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Concept: Childbirth


In the third trimester of pregnancy, the human fetus has the capacity to process perceptual information [1-3]. With advances in 4D ultrasound technology, detailed assessment of fetal behavior [4] is now possible. Furthermore, modeling of intrauterine conditions has indicated a substantially greater luminance within the uterus than previously thought [5]. Consequently, light conveying perceptual content could be projected through the uterine wall and perceived by the fetus, dependent on how light interfaces with maternal tissue. We do know that human infants at birth show a preference to engage with a top-heavy, face-like stimulus when contrasted with all other forms of stimuli [6, 7]. However, the viability of performing such an experiment based on visual stimuli projected through the uterine wall with fetal participants is not currently known. We examined fetal head turns to visually presented upright and inverted face-like stimuli. Here we show that the fetus in the third trimester of pregnancy is more likely to engage with upright configural stimuli when contrasted to inverted visual stimuli, in a manner similar to results with newborn participants. The current study suggests that postnatal experience is not required for this preference. In addition, we describe a new method whereby it is possible to deliver specific visual stimuli to the fetus. This new technique provides an important new pathway for the assessment of prenatal visual perceptual capacities.

Concepts: 3D ultrasound, Abortion, Infant, Embryo, Childbirth, Uterus, Fetus, Pregnancy


In early 2015, an outbreak of Zika virus, a flavivirus transmitted by Aedes mosquitoes, was identified in northeast Brazil, an area where dengue virus was also circulating. By September, reports of an increase in the number of infants born with microcephaly in Zika virus-affected areas began to emerge, and Zika virus RNA was identified in the amniotic fluid of two women whose fetuses had been found to have microcephaly by prenatal ultrasound. The Brazil Ministry of Health (MoH) established a task force to investigate the possible association of microcephaly with Zika virus infection during pregnancy and a registry for incident microcephaly cases (head circumference ≥2 standard deviations [SD] below the mean for sex and gestational age at birth) and pregnancy outcomes among women suspected to have had Zika virus infection during pregnancy. Among a cohort of 35 infants with microcephaly born during August-October 2015 in eight of Brazil’s 26 states and reported to the registry, the mothers of all 35 had lived in or visited Zika virus-affected areas during pregnancy, 25 (71%) infants had severe microcephaly (head circumference >3 SD below the mean for sex and gestational age), 17 (49%) had at least one neurologic abnormality, and among 27 infants who had neuroimaging studies, all had abnormalities. Tests for other congenital infections were negative. All infants had a lumbar puncture as part of the evaluation and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples were sent to a reference laboratory in Brazil for Zika virus testing; results are not yet available. Further studies are needed to confirm the association of microcephaly with Zika virus infection during pregnancy and to understand any other adverse pregnancy outcomes associated with Zika virus infection. Pregnant women in Zika virus-affected areas should protect themselves from mosquito bites by using air conditioning, screens, or nets when indoors, wearing long sleeves and pants, using permethrin-treated clothing and gear, and using insect repellents when outdoors. Pregnant and lactating women can use all U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered insect repellents according to the product label.

Concepts: Childbirth, Dengue fever, Gestational age, Embryo, Obstetrics, Mosquito, Fetus, Pregnancy


In collaboration with state, tribal, local, and territorial health departments, CDC established the U.S. Zika Pregnancy Registry (USZPR) in early 2016 to monitor pregnant women with laboratory evidence of possible recent Zika virus infection and their infants.

Concepts: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Breastfeeding, Infant, Fetus, Pregnancy, Childbirth


Reduction of preterm births (<37 completed weeks of gestation) would substantially reduce neonatal and infant mortality, and deleterious health effects in survivors. Maternal fine particulate matter (PM2.5) exposure has been identified as a possible risk factor contributing to preterm birth. The aim of this study was to produce the first estimates of ambient PM2.5-associated preterm births for 183 individual countries and globally. To do this, national, population-weighted, annual average ambient PM2.5 concentration, preterm birth rate and number of livebirths were combined to calculate the number of PM2.5-associated preterm births in 2010 for 183 countries. Uncertainty was quantified using Monte-Carlo simulations, and analyses were undertaken to investigate the sensitivity of PM2.5-associated preterm birth estimates to assumptions about the shape of the concentration-response function at low and high PM2.5 exposures, inclusion of provider-initiated preterm births, and exposure to indoor air pollution. Globally, in 2010, the number of PM2.5-associated preterm births was estimated as 2.7 million (1.8-3.5 million, 18% (12-24%) of total preterm births globally) with a low concentration cut-off (LCC) set at 10μgm(-3), and 3.4 million (2.4-4.2 million, 23% (16-28%)) with a LCC of 4.3μgm(-3). South and East Asia, North Africa/Middle East and West sub-Saharan Africa had the largest contribution to the global total, and the largest percentage of preterm births associated with PM2.5. Sensitivity analyses showed that PM2.5-associated preterm birth estimates were 24% lower when provider-initiated preterm births were excluded, 38-51% lower when risk was confined to the PM2.5 exposure range in the studies used to derive the effect estimate, and 56% lower when mothers who live in households that cook with solid fuels (and whose personal PM2.5 exposure is likely dominated by indoor air pollution) were excluded. The concentration-response function applied here derives from a meta-analysis of studies, most of which were conducted in the US and Europe, and its application to the areas of the world where we estimate the greatest effects on preterm births remains uncertain. Nevertheless, the substantial percentage of preterm births estimated to be associated with anthropogenic PM2.5 (18% (13%-24%) of total preterm births globally) indicates that reduction of maternal PM2.5 exposure through emission reduction strategies should be considered alongside mitigation of other risk factors associated with preterm births.

