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There is much debate over whether pregnant women should get a COVID-19 vaccine. This is because studies of pregnant women receiving vaccinations have not been done, and so risks and possible harms (if any) are unknown. But what is known is that pregnant women are at higher risk for pregnancy complications if they get COVID-19 (e.g. increased risk of preterm labor and stillbirth).

Pregnant women getting the vaccine are essentially part of an experiment looking at the vaccine's safety for both the pregnancy and the developing baby. But finally a case study (one woman!) has been published.

The good news is that results look promising. Antibodies from the vaccinated mother crossed the placenta and reached the baby. The pregnant woman had received the Moderna vaccine at 36 weeks, she delivered the healthy baby at 39 weeks, and antibodies against the virus were found in the umbilical cord blood - which meant they had been transferred from the mother to the baby.

A related study (see below) also gives hope that it may be beneficial for pregnant women to get vaccinated - at least 17 days before the birth so that antibodies can build up.

Excerpts from The Scientist: COVID-19 Vaccines for Pregnant Moms May Protect Newborns

Pregnant women with COVID-19 are at an increased risk for severe illness and death compared to people with COVID-19 who are not pregnant, and they experience preterm birth and pregnancy loss more frequently than do expecting moms who don’t catch the virus. In spite of these risks, there is no clear guidance available yet for vaccinating pregnant women against COVID-19. But there is now some evidence that immunization could protect their newborns. For the first time, doctors report that SARS-CoV-2 antibodies from a vaccinated mother can cross the placenta, pointing to a likely benefit for her fetus.  ...continue reading "Pregnant Women and COVID-19 Vaccines"

Breastfeeding
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ Anton Nosik

Finally some good news for pregnant women who develop a COVID-19 infection during pregnancy (a high-risk situation). According to a recent study, it turns out that in women who had a COVID-19 infection during pregnancy and recovered, their breast milk contains antibodies against the virus. Which get transmitted to the baby during nursing.

This means that the mothers are passing "viral immunity" to their babies, and so the babies are protected from COVID-19.  Yay!

Yes, it was a small study of only 15 women, but a second similar study had similar results. As the researchers point out, this discovery has potential benefits to more than the nursing babies. The antibodies in the breastmilk could benefit others.

By the way, so far there is no evidence that a mother can transmit the virus to her baby through breastmilk. The researchers and others have tested breastmilk and have not found any live virus. All these results suggest that donor breastmilk is safe for babies to consume.

Excerpts from The Scientist: Breastmilk Harbors Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2

Milk from lactating moms may hold potent antibodies to counter SARS-CoV-2 infections, according to a new study of 15 women. All of the samples from women who had recovered from COVID-19 and who were breastfeeding babies at the time had antibodies reactive to the virus’s spike protein, researchers report in the November issue of iScience ...continue reading "After COVID-19 During Pregnancy, Breast Milk Has Antibodies Against The Virus"

Thankfully this rarely occurs, but so horrifying that it does. A study found that occasionally babies can contract cancer from their mothers during childbirth.

The Japanese study described the (rare) transmission of cervical cancer to two babies during birth, when the babies must have inhaled tumor cells as they were being born. Both later developed lung cancers, which were exact genetic matches to their mothers' cancers.

This is how rare it is: Approximately one in 1000 live births involves a mother who has cancer, but transmission of the cancer is estimated to only occur to one infant for every 500,000 mothers with cancer. 1 in 500,000. Most other cases have involved leukemia, lymphoma, and melanoma cancer cells crossing the placenta during pregnancy (transplacental transmission).

From Medical Xpress: Women may transmit cancer to infants in childbirth, reports suggest

In extremely rare instances, newborns can contract cancer from their pregnant moms during delivery, a new case report suggests.  ...continue reading "Rare Cases of Babies Contracting Cancer From the Mother During Birth"

Microplastics, which are tiny pieces of plastic particles less than 5 millimeters in size, have now been found in human placentas. To find tiny plastic particles on both sides of the placenta (the baby's side and the mother's side), as well as in the placental membranes, is an alarming finding! Why is this occurring? And are they causing harm to the developing fetus?

First, it is important to realize that we are surrounded by plastic in products that we use, and also in our environment. Eventually all plastic degrades into tiny pieces called microplastics and nanoplastics. These tiny plastic pieces are found throughout the world, including in the oceans and rivers, indoor air, and the food we eat and water we drink, especially bottled water. The particles get into us, and while some is excreted in the feces, they also get into our organs.

The Italian researchers examined small portions of 6 human placentas (from normal pregnancies) and found a total of 12 plastic particles in 4 of the placentas. The researchers said that all the particles were "pigmented" (colored), with 3 being tiny polypropylene pieces, and the other 9 could only be identified as pigments (e.g. from man-made coatings, paints, adhesives, cosmetics, and personal care products).

Human placenta. Credit: Wikipedia

The researchers did not know how the plastic particles entered the mother's blood stream and so got into the placenta - whether it was from the mother's respiratory system (breathed in) or the gastrointestinal system (from ingested foods). They thought that differences in foods eaten and lifestyles might result in why four placentas had plastic particles and two others not.

