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Baby's sex can affect mother's immunity: Study

Researchers have found that a baby's sex can affect the mother's immunity during pregnancy.

By Amy Wallace
Melissa Fox noticed her allergies suddenly flared up while pregnant with her daughter, which didn't happen with her son. A new study suggests that might not be a coincidence. Researchers found women tend to react with stronger responses to immune challenges while pregnant with girls than with boys. Photo courtesy of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Melissa Fox noticed her allergies suddenly flared up while pregnant with her daughter, which didn't happen with her son. A new study suggests that might not be a coincidence. Researchers found women tend to react with stronger responses to immune challenges while pregnant with girls than with boys. Photo courtesy of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

Feb. 15 (UPI) -- A new study from The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has found that pregnant women's bodies react differently depending on whether they are carrying a boy or a girl.

Researchers followed 80 pregnant women through their entire pregnancy and found that the sex of a baby can be linked to a pregnant women's immune responses. The study examined whether the women showed different levels of immune markers known as cytokines based on the sex of their baby and analyzed the levels of cytokines in the blood and levels produced in sample immune cells that were exposed to bacteria in a laboratory.

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"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," Amanda Mitchell, a postdoctoral researcher in the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center and lead investigator on the study, said in a press release.

"This means that women carrying female fetuses exhibited a heightened inflammatory response when their immune system was challenged, compared to women carrying male fetuses."

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Increased inflammation is an important part of the immune system response to viruses, bacteria, wound healing and chronic illnesses, but excessive inflammation can cause symptoms including muscle aches and fatigue.

"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 the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

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