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Your Healthy Family: Women pregnant with boys mount fewer antibodies to COVID-19 infection

Posted at 7:24 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 07:29:59-04

A new study shows an unborn baby's sex affects his or her mom's immune response to a COVID-19 infection, and women pregnant with boys could face even greater risks.

Medical experts have said pregnant women are three times more likely to wind up in the ICU if they get infected with COVID-19, and nearly twice as likely to die from the virus, compared to women who aren't pregnant.

Research out of Harvard shows the sex of the unborn baby affects the mother's immune response. They found after a COVID-19 infection, women carrying boys produced significantly fewer protective antibodies than women carrying girls.

"If you're pregnant, you're at high risk. I think whether or not you're carrying a boy versus a girl may maybe slightly modifies that risk, but the risk to you is so much higher than a non-pregnant person of your age, and that that will trump everything," Dr. Andrea Edlow, one of the study's Co-Authors, said.

Dr. Edlow's team found the placenta protecting baby boys gets more revved up and activated when there's an infection during pregnancy, and that leads to inflammation. She said based on what we know from past pandemics, that could have long term health effects for the baby.

"Including things as extreme as schizophrenia, or things like autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or even subtle learning difficulties in school, like problems with reading and math," Dr. Edlow said.

The study found women carrying boys transferred fewer antibodies to their baby after a COVID-19 infection, making boys potentially less protected after birth. Researchers are still studying whether the baby's sex affects the strength of the COVID-19 vaccine response, but Dr. Edlow said getting the vaccine is the best thing for you and your baby, whether you're having a boy or girl.

"When moms get vaccinated, their antibody levels are through the roof compared to what they get from natural infection, and so that will definitely result in more being transferred to the baby, and more protection for your baby," Dr. Edlow said.

From children to adults, males of all ages have been hit harder by COVID-19, and this new research could help explain why.