autoimmune disorders

New Breastfeeding Research: More Baby Protections

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We have long known that vagi­nal birth and breast­feed­ing are key fac­tors in the devel­op­ment of a healthy immune sys­tem in infants. Pass­ing through the vagi­na expos­es the baby to an array of bac­te­ria that help stim­u­late its unchal­lenged immune sys­tem. Breast-fed babies receive anti-bod­ies, pro­teins and oth­er mol­e­cules that pro­tect it from infec­tion and teach the immune sys­tem to defend the infant.

Breast­feed­ing is key for long-term health.

Recent research at UC Davis has shown that a strain of the bifi­do bac­te­ria — acquired from the moth­er — thrives on com­plex sug­ars (large­ly lac­tose) that were pre­vi­ous­ly thought to be indi­gestible. The bac­teri­um coats the lin­ing of the imma­ture diges­tive tract and pro­tects it from nox­ious bac­te­ria.

This com­bi­na­tion of inter­ac­tions affects the com­po­si­tion of bac­te­ria in the infant gut as it matures. Anoth­er exam­ple of how evo­lu­tion has “invent­ed” the per­fect nutri­tion for infants, this research con­tributes to the notion that evo­lu­tion has select­ed for many genes that serve nor­mal birth and breast­feed­ing by pro­tect­ing the new­born. Inter­ven­ing with the nor­mal pro­gres­sion of birth and breast­feed­ing — while occa­sion­al­ly nec­es­sary — inter­rupts these ben­e­fi­cial adap­ta­tions and con­tributes to aller­gies and autoim­mune dis­or­ders.

Pregnancy Pathway, Pregnancy — Maternal Immunological Response

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Today: Mater­nal Immuno­log­i­cal Response…or…the Mother/Fetus Dance!

Maternal Immune Response During Pregnancy

Mater­nal Immune Response Dur­ing Preg­nan­cy

Back to work! Thank you for your fore­bear­ance while we wrote a chap­ter for a nurs­ing text­book!

Dur­ing the course of preg­nan­cy, the mother/fetus dance is ongo­ing. The mater­nal immune sys­tem and the tro­phoblast cells con­tin­ue to influ­ence each oth­er even beyond the implan­ta­tion.

Because the mother’s immune response mod­u­lates near the start of each trimester, the fetus is affect­ed to some degree and mounts a response, as well. For a long time it was thought that mater­nal and fetal DNA mate­r­i­al was not exchanged across the pla­cen­tal mem­brane, how­ev­er recent find­ings indi­cate that there is some exchange of mate­r­i­al. Thus, we all car­ry some por­tion of our mother’s DNA and our moth­er car­ries some of ours.

What is the impact of this chimeric effect? It depends on how well our DNA gets along!

How does this affect the fetus in utero? The fetus may be affect­ed by clot­ting issues. Depend­ing on mater­nal health sta­tus s/he may be sub­ject to a stronger or weak­er immune sys­tem.

How does this affect the moth­er? Women are more like­ly than men to devel­op autoim­mune dis­or­ders (preg­nan­cy play­ing a role here), and those who bear male off­spring are more like­ly than those who only have girls to have these dis­or­ders.

The maternal/fetal dance goes on.…

Be Prepared for Birth!

Be Pre­pared for Birth!

Pregnancy Pathway, Conception — Prior Sperm Exposure

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Today:  Sperm!!!

For com­plete graph­ic, see Feb. 5 or 23 post.

The mother's prior sperm exposure can affect her pregnancy.

The mother’s pri­or sperm expo­sure can affect her preg­nan­cy.

Not every sperm is your friend! Sperm expo­sure — like so many expo­sures — affects our immune sys­tem. Women who have babies with more than one father may be at risk for dis­or­ders of preg­nan­cy because the chal­lenges to their immune sys­tem have been exten­sive. And, very young women who become preg­nant are at increased risk of some dis­or­ders because they have had very lit­tle expo­sure to sperm.