A big concern with microplastics in humans, especially developing fetuses, is that they can contain substances that can act as endocrine (hormone) disruptors and so could cause long-term effects on human health. Will they have an effect on the developing immune system? At this point we do not know. We have many questions and studies are needed.

What should one do to lower exposure to plastic particles? There are many things one can do. Especially important is to no longer drink bottled water or other beverages in plastic bottles, or store or cook food in plastic containers. List of tips on how to lower exposure to plastics and the harmful chemicals in them - Avoiding Harmful Chemicals

Excerpts from The Guardian - Microplastics revealed in the placentas of unborn babies

Microplastic particles have been revealed in the placentas of unborn babies for the first time, which the researchers said was “a matter of great concern”. ...continue reading "Tiny Plastic Particles Found In Human Placentas"

There is much concern nowadays about all the many chemicals we are exposed to in our lives. These include pesticides, heavy metals (e.g. lead, mercury), and chemicals that act as endocrine disruptors (hormone disrupting chemicals), such as BPA and phthalates. These chemicals are all around us and are linked to all sorts of health effects, including chronic diseases and reproductive effects - such as infertility, declining sperm counts, adverse effects on the developing baby, and endometriosis.

There is an excellent 7 part series of webinars that one can watch called Generation Chemical: How Environmental Exposures are Affecting Reproductive Health and Development. Big names in the field discuss the latest science on the impact of harmful chemicals and pollutants on female and male reproductive health, pregnancy, and development, starting from preconception and through  life.

Yes, it's in depth, but also eye-opening. For example, the evidence is now raising the questions: Are fertile people healthier? Does poor sperm quality mean poorer health? Or earlier death? Research suggests that sperm count and quality are "canaries in the coal mine" for male health - evidence of harm to men from environmental and lifestyle influences.

Also, keep in mind that while you can't totally avoid harmful chemicals, you can really minimize your exposure and the levels measured in you. Avoiding Harmful Chemicals gives good ways to reduce exposures to harmful chemicals. This is especially important for both males and females if thinking about conception or pregnant.

SEVEN PART WEBINAR SERIES: 1) Introduction. Oct. 29, 2020. Discussed declining sperm counts that have been occurring worldwide over the last few decades - 52.4% decline in 38 years among men from Western countries, and the decline is still continuing. Effects of endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) on men's and women's fertility, conception delay, pregnancy loss, some diseases, and endometriosis. ...continue reading "Top Scientists Explain How Harmful Chemicals Are Affecting Reproductive Health and Development"

Pregnancy is a time when one should try to eat as well as possible, especially for the health of the developing baby. Included in this is the baby's brain development and later intellectual functioning (neurocognitive development). A recent study found that a mother's vitamin D levels during pregnancy are associated with the IQ of the child - that is, higher levels of vitamin D during the second trimester  of pregnancy were associated with higher IQs at age 4 to 6 in the child.

Just keep in mind that it's an association - it does not mean that lower vitamin D levels cause lower IQ. Vitamin D levels go hand in hand with other things - for example, vitamin D levels are lower when a person has chronic inflammation or an underlying health condition. Other studies have had mixed results - some had similar findings of effects on intellectual development, but others did not. Black women are at higher risk of vitamin D deficiencies due to their skin melanin content (harder to get enough vitamin D from the sun).

However, these results do add support for trying to correct vitamin D deficiencies and keeping vitamin D levels higher during pregnancy - by taking supplements and getting sunlight. Note that it's very hard to get enough vitamin D through food. The researchers said that prenatal supplements typically contain 400–600 IU vitamin D, but this is probably insufficient to correct vitamin D deficiencies, in which case they recommend daily supplementation of 800 to 1000 IU vitamin D.

From Medical Xpress: Vitamin D levels during pregnancy linked with child IQ

Vitamin D is a critical nutrient and has many important functions in the body. A mother's vitamin D supply is passed to her baby in utero and helps regulate processes including brain development. A study published today in The Journal of Nutrition showed that mothers' vitamin D levels during pregnancy were associated with their children's IQ, suggesting that higher vitamin D levels in pregnancy may lead to greater childhood IQ scores. The study also identified significantly lower levels of vitamin D levels among Black pregnant women. ...continue reading "Vitamin D Levels During Pregnancy Associated With A Child’s IQ"

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just issued a new warning about taking non-prescription and prescription pain relievers known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDS) during pregnancy. The FDA warned that using them from week 20 or later during pregnancy can cause rare, but serious, kidney complications in the unborn baby. This can lead to low levels of amniotic fluid (called oligohydramnios) surrounding the baby and possible complications.

The FDA advice is to avoid the following NSAIDs from week 20 and later of pregnancy: ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), diclofenac, and celecoxib (Celebrex). However, low dose (81 mg) aspirin is excluded from this warning. [See FDA warning for more information.]

