immune system

Safe Motherhood

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The challenges to safe motherhood vary depending where in the world you live. In some areas the challenge may be to get adequate nutrition or clean water; in other areas, it may be to prevent infection; and in still other locations it may be trying to avoid pregnancy before your body is ready or getting access to prenatal care. In the U.S., it may mean avoiding being sedentary and making poor food choices, or having to deal with the high technology environment of medical birth that can sabotage the innate physiological process of labor and birth.

Birth begins the bonding or unique love between mother and child.

The biology of birth is a complex series of cause-effect processes…baby’s brain releases chemical signals to the mother and the placenta begins to manifest the maternal immune system’s rejection of the fetus.

To help the ball get rolling, relaxation (the trophotropic response) helps promote the release of oxytocin. With the help of gravity, the head presses on the cervix, amplifying the uterine contractions. After an ultra-distance aerobic endurance test, the cervix opens enough to let the baby move into the vagina and the mother’s discomfort moves from sharp cramping into the bony structure as she transitions to the strength test of pushing. She transitions. Relaxation modulates into an ergotropic – adrenal – response to gather her power.

Pushing is an interesting term…more masculine, I think, than the one I prefer:  Releasing. Releasing or letting go of the baby. It’s a catharsis. In this portion of the labor another set of important processes help the baby clear its lungs of amniotic fluid, stimulate its adrenal system and challenge its immune system, as the contractions drive the baby downward. The mother’s deep transverse abdominal muscles – if strong enough – squeeze the uterus like a tube of tooth paste, to aid this expulsion. In the meantime, the labor is helping set up the mother to fall in love and produce milk. When the baby emerges and moves onto the mother’s chest, s/he smells and tastes the mother, recognizing her mother’s flavor and setting up the potential for bonding.

Any way you slice it, there are two parts to safe motherhood. One is a safe pregnancy…healthy nutrition, physical fitness, safe water, infection prevention, support and a safe environment. The other is a safe labor. In a safe labor, there is both an environment that promotes the natural process of labor and the means necessary for medical assistance when needed. Women die at an alarming rate from pregnancy or birth-related problems. Despite some progress made in recent years, women continue to die every minute as a result of being pregnant or giving birth.

What keeps us from having a better record on motherhood is often lack of care in the developing world and too much intervention in the U.S.. They are two sides of a coin. Mothers’ experience and health needs are not on equal footing with other cultural values. In places where basic prenatal care or family planning are low priorities, at-risk women are vulnerable to the physical stresses of pregnancy and birth. In the U.S., machine-measured data is paramount, even if it produces high rates of false positives, unnecessary interventions or counterproductive procedures. We are learning that obesity and sedentary lifestyles have detrimental effects, but fewer pregnant women than their non-pregnant counterparts exercise.

Despite the money spent to support the technological model of pregnancy and birth in the U.S., there are parts of the world with lower rates of maternal deaths – especially Scandinavia, Northern Europe and parts of the Mediterranean and Middle East (Greece, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Italy and Croatia). In fact, in the U.S., maternal deaths are on the rise.

It’s a tricky business. Clearly Western medicine has a lot to offer the developing world when there are medical concerns. On the other hand, importing the U.S. model could create more problems than it solves. Instead, the micro-solutions now being developed in many locations will be observed and evidence collected by organizations such as the White Ribbon Alliance and UNICEF.

There is an effective international midwives model adopted by JHPIEGO, the Johns Hopkins NGO working toward improved birthing outcomes. It assesses the local power structure, social connections, potential for trained birth assistants, and location of available transportation to create a network so that locals will know when a labor is in trouble and who can get the woman to the nearest hospital.

In the U.S., there are in-hospital birth centers that allow low-risk mothers the opportunity to labor and birth in a setting designed to encourage the innate processes. Women are beginning to vote with their feet…staying home for birth. Women are going abroad to give birth. At the same time, women are coming to this country to give birth, believing it is safer than where they are. There are several ways these scenes could play out.

But, I’ll wager, improving outcomes will involve compromise:  Watchfulness and support in most births, plus better ways to assess danger and provide technology. No matter where you live in the world, the solution may be essentially the same.

Fitness Starts Early!

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Pregnancy fitness is not only important for moms, but for the fetus as well. Evidence is clear that aerobic fitness improves brain, heart, immune and metabolic function…at all ages, including in utero. If continued early in life, healthy physical adaptations that occur in the uterus become reinforced behavior, preparing a good foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Babies are acute observers of movement and activity, and learn from each other. A key component of a good mom-baby program is the interaction of the babies themselves. A good teacher will facilitate healthy activity among our smallest class members!

There is growing evidence that at all ages, aerobic fitness produces the greatest number of benefits. Recently, researchers determined that aerobic fitness in 9 and 10 year olds produced benefits in the development of two important brain regions – the basal ganglia and the hippocampus – that are significant factors in problem-solving intelligence. This is just one of the latest reports that tells us the capacity to absorb and use oxygen (which improves with aerobic fitness) is a key to health, quality and length of life…beginning in the womb!

