Category: Obstetrics & Gynaecology

Smoking During Pregnancy Can Impact a Subsequent Pregnancy

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University of Southampton researchers have found that the link between smoking at the start of pregnancy and having a smaller baby may extend to future pregnancies.

The research team studied data between 2003 and 2018 for nearly 17 000 mothers who received antenatal care for their first two pregnancies. 

The findings, published in PLOS One, showed that, compared to non-smokers, women who smoked at the start of their first pregnancy were more likely to have a baby born smaller than expected in their second pregnancy. This held true even where they quit by the start of their second pregnancy.

The link between smoking during a pregnancy and that baby’s birth weight is well established. However, until now there has been limited evidence on the impact of maternal smoking on following pregnancies.

This study found that for women who smoked but did not smoke at the start of either pregnancy, there was no extra risk of a small for gestational age (SGA) baby in the second pregnancy compared to non-smokers. A mother who smoked ten or more cigarettes a day at the start of both of her first two pregnancies had the highest odds of SGA birth.

Study leader Dr Nisreen Alwan, Associate Professor at the University of Southampton, said: “It is important to encourage women to quit smoking before pregnancy and to not resume smoking after the baby is born. Resources that support mothers to quit and maintain smoking cessation are needed.”

First author Elizabeth Taylor said: “Women who smoke between pregnancies can reduce the risk of having a SGA baby by stopping smoking before the start of their next pregnancy. The period between pregnancies is when most mothers have close contact with health and care professionals and may require support to stop smoking.”

It is hoped that these findings and future research will encourage healthcare professionals and commissioners to provide better support to women before and between pregnancies, helping them to quit smoking, leading to better health for both mothers and children.

Source: University of Southampton

Placental Cells Could Help Growth-restricted Babies

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Healthy placenta from mothers of healthy newborns could potentially reduce brain injury in growth-restricted babies, University of Queensland researchers suggest. UQ’s Dr Julie Wixey said the study found stem cells sourced from a healthy placenta may reduce damaging inflammation in these babies after only three days.

“There is currently no treatment to protect the brains of a growth-restricted baby,” Dr Wixey said. “Up to 50% of them have long term issues ranging from mild learning and behavioural disorders all the way through to cerebral palsy. We know there’s inflammation in the brain and it doesn’t cease once these babies are born.  

“Our study has shown we could reduce inflammation and ongoing brain injury by treating these newborns on the day they’re born using a combination of two types of stem cells – endothelial colony forming cells and mesenchymal stromal cells – isolated from a healthy human placenta.”

About 32 million growth-restricted babies are born around the world each year. Many of them did not receive enough nutrients and oxygen from the placenta.

“Our research has found after just three days, the combination stem cell therapy not only reduced inflammation but also, importantly, appeared to repair damaged blood vessels in the brain in animal models,” Dr Wixey said. “We’re really excited by the outcomes of this study and we hope it’ll improve these babies’ lives long term.”

Dr Jatin Patel, who co-invented the stem cell harvesting technology, said: “This has been a fantastic collaborative study and demonstrates the exciting potential of stem cell therapy in the near future in treating unwell babies.

“We are now working towards scaling up our patented stem cell technology, that will result in greater quantities of cells to drive and expand the preclinical animal studies with the aim of progressing towards a human trial.”

The study was published in npj Regenerative Medicine. The researchers will now investigate the longer-term outcomes of the combination stem cell treatment.

Source: University of Queensland

Cannabis Use in Pregnancy Predisposes Children to Stress and Anxiety

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Women who use cannabis during pregnancy, such as for stress and anxiety relief, may inadvertently predispose their children to stress susceptibility and anxiety, according to a study published in PNAS.

As cannabis continues to be legalised worldwide, many people mistakenly believe that cannabis use is without significant health risks. In line with this softening public opinion, cannabis has emerged as one of the most consumed recreational drugs of abuse during pregnancy, however the impact of maternal cannabis use on foetal and childhood development is unclear.

“We know that cannabinoid signaling plays a role in modulating stress, which is why some people use cannabis to reduce anxiety and relax,” said first author Professor Yoko Nomura at CUNY Graduate Center and Queens College. “But our study shows that in utero exposure to cannabis has the opposite effect on children, causing them to have increased levels of anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity compared to other children who were not exposed to cannabis during pregnancy.”

