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Lower Oxygen Levels during Pregnancy Linked to Congenital Birth Defects


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A new study indicates that oxygen deprivation during the fetal stage can increase the risk of birth defects. According to the study, pregnant women who have a history of congenital birth defects in the family could reduce the risk of having a baby with birth defects by avoiding activities that lower fetal oxygen levels.

According to Australian researchers, a number of birth defects that range all the way from cardiac abnormalities to spinal defects could be the result of low oxygen levels in the fetal stage. These lowered oxygen levels during the early stages of pregnancy could possibly trigger processes that cause these defects.

The oxygen deprivation, even if it lasts for a few hours, can modify the function of the genes, especially those genes that are related to cell division. This could cause possible mutations in the cell divisions, leading to birth defects like malformed body parts.

The researchers experimented with lab mice and found that when these mice were exposed to lower levels of oxygen, their risk of suffering an abnormality was much higher compared to mice that did not suffer such oxygen deprivation. The increase in risk was up to 10 times. The mice were exposed to oxygen deprivation were found to be more likely to have offspring with malformed tails.

Pregnant women, who engage in certain activities that lower the fetal oxygen levels, could place the baby at a high risk of such birth defects. For instance, if a pregnant woman travels to high altitudes, it could cause a drop in fetal oxygen levels. Women who are on certain drugs to treat cardiac conditions may also be at such risk. Additionally, the fetuses of women who suffer from low iron levels, or high blood sugar levels, could also be at risk of suffering from oxygen deprivation.