Pregnancy Pathway – Exercise

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How lucky is this? Just a few days ago, yet another study was released and has been circulating on Medscape and other medical sites that indicates exercise is beneficial in pregnancy, whether the mother is a previous exerciser or not. Just in time for this entry!

Behavior Affects Pregnancy Outcome

Behavior Affects Pregnancy Outcome

Physical exertion (we call it “exercise” nowadays) is a normal state for healthy humans. Only in the last century has the desire to rest or the need to store extra calories as fat become more possible to achieve than our need to move about to survive.

Pregnancy is a state in which both of these factors (resting and storing calories) are enhanced through organic changes in body chemistry, adaptations that favor fetal survival. The current sedentary lifestyle exaggerates these metabolic changes and results in syndromes that increase the risk for a number of metabolic, cardiovascular and immunological disorders of pregnancy.

When confronted by the idea that it is counterintuitive to think exercise in pregnancy might be safe (let alone beneficial) I am dumbfounded. To me, it is counterintuitive to think that a sedentary lifestyle in pregnancy might be safe!

Burning Calories in Pregnancy Improves Outcomes!

Burning Calories in Pregnancy Improves Outcomes!

What is the evidence that exercise in pregnancy is beneficial? Keep in mind that some studies have been executed more expertly than others. But, what is compelling is that numerous well-respected researchers have sought to test the hypothesis that exercise is not safe, but come away with results that indicate the opposite!

Here are some of the major findings:

• The placenta is larger and has more transport surface in exercisers than sedentary women

• The fetuses of (aerobic) exercising mothers make beneficial cardiovascular adaptations

• Women who do aerobic exercise are less likely to develop severe preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, and the long term health problems that accompany these disorders

• Women who are aerobically fit recover from birth 10 times faster than sedentary women (as measured by time needed to metabolize free radicals produced in labor)

• Women who exercise in pregnancy are more likely to be physically fit in midlife

• Babies of aerobically fit women are at reduced risk for prematurity and low birth weight
DTP_mover2
So, we have arrived at the take-home message: MOVE!! Pregnancy works best when you move and burn calories in a moderate to vigorous fashion. But, alternate this activity with rest and good nutrition, and be sure to stay well hydrated.
If you want more specifics and resources on this topic, try these:
“Women and Exercise” in Varney’s Midwifery.

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, Pregnancy

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Time for an entre: Pregnancy!!

Up for discussion…

Health Influences in Pregnancy

Health Influences in Pregnancy

Let’s start at the beginning…in the first trimester you feel sick and tired, right? Three things:

1) your immune system is pro-inflammatory (causing nausea and fatigue), 2) your body is protecting your fetus from some toxins (if you eat something not so great for the fetus, you throw up), and 3) you have extreme swings in blood sugar levels so that after you eat, the level soars and you feel sick.

Number 3 can be fixed with behavior, but you may have to wait out 1 & 2. To fix number 3 eat very small meals frequently (6 or 8 times a day) and be sure to eat protein, that is, eggs, meat, fish, fowl, cheese, nuts, rice & beans, soy, etc. with each small meal. This stabilizes blood sugar and prevents dramatic elevations that can cause nausea.

In most healthy pregnancies, the immune system will rebound in the second trimester so that you feel good; it is protecting you again!  But, those wicked toxins and infections are still out there in the environment, so the message is beware bad air (smog, smoking, industrial air pollution), highly processed foods (lunchmeats, things with names you can’t pronounce), any drugs or meds not prescribed or okayed by your ob or midwife, alcohol, and dangerous bacteria, viruses and other microbes!

Exercise wisely…no sky-diving or scuba diving! Eat healthy food and get enough sleep. De-stress through relaxation and meditative techniques. Don’t take risks with your health, but do stay active and start to prepare for birth and bringing home a baby (or two?).

Third trimester & the immune system goes on the fritz again – can’t keep this baby in here forever; must expel! You may feel sick and tired again. BUT, keep your prenatal care appointments, keep moving, get good nutrition, rest and stay focused. Before you know it the real work begins, not to mention the 18 years of sleep deprivation.

Getting from here…

Being Fully Present in Your Pregnancy...

Being Fully Present in Your Pregnancy...

…to here..

Being Fully Present as Mom

Being Fully Present as Mom.

…is a journey like no other. The adaptations of your body to the demands of pregnancy are amazing. If you pay attention, you will learn more about the meaning of existence from this than from anything else.

BE HERE NOW!!

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Pregnancy Pathway…Important Notes from Wonderrobyn

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The following are notes from co-author Robyn Brancato, CNM (certified nurse midwife) who practices in New York City, or, as she is know here: Wonderrobyn! You can read about both authors in the About tab above. Here they are on the beach in San Diego, when they gave a talk at conference there a couple years ago. Robyn on the left, Ann on the right.

Robyn and Ann, Pathway authors

Robyn and Ann, Pathway authors

1. Addition to Small Rant: “Resist the temptation to watch A Baby Story on TLC! It does not portray birth accurately, as they condense 15 hours of labor into 30 minutes and play up the drama so that you will be on the edge of your seat! In the majority of women, birth is not that dangerous.”

