Women spend forty weeks (give or take a few) trying to create the optimal healthy environment for their growing baby. It turns out that fetuses give a little something back to mom too in the form of migrating fetal cells — and the verdict is still out on whether these cells are good or bad for a mother’s health. A newly published study from Arizona State University found that cells from a growing fetus migrate from the placenta to places all over a woman’s body and can affect her health quickly or even decades after giving birth.

fetal cells, health, maternity, maternal health
Image © Jason Drees/Biodesign Institute

Some of the roles of these fetal cells appear to positive: they help promote bonding through regulating release of oxytocin, potentially aid in milk production, and can even help new moms heal (as evidenced through their presence in Cesarean section incisions). Fetal cells, however, may contribute to and potentially induce problems with inflammation and autoimmune responses since the mother’s system ends up “fighting” with these foreign fetal cells. For example, fetal cells are found more frequently in both the blood and tissue of women with thyroid diseases as compared with healthy women. Fetal cells may also be responsible for morning sickness, pre-eclampsia, or even early-onset menopause (thanks, baby!) In other areas such as the lungs, the fetal cells appear to remain neutral  and have no effect on a mother’s health. Scientists are hoping to further study this complex relationship further so that they can use this information to more effectively approach, understand, prevent, and treat diseases that affect women.

RELATED | Scientists Find Children’s Cells Living in Mothers’ Brains

via Fit Pregnancy

Lead image © MILA Zed via Shutterstock