Hey mama, I see you there, scrolling past yet another article that promises to BLOW. YOUR. MIND. or reveal the SHOCKING TRUTH . . . about kittens. Or pandas. Or the mold that grows on paleo bread if you leave it out too long.
Today I’ve got something far better to share with you. Are you ready? It’s . . . . YOU.
Yep, seriously. Sure, it’s easy to think that motherhood is mostly about asking tiny people why they’ve taken their pants off in the middle of the day, but there’s so much beauty, too . . . and it’s a good idea to take a moment and savor it as often as possible.
With that in mind, here are five facts about motherhood to remind you just how amazing you are . . .
1. You will always carry your child in your heart (really)
There’s a famous saying that says, “We hold our children in our arms for a little while, and in our hearts forever.” Every parent knows it’s true. But for mothers, well, it’s literally true.
In pregnancy, women are shape-shifters, their bellies waxing like the moon. After delivery, they hold another kind of magic: microchimerism, a condition in which women harbor cells that originated in their children even decades after birth.” (1)
These cells, full of our children’s DNA, collect in our hearts, our brains . . . everywhere we can think of. They become part of us, often staying with us for decades upon decades. This is true even if baby we carried didn’t live to be born, writes Laura Weldon.
The full impact of microchimerism is not known, but according to Weldon, there’s evidence that fetal cells may:
provide some protection against certain cancers. For example, they’re much more prevalent in the breast tissue of healthy women than in those with breast cancer. Fetal cells are less common in women who developed Alzheimer’s disease, suggesting they provide late-life protection. Fetal cells can contribute stem cells, generate new neurons in the mother’s brain, even help to heal her heart.”
Science News explains the heart connection this way:
When the heart is injured, fetal cells seem to flock to the site of injury and turn into several different types of specialized heart cells. Some of these cells may even start beating, a mouse study found. So technically, those icky-sweet Mother’s Day cards may be right: A mother really does hold her children in her heart.” (2)
However, as Weldon states, “family dynamics are complicated even at the cellular level.” While in many cases a large quantity of fetal cells is associated with a decrease in autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, in some cases the presence of the cells may trigger or aggravate an autoimmune disorder. Scientists are still exploring possible explanations for different outcomes.
2. Breastfeeding? You make medicine in real time.
“How exactly is my body able to write my daughter a prescription for her illness without a diagnosis?” That’s what Angela Garbes wanted to know when she interviewed biologist Katie Hinde for this article in The Stranger.
Researchers have long known that breastfeeding provides real-time immune support, meaning that as your baby encounters bacteria and viruses, you will make immune boosting compounds and pass them on via breast milk.
But how does your body know when to make them, and what exactly to make? Dr. Hinde has an interesting theory: Baby backwash.
According to Hinde, when a baby suckles at its mother’s breast, a vacuum is created. Within that vacuum, the infant’s saliva is sucked back into the mother’s nipple, where receptors in her mammary gland read its signals. This ‘baby spit backwash,’ as she delightfully describes it, contains information about the baby’s immune status. Everything scientists know about physiology indicates that baby spit backwash is one of the ways that breast milk adjusts its immunological composition. If the mammary gland receptors detect the presence of pathogens, they compel the mother’s body to produce antibodies to fight it, and those antibodies travel through breast milk back into the baby’s body, where they target the infection.” (3)
For a more scientific explanation, including a link to the 2004 study that first discovered “baby backwash” and another that tracked leukocytes in breastmilk, check out this article.
Another awesome feedback mechanism is kissing. Yes, KISSING.
When a mother kisses her baby, she ‘samples’ those pathogens that are on the baby’s face. Those are ones that the baby is about to ingest. These samples are taken up by the mother’s secondary lymphoid organs like the tonsils, and memory B cells specific for those pathogens are re-stimulated. These B cells then migrate to the mother’s breasts where they produce just those antibodies that the baby needs.” says Lauren Sompayrac, author of How The Immune System Works.” (4)
Breastfeeding for a full year conveys immune factors for all the seasons – cold, flu and allergy. If breastfeeding continues into the second year of life, some immune factors actually increase in concentration. (5)
Note: As I shared in this post, breastfeeding my second child was not an easy journey. I fully embrace the notion that our bodies are capable and wise, but I also know that sometimes in our effort overcome disempowering messages regarding birth and breastfeeding, we accidentally create an environment that is unfriendly to moms struggling with disappointments in these areas. If that is you, know that you are loved and celebrated here.