2. Regarding: When does conception occur? “This is a really interesting post… I love the discussion about at what point conception occurs! Personally, I like the Biblical notion of quickening. Even though this varies from woman to woman and can range anywhere from 16 to 22 weeks gestation, it seems like the most natural theory.”

Dear Reader:  What do YOU think? Did you read the conception post on March 23, ’09?

3. About sperm & preeclampsia. “Is the connection between barrier methods and preeclampsia actually established? I have read studies stating the contrary – that barrier methods have no effect on preeclampsia rates.”

HURRAY! THIS REQUIRES FURTHER CONSIDERATION.

More information: The immune maladaptation theory suggests that tolerance to paternal antigens, resulting from prolonged exposure to sperm, protects against the development of preeclampsia. Thus, barrier methods and being young may predispose women to this major disorder of pregnancy.

Evidence exists on both sides of this theory. Here are two recent studies (one of each) that readers may find helpful in understanding this idea. Keep in mind that other factors than just sperm exposure may be affecting research findings. But, it does seem that under some conditions, barrier methods and amount of exposure to sperm can affect the pregnancy itself.

Ness RB,  Markovic N, Harger G, Day R. Barrier methods, length of preconception intercourse and preeclampsia, Journal: Hypertension in Pregnancy 23(3):227-235. 2005.  Results did not support the immune maladaption theory.

Yousefi Z, Jafarnezhad F, Nasrollai S, Esmaeeli H. Assessment of correlation between unprotected coitus and preeclampsia, Journal of Research in Medical Sciences 11(6):370-374. 2006. In a matched controls study, women with <4 months cohabitation or who used barrier methods had higher risks of developing preeclampsia than those with >4 months cohabitation. Oral contraception users had a lower preeclampsia rate than those who used no oral contraception.

In a commentary article in OB/GYN News ,  July 1, 2002, the following note was made by Dr. Jon Einarsson: With insufficient exposure, pregnancy may induce an immune response and preeclampsia in some women with predisposing factors such as an endothelium that already is sensitive to injury due to age, insulin resistance, or preexisting hypertension.

Is there a plain and simple truth about sperm exposure and pregnancy risks? Alas, no. But, know your circumstances. If you are young, protect yourself. Wear a condom. When you are ready to be a mom, you will be ready to figure out your risks. So, this, too follows the axiom:

Events in life are rarely plain and never simple.

Pregnancy Pathway, Preconditions – Genetics

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Please refer to February 5 entry for complete graphic. The Precondition we will discuss today is Genetics.

bubblus_preconditions_-_genetics

There are genetic factors totally outside your control that determine things as simple as your offspring’s hair or eye color, how the earlobe attaches to the side of the head and whether or not s/he can roll the tongue. More complex things, such as a predisposition to types of cancers, bleeding disorders or various other diseases, also have a genetic basis.

Because the male contributes the sex of the offspring, once conception happens, the sex off the fetus is determined — at least genetically. But, it turns out not everything genetic is set in stone. In utero, hormone exposures may affect how male and female characteristics develop, so that some girls will be very girlie, some will be tomboys, and some may be gay. A similar effect will influence how boys develop.

Genetic, environmental and behavioral preconditions can be  intertwined. Environmental factors can alter genes, causing them to express proteins that would otherwise be dormant. Likewise, our behavior affects some of our genes. If we have a family propensity for heart disease, but we eat a healthy diet, exercise and avoid risky behaviors, we alter the impact of our genetic code.

Keep in mind that some things will be completely determined by genes. It is not reasonable to hope, for example, that our offspring will be 6’5″ if both parents are short (or vice versa). If the mother has “thrifty genes” — that is, genes that make it easy for her to gain weight — she may well do so during pregnancy, even if she follows a reasonably healthy lifestyle. If the immune systems of both parents have some similarities, it may affect the maternal immune response to the implanting trophoblast cells, thus affecting the placenta and, indeed, the entire pregnancy.

So, how do we advise people who are thinking of pregnancy to prepare themselves for a healthy pregnancy genetically? Surely, to determine all the potential genetic possibilities is not feasible or affordable at this point. Maybe in another century! But, we can know some factors:  Is there sickle cell anemia in both families? Is there a Mediterranean type of sickle cell disorder? What about clotting factors or differences in Rh? What about diseases or disorders that are not common, like ALS? These are things that potential parents may want to discuss.

Like so much of life, we can’t know everything. There are no guarantees. There is a lot to be learned still about human genes and how they work.

This blog has at its heart the notion that physical activity has tremendous benefits for mother and offspring…and for partners, too. How does the genetic component affect this? First, preconception fitness lowers some risk factors for mothers and babies. Second, each mother’s genes will make it easier or more difficult for her to enjoy or benefit from the activity of exercise. We appreciate this and encourage young moms-to-be to find something enjoyable that you like doing and find people or situations that support you in being active now before you become pregnant.

If you need assistance or advice, please go to www.dancingthrupregnancy.com (use the BlogRoll)

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