White blood cells in pregnancy: reference intervals for before and after delivery.
Dockree S., Shine B., Pavord S., Impey L., Vatish M.
BackgroundWhite blood cells (WBC) are commonly measured to investigate suspected infection and inflammation in pregnant women, but the pregnancy-specific reference interval is variably reported, increasing diagnostic uncertainty in this high-risk population. It is essential that clinicians can interpret WBC results in the context of normal pregnant physiology, given the huge global burden of infection on maternal mortality.MethodsWe performed a longitudinal, repeated measures population study of 24,318 pregnant women in Oxford, UK, to map the trajectory of WBC between 8-40 weeks of gestation. We defined 95% reference intervals (RI) for total WBC, neutrophils, lymphocytes, eosinophils, basophils, and monocytes for the antenatal and postnatal periods.FindingsWBC were measured 80,637 times over five years. The upper reference limit for total WBC was elevated by 36% in pregnancy (RI 5.7-15.0×109/L), driven by a 55% increase in neutrophils (3.7-11.6×109/L) and 38% increase in monocytes (0.3-1.1×109/L), which remained stable between 8-40 weeks. Lymphocytes were reduced by 36% (1.0-2.9×109/L), while eosinophils and basophils were unchanged. Total WBC was elevated significantly further from the first day after birth (similar regardless of the mode of delivery), which resolved to pre-delivery levels by an average of seven days, and to pre-pregnancy levels by day 21.InterpretationThere are marked changes in WBC in pregnancy, with substantial differences between cell subtypes. WBC are measured frequently in pregnant women in obstetric and non-obstetric settings, and results should be interpreted using a pregnancy-specific RI until delivery, and between days 7-21 after childbirth.FundingNone.