UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Beyond Sex Differences : Short and Long-Term Implications of Motherhood on Women’s Health Galea, Liisa A. M.; Qiu, Wansu; Duarte-Guterman, Paula


Sex differences exist in development, physiology, behaviour, disease prevalence, manifestation, and outcome. It is vitally important to consider sex differences in research towards a better understanding of precision medicine for both men and women. However, for substantial progress in women’s health we need to acknowledge that female physiology is different from males and uniquely female experiences such as pregnancy and motherhood can affect the physiology of females. Pregnancy is associated with dramatic changes in physiology (cardiac, pulmonary, immune, and metabolic) and endocrinology (steroids and peptide hormones, many of which are unique to pregnancy). Thus, it is not surprising that there can be repercussions both in the short and in the long-term for the health of the female. Here, we discuss research demonstrating that pregnancy and the postpartum period are associated with changes in neuroplasticity and cognition, and a greater risk of developing certain mental health disorders with some of these effects having lifelong consequences. As a potential implication, we also discuss how drug treatments may work differently in parous women. Finally, we argue that, in addition to sex differences, the physiological challenges unique to women need to be taken into consideration for a better understanding of women’s physiology and disease.

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