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Sunday, 10 November 2019

Toxoplasmosis (Things We Don’t Know about Pregnancy Series #6)

I once heard someone talking about arranging a hen do and struggling for ideas that would be okay for pregnant participants. At the time, I couldn’t see why it was so difficult… they were pregnant, not dead! …But I guess it depends how risk averse you are. If you’re avoid absolutely everything that could pose any tiny risk that includes alcohol, caffeine, household chemicals, saunas, certain foods, sports, paint, gardening, cats, non-stick frying pans and any person who could have an illness. In fact, staying locked indoors without human contact.

The outdoors thing intrigued me.

The great outdoors © TWDK.

So what is the risk?


Cat and mouse © TWDK.
The panic is over toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite that will infect a third of people over their lifetimes. Most people never know: the zoonotic infection is asymptomatic in healthy adults, and humans are considered dead-end accidental hosts, because toxoplasma gondii can only reproduce in cats – and wants to get back in cats.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

What happens after death?

Myths persist that death is somehow toxic or disgusting – a myth that dates back to before the theory of disease, when a common idea was that breathing the air of the dead could shorten your life. But modern research has shown this simply isn’t true: you can’t catch death, and dead bodies and the changes that happen to them are actually quite clean and safe. Natural decomposition processes allow a body to break down into its component parts, feed a plethora of insect life, and return the nutrients stored in it to soil.

Skull via Jakub T. Jankiewicz on flickr.
So where did the idea come from? Partly, it’s due to hysteria. When the origin of diseases were unknown, it was natural for people to grapple at ideas and desperately try to science themselves to safety. But ultimately, taking steps to distance themselves from death didn’t help reduce their chances of illness, so science moved on. Another factor is necromones, the odours of death. Necromones are the decomposition products of corpses that animals of the same species have a strong alarm response to. Necromones have been well established in some insect communities, where the oleic and linoleic acids produced by dead crustaceans and hexapods alert other members to the death and initiate gathering or fleeing behaviours. It’s also believed that necromones initiate fleeing in sharks, and might affect humans to a lesser degree. There’s no denying decaying human bodies smell horrible, but are they more horrible to us than other decaying animal bodies?

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Nesting (Things We Don’t Know about Pregnancy Series #5)

I’ve been experiencing some severe nesting symptoms. But is it because nesting’s a real thing, or because of my personal desire to organise and structure life (especially in the wake of impending chaos)?

Women have long been observed to clean more in the spring. But is “spring cleaning” driven by their desire to go out in the weather, or cast off the stuffiness of winter?

What is Nesting?


Nesting in preparation for a baby includes anything from cleaning to organising, decorating to stockpiling. I have done all this – from emptying and restructuring drawers to buying baby bits, to sewing, stewing, and sticking in a frenzy of creative energy.

Making © TWDK.



Friday, 11 October 2019

The Placenta (Things We Don’t Know about Pregnancy Series #4)

The placenta is a complex and poorly understood organ. Found in placental mammals, it forms during pregnancy, starts to break up in the last few weeks, and is normally expelled within 30 minutes of the birth. Looking at it, it’s easy to feel intimidated by this mysterious, massive, living thing that is birthed and dies when your baby is birthed.

Placenta via Wikipedia Commons.

 

What is the placenta anyway?


The placenta is a two-sided disc. On the one side, the maternal placenta (stuck to the womb) develops from the mother’s tissues 7-12 days after conception; on the other, the foetal placenta forms 17-22 days after conception from the blastocyst after it burrows into and connects up with the mother’s blood supply. Scientists are still studying how the placenta forms.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

Magnetic Monopoles and Geometry

Take a balloon, rub it against your jumper, then stick it to a wall. Why does this work?

By rubbing it on your jumper, you’ve given it extra electrons and, since the electrons have a negative charge, the balloon now has a negative charge too. So, why does this make it stick to the uncharged wall? Because, by comparison, the wall is more positively charged – and positive and negative electric charges attract. In some materials, charged particles even can shift about a bit to give a more positive side near to the balloon, creating stronger sticking.

Charged balloon attracted to the hair of a cat. Public domain.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Bizarre symptoms (Things We Don’t Know about Pregnancy Series #3)

For many women, pregnancy is a medley of bizarre and persistent symptoms – some well known, like morning sickness, and some… less so.

A missed period


Missing a period is a pregnancy symptom… but not every woman gets it! Some continue having “periods” for one, two, or more months. Whilst they are not truly menstruating, doctors can’t explain every bleed. Common explanations are implantation bleeding (when the embryo embeds into the uterus lining), subchorionic haematoma (where blood collects between the placenta and uterus lining), or miscarriage. Minor causes might be tears, inflammation, or infections. Around 1 in 5 women experience some kind of bleeding during pregnancy[1].

Pregnant woman via Pixabay.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Diving with ‘Monsters’

Why are we so fascinated by monsters? Creatures of the jungles, of the deepest oceans, and of historic eras in our planet’s past have long captured our imaginations. Perhaps it’s our evolutionary instinct to learn from our enemies, and to study to outwit and outcompete our rivals. One thing is true: we have long been fascinated with monsters, and where better to find the unknown, the mysterious and the monstrous, than in the 1.3 billion cubic kilometers of oceans that stretches across our planet?

...Or, perhaps, in a small Blue Planet aquarium near Chester. Which is where I’m taking you now.

Shark in the Blue Planet aquarium, Chester. © TWDK

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Weight (Things We Don’t Know about Pregnancy Series #2)

If you’re pregnant and you’ve been reading books, boards and information sites, like me, you’ve probably got the wrong end of the stick about some things – such as weight. And the reason is this: having a baby in the UK is very different from having a baby in the US, and the US dominates these platforms.

Partly, this is because the NHS is unforthcoming: they don’t share information about being pregnant until you are. Their websites offer the bare minimum; their leaflets aren’t much better; they don’t answer my emails; and their advice is always to talk to your midwife. As mine explained to me, information is drip-fed as you progress to “prevent you from being bombarded”. Or, in other words, to maintain control over information access.

Meanwhile, the US sites would lead you to believe that medical health professionals are obsessed with monitoring, managing, and manipulating your weight gain throughout pregnancy, including berating you if you gain too little weight or, more emphatically, if you gain too much.

Diagram of weight versus gestational age by Yehudamalul via Wikipedia Commons.