Researchers examined placental gene expression and early childhood behaviour and physiology in a long-term study of 322 mother-child pairs who were drawn from an ongoing New York City-based study of stress in pregnancy started in 2009. When the children were approximately six years old, hormone levels were measured via their hair samples, electrocardiogram recordings were used to measure heart function during a stress-inducing condition, and behavioural and emotional functioning was assessed based on surveys administered to the parents.

The children of mothers who used cannabis during pregnancy showed higher anxiety, aggression, hyperactivity, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol, compared to children of non-cannabis users. Maternal cannabis use was also associated with a reduction in the high-frequency component of heart rate variability, which normally reflects increased stress sensitivity. In addition, RNA sequencing of placental tissue collected at birth in a subset of participants revealed that there was an association between maternal cannabis use and lower expression of immune-activating genes, including pro-inflammatory cytokines. The cannabis-related suppression of several placental immune-gene networks predicted higher anxiety in the children.

“Pregnant women are being bombarded with misinformation that cannabis is of no risk, while the reality is that cannabis is more potent today than it was even a few years ago. Our findings indicate that using it during pregnancy can have long-term impact on children,” said senior author Yasmin Hurd, PhD. “The study results underscore the need for nonbiased education and outreach to the public and particular vulnerable populations of pregnant women regarding the potential impact of cannabis use. Disseminating this data and accurate information is essential to improving the health of women and their children.”

Source: The Mount Sinai Hospital

Tranexamic Acid Cuts Blood Loss in Myomectomies

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The use of tranexamic acid (TXA) reduced blood loss during myomectomies in women with large uterine fibroids, a retrospective cohort study has found.

Patients who underwent a myomectomy to remove uterine fibroids with a total weight greater than 173 g had lower estimated blood loss after receiving TXA compared with those who did not (205.6 mL vs 405.4 mL), reported Rachel Cullifer, MD, at the virtual American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists (AAGL) annual meeting. Furthermore, patients whose largest fibroid was greater than 73 mm had lower levels of blood loss with TXA (229.2 mL vs 408.3 mL).

“TXA is a highly safe hemostatic agent that gynecologic surgeons can utilize during myomectomies,” Cullifer said. “There is a role for TXA in myomectomies performed with a minimally invasive approach,” she added, noting that the treatment should be strongly considered for patients suspected of having a large fibroid burden.

When looking at all myomectomies not stratified by fibroid characteristics, there was not no significant difference in estimated blood loss between patients who received TXA and those who did not (184 mL vs 266 mL). Fibroids are the primary indication for hysterectomy in the US, Dr Cullifer noted, but myomectomy provides a safe alternative for those who want to preserve their fertility.

“Despite advances in laparoscopic techniques, blood loss and blood transfusions still remain higher in myomectomies when compared with hysterectomy,” Dr Cullifer pointed out, adding that elevated plasmin levels during surgery can result in prolonged bleeding. TXA lowers plasmin function and productivity, reducing blood loss, she stated.

Dr Cullifer and colleagues focused on fibroid characteristics to find out which patients might benefit most from TXA.

The researchers analysed patients who had a myomectomy from 2015 to 2020, compared myomectomy cases treated with TXA versus those that were not, and measured estimated blood loss, blood transfusion administration, and operative time. Of the 71 patients who had a myomectomy, 26 received TXA and 45 did not. The average estimated blood loss was 236 mL, and almost all patients underwent minimally invasive procedures, with 53% undergoing laparoscopic surgery and 40% undergoing robot-assisted procedures.

Save for age, all demographic characteristics were similar between the two groups. Patients who received TXA were an average of two and a half years younger than those who did not. Fibroid characteristics were also similar between the two groups. Additionally, adverse events were similar between the two groups. There was one case of thromboembolism in the cohort who did not receive TXA.

Source: MedPage Today

Miscarriage Should be Recognised as a Bereavement, Argues Psychiatrist

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A miscarriage during the first 6 months of pregnancy should be recognised as a bereavement, rather than illness in UK law, argues psychiatrist Nathan Hodson in correspondence published online in the journal BMJ Sexual & Reproductive Health.

