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Thursday, 5 December 2019

Exercise (Things We Don’t Know about Pregnancy Series #8)

I wasn’t sure how to break it to her. The midwife. That I was a climber.

My greatest fears in pregnancy was being told not to climb, abused by people for doing it anyway, and turfed out of climbing centres – and I had done my research: exercise is highly advantageous during pregnancy, and there are no controlled studies on climbing whilst pregnant.

The body changes during pregnancy

During pregnancy, your body changes and remodels itself to create a nest to house your foetus for 9 months. As the hormone relaxin floods your body, your ligaments relax and joints loosen. Your centre of gravity shifts, upsetting your sense of balance. Your need for oxygen increases, with an extra 20% of blood flowing through your body, and this can make your blood pressure drop, leaving you more prone to dizziness.

So you should definitely exercise – here’s why

Exercising is good when pregnant for the same reasons it's good when you're not, but it can have additional benefits, such as supporting circulation through you and your foetus, reducing cramping and back pain, and improving balance as your centre of mass shifts.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Reproductive Immunology (Things We Don’t Know about Pregnancy Series #7)

Morning sickness aside, I haven’t felt unwell during my pregnancy. Of course, winter is coming and that could all change, but I have prepared myself with influenza and whooping cough inoculations. These vaccines will be inactivated. ‘Live’ vaccines are normally withheld from pregnant women because they could cause unborn babies to become infected, although the risk is low.



So why vaccinate during pregnancy? Not only does vaccinating yourself provide you with a good chance of fighting off a disease if you catch it, it can also incur herd immunity, making it difficult for the most vulnerable members of society to catch a disease, such as, oh, I don’t know, pregnant women and newborn babies, perhaps.

To read more about vaccination, check out our article on the topic.

Babies are vulnerable because their immune systems are starting from scratch: they’re born with just a few antibodies inherited from their mothers before getting their first inoculations and meeting everyday bacteria. Pregnant women are immunosuppressed. This means their ability to fight off disease is lowered during pregnancy.

Flu virus via Wikipedia Commons.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

What can poo do for you?

This is a guest blog article written by Sarah Bailey.

Don't be put off by the title! Scientists often collect bodily fluids (or solids, in the case of poo) as they can provide very useful information about how the body works. In Life Study, a ground breaking new project aiming to follow 60,000 babies from birth into childhood, we use these waste products to answer questions about one of the most topical research questions around: how do microbes in our guts affect health throughout life?

What is Life Study?


The Life Study logo.Source and copyright: Life Study.

Life Study is a cohort study; it’s recruiting 60,000 babies (and their mothers and fathers) to follow them into childhood and try to find out how events that happen early in life might affect long-term health. The study is run by researchers at University College London and is divided into several parts. My own work focuses on infection and immunity, and I’m trying to discover how bugs such as bacteria and viruses influence the immune system in early life, and what the knock-on affects are as children grow up.

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.