Fetal cells integrate into a mother’s body with important positive effects.

For your Just Too Cool file.

A reader sent me a link to an article about the integration of fetal cells into the mother’s body and vice versa.  The content of the article is excerpted from a book called Do Chocolate Lovers Have Sweeter Babies?: The Surprising Science of Pregnancy by Jena Pinctott, who also did the aforementioned excerpting.

Here is a portion with my emphases and comments.. I love the title of the article, which is a riff on an old scripture of the feminist movement’s canon:

Our Selves, Other Cells
By Jena Pincott at 6:00 am Tuesday, Jan 3

Living With Someone Else’s Cells

Is it any solace to sentimental mothers that their babies will always be part of them?


Of course, we nosy mothers would like to know exactly what our children’s cells are up to while they hang out in us. Are they just biding time in our bodies? Are they mother’s little helpers? Or are they baby rebels, planning an insurgency? [Is that the argument of some of the pro-abortion advocates?  That the baby is an an “invader” whom a woman has a right to fight off?]

It turns out that when fetal cells are good, they are very, very good. They may protect mothers from some forms of cancer. Fetal cells show up significantly more often in the breast tissue of women who don’t have breast cancer than in women who do (43 versus 14 percent). Why is this? Fetal cells are foreign to the mother because they contain DNA from the baby’s father. One theory is that this “otherness” stimulates the mother’s immune system just enough to help keep malignant cells in check. The more fetal cells there are in a woman’s body, the less active are autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. These conditions improve during pregnancy and for some time afterward — suggesting that the mother’s immune system is more focused on attacking the “other,” not herself. There’s also tantalizing evidence that fetal cells may offer the mother increased resistance to certain diseases, thanks to the presence of the father’s immune system genes. These are new weapons in the war chest.

Some fetal cells have the potential to grow up and be anything. While many of the cells that enter the mother are immune system cells, some are stem cells. [Sounds like the only legitimate form of embryonic stem cell therapy.  I wouldn’t push that analogy, however, since therapy implies an illness.  Pregnancy is NOT an illness, which is an argument of the pro-abortion people.] Stem cells have magical properties: they can morph into other types of cells (a process called differentiation), like liver, heart, or brain cells, and become part of those organs. Fetal stem cells migrate to injury sites—for instance, they’ve been found in diseased thyroid and liver tissue and have turned themselves into thyroid and liver cells respectively. At the triage sites of wounds they accelerate healing, reducing scars after pregnancy and restoring the normal structure of the skin. It’s striking, the evidence that a fetus’s cells repair and rejuvenate moms. Of course, evolutionarily speaking, the baby has its own interests in mind. It needs a healthy mom.

Then there’s baby on the brain. This is the truly startling stuff. Researchers working with mice have found evidence that cells from the fetus can cross a mother’s brain-blood barrier and generate new neurons. If this happens in humans—and there’s reason to believe it does—then it means, in a very real sense, that our babies integrate themselves into the circuitry of our minds. Could this help explain the remarkable finding that new mothers grow new gray matter in their prefrontal cortex (goals and social control), hypothalamus (hormonal regulation), and other areas of the brain?


You can read the rest there.

Very cool stuff.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Legisperitus says:

    I had read something about this elsewhere, and also that some of the mother’s cells remain in the child’s body throughout life. Underscores the importance of the Immaculate Conception.

  2. I’m pregnant with my first, and I recently read “What to Eat When You’re Expecting.” There was a section in there about how eating for two doesn’t just mean eating extra because you’re hungry, but eating extra for the baby’s development. See, the mother’s body will always take care of her first, and the baby gets what’s left over. (Which is why I need to consume 300 more calories a day than normal.) This runs contrary to the pro-abortionist argument of the baby being a parasite that sucks all of the nutrients it needs from the mother, to her detriment.

  3. dmwallace says:

    It turns out, however, that fetal cells can also cause an allergic reaction in the mother. When my wife was pregnant with our first child she developed pruritic urticarial papules and plaques of pregnancy, or PUPPP for short:


    Though the Wiki article doesn’t mention it, our OBGYN informed us that the most recent data indicates that the unborn child’s DNA, esp. if he’s a boy, “infiltrates” the mother’s skin and will cause an allergic reaction in the stretch marks. My wife suffered terribly from intense itching, of which there was no good remedy…except giving birth.

