Monday, October 20th, 2014
Smoking during pregnancy has been linked to everything from miscarriages to low birth weight to a higher likelihood that your child will grow up with behavioral problems and respiratory infections.
Now, researchers from The Miriam Hospital in Providence, R.I. have found yet another reason for expectant mothers (and their partners) to quit. According to a study recently published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, smoking during a pregnancy can lower stress response, cause DNA alterations for a gene that controls the passage of stress hormones from mother to baby, and decrease levels of stress hormones.
That’s not a good thing. Lower stress hormones don’t equal lower stress— in fact, it’s the opposite.
“Our results suggest that these newborns may not be mounting adequate hormonal response to daily stressors. Their stress systems may not be prepared for the stressors of daily life,” lead researcher Laura Stroud, Ph.D., of the Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital, said in a news release. “This may be particularly detrimental in babies born to mothers who lack resources and parenting skills and whose babies may encounter more daily stressors.”
The small study evaluated 100 newborn-mother pairs and tracked moms through their pregnancy and up through the first month of their child’s life. The researchers tested infant cortisol (a stress-related hormone) levels and found that changes in the gene that passed cortisol from mother to child were negatively affected due to smoking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in every 10 mothers in the U.S. smokes during the last three months of her pregnancy. If you need help kicking the habit, follow our tips to quit here.
Photo of pregnant woman with cigarette courtesy of Shutterstock.
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Tuesday, August 5th, 2014
Believe it or not, there’s good news for moms-to-be who suffer from morning sickness: New research published in the August issue of the journal Reproductive Toxicology found that the often debilitating, sometimes-all-day nausea and vomiting that can affect as many as 85 percent of pregnant women actually offers a protective effect. According to the study abstract:
“Our analysis reveals a consistent favorable effect of NVP [nausea and vomiting of pregnancy] on rates of miscarriages, congenital malformations, prematurity, and developmental achievements. The effect size was clinically important for miscarriage, malformations and prematurity. In a few studies the protective effects were more prominent in women with moderate–severe NVP than among those with mild or no NVP.” In other words, as bad as those barfy first weeks and months can be, they could mean good things for your baby.
The study isn’t the first to find a protective effect from morning sickness—in fact, the research in Reproductive Toxicology is a meta-analysis of 10 previous studies, reports the Wall Street Journal, that were conducted between 1992 and 2012.
More from WSJ:
The studies involved an estimated 850,000 pregnant women. They examined associations between nausea and vomiting and miscarriage rates, prematurity, birth weight, congenital abnormalities such as cardiac defects and cleft palate, and long-term child development.
The risk of miscarriage was more than three times as high in women without symptoms of nausea and vomiting as in those with symptoms. Women 35 years old or older, who generally have a relatively high risk for miscarriage, appeared to benefit the most from the “protective effect” associated with morning-sickness symptoms, the study said.
It’s important to note, however, that it can be perfectly normal to not have morning sickness, as well.
Image of woman with morning sickness courtesy of Shutterstock
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Monday, March 17th, 2014
Pregnant women who are exposed to high levels of secondhand smoke face a higher risk of suffering a miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal death–as high a risk, in fact, as if the women had smoked during pregnancy themselves. More from Reuters on a new study published in the journal Tobacco Control:
“We often think of the diseases that secondhand smoke causes as diseases of older people,” epidemiologist Andrew Hyland told Reuters Health. “The results of this study show that secondhand smoke can affect even unborn babies.”
Hyland led the study at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, New York. He and his colleagues found the pregnancy risks associated with women’s secondhand smoke exposure were almost as high as the risks related to their own cigarette smoking.
The study was the first to investigate the effects of secondhand smoke using quantified, lifetime exposure levels. The analysis arms clinicians like Dr. Maurice Druzin, from Stanford University Medical Center in California, with facts to try to persuade expectant fathers and others living with pregnant women to refrain from smoking at home.
“This is excellent ammunition for us to emphasize what we’ve known for a long time, but now we’ve got data to support it,” Druzin, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health.
“This is the first study that shows that secondhand smoke has the same effect as being a primary smoker,” he said. “That is a game changer.”