In addi­tion, women who have pri­mar­i­ly and exten­sive­ly used bar­ri­er meth­ods of con­tra­cep­tion may be at risk for dis­or­ders for rea­sons sim­i­lar to young women with lit­tle expo­sure. Unlike women whose immune sys­tem has had too much chal­lenge due to preg­nan­cies by sev­er­al men, women with lit­tle expo­sure may not have a strong defense against for­eign DNA. Please do not take this as a rea­son to not use a con­dom — one of the bar­ri­er meth­ods along with a diaphragm and cer­vi­cal cap. Rather, if you use a bar­ri­er method of con­tra­cep­tion, keep in mind that your body’s adjust­ment to preg­nan­cy may take time.

For more infor­ma­tion on bar­ri­er meth­ods, to go the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Obste­tri­cians and Gyne­col­o­gists’ online pam­phlet: ACOG Pam­phlet on Bar­ri­er Con­tracetp­tion.

Anoth­er way sperm can affect the preg­nan­cy is that the com­bi­na­tion of the mother’s and father’s nat­ur­al immune respons­es may be strong against the tro­phoblast implan­ta­tion. This is not some­thing  you can know ahead of time. Also, women are eight times more like­ly than men to devel­op autoim­mune dis­or­ders. One rea­son may be the pre­na­tal expo­sure to for­eign DNA encoun­tered in preg­nan­cy.

Keep in mind that by get­ting good pre­na­tal care, exer­cise, suf­fi­cient rest, stress man­ag­ment and healthy nutri­tion, you do all with­in your pow­er to have a healthy preg­nan­cy. Your health care provider will deter­mine your risk fac­tors that may affect preg­nan­cy out­come and treat you in an appro­pri­ate man­ner.

Moms and babies enjoy exercise together!

Moms and babies enjoy exer­cise togeth­er!

Once your baby comes, there will be time to max­i­mize health for both of you. Exer­cis­ing togeth­er is great fun!

Get­ting there may require some patience, but the reward is well worth it.

When you are look­ing around for sperm, use your head. The same behav­ior that pro­tects you from infec­tions you nev­er want to get, pro­tects you from sperm you don’t real­ly want to meet. When the time comes to adopt some sperm, find out about it’s cre­den­tials!

Pregnancy Pathway, Preconditions — Environment

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Please refer to Feb­ru­ary 5 entry for entire graph­ic. Today: Envi­ron­men­tal Pre­con­di­tions to Preg­nan­cy.
bubblus_preconditions-environment
Our envi­ron­ment is with us all the time. Even if we think we are pre­vent­ing or con­trol­ling envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors that impinge on our bod­ies and minds, they are lurk­ing here, there, every­where, and they are myr­i­ad. Our envi­ron­men­tal influ­ences are every­thing from the air we breathe to the per­sons who raise or teach us, from the food avail­able to our hous­ing, from our job stress­es to cul­tur­al forces or even the weath­er in our part of the world. These things help shape who we are phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly, over the long term and from moment to moment.

08-4Are you pre­pared to become a par­ent? One way to tell is to look at your environment…is it healthy? Are you liv­ing in a sit­u­a­tion that you can count on? What about clean air, safe paint or safe food? What about water? What about peo­ple around you? Are they sup­port­ive? Does your envi­ron­ment help you stay healthy?

What about your body? Fac­tors in the envi­ron­ment that affect fer­til­i­ty (or lack of it) may deter­mine if  you can even become preg­nant, or when you can become preg­nant. Think about this:  Women who work togeth­er often cycle togeth­er. What if you work alone, say at home…does this affect your ovu­la­tion? One fac­tor iden­ti­fied in the low­er­ing age of men­stru­a­tion in girls is the increas­ing num­ber of hor­mones in var­i­ous meats. Anoth­er fac­tor is the pres­ence of non-bio­log­i­cal­ly relat­ed old­er males in the house­hold. If these things are known, imag­ine what is not known about sit­u­a­tions, chem­i­cals or peo­ple in our envi­ron­ment that affect our repro­duc­tion!

