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5 Ways Mother and Fetus are Connected
Pregnant women sustain and interact with their babies before birth. During pregnancy, the placenta is a temporary organ that grows in the mother’s uterus and serves as the prominent interface between her and the developing fetus. The fetus has blood vessels that pass through the maternal blood supply in the placenta via the umbilical cord, absorbing nutrients and disposing of unnecessary waste. Maternal blood will surround the fetal blood vessels, but no blood exchange occurs, keeping the fetus safe from most potential infections or illnesses of the mother.
Prenatal DNA Testing
One of the things that the placenta helps make possible during the first trimester of pregnancy is non-invasive prenatal testing. The placenta releases of a small amount of the fetus’ DNA, making this type of preliminary testing possible. The procedure involves a simple blood draw from the mother and can help determine if the developing baby is at risk for being born with a genetic disease. Non-invasive prenatal testing can play a key role in family planning and is less invasive than other procedures like chorionic villus sampling (CVS) or amniocentesis. The test cannot confirm the presence of a chromosomal abnormality in the baby, but may indicate a need for further diagnostic testing if it is positive. Here are some additional ways in which the placenta and fetus are connected throughout pregnancy.
Activities Facilitated by the Placenta
The placenta acts as the intermediary between the fetus and the mother, allowing the exchange of the following:
- Nutrition – The fetus draws its nutrients from the blood supply of the mother via her blood in the placenta. All the nutrients consumed, digested, and available in the mother’s blood will be available to the developing baby.
- Waste Elimination – The fetus also produces waste that is disposed of into the maternal blood flowing out of the placenta. The mother will then dispose of the waste through her own waste elimination organs.
- Cell-free DNA – Through the placenta, small bits of the fetus’s DNA are released into the mother’s bloodstream. These fragments circulate freely in the mother’s blood and can be used by doctors to test the fetus for chromosomal abnormalities.
- Immune System – After the 20th week of the pregnancy, the fetus will receive temporary antibodies from the mother’s immune system to protect it in its first few months of life. Additional vaccinations are often recommended by physicians as well.
- Hormones – From the moment of conception, the mother and embryo are communicating through a complex interaction of hormones. This conversation continues throughout the pregnancy, where the fetus receives signals of maternal stress or emotion from the hormones in the blood. Eventually, hormones work to trigger the baby’s labor and delivery.
Being pregnant is an exciting time for both mothers and babies. If you are expecting, speak with a genetic counselor or your physician to see if non-invasive prenatal testing is for you.