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Sex of baby determines response to pregnancy stress

Researchers from the University of Adelaide have found that the sex of a baby determines the way the baby responds to stressor during pregnancy and its ability to survive pregnancy complications.

17 May 2010

Researchers from the University of Adelaide have found that the sex of a baby determines the way the baby responds to stressors during pregnancy and its ability to survive pregnancy complications.

Lead researcher, Assoc Prof Vicki Clifton, said that the research had found that changes in placental function caused by the stress hormone cortisol resulted in male and female babies adjusting their growth patterns differently.

In female babies, increased cortisol produced changes to the placental function that led to a reduction in growth, but increased cortisol levels in a mother carrying a male baby did not produce the same changes in placental function and the baby continued growing.

“When there is another complication in the pregnancy – either a different stress or the same one again – the female will continue to grow on that same pathway and do okay but the male baby doesn’t do so well and is at greater risk of pre-term delivery, stopping growth or dying in the uterus,” Prof Clifton said.

She said that this sex-specific growth response had been observed in pregnancies complicated by asthma, pre-eclampsia and cigarette use, but was also likely to occur in other stressful events during pregnancy such as psychological stress.

The findings could lead to sex-specific therapies in pre-term pregnancies and premature newborns, and was also important in helping obstetricians more accurately interpret growth and development of the fetus in at-risk pregnancies, Prof Clifton said. 


Published: 17 May 2010