I’ve always felt that pregnancy is not a time to make any big changes. I’ve seen people move to entirely different states and jobs when they were pregnant. The idea, I suppose, is to make improvements before the baby arrives. I just don’t handle stress very well. Our immune systems weaken while we are pregnant so that our bodies don’t reject the babies as you know. So I’ve always chosen to just sit tight and focus completely on gestating. The idea of trying to fit into a new social environment was just too overwhelming. I just came across a primate study that was published this month that substantiated my previously unwarranted concerns.
This study, published by the University of Chicago, is absolutely remarkable. Researchers looked at how monkeys immune systems changed based on changes in their within her social environment. It said that the stress accompanying social status dramatically alters the expression of nearly 1,000 genes. Over 100 of these genes had to do with immune functioning! Monkeys that had lower social status had compromised immune function. I would never have thought it possible, but when a female’s social rank improved, her gene expression also changed within a few weeks.
Female monkeys that were new to the social group had actual changes in genetic expression as a result of their lower social rank and stress. These changes in genetic expression related to compromised immune functioning.
“In the wild, females would not ordinarily leave the social group they were born into,” said the lead researcher, Dr. jenny Tung, “They inherit their social rank from their mothers. But in this unnatural situation, order of introduction determines rank — the newcomer is generally lower status.”
I suppose for women who make friends quickly and find their place within their peer groups rapidly, this study wouldn’t matter much. For women who take some extra time getting acquainted though, this study might shed some light on why making a big move during pregnancy might not be a good choice during pregnancy, when the immune system is already on vacation.
P.S. It also explains why I always get sick one week into starting a new job.