Hyland’s team used data from a study of 80,762 women between the ages of 50 and 79 years old. Researchers asked the women about their own smoking and the amount of secondhand smoke they were exposed to as children and adults, as well as about their history of pregnancy problems.
Among women who never smoked themselves, the chances of having a stillbirth were 22 percent higher for those who were exposed to any tobacco smoke than for unexposed women. That was after the researchers took into account other potential contributors, including women’s weight, education and alcohol drinking.
For women who were exposed to the highest lifelong levels of secondhand smoke, the risk of having a stillbirth was even greater – 55 percent higher than among unexposed women.
The researchers defined the highest level of exposure to secondhand smoke as at least 10 years of exposure during childhood, at least 20 years during adulthood and at least 10 years in the workplace.
At that level, a woman’s risk of a tubal ectopic pregnancy was 61 percent higher than among unexposed women, and her risk of a miscarriage was 17 percent higher.
“We’re not talking about an elevated risk of a rare event,” Hyland said of the miscarriage finding. “We’re talking about something that happens all the time.”
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Image: Man smoking near pregnant woman, via Shutterstock
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cigarettes, fetal death, miscarriage, Pregnancy, pregnancy health, second-hand smoke, secondhand smoke, smoking, stillbirths | Categories:
Must Read, New Research, Pregnancy
Tuesday, March 4th, 2014
Many parents breathed a sigh of relief when the FDA banned the chemical bisphenol-A (BPA) from plastics that are used in infant feeding vessels including bottles and sippy cups in 2012. Studies have linked the chemical, which is known to disrupt the endocrine system by mimicking the hormone estrogen, to health problems including miscarriage risk, and childhood obesity, asthma, and behavioral issues. Many parents were disappointed, though, when the FDA, shortly before making its BPA ban in infant materials, stopped short of banning it from all food containers, especially canned foods and even infant formula packages.
But the debate over the safety of plastics is far from over–and it is larger than the BPA question–according to a new report from Mother Jones magazine that chronicles the work of research organizations that claims that even “safe” plastics leach estrogenic, hormone-disrupting compounds. More from the Mother Jones article:
Each night at dinnertime, a familiar ritual played out in Michael Green’s home: He’d slide a stainless steel sippy cup across the table to his two-year-old daughter, Juliette, and she’d howl for the pink plastic one. Often, Green gave in. But he had a nagging feeling. As an environmental-health advocate, he had fought to rid sippy cups and baby bottles of the common plastic additive bisphenol A (BPA), which mimics the hormone estrogen and has been linked to a long list of serious health problems. Juliette’s sippy cup was made from a new generation of BPA-free plastics, but Green, who runs the Oakland, California-based Center for Environmental Health, had come across research suggesting some of these contained synthetic estrogens, too.
He pondered these findings as the center prepared for its anniversary celebration in October 2011. That evening, Green, a slight man with scruffy blond hair and pale-blue eyes, took the stage and set Juliette’s sippy cups on the podium. He recounted their nightly standoffs. “When she wins…every time I worry about what are the health impacts of the chemicals leaching out of that sippy cup,” he said, before listing some of the problems linked to those chemicals—cancer, diabetes, obesity. To help solve the riddle, he said, his organization planned to test BPA-free sippy cups for estrogenlike chemicals.
The center shipped Juliette’s plastic cup, along with 17 others purchased from Target, Walmart, and Babies R Us, to CertiChem, a lab in Austin, Texas. More than a quarter—including Juliette’s—came back positive for estrogenic activity. These results mirrored the lab’s findings in its broader National Institutes of Health-funded research on BPA-free plastics. CertiChem and its founder, George Bittner, who is also a professor of neurobiology at the University of Texas-Austin, had recently coauthored a paper in the NIH journal Environmental Health Perspectives. It reported that “almost all” commercially available plastics that were tested leached synthetic estrogens—even when they weren’t exposed to conditions known to unlock potentially harmful chemicals, such as the heat of a microwave, the steam of a dishwasher, or the sun’s ultraviolet rays. According to Bittner’s research, some BPA-free products actually released synthetic estrogens that were more potent than BPA.