  4. Mary Ann says:

    Please, where is the article located, Father? I just see a link to the Amazon book offering.

  5. lucy says:

    Great article. But, on a funnier note, I’d just like the brain cells back that my five children took from me whilst in the womb. Why do so many of us feel dumber after having children?

  6. Clinton says:

    Legisperitus makes a good point about the Immaculate Conception. It’s also true then that
    Mary would still have a portion of her Son within her throughout her life– in effect, she would
    be a tabernacle even after Jesus’ birth. I think that would fit with the dogmas of her perpetual
    sinlessness and her assumption.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    My son says he knew this all the time….on eighth of my family is Jewish.

  8. Supertradmum says:

    sorry an, I have been ill for four days and still under the weather so excuse excess of errors. Still part Jewish on my mother’s side…

  9. Philangelus says:

    It was a comfort to me after my daughter died that some part of her was still alive in me. They knew the cells migrated eleven years ago; I don’t think they knew at the time that the cells were active in the mother’s body.

    @Legisperitus, I had a similar thought: part of Jesus was still alive in Mary afterward, and therefore it was fitting for her to be Assumed into Heaven rather than left in a grave. ( Also, the mother passes the fetal cells on to children in subsequent pregnancies; therefore if Mary had children after Jesus, as some Protestant denominations believe, those individuals would also have had Jesus’s cells in them, which starts to get a little strange.)

  10. Jeremiah says:

    I don’t know, Father, I think the stem cell therapy analogy holds. The pregnancy isn’t the illness, it’s the therapy – being the source of the therapeutic agents.

    @Legisperitus – indeed, although there’s something else interesting here too. Mary would have been the only genetic contributor, so Jesus’ DNA (save the fact that he had a Y chromosome) would be identical to Mary’s, right? So in giving herself to her Son, He gave her back herself, just as when we give ourselves to God, He gives us back ourselves, in the plan He has.

  11. alanphipps says:

    Clinton said,

    “in effect, she would be a tabernacle even after Jesus’ birth.”

    I don’t know if we can say that. She may have integrated cells from Christ during pregnancy, no doubt contributing to her physical integrity and wholeness, but I don’t believe it’s accurate to suggest that Christ was still physically present (body, blood, soul, divinity) in her after she gave birth to Him. That she was a tabernacle prior to His birth, there is no doubt. Nevertheless, it is certainly fitting that she should be aided by Christ whilst in the womb.

  12. Jeremiah says:


    Pregnancy, it’s good for what ails ya!

  13. pfreddys says:

    This certainly shines a new light on the horror of abortion!

  14. Johnno says:

    I’d read about many supposed benefits of pregnancy. From helping to prevent cancers, particularly breast cancer thanks to nursing the baby. Also I’d heard that as you give birth to more children, the chances of getting pregnant again drop significantly, so having children is also a natural ‘birth control’ method in a manner of speaking… Of course it will be variable as to how many children one can have, but I find it interesting that couples who have children can then enjoy more frequent sex with decreased chances of pregnancy without breaking the moral law. We should start a list of these things. No doubt someone somewhere already has…

  15. Supplex says:

    You mean I have 3 alien cells inside of me? Because I know my kids sometimes act like aliens.

  16. biberin says:

    Lucy, your gestating and nursing babies likely depleted your stores of omega-3 fatty acids for their brain development, to the detriment of your own brain :) Fish oil is your friend.

    I have several times used this cell explanation as a rebuttal to Protestants who do not care for Marian doctrines, and they “get it” in a way that surprises all of us.

  17. Slappo says:

    RebeccaDeVendra says:
    I’m pregnant with my first, and I recently read “What to Eat When You’re Expecting.” There was a section in there about how eating for two doesn’t just mean eating extra because you’re hungry, but eating extra for the baby’s development. See, the mother’s body will always take care of her first, and the baby gets what’s left over.

    Actually it is quite the opposite. The mother’s body will nourish the baby first, and only secondarily nourish itself. If the mother’s body nourished the mother first I don’t know how many babies would survive the horrible morning sickness some women get. My wife lost over 15lbs the first 3 months because her morning sickness was so bad. Our mid-wives kept telling us that she should eat whatever she can get down even if it only stays down for a little bit as the majority of all nutrients will go to the baby first.