There is not an absolute sep­a­ra­tion of genet­ics, envi­ron­ment and behav­ior. If we are genet­i­cal­ly pre­dis­posed to cer­tain dis­or­ders, for exam­ple, we may or may not devel­op them, depend­ing on envi­ron­ment. Some per­sons are inclined toward autoim­mune dis­or­ders, but they may do well or poor­ly depend­ing on the air pol­lu­tion where they live. Some indi­vid­u­als may devel­op immune dis­or­ders. And, this sit­u­a­tion may adverse­ly impact inflam­ma­to­ry respons­es dur­ing implan­ta­tion.

Peo­ple who strive to take care of them­selves even if they live in hor­ri­ble con­di­tions can use their behav­ior to improve their chances for suc­cess in every­thing from a healthy preg­nan­cy to a mean­ing­ful exis­tence. Even if genet­ics and the envi­ron­ment are against the process, behav­ior can some­times over­come the odds. Grant­ed, it’s not like­ly you can pro­duce 6′5″ off­spring (see last post on genet­ics!) if the egg per­son is 5′2″ and the sperm per­son is 5′7″, but much is pos­si­ble beyond that.

So, what do you do about your envi­ron­ment if you are think­ing about becom­ing preg­nant? Take stock. Ask your­self what, if any­thing, might have to change. Ask what you can or can’t accept for your off­spring, if you know there are envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors that aren’t per­fect. Fetus­es are amaz­ing crea­tures; the pla­cen­tas that sup­ply and defend them are ruth­less and will pro­tect a fetus at all costs. But, you can give your body and poten­tial baby a good chance to do well by pro­vid­ing a six month span of a healthy envi­ron­ment lead­ing up to con­cep­tion. And, healthy for mind as well as body.

When your baby comes into the world, a door opens in your heart to a room you didn’t even know was there. In that room is a cer­tain kind of love and car­ing that can­not be described. It is love for this being who is and isn’t you. As a moth­er, you have been her/his envi­ron­ment for nine months or how­ev­er long you have shared. The womb is a small, pro­tect­ed, orga­nized envi­ron­ment, one that reflects your larg­er envi­ron­ment. So, take stock now, ahead of time.

Pregnancy Pathway, Preconditions

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Please refer to Feb­ru­ary 5 entry for com­plete graph­ic. Today we turn to the ques­tion of pre­con­di­tions to preg­nan­cy and how they might affect mater­nal and off­spring health.

Preconditions

Pre­con­di­tions

Pre-exist­ing fac­tors that can influ­ence health out­comes include genet­ic fac­tors (fam­i­ly risk for heart dis­ease, for exam­ple), envi­ron­men­tal fac­tors (liv­ing in a build­ing with mold, for exam­ple), and behav­ior (eat­ing well and exer­cis­ing, for exam­ple). In each cat­e­go­ry, fac­tors will con­tribute to the health of the moth­er and even­tu­al­ly to off­spring health.

It is impor­tant to under­stand what major genet­ic fac­tors may affect your off­spring and whether the envi­ron­ment or behav­ior can help off­set neg­a­tive fac­tors. For exam­ple, there may be a his­to­ry of preeclamp­sia dur­ing preg­nan­cy in your fam­i­ly, but vig­or­ous aer­o­bic exer­cise in the six months pri­or to preg­nan­cy pro­vides a high degree of pro­tec­tion from this risk. Preeclamp­sia puts both moth­er and off­spring at risk for com­pli­ca­tions.

Oth­er genet­ic fac­tors that may be of con­se­quence include autoim­mune dis­or­ders, aller­gies, and meta­bol­ic syn­dromes. For exam­ple, so-called “thrifty genes” may pre­dis­pose you to a high weight gain in preg­nan­cy. But, you may be able to off­set health prob­lems asso­ci­at­ed with this by stay­ing active and eat­ing well.