3. And get this, your smile is like music.
Even if, like me, you can’t carry a tune. You see, our bodies synchronize with music, and sometimes even with those we love most.
Babies and their mothers share a deeply physiological connection. In one study of infant reaction to mothers, fathers, and strangers, an infant girl was brought into a lab and set in a plastic seat that was curtained off from distractions. The baby was then approached by her mother, then her father, and then a stranger.
Chest monitors on the baby and the adults showed that the baby synchronized her heart rate to that of the mother or father when they approached, but she did not synchronize her heart rate to the stranger’s.
The data suggests that babies and their caretakers are entwined in a homeostatic relationship, with the baby clicking in with the parents to achieve some sort of balance.” – Our Babies, Ourselves, emphasis mine (6)
In addition, this study found that 3-month old babies and their mothers coordinate heart rhythms when moms show signs of affection like smiling.
Babies have faster heart rates than adults, but researchers found that mom-baby pairs hit more beats together than babies and women who were not their mothers.
It’s not just babies, though.
This study found that our hearts can sync with a loved one during stressful situations. The connection didn’t rely on biological connection, which I’m sure is no surprise to the amazing families I know that have chosen adoption.
So what about non-stressful events? Well, this study found that couples who sat on a couch a few feet away from each other synchronized heart rates and respiration, even when they didn’t speak or touch.
The same was not true when individuals sat near people who were not their spouse. Though the study was limited to couples, it seems likely that the physiological connection already demonstrated between parents and children (biological or chosen) in previous studies would endure as the relationship grows. Pretty amazing, right?
4. Your voice is just as comforting as a hug.
What happens when ask a group of 7-12 year old girls to deliver an impromptu speech and then publicly quiz them with a series of math problems? Stress, and lots of it.
In a study where researchers created this exact scenario, they took one more step and tried to find out what would most help the girls return to a relaxed state.
The girls were then divided into three groups, one comforted by physical contact with their mothers, another by phone calls from their mothers and a third by watching a film deemed emotionally neutral, the March of the Penguins.
Oxytocin rose to similar levels in the first two groups and did not increase in the third, saliva and urine tests revealed. As this hormone’s presence grew, cortisol faded.
Leslie Seltzer, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who led the research, said: ‘The children who got to interact with their mothers had virtually the same hormonal response, whether they interacted in person or over the phone.
‘It was understood that oxytocin release in the context of social bonding usually required physical contact. But it’s clear from these results that a mother’s voice can have the same effect as a hug, even if they’re not standing there.'” (7)
Interestingly, the soothing effect lingered long after the conversation ended. Who knew?
5. One last thing – our babies name us.
In English she’s mom; in Mandarin Chinese, mama. To Spanish kids, she’s mama too, though with slightly different accents on the syllables. ‘Mom’ is translated as mamma in Iceland, ma in punjabi, em in Hebrew and me in Vietnamese. Noticing a trend? No coincidence — one of the first word-like sounds babies typically vocalize is a “ma” sound, and almost every language across the globe has taken that baby talk as the basis for the word for mother.” (8)
Know a mom who needs to be reminded how amazing she is? Share this post with her!
- Hua, Vanessa (2014) Your Baby’s Leftover DNA Is Making You Stronger
- Science News (2015) Children’s cells live on in mothers
- The Stranger (2015) The More I Learn About Breast Milk, the More Amazed I Am
- Sompayrac, Lauren (2019) How the Immune System Works
- Bonyata, Kelly (2018) Breastfeeding Past Infancy: Fact Sheet
- Small, Meredith (1998) Our Babies, Ourselves
- The Guardian (2010) Mother’s phone call as comforting as a hug, says oxytocin study
- Live Science (2014) Super Women: 5 Amazing Facts About Motherhood
Read My Comment Policy
‘Ma’ is an allelphone. Every single baby will say ‘Ma’ we are born with every single allelphone in spoke language. The same with ‘DA’ it’s not a word. Just used in spoken language. Babies say every single allelphone. We only respond to what is used in our language. The Zulu people click with their tongues. The clicking language of the Africans. The click is an allelphone, too. Same as MA. Love it.