  18. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    My wife has coeliac desease. It went into remission during each of her pregnancies. We ate out a lot, pizza and Chinese, during those pregnancies!

  19. Legisperitus says:

    @ Jeremiah – Just riffing on that a little more, it’s a lot like the life of the Trinity where God the Father gives Himself to God the Son, Who gives that same Self back to the Father. (And the Self exchanged between them is the Holy Ghost.) It’s interesting to think that Mary is drawn into a similar relationship with her Son, initiated by that same Holy Ghost.

  20. beccab77 says:

    More reasons for victims of rape/incest should carry their babies to term!!

  21. GeekLady says:

    Argh! Stem cells do not have magical properties! They are perfectly natural in origin and behavior, and our imperfect understanding of them doesn’t make them ‘magic’!!!

    Excuse me while I go bang my head against a wall.

  22. Maltese says:

    This is a great article, but I think the best thing about having kids, frankly, is having kids!

    In the past, many birthed children and birthing mothers died in the process, so we shouldn’t conflate pregnancy with therapy. Rather, the generation of life should be its own reward.

    However, pregnancy, birth, and the avoidance of abortion do carry physical and psychological benefits.

  23. Maltese says:

    …Not to mention eternal rewards…

  24. Acanthaster says:

    I’ve heard a few very interesting points about this as well, mainly from talks by Vicki Thorn:

    When considering the opposite sex, men and women are naturally attracted to those with complimentary immune systems, meaning when a child is conceived, it will have a working, efficient, immune system. With the rise of chemical contraception, that attraction changes, and people seek an immune system more similar to their own, which can lead to many autoimmune diseases…

    Not only does a child’s cells stay with the mother, but a mother’s with her child as well. And each successive child will then have cells of her mother as well as the preceding children. There’s been cases where, if a mother has 1 or 2 abortions and then keeps a child, that child can have this sense that he or she should have siblings without knowledge of those abortions…

    Amazing. Praise God!

  25. My Project Rachel counselor first brought this fact to my attention. Since I’m a definite answers person, I need tangible reasons, they why’s and how’s and more importantly sometimes, why can’t I just let this go? Part of it may be a very physical reason as described. The trick for me now is using it in a redemptive and effective way instead of a self destructive way.

  26. Maltese says:

    Btw: I only have five kids, but hope for more even though my wife is 44.

    This might seem controversial, but I think Humanae Vitae is crock; who decides, God or man?

  27. xsosdid says:

    So, when my wife was pregnant with my children she had their cells, their DNA – so also my DNA -integrated into her body. Biblically stated “the two shall become one flesh” Mark 10:8, also Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 6:16.
    That is just so cool!! Can’t wait to share this with my wife.

  28. biberin says:

    Another fabulous bonus for celiac moms is that the act of breastfeeding produces more villi in the gut of both mom *and* baby. This is much of the reason why even starving moms can nourish a baby–those extra villi wring every last nutrient out of her food. And celiac babies who have as many villi as possible will not suffer as much from damage as those who have fewer.

  29. New Sister says:

    I once heard Mother Angelica assure a caller who had had several (~ten) miscarriages and no live births that she (the caller) indeed had brought into existence ten children, ten souls, for the LORD. Perhaps knowledge of the cells could help heal women who have experienced miscarriages of feeling so stripped of their children.

    InfiniteGrace, may you let God bring forth a greater good; I shall pray for you.

  30. chris1 says:

    Johnno, I think from a practical standpoint, the closest way in which having children acts as “natural birth control” is through breastfeeding. Breastfeeding (especially long stretches of breastfeeding brought on by cosleeping with babies) releases a sufficient amount of a hormone (prolactin I believe) which suppresses a woman’s cycle…thus breastfeeding has the effect of naturally spacing children. In the natural family planning world, it’s called ecological breastfeeding.

    I’m not so sure about couples with more children being able to have sex more frequently. The only way I can think of (once the effects of ecological breastfeeding have worn off in 3-12 months) that having children reduces the chances of having more children comes in a practical decision, choosing sleep over sex!

  31. CJC says:

    I love stuff like this! I’m taking Embryology in the Spring at Franciscan University. Embryology for non-biology-majors is one of the most popular classes on campus.

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