Male babies are more susceptible to potentially fatal complications at birth than females, new research from the University of Adelaide has found.
The first study of its kind in Australia observed the outcomes of 574,000 South Australian babies over a 30-year period and confirmed there were differences based on a baby’s sex.
Professor Claire Roberts from the University’s Robinson Research Institute found the evidence was “there and very clear”.
“Boys are more likely to be born spontaneous pre-term,” she said.
The study found boys were 27 per cent more likely than girls to be born prematurely between 20 and 24 weeks’ gestation, 24 per cent at 30 to 33 weeks, and 17 per cent at 34 to 36 weeks.
Mothers carrying boys were 4 per cent more likely to suffer gestational diabetes and 7.5 per cent more likely to suffer pre-eclampsia at term.
Mothers carrying girls, however, had 22 per cent higher chance of early onset pre-eclampsia resulting in a premature birth.
The research team included the University of Groningen (UOG) in the Netherlands and SA Health’s Pregnancy Outcome Unit.
It looked at the effects of a baby’s sex on potentially life threatening outcomes like premature birth, pregnancy-induced high blood pressure disorders and gestational diabetes mellitus.
Sex-specified interventions a possibility
Doctor Preta Verburg from UOG, based currently at the Robinson Institute, said there might be a need for “specific interventions for male and female babies to prevent adverse outcomes”.
“We’re investigating other factors that may predict pregnancy complications, taking foetal sex into account.”
Professor Roberts said the team’s previous research had shown there were genetic differences in the placenta between boys and girls, which could explain the differences in outcomes for girls and boys.
“I think what this research is showing is there are genetic factors that contribute to pregnancy complications and they push to different pathways that might push a pregnancy into a complication,” Professor Roberts said.
“What it will do is target investigations into what really causes pregnancy complications.”