How amazing. In India, out of 26 languages, maximum have word “ma” for calling mother (or part of it ). In meditation also “mmm” sound used for making mind stress free ! May be this letter has magical power in its sound.
I soooo needed to read this today!! My dish cabinets are empty, my sink and counter full, my house a wreck, I’ m tired and grouchy yet my 2 toddlers are just full of life and continueing to shower me with unconditional love. This article brought tears to my eyes! I get so caught up with my failures that I forget to dwell on the sacred beauty of this highest calling I get to be a part of! Thank you thank you!!
elise, my four children are all grown but when my first was a baby i came across this prayer. it is still on my refrigerator deeply yellowed with age. there is no way to convey how amazingly fast their young years fly by. take it to heart and love them dearly in each moment.
Oh Lord, please give me time
between folding diapers and sheets
to watch these little lives unfold.
Precious they are and close to You they stand
while I am often far away, my hands
busy with the labors of the day.
This work You gave me presses hard, God.
Please give me eyes to see
That children are children once,
and chores will always be.
Diane J. Felts
A pile of dirty dishes just means you have your priorities straight. People are more important than dishes. You are a success!
Amazing. Beautiful. Full of awe. We…were wonderfully made.
Beautiful! Thank you <3
I think this is why my child, even at 5years old, still wakes up when I move more than 20ft away. Yes, she somehow knows in her sleep when I’ve gone “too far.”
That really hit the spot….my 13yo with autism is going through some really hard scary stuff emotionally right now…communication is very limited. I have been feeling really helpless and ineffective….all I can do is hug & sooth & try to talk him thorough it. Thanks for telling me I’m not so helpless & ineffective 😉
Interesting article! One correction though: “ima” (pronounced “eema”) means “mom” in Hebrew – NOT “em”. “Em” is a formal thing . Like in so and so’s mother. 😉
Thank you for this post. We lost our little girl in April after an 11 month struggle with major complications from extreme prematurity. We knew from 2 weeks old when she got sick we’d never get a full life with her, and those 11 months were a gift. She is a twin, and her twin is 100 percent healthy and 19 months old now. I sometimes miss her so much I physically hurt, and to find out I actually have part of her within me still is such a comfort. Thank you for helping a still healing mommy!
Love this post Heather. I am amazed by the fact that babies cells may live on in our bodies long after they leave them and help us mamas in times of need. Amazing. Not knowing if I’ll be lucky enough to have another pregnancy I find knowing that really comforting. I loved being pregnant. And love being a mum. 🙂
Thank you for the read, it was heart warming…pregnant with baby #5 and living in South Africa. Thank you for reminding me I seriously need to take things slow and enjoy every moment.
Uplifting, heartwarming article. Needed this today. Thank you.
Nice article! However the Hebrew word for mom is actually “ima” (pronounced: ee-mah)
This is such a beautiful article. There’s no love exactly like that between mother and child!
The biofeedback loop I experienced when my 21-year-old was the baby. He was allergic to the milk I ate and in turn, I became allergic too! When he weaned, I was able to eat milk again. When I told the pediatrician that my son made me allergic to milk and about the feedback loop, he said, whatever floats your boat. No… That was some other observation… No, it was a substitute pediatrician from South Africa that thought the feedback loop was intriguing! Doctors can be so different! It’s hard to find a good one.
Really beautiful. Thanks so much! Such a beautiful reminder of how amazing it is to be a mom!! Such a privilege in this life.
What if you don’t have real oxytocin to begin with?
My baby was born with half of his brain extremely small and the other half too big. But he never did ANYTHING that would indicate he even had oxytocin. Wouldn’t breastfeed, wouldn’t hug, hated being held. It was so traumatizing!
He only started caring about affection after 22 months.
I know I was extremely oxytocin deficient-if I had any at all when I gave birth. It’s a surprise either of us lived. I had to pump for 15 months. He wouldn’t even try!
He did have a lip and tongue tie too.
I