Estrogen plays a key role in everything from bone growth to ovulation to heart function. Too much or too little, particularly in utero or during early childhood, can alter brain and organ development, leading to disease later in life. Elevated estrogen levels generally increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer….
Today many plastic products, from sippy cups and blenders to Tupperware containers, are marketed as BPA-free. But Bittner’s findings—some of which have been confirmed by other scientists—suggest that many of these alternatives share the qualities that make BPA so potentially harmful.
Those startling results set off a bitter fight with the $375-billion-a-year plastics industry. The American Chemistry Council, which lobbies for plastics makers and has sought to refute the science linking BPA to health problems, has teamed up with Tennessee-based Eastman Chemical—the maker of Tritan, a widely used plastic marketed as being free of estrogenic activity—in a campaign to discredit Bittner and his research. The company has gone so far as to tell corporate customers that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected Bittner’s testing methods. (It hasn’t.) Eastman also sued CertiChem and its sister company, PlastiPure, to prevent them from publicizing their findings that Tritan is estrogenic, convincing a jury that its product displayed no estrogenic activity. And it launched a PR blitz touting Tritan’s safety, targeting the group most vulnerable to synthetic estrogens: families with young children. “It can be difficult for consumers to tell what is really safe,” the vice president of Eastman’s specialty plastics division, Lucian Boldea, said in one web video, before an image of a pregnant woman flickered across the screen. With Tritan, he added, “consumers can feel confident that the material used in their products is free of estrogenic activity.”
Eastman’s offensive is just the latest in a wide-ranging industry campaign to cast doubt on the potential dangers of plastics in food containers, packaging, and toys—a campaign that closely resembles the methods Big Tobacco used to stifle scientific evidence about the dangers of smoking.
The article goes on to report that CertiChem and PlastiPure are appealing the 2013 court ruling that alleged the companies were trying to discredit Eastman in order to market their own “safe” plastics, and the groups are working on new research.
Mother Jones also published a timeline that shows the history of the fight against BPA, and how the industry and even government regulators have apparently ignored concerning research about the safety of BPA-free plastics.
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Image: Child with plastic sippy cup, via Shutterstock
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BPA, childhood asthma, childhood obesity, endocrine disruptors, estrogen, fertility, hormones, miscarriage, Mother Jones, plastics | Categories:
Child Health, Must Read, New Research, Parenting News, Safety
Friday, February 28th, 2014
A simple blood test taken early in pregnancy is showing high degrees of accuracy in predicting chromosomal abnormalities in fetuses, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found. The finding is welcome news to pregnant women who worry about having invasive prenatal screenings, some of which, like amniocentesis, carry a small risk of miscarriage. More from The New York Times:
The study, published on Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, found that the fetal DNA test was 10 times better in predicting cases of Down syndrome than the standard blood test and ultrasound screening, and five times better in predicting the other disorder, Trisomy 18. It also greatly reduced the number of false-positive results.
It could prevent many women who would otherwise get the standard blood test from needing to confirm positive results with invasive tests like amniocentesis or chorionic villus sampling, which can be stressful, much more costly and carry small risks of miscarriage. “Nine out of 10 women who are currently being referred for further testing would not need invasive tests,” said the lead author of the study, Dr. Diana Bianchi, the executive director of the Mother Infant Research Institute at Tufts Medical Center’s Floating Hospital for Children.
A positive result on the DNA screening would still need to be confirmed with invasive tests, because in more than half the cases in which the newer test predicted a disorder, there was no chromosomal abnormality. But a negative result would provide confidence that these two major chromosomal disorders are absent.
“It’s a better mousetrap, there’s no doubt about that,” said Dr. Michael Greene, director of obstetrics at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of an editorial about the study. “If the test is normal, the overwhelming probability is that your fetus is normal. There will be far fewer women who will be encouraged to have invasive testing, and, as a result, far fewer miscarriages.”
The screen analyzes blood from women who are at least 10 weeks pregnant. At that point, about 10 percent of DNA in the blood will be fetal DNA from the placenta, Dr. Bianchi said.
Image: Pregnant woman at the doctor, via Shutterstock
The results of our Ancient Chinese Gender Predictor could spill the beans about whether you’re having a boy or girl.
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