Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Risky Business of Being Male

Foetus

Male and female babies may need to be treated differently in the neonatal intensive care unit.

By Vicki Clifton

Female babies are more likely to survive a stressful pregnancy.

A/Prof Vicki Clifton is NHMRC Research Fellow at the Robinson Institute, University of Adelaide.

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The earliest known English report of sex specific differences in foetal and neonatal outcomes was reported by Dr Josef Clarke in 1786. Clarke examined birth outcomes at the Lying-in Hospital in Dublin from 1757–84, recording the outcomes of more than 20,000 deliveries. He reported that male babies were more likely to die than females before and after birth.

These findings have been reported consistently in the literature to the present day. Males are 20% more likely to experience a poorer outcome during pregnancy than females, but we still don’t know why this occurs.

Our research group has been examining sex-specific mechanisms that affect the growth of male and female babies. We are interested in foetal growth because of its link to disease later in life.

Prof David Barker of the University of Southampton has reported that low birthweight babies (weighing less than 2500 g) are likely to die from complications related to diabetes and cardiovascular disease in old age. This suggests that what happens in the womb can determine what you die of in old age.

We are interested in what happens to female babies relative to male babies in the womb in the presence of a stress during pregnancy. The main stress we have studied is the impact of maternal asthma on the baby.

Effects of Maternal Asthma
Our studies of maternal...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.