lesser known conditions such as twin-twin transfusion syndrome, where blood passes unequally between twins who share a placenta, and fetal lower urinary tract obstruction, where babies are unable to urinate in the womb and their bladders become large and distended.

Surgery on fetuses has been effective in treating some conditions to date, but for spina bifida, the risks to mother and baby mean surgery is currently only performed in a handful of countries, where specialist teams exist.

“Most birth defects can be prevented if we can intervene earlier,” says Professor Sebastien Ourselin, from the UCL Center for Medical Image Computing, who is leading the new research project. “But currently, surgical delivery systems are not available and operating on babies in the womb is reserved for just a handful of the most severe defects as risks are too high.”

Feeling Baby Move: Weeks 18 to 21 of Pregnancy
Feeling Baby Move: Weeks 18 to 21 of Pregnancy
Feeling Baby Move: Weeks 18 to 21 of Pregnancy

Image: Fetus, via Shutterstock

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