The FDA had earlier warned about those same NSAIDs - cautioning to avoid taking them during pregnancy after week 30 because of heart-related risks.

The full warning and information from US FDA: FDA recommends avoiding use of NSAIDs in pregnancy at 20 weeks or later because they can result in low amniotic fluid

Excerpts from Medscape: FDA Issues New NSAIDs Warning for Second Half of Pregnancy

The US Food and Drug Administration released new warnings today that most nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents (NSAIDs) carry an elevated risk for kidney complications in an unborn children when taken around weeks 20 or later in pregnancy.  ...continue reading "New FDA Warning About Using Common Pain Relievers During Pregnancy"

Pregnant women receive all sorts of advice on what to do or not do during pregnancy. For years medical guidelines in both the US and Europe have been that moderate (up to 200 mg) ingestion of caffeine during pregnancy is OK, which means about 2 cups of regular coffee a day.

However, a recent review of studies by Reykjavik University Professor Jack E. James found that ingesting caffeine during pregnancy is linked to health problems and that there is no safe level during pregnancy. In other words,  caffeine and caffeinated beverages should be avoided during pregnancy and when trying to conceive.

Health problems associated with caffeine intake during pregnancy are miscarriage, stillbirth, low birth weight and/or small for gestational age, childhood leukemia, and childhood overweight and obesity. Studies typically found a dose-response effect - the more caffeine is ingested, the more negative health effects.

Human studies looking at this issue are observational, but negative health effects are supported by animal research going back more than four decades. Caffeine crosses the placenta and goes to the baby. Negative health effects occur because the fetus can not clear the caffeine well because it lacks an enzyme that metabolizes caffeine.

Professor James points out that the industry established and funded the group ILSI (International Life Sciences Institute) which successfully fought any FDA warnings about caffeine and pregnancy, and which attacked any research suggesting it could be harmful to pregnancy or the fetus. [Why am I not surprised about the success of the industry group? And that they published their own "research" showing caffeine was benign in response to scientific research showing negative health effects.]

Excerpts from Science Daily: No safe level of caffeine consumption for pregnant women and would-be mothers

Women who are pregnant or trying to conceive should be advised to avoid caffeine because the evidence suggests that maternal caffeine consumption is associated with negative pregnancy outcomes and that there is no safe level of consumption, finds an analysis of observational studies published in BMJ Evidence Based Medicine.   ...continue reading "Avoid Consuming Caffeine During Pregnancy"

Well.., given the high rate of C-sections in the US (32%) and many other countries, this is disturbing news. A study found that if a woman delivers her first baby by C-section (Cesarean birth), than her rates of conceiving again and also carrying the second baby successfully to term (a live birth) are lower than women who deliver a first baby vaginally.

The Penn State College of Medicine researchers looked at "unprotected intercourse and resulting conceptions", so it really was a measure of conception rates, and not a matter of choice. The study followed more than 2000 women for 3 years after the first birth, but it is unknown if these findings continue in year 4 and more. By the way, other studies over the years have had similar findings.

What could be causing these results? The researchers point out that it has been reported that many women (61%) develop a defect at the site of the cesarean incision (a cesarean scar defect) that may increase the risk of infertility.

From Science Daily: Women who deliver by C-section are less likely to conceive subsequent children

Women who deliver their first child by cesarean section (C-section) are less likely to conceive a second child than those who deliver vaginally, despite being just as likely to plan a subsequent pregnancy, according to Penn State College of Medicine researchers. The team followed more than 2,000 women for three years after they delivered their first child.  ...continue reading "Conception Rates Are Different After C-Sections and Vaginal Births"

High heat is not good for a developing baby during pregnancy. And neither is air pollution. A just published large study concluded that higher temperatures from climate change and increased air pollution (from ozone and fine particulates PM2.5) increases the risk of giving birth to premature, underweight, or stillborn children.

The researchers analyzed 68 studies, for a total of 32,798,152 births in the United States. Almost 33 million births! Another important finding was that those at highest risk were persons with asthma and minority groups, especially black mothers.

The researchers point out that animal studies find the same things: "that both air pollutant and heat exposure may contribute to adverse obstetrical outcomes". So there is lots of support for these findings of harmful effects.

Another recent study (by Univ. of California researchers) drew similar conclusions: that exposure to heatwaves during the week before birth was strongly linked to an increased risk of preterm delivery. And the hotter the temperature or the longer the heatwave, the greater the risk.

Since the long-term forecast is for increasing temperatures and longer duration heat waves throughout the world, these findings are very worrisome.

The study published in the JAMA Network Open (a Journal of the American Medical Association): Association of Air Pollution and Heat Exposure With Preterm Birth, Low Birth Weight, and Stillbirth in the USA: Systematic Review

A NY Times discussion of the findings: Climate Change Tied to Pregnancy Risks, Affecting Black Mothers Most

Discussion of earlier study (Feb. 2020) from Science Daily: Heatwave exposure linked to increased risk of preterm birth in California