Womb souvenir: When the baby gives back

By Nancy Nzalambi | Tue,Sep 07 2021 09:20:00 EAT

 If you have ever had a child, their cells could have developed to form part of your tissues (Shutterstock)

In the recent past, couples shared hilarious TikTok videos that challenged parents to run in opposite directions to see who their children ran after.

From my observation, children followed their mothers in 8 out of 10 videos. Pregnancy alone puts men at an obvious disadvantage in this case since it gives women a 9 month head start on parent-child bonding.

Motherhood takes a huge chunk of a woman’s life. It is documented by the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey that approximately one in four children, accounting for a pronounced 26 per cent of all children live apart from their fathers.

This only means that there is a societal expectation that mothers nurture and protect children for the better part of their lives.

It is perceivable that maternal responsibilities stay on for way longer after fertility years.

That is why most women experience the feeling of being part of their children long after birth and it turns out; there is a scientific reason for it.

Babies give mothers souvenirs from the womb

Did you know that each time a woman gets pregnant; she may acquire cells from her fetus?

These cells may disappear with time since the mother’s immune system destroys unchanged fetal cells after birth.

However, fetal cells that have already lodged into maternal tissues stay on for decades or even for the rest of her life.

Scientists have since the 1990s found interesting clues that indicate that fetal cells can escape from uterus and spread through the mother’s body.

Previously, it was only thought that only sons do transfer cells to their mothers after male DNA was found in mothers who previously gave birth to boys.

Part of the explanation is that sons’ DNA is easier to distinguish from those of the mother as compared to daughters. This is according to researchers at the Fred Hutchison Cancer Research Centre in Seattle.

If you have ever had a child, their cells could have developed to form part of your cardiac tissues. This mysterious phenomenon in known as fetal microchimerism; named after the mythical Greek beast — chimera — that was part goat, lion and dragon. This aspect has only been observed in placental mammals.

Mothers as potential reservoirs

Microchimerism gets compounded when a mother carries multiple pregnancies. This means that the mother harvests cells from each baby.

It is possible that mothers can transfer such blueprints from older children to their younger siblings.

So, pregnancy changes a woman. It makes her a mother and also gives her a unique combination of cells like some sort of a “chimera”.

A mother may spend the rest of her life having cells that are not her own, but those of her children. A mother “carries” a piece of each of her children long after giving birth.

Is foetal microchimerasm good or bad?

Both fetus and its mother help each other survive during pregnancy. Their interactions are mainly cooperative as both parties are interested in one another’s wellbeing.

As the mother supplies nutrients and oxygen to the growing fetus, protects it from infections, fetal stem cells have been found to respond to injury signals in the mother and play a significant role in tissue regeneration.

Fetal cells may also develop into cells needed by the mother such as heart cells, brain cells and different kinds of cells on the immune system. This is because of their pluripotent nature, like stem cells that can grow into different types of tissues.

As published in the journal Bioessays, fetuses do influence their mothers’ biology from within.

It is also a paradox that some fetal cells have been found in tumors of the cervix, thyroid, breast and skin; raising questions that they could influence the development of some types of cancer.

Scientific papers on PubMed also indicate that fetal microchimerism has been linked to pregnancy complications such as miscarriage, preeclampsia, premature birth, genetic conditions e.g. Down Syndrome and autoimmune diseases.

What fetal microchimerism means to your health according to Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre

Diabetes: Dr J Lee Nelson and her research team have found maternal cells in the pancreases of children with type 1 diabetes.

These foreign cells, far from triggering the disease, develop into functioning pancreas cells that produce insulin, implying that the mothers’ cells may be attempting to heal diabetic children from within.

Preeclampsia: Recently, Dr Hilary Gammill found that fetal cells are present more often and in higher numbers in pregnant women with preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous complication of pregnancy in which the placenta doesn’t work as it should.

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