Monthly Archives: March 2012

  • 10 pregnancy old wives’ tales: fact or fiction?

    There are many myths and superstitions surrounding pregnancy; many of us are guilty of believing some of these; but is there any truth behind them?

    Eating for two:

    The energy demands of pregnancy are astonishingly low. Most women only need extra calories for the second half of pregnancy; 200 extra calories (two bananas) a day is sufficient. 50% of women in the UK are overweight at the start of pregnancy. Consequently having higher risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, premature labour, and blood clots. They’re also more likely to require assisted delivery or caesarean section, and their babies are more likely to have congenital abnormalities like spina bifida and heart defects, as well becoming overweight adults themselves.

    Breastfeeding sheds pregnancy weight:

    Breastfeeding burns 200-500 calories/day; similar to that burnt off in a 1-hour jog. However, milk production is stimulated by the hormone prolactin, and prolactin also stimulates appetite. Studies found that women tend to over-compensate for the calorie loss by generally eating more.

    Sex induces labour:

    Sex triggers the production of the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin dilates the cervix in preparation for labour and causes contractions. Semen contains hormones called prostaglandins that also promote contractions and are involved in inducing labour. Sex, in the third trimester, might be advised against in mothers with a history of premature labour, but for most women, sex won’t affect the pregnancy.

    Curry induces labour:

    Spicy foods are also believed to increase prostaglandins; but there’s no conclusive proof that curry induces labour.

    Morning sickness means a healthy baby:

    Morning sickness can happen at any time of day, and isn’t related to the health or gender of the baby. The hormones produced by the normal placenta and low blood-sugar are what cause nausea and vomiting.

    Baby-bump predicts gender:

    First-time mums have tighter stomach muscles and ligaments so baby bumps are higher. The baby’s presentation (breech, transverse etc), gestational age and size also affect the bump’s position. Gender doesn’t affect these factors.

    You shouldn’t lie on your back:

    Lying on your back makes it difficult for your heart to pump blood because the weight of your baby compresses your large veins. The ideal position is on your side, knees bent; but in a healthy pregnancy, a baby will be fine in any position the mother sleeps in.

    Moisturising prevents stretch marks:

    Stretch marks occur due to changes in the elastic tissue underneath the skin. Genetics influence how you’ll be affected; and how much and how quickly your skin has to expand, based on the baby’s size and growth. There’s no evidence to prove that creams or oils prevent stretch marks.

    Exercise harms the baby:

    More, or continued, exercise in a healthy pregnancy, isn’t only safe but beneficial; it reduces fatigue, swollen ankles, varicose veins, insomnia and depression. A woman’s heart pumps more blood to the baby when exercising; giving the baby more oxygen and nutrients.


    It appears that pregnancy temporarily decreases brain size; but doesn’t affect function and memory.

  • New Blood Test Detects Down’s syndrome in Early Pregnancy

    A DNA-based pre-natal test for detecting Down’s syndrome is ready for clinical use, reducing the need for current risky invasive tests.

    The simple blood test can be done as early as 10 weeks and correctly detects 99% of cases. The study, published in Genetics in Medicine, involved almost 2000 high risk women.

    The test works by analysing a type of foetal DNA (ccfDNA) which circulates in the mother’s blood stream, searching for abnormalities in the numbers of chromosomes. This identifies pregnancies with the most common type of Down’s syndrome, where there is an extra copy of chromosome 21, accounting for 95% of affected babies.

    Currently the NHS offers a screening program in the first trimester of pregnancy for all women. The screening combines a blood test looking at hormones and proteins with ultrasound findings- giving an idea of the baby’s risk. This screening is not very reliable, with only 1 in 30 women referred for further testing actually carrying a Down’s syndrome baby.

    Down’s syndrome is a genetic condition which affects learning ability, growth, features and can have significant health complications. It is rarely inherited and usually is a random mutation, but chances of having an affected baby increase rapidly after the age of 35. A woman’s average chance of having a baby with Down’s syndrome is roughly 1 in 800.

    Unfortunately all diagnostic procedures currently offered are invasive, such as amniocentesis where a needle is passed into the uterus. Around 0.5% of these invasive tests results in loss of pregnancy, meaning that for every three Down's syndrome babies prevented from being born, two healthy babies will be miscarried.

    This new blood test has no such risk to the baby and provides reliable and accurate results. If used early on in screenings it would lead to fewer women enduring the invasive procedures and having to agonise over the risks. As Dr Canick of Brown University explains, “As a result, most of the pregnancies referred for [invasive tests] will be found to have Down’s syndrome.”

    This test will give women more choice with less risks regarding pre-natal testing. However it would increase the number of women having diagnostic tests and therefore may increase the abortion rate of children with the disease. A 92% majority of women who are confirmed to be carrying a baby with Down’s choose a termination. Pro-life group LIFE claims this is akin to eugenics and that “to destroy a child because he or she is not perfect is especially unjust and elitist.”

    Life-expectancy for people with Down’s syndrome has more than doubled. Their quality of life has improved with education and jobs; being viewed more and more as a positive contribution to communities and families. As highlighted by the recent Ricky Gervais “mong” controversy, society no longer feels discrimination against people with Down’s is acceptable.

    However you feel about the ethical debate, one thing is certain; these medical advances will mean more women have to make these choices.

    By Charlotte Wood

Speciality Pharmacy
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