Concepts: Risk, Infant, Dust, Smog, Mathematics, Childbirth, Particulate, Air pollution


Preterm birth (PTB) rates (11.4% in 2013) in the United States (US) remain high and are a substantial cause of morbidity. Studies of prenatal exposure have associated particulate matter <2.5microns in diameter (PM2.5) and other ambient air pollutants with adverse birth outcomes, yet, to our knowledge, burden and costs of PM 2.5-attributable PTB have not been estimated in the US.

Concepts: Childbirth, Dust, Humid subtropical climate, Smog, Air pollution, Particulate, Volcano, United States


An infant born to a woman with human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) infection began receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) 30 hours after birth owing to high-risk exposure. ART was continued when detection of HIV-1 DNA and RNA on repeat testing met the standard diagnostic criteria for infection. After therapy was discontinued (when the child was 18 months of age), levels of plasma HIV-1 RNA, proviral DNA in peripheral-blood mononuclear cells, and HIV-1 antibodies, as assessed by means of clinical assays, remained undetectable in the child through 30 months of age. This case suggests that very early ART in infants may alter the establishment and long-term persistence of HIV-1 infection.

Concepts: Childbirth, Protein, Gene, Bacteria, Immune system, AIDS, Virus, HIV


Background Preterm preeclampsia is an important cause of maternal and perinatal death and complications. It is uncertain whether the intake of low-dose aspirin during pregnancy reduces the risk of preterm preeclampsia. Methods In this multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, we randomly assigned 1776 women with singleton pregnancies who were at high risk for preterm preeclampsia to receive aspirin, at a dose of 150 mg per day, or placebo from 11 to 14 weeks of gestation until 36 weeks of gestation. The primary outcome was delivery with preeclampsia before 37 weeks of gestation. The analysis was performed according to the intention-to-treat principle. Results A total of 152 women withdrew consent during the trial, and 4 were lost to follow up, which left 798 participants in the aspirin group and 822 in the placebo group. Preterm preeclampsia occurred in 13 participants (1.6%) in the aspirin group, as compared with 35 (4.3%) in the placebo group (odds ratio in the aspirin group, 0.38; 95% confidence interval, 0.20 to 0.74; P=0.004). Results were materially unchanged in a sensitivity analysis that took into account participants who had withdrawn or were lost to follow-up. Adherence was good, with a reported intake of 85% or more of the required number of tablets in 79.9% of the participants. There were no significant between-group differences in the incidence of neonatal adverse outcomes or other adverse events. Conclusions Treatment with low-dose aspirin in women at high risk for preterm preeclampsia resulted in a lower incidence of this diagnosis than placebo. (Funded by the European Union Seventh Framework Program and the Fetal Medicine Foundation; EudraCT number, 2013-003778-29 ; Current Controlled Trials number, ISRCTN13633058 .).

Concepts: European Union, Uterus, Placebo, Obstetrics, Embryo, Pregnancy, Childbirth, Fetus


Preterm birth is the most common single cause of perinatal and infant mortality, affecting 15 million infants worldwide each year with global rates increasing. Understanding of risk factors remains poor, and preventive interventions have only limited benefit. Large differences exist in preterm birth rates across high income countries. We hypothesized that understanding the basis for these wide variations could lead to interventions that reduce preterm birth incidence in countries with high rates. We thus sought to assess the contributions of known risk factors for both spontaneous and provider-initiated preterm birth in selected high income countries, estimating also the potential impact of successful interventions due to advances in research, policy and public health, or clinical practice.

Concepts: Perinatal mortality, Medical statistics, Infant mortality, Infant, Human Development Index, Epidemiology, Preterm birth, Childbirth


The strikingly high incidence of obstructed labor due to the disproportion of fetal size and the mother’s pelvic dimensions has puzzled evolutionary scientists for decades. Here we propose that these high rates are a direct consequence of the distinct characteristics of human obstetric selection. Neonatal size relative to the birth-relevant maternal dimensions is highly variable and positively associated with reproductive success until it reaches a critical value, beyond which natural delivery becomes impossible. As a consequence, the symmetric phenotype distribution cannot match the highly asymmetric, cliff-edged fitness distribution well: The optimal phenotype distribution that maximizes population mean fitness entails a fraction of individuals falling beyond the “fitness edge” (i.e., those with fetopelvic disproportion). Using a simple mathematical model, we show that weak directional selection for a large neonate, a narrow pelvic canal, or both is sufficient to account for the considerable incidence of fetopelvic disproportion. Based on this model, we predict that the regular use of Caesarean sections throughout the last decades has led to an evolutionary increase of fetopelvic disproportion rates by 10 to 20%.

Concepts: Caesarean section, Pregnancy, Gene, Evolutionary biology, Fitness, Evolution, Childbirth, Natural selection


Newborn telomere length sets telomere length for later life. At birth, telomere length is highly variable among newborns and the environmental factors during in utero life for this observation remain largely unidentified. Obesity during pregnancy might reflect an adverse nutritional status affecting pregnancy and offspring outcomes, but the association of maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) with newborn telomere length, as a mechanism of maternal obesity, on the next generation has not been addressed.

Concepts: Mass, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Nutrition, Breastfeeding, Childbirth, Obesity, Infant, Body mass index