Science has brought us so many things: exploding hoverboards and terrifying information about the Zika virus, for instance. It also provides us with unique insights into parenting issues that moms and dads experience. Among those? The long-term effects moms face as a direct result of incubating and delivering a son or a daughter. Forget the commonly held stereotypes surrounding the differences of mothering a boy versus mothering a girl. Here's what science has to say about it all.
And not in the "ha-ha, these boys will drive me to an early grave" way, either. The study responsible for this bleak little piece of information was published in science journal Biology Letters by a group of Scandinavian researchers and found that for each son a woman had, her life expectancy decreased by 7 percent. There is some good news, though: The study mostly looked at women from pre-industrial Finland, so few of the study's maternal participants were born after 1950, and a lot has changed since then.
Not long ago, science gave us a surprising insight: The children we are pregnant with leave a little something behind — their unique DNA. It's an interesting little phenomenon known as microchimerism. When a group of scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and University of Washington autopsied the brains of 59 women, they found an interesting correlation: Women who had more male DNA in their brains were less likely to also have the brain degeneration indicative of Alzheimer's disease.
It's a tenuous connection, but it could suggest that with each son you have, you also gain a little more protection from the neurological disease.
So how about having a daughter? Well, the good news is that she's unlikely to shorten your lifespan the same way her brother might. The bad news is if you have a girl first, she might just increase your chances of divorcing your spouse.
We've historically chalked that up to social conditioning — namely, the idea that men are more likely to stick around for their sons than their daughters — but a group of researchers who published a paper in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 2001 thinks we may have had it backward all along.
They found that female embryos are more likely to survive in the womb when their mother experiences stressful situations. So the researchers posited that in situations where a couple had a less-than-stellar relationship before getting pregnant, Mom's stress meant that any embryo that implanted was more likely to survive if it was a girl.
Nine months later, a daughter is born, and if the relationship is still rocky, it was as likely to end in divorce as it would have with a son anyway.
Not every parenting study that's useful or interesting to us is done using human subjects. Sometimes we look to chimpanzees, our closest primate cousins, to understand how chimp behavior informs our own. That's just what a group of researchers did when they looked at a group of chimpanzees in Tanzania. They found that mothers of male chimps were more likely to be outgoing and social.
They posited that this is because in the chimp social hierarchy, males interact more often than females, so chimp mothers give them a social head start by modeling how it's done. How does this relate to human moms? Those same researchers pointed out the similarity to their research and a previous study that showed that "boys with more parent-initiated interactions have greater peer acceptance and lower levels of rejection; however, this advantage is not true for girls."
Supporting that very first study (the one that says sons give you shorter lifespans) was one done using 111 women volunteer participants over the age of 90. To understand it, you need to know that as we age, our tissues become inflamed and degenerate in a process known as inflammaging. What researchers found is that in their group of participants, women with sons had higher levels of C-reactive proteins, a marker for inflammaging agents. The more sons, the higher the levels of those proteins.
Huh. Maybe sons do give you premature wrinkles after all.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism is the largest and most human-focused one on this list, with data on 643,000 women who gave birth for the first time between 2000 and 2010. The researchers were looking for more information on the incidence of gestational diabetes in pregnant women, and they definitely found it.
Your body changes a lot when you're pregnant, but the changes that can put you in the GD club, like 9 percent of all pregnant women, are metabolic ones. When the study found that women pregnant with male fetuses were more likely to deal with GD, they concluded that male fetuses impacted metabolic changes more dramatically.
In that same study, researchers did uncover something surprising. In cases where the mother was pregnant with a girl and tested positive for gestational diabetes, it didn't end there. Those women were more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes later in life.
The conclusion? Those mothers had underlying metabolic issues that increased their risk of diabetes, in spite of fetus sex as opposed to because of it.
A fascinating study published in Molecular Human Reproduction two years ago gave us some food for thought. It turns out that when an embryo has two X chromosomes, the uterus is a much friendlier place.
It all starts in the placenta, apparently. One of the researchers, Sam Buckberry, summed it up like this: "... With female babies, there is much higher expression of genes involved in placental development, the maintenance of pregnancy, and maternal immune tolerance..." Basically, that just means that a pregnant body carrying a girl works overtime to "express" or produce baby-friendly placental genes.
Because of this, girls are less likely to be premature, stillborn or to be especially large for their gestational age, leading to an easier pregnancy and delivery.
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