Some MPs in the UK government have called for following in the steps of New Zealand’s policy of giving bereavement leave at  any stage of pregnancy loss, though this has been met with opposition.

The Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2020 allows for two weeks’ statutory bereavement leave for a stillbirth after 24 weeks and for the loss of a child up to the age of 18 in the UK. In South Africa, the 2002 Basic Conditions of Employment Act allows for six weeks’ maternity leave for pregnancy loss after 28 weeks.

Dr Hodson pointed out that parents in these circumstances are also entitled to take maternity or shared parental leave planned before the stillbirth, giving them weeks or months to recover from their loss.

But those who miscarry before 24 weeks in the UK have no such rights, added to which the miscarriage is regarded as an illness, with entitlement to sick leave. And if this lasts longer than 7 days, a formal sick note from a doctor is required.

“This policy creates an arbitrary cliff edge at 24 weeks,” with few women who miscarry being aware of their employment rights, Dr Hodson insisted.

Presently it is not known how many miscarriages occur in the UK annually nor how much sick leave is taken for them. He acknowledges this could open up private companies to unknown costs for employee miscarriage at any stage.

A single week of statutory bereavement leave when miscarriage occurs after the 12 week scan could reduce these costs. “Miscarriage risk after 12 weeks is less than 1% so this policy would be highly targeted with a less uncertain price tag,” he explained.

And within 2 or 3 years there should be sufficient data from New Zealand to estimate the impact of the policy, which was introduced in March this year. This allows women and partners 3 days of paid leave, irrespective of how long the woman had been pregnant, but excluding abortions.

But in any case, “miscarriage should as far as possible be recognised as bereavement, not sickness, and many parents will need time off work afterwards,” wrote Dr Hodson.

“Leave following first-trimester miscarriage should be prioritised when New Zealand has published data. But whatever approach is taken with regard to early miscarriages, the cliff edge at 24 weeks is a stark injustice demanding remedy.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Moderate Caffeine Intake May Reduce Gestational Diabetes Risk

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Pregnant coffee lovers can breathe a sigh of relief, as consuming a low amount of caffeine during pregnancy could help to reduce gestational diabetes risk, according to a new study published in JAMA Network Open.

“While we were not able to study the association of consumption above the recommended limit, we now know that low-to-moderate caffeine is not associated with an increased risk of gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, or hypertension for expecting mothers,” said the study’s lead author Stefanie Hinkle, PhD, an assistant professor of Epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania.

The current recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is that pregnant women limit their caffeine consumption to less than 200 mg (about two cups) per day. The recommendations are based on studies that suggest potential associations with pregnancy loss and foetal growth at higher caffeine levels. However, there remains limited data on the link between caffeine and maternal health outcomes.

To better understand this association, researchers studied prospective data from 2529 pregnant participants from 2009 to 2013.

At enrollment and at each visit thereafter, women reported their weekly intake of caffeinated coffee, caffeinated tea, fizzy drinks, and energy drinks. Concentrations of caffeine were also measured in the participants’ plasma at 10 to 13 weeks into their pregnancies. The researchers then matched their caffeine consumption with primary outcomes: clinical diagnoses of gestational diabetes, gestational hypertension, and preeclampsia.

The research team found that caffeine at 10 to 13 weeks gestation was not related to gestational diabetes risk. During the second trimester, drinking up to 100 mg of caffeine per day was associated with 47% less diabetes risk. No statistically significant differences in blood pressure, preeclampsia, or hypertension between those who did and did not consume caffeine during pregnancy.

The findings are in line with research that found an association between and improved energy balance and decreased fat mass, the researchers noted. However, other constituents of coffee and tea such as phytochemicals could be the cause.

The group’s previous work has however shown that caffeine consumption during pregnancy, even in amounts less than the recommended 200 mg per day, was associated with smaller neonatal anthropometric measurements, according to Prof Hinkle.

“It would not be advised for women who are non-drinkers to initiate caffeinated beverage consumption for the purpose of lowering gestational diabetes risk,” she said. One meta-analysis found that any amount of caffeine was a risk to the foetus. “But our findings may provide some reassurance to women who already are consuming low to moderate levels of caffeine that such consumption likely will not increase their maternal health risks.”

