Perhaps to prime us for a lifetime of our children leaving things behind, it turns out that babies shed fetal cells before being born. These cells live inside the mother’s body, even years after a child has been delivered – meaning that as moms, we carry a physical piece of our babies with us wherever we go. Sounds sweet, doesn’t it?
Researchers don’t quite know what these cells mean for moms. One thought is that they exist to help ensure that mom’s body doesn’t reject a fetus – that instead of attacking it as foreign, her body helps to nurture growth and development. And it looks like baby’s cells are designed to return the favor, at least partially. Some studies have found that fetal cells help protect a woman against disease by essentially keeping watch for malignancy in mom’s body.
While there is much more work to be done in this area, preliminary research suggest that baby’s cells may help protect mom against certain diseases, such as cancer. When studying a mother with cancer, doctors have found baby’s DNA at the site of a tumor – rallying support to eradicate it.
But all of this cell-swapping may have a downside. On one hand, fetal DNA may help keep mom healthy – but on the other hand, it may help contribute to certain illnesses too. Autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and thyroid conditions are more prevalent in women of childbearing age. These disorders are caused by immune confusion, when the body begins to work against itself as if it were fighting off a foreign invader – such as another person’s blood cells.
Researchers have a lot of work ahead of them to fully understand what these cells could mean for moms. But for now, we’ll take this for what it is – a fascinating glimpse into the depths of the mom and baby connection.