By Ana-Maria Dumitru, National MedSFL Chair
Pregnancy is a time of dramatic changes to a woman’s body. There are certainly risks associated with pregnancy, particularly if a woman has a pre-existing health condition. But what about health benefits of pregnancy? Here are a few fun facts:
In a collaboration study involving groups from Spain and the Netherlands, researchers found that pregnancy leads to significant changes in women’s brains, and these changes last for at least two years post-partum. Even more interestingly, the changes seem to be a sort of gray matter pruning, which translates to boosting mothers’ attachment to their babies as well as boosting mothers’ abilities to recognize their babies’ emotions and needs. The changes were so dramatic that the research team could predict which women had gone through pregnancy just by looking at their brain scans! You can read the full study here, and highlights of the study here and here.
Reduction in All-Cause Mortality
A 2012 study in Australia found that having children significantly reduced all-cause mortality. In fact, the all-cause mortality fell progressively with increasing parity, i.e. the more kids a woman had, the lower her all-cause mortality, with the lowest bracket going to women who had six or more children! This result was significant even when adjusted for comorbidities (hypertension, diabetes, being overweight) and social variables. And this wasn’t the only study to notice the link between childbirth and lifespan – check out this study done in Norway and this other study from England, Wales and Austria.
There’s a phenomenon called microchimerism, which happens when a pregnant woman exchanges some cells with her developing child. Basically some fetal cells can enter maternal circulation…and then stay in the mom, potentially for the rest of her life.
This study here takes a look at the presence of male microchimerism and its association with all-cause mortality. What the researchers find is that having a male microchimerism (i.e. a woman now tests positive for some XY cells in her circulation after being pregnant with a baby boy) leads to a significant decrease in all-cause mortality for the woman. The sample size is pretty small, but from their numbers, the researchers note a specific decrease in cancer-related deaths in women who are male microchimerism positive.