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Pregnant Athlete: Dispelling Myths Series, #2

A pregnant woman's immune system is suppressed throughout pregnancy.



In sources as diverse as the ever-incorrect What To Expect When You're Expecting to Science Daily, people positioned as experts on pregnancy trot out the same fallacy about womens' delicate immune systems. As you likely gathered from my previous post on this topic, advice that runs contrary to scientific fact (as established by peer-reviewed research) just rankles me.

So instead of continue to allow misogynists such as What To Expect and Science Daily to treat the female physiology as though it were some fragile instrument, I'll allow an excerpt from Gil Mor and Ingrid Cardenas' 2011 paper entitled "The Immune System in Pregnancy: A Unique Complexity" to do the talking:

Is the systemic immunity of the mother suppressed? Although we can find numerous studies describing the factors inducing immune suppression (including progesterone, defined as the natural immune suppressor), medical and evolutionary aspects are against the concept of immune suppression. Pregnancy represents the most important period for the conservation of the species, therefore it is fundamental to strengthen all the means to protect the mother and the offspring. The immune system is one of the most important systems protecting the mother against the environment and preventing damage to the fetus. It is during pregnancy when the maternal immune system is characterized by a reinforced network of recognition, communication, trafficking and repair; it is able to raise the alarm, if necessary, to maintain the well-being of the mother and the fetus. On the other side is the fetus that, without any doubt, provides a developing active immune system that will modify the way the mother responds to the environment, providing the uniqueness of the immune system during pregnancy. Therefore, it is appropriate to refer to pregnancy as a unique immune condition that is modulated, but not suppressed.

This unique behavior explains why pregnant women respond differently to the presence of microorganisms or its products. Therefore, pregnancy should not imply more susceptibility to infectious diseases, instead there is a modulation of the immune system which leads to differential responses depending not only on the microorganisms, but on the stages of the pregnancy.


So, instead of continuing to falsely believe in maternal immune system suppression, let's begin to rethink the function of the altered immune system during pregnancy. The changes a mother's body experiences during pregnancy in fact allows a more sophisticated immune response and deeper cellular-level discernment in the face of immunologic threats.

This doesn't sound weak to me, this sounds downright superhuman.