Source: Penn Medicine

Cannabis Use during Pregnancy is on the Rise

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As cannabis becomes increasingly legalised, for medical or recreational purposes, its use during pregnancy is increasing, along with the potential for abuse or dependence.

A new study, published in JAMA Psychiatry, explored the magnitude and nature of cannabis use disorders during pregnancy by examining hospital discharge codes. Most of those hospitalisations were for childbirth.

The study found that the proportion of hospitalised pregnant patients identified with cannabis use disorder (defined as cannabis use with clinically significant impairment or distress) rose 150% from 2010 to 2018.

Largest such study so far
“This is the largest study to document the scale of cannabis use disorder in prenatal hospitalisations,” said study co-author Claudia Lugo-Candelas, PhD, assistant professor of clinical medical psychology in Columbia University’s Department of Psychiatry. She notes the study found that pregnant patients with the condition had sharply higher levels of depression, anxiety, and nausea – results of clinical concern.  

“It’s a red flag that patients may not be getting the treatment they need,” Dr Lugo-Candelas said.

Some pregnant patients use cannabis instead of prescribed medications, thinking it’s a safer choice as cannabis legalisation has eased safety fears. However, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have recommended against using cannabis while pregnant, chiefly because of known and unknown fetal effects. Concerns for maternal effects focus on smoking or vaping risks, not mental health.

The study identified 249 084 hospitalised pregnant patients with cannabis use disorder, who were classified into three sub-groups: those with cannabis use disorder only; those with use disorders for cannabis and other controlled substances; and those with cannabis use disorder and other non-controlled substances (alcohol, tobacco). Data was matched against equivalent patients without any substance use disorders.

Mood disorders more common
Researchers found that those with the cannabis condition were more likely to be younger (ages 15 to 24), Black non-Hispanic, and to not have private insurance.

Researchers analysed patients records for depression, anxiety, trauma, and ADHD, and a broader category of mood-related disorders. Medical conditions measured included chronic pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, nausea, and vomiting.

All disorder sub-groups had elevated rates of nearly every factor studied. Patients with cannabis use disorder alone had triple the levels of depression and anxiety than patients with no use conditions. Mood-related disorders affected 58% of those with cannabis use disorder compared to 5% without.

“The least other substance use you have, the more that cannabis use makes a difference,” Dr Lugo-Candelas said. “That’s really striking.”

High levels of were also seen in the cannabis use disorder hospitalisations, but whether that was due to patients using cannabis to mitigate nausea, or due to cannabis use, which can cause a vomiting syndrome, or a symptom of pregnancy is unknown. Study co-author Angélica Meinhofer, PhD, assistant professor of population health sciences at Weill Cornell Medicine, noted that many states allow medical use of cannabis for nausea and vomiting.

While screening for cannabis during pregnancy could help, doctors could be reluctant to ask about use due to mandatory reporting rules. Patient education could help get them treatment earlier, especially with co-occurring psychiatric problems.

“Hopefully these findings will motivate better conversations between pregnant patients and their health care providers,” said Meinhofer.

The authors stress they aren’t arguing for or against cannabis use in pregnancy. Research on prenatal effects of the disorder is still largely lacking, though frequent use has been linked to low birth weight and other adverse outcomes. Their study, the researchers say, instead underscores the need to further explore the disorder and its links to psychiatric and medical conditions.

The increase of cannabis use by pregnant patients demands immediate investigation. “This is a population that’s showing a level of distress that is very, very high,” said Dr Lugo-Candelas. “Care and attention need to be rolled out.”

Source: Columbia University Irving Medical Center

Low Vitamin D in Pregnancy Can Raise Autism Risk

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Low maternal vitamin D intake during pregnancy can affect the development of autism in the child along with various other factors, according to a new study from the University of Turku, Finland, and Columbia University, USA.

The study, published in the Biological Psychiatry journal, included 1558 cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and an equal number of matched controls born in Finland between January 1987 and December 2004, followed up until December 2015. 

Maternal vitamin D deficiency during pregnancy was linked to a 44% increased risk of ASD in the offspring, compared to women with sufficient vitamin D. 

