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It’s science: Your baby will always be a part of you

Research shows genetic material from babies remains in their mothers’ bodies for years after birth.

It’s science: Your baby will always be a part of you

It’s often been said that becoming a mother means you’ll carry a bit of your child in your heart forever. It turns out that’s kind of true, biologically speaking: Research shows genetic material from babies remains in their mothers’ bodies for years after birth.


This transfer of cells from a genetically distinct feature to the mother is called fetal microchimerism. According to researcher Dr. Amy Boddy, it happens during every single pregnancy, even those that end in miscarriage. The cells have also been found to still be present in mothers’ bodies for decades after they’ve given birth.

“We currently do not know if or how fetal cells impact the mother's health during or after pregnancy,” says Dr. Boddy. “These cells may simply be by-products of the pregnancy and have no impact on the mother's body.”

The theories, however, are pretty interesting. As Boddy explains, one leading thought is that the cells migrate through the placenta to mom in order to help sustain the baby after birth through lactation and bonding.

“We have proposed an idea that these fetal cells may be useful in transferring resources to the baby after pregnancy. This is a theoretical framework based on evolutionary biology,” Boddy says. “Imagine that the fetus is setting up a sort of insurance policy within the mother to make sure there are resources after birth.”

In other words, the fetus sends out cells into the mom’s body to ensure she keeps protecting it after birth.

It follows that there may be a conflict over resources, with the fetal cells pulling for the baby, not the host, long after the baby has moved out of the womb—depending on the tissue where the fetal microchimerism occurs.

“If there were to be conflict it might be in tissues important in resource transfer to the baby,” Boddy explains, noting that such areas include the breast tissue, the thyroid (as it’s important for heat transfers), the brain (for attachment and bonding) or in the blood (if the mother's immune system attacks the microchimeric cells).

According to Body, researchers are very interested in how a baby’s cells manage to stay in a mom’s body for decades after a pregnancy, as the answer could further research into organ transplantation and autoimmune diseases.

Some studies suggest that that fetal cells, which are stem-like cells, may contribute to wound healing in the mother's body or protect against Alzheimer's. Other work indicates they play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. Understanding fetal microchimerism could also be beneficial for treating breastfeeding problems and maybe even psychological disorders associated with pregnancy.

There’s a ton of work still yet to be done, but the current body of research suggests our kids’ leftover cells lead paradoxical lives inside our bodies; maybe giving, maybe taking or maybe just coming along for the ride.

Amid all the questions we still have about fetal microchimerism it is comforting to know that we’ll always carry a bit of our children with us. Even though mouse and human studies show the highest frequency of fetal cells are detected in the lungs, not the heart, we say that’s close enough.

After 4 kids, this is still the best baby gear item I’ve ever purchased

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work.

I have four kids 8 and under, so you might expect that my house is teeming with baby gear and kid toys.

But it turns out that for me, the more kids I have, the more I simplify our stuff. At this point, I'm down to the absolute essentials, the gear that I can't live without and the toys my kids actually play with. And so when a mama-to-be asks me what things are worth registering for, there are only a few must-haves on my list.

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer seat is on the top of my list—totally worth it and an absolute must-have for any new mama.

In fact, since I first splurged on my first BABYBJÖRN bouncer eight years ago (it definitely felt like a splurge at the time, but the five star reviews were really compelling), the bouncer seat has become the most-used product in our house for baby's first year.

We've actually invested in a second one so that we didn't have to keep moving ours from the bedroom to the living room when we change locations.

BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

baby bjorn bouncer

The utility of the seat might seem counterintuitive—it has no mechanical parts, so your baby is instead gently bounced by her own movements. In a world where many baby products are touted for their ability to mechanically rock baby to sleep, I get that many moms might not find the "no-motion" bouncer that compelling. But it turns out that the seat is quite reactive to baby's little kicks, and it has helped my kids to learn how to self-soothe.

$200

Lightweight + compact:

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer is super lightweight, and it also folds flat in a second. Because of those features, we've frequently stored it under the couch, in a suitcase or in the back of the car. It folds completely flat, which I love.

Entertainment zone:

Is the toy bar worth it? The toy bar is totally worth it. Not only is the toy bar adorable, but it's one of the first toys that my babies actually play with once they discover the world beyond my boobs. The toys spin and are close to eye level so they have frequently kept my baby entertained while I cook or take a quick shower.

Great style:

This is not a small detail to me–the BABYBJÖRN bouncer is seriously stylish. I am done with baby gear and toys that make my house look like a theme park. The elegant European design honestly just looks good in my living room and I appreciate that parents can enjoy it as much as baby.

It's adjustable:

With three height settings that let you prop baby up to be entertained, or lay back to rest, we get years of use. And the bouncer can actually be adjusted for bigger kids and used from newborn to toddler age. It's that good.

It just works:

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work. But I have used the seat as a safe space to put baby while I've worked (I once rocked my baby in it with my foot while I reported on a breaking news story for the Washington Post), and as a cozy spot for my second child to lay while his big brother played nearby. It's held up for almost a decade with almost-constant use.

So for me, looking back on what I thought was a splurge eight years ago, was actually one of the best investments in baby gear I ever made.

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Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Earth Mama: Effective, natural herbal care for mamas and babies

Founded and grown in her own garage in 2002, Earth Mama started as an operation of one, creating salves, tinctures, teas and soaps with homegrown herbs. With a deep desire to bring the healing powers of nature that have been relied on for thousands of years to as many mamas as possible, Melinda Olson's formulas quickly grew into Earth Mama Organics. Since then, the brand has remained committed to manufacturing clean, safe and effective herbal solutions for the entire journey of motherhood, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and baby care, and even the loss of a baby.

Bravado Designs: Soothing sounds for a good night's sleep

With 28 years of serving pregnant and postpartum mamas under their belt, Bravado Designs is a true authority on the needs of changing bodies. It's true that we have them to thank for rescuing us from the uncomfortable and frumpy designs our own moms had to live with. Launched in Canada by two young mamas, they designed the first prototypes with extra leopard print fabric certain that a better bra was possible. Throughout the years they've maintained their commitment to ethical manufacturing while creating long-lasting products that truly work.

The Sill: Instagram-ready potted plants

We've long admired this female-founded brand and the brilliant mind behind it, Eliza Blank. (She even joined Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety on and episode of The Motherly Podcast!) The mission behind the business was simple: To make the process of bringing plants into your home as easy as possible, and as wonderful as the plant themselves. With their in-house, exclusively designed minimalist planters, the end result makes plant parenthood just a few clicks away.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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