The result persisted even when accounting for maternal age, immigration, smoking, psychopathology, substance abuse, the gestational week of blood draw, season of blood collection, and gestational age.

“The results are significant for public health as vitamin D deficiency is readily preventable,” said first author, Professor Andre Sourander from the University of Turku.

In previous work, the researchers had shown that vitamin D deficiency is also associated with increasede ADHD risk in the offspring. The serum samples were collected before the national recommendation for vitamin D supplementation during pregnancy was introduced in Finland. The current recommendation for pregnant women is a daily supplement of 10 micrograms of vitamin D throughout the year.

“Vitamin D deficiency is a major global problem,” Prof Sourander remarked.

Source: University of Turku

No Finding of Early Miscarriage Risk from COVID Vaccinations

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A new study has found no association between COVID vaccinations and risk of first-trimester miscarriages, providing further evidence of the safety of COVID vaccination during pregnancy. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Study co-author Dr Deshayne Fell said, “The study analysed several national health registries in Norway to compare the proportion of vaccinated women who experienced a miscarriage during the first trimester and women who were still pregnant at the end of the first trimester.”  Dr Fell, is Associate Professor in the School of Epidemiology and Public Health in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Medicine and a Scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute.

“Our study found no evidence of an increased risk for early pregnancy loss after COVID vaccination and adds to the findings from other reports supporting COVID vaccination during pregnancy,” the study authors wrote. 

“The findings are reassuring for women who were vaccinated early in pregnancy and support the growing evidence that COVID vaccination during pregnancy is safe.”

Dr Fell and colleagues found no relationship between the type of vaccine received and miscarriage. In Norway, the vaccines used included Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca.

“It is important that pregnant women are vaccinated since they have a higher risk of hospitalisations and COVID-complications, and their infants are at higher risk of being born too early. Also, vaccination during pregnancy is likely to provide protection to the newborn infant against COVID infection in the first months after birth,” the study authors stressed.

Source: University of Ottawa

Post-COVID Vaccination Menstrual Changes Investigated

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A paper awaiting peer review on the MedRxiv preprint server shows that menstrual changes in women receiving after the COVID vaccine are quite common.

Many people began sharing that they experienced unexpected menstrual bleeding after being vaccinated for COVID, an emerging phenomenon which was undeniable yet understudied.

Unfortunately, dismissal by medical experts fueled greater concerns, as both vaccine hesitant and anti-vaccine individuals and organisations began to conflate the possibility of short-term menstrual changes with long-term harms to fertility. Many influencers used this well-used framing of protecting women as a means of further anti-vaccine messages.

There are many plausible biological mechanisms that could explain a relationship between an acute immune challenge such as a vaccine, its corresponding and well-known systemic effects on haemostasis and inflammation, and menstrual repair mechanisms of the uterus. The uterine reproductive system is flexible and adaptable in the face of stressors. Examples include marathon running having short term influence on hormone concentrations in the short term; short-term calorie restriction that results in a loss of menstrual cycling can be overcome by resuming normal feeding; that inflammation influences ovarian hormones; and that psychosocial stressors can correspond to cycle irregularity and yet resilience can buffer one from these harms. Typhoid, Hepatitis B, HPV vaccines have all had menstrual irregularity associated with them.  

While sustained early stressors can influence adult hormone concentrations, short-term stressors resolve and do not produce long-term effects. This is quite different from the sustained immune assault of COVID itself: studies and anecdotal reports are already demonstrating that menstrual function may be disrupted long-term, particularly in those with long COVID.

In this sample, 42% of people with regular menstrual cycles bled more heavily than usual, while 44% reported no change, after being vaccinated. Among people who typically do not menstruate, 71% of people on long-acting reversible contraceptives, 39% of people on gender-affirming hormones, and 66% of post-menopausal people reported breakthrough bleeding. We found increased/breakthrough bleeding was significantly associated with age, other vaccine side effects such as fever or fatigue, history of pregnancy or birth, and ethnicity.

Many respondents who had post-vaccine changes did not have them until fourteen days or longer post-inoculation, which extends beyond the typical seven days of adverse symptom reporting in vaccine trials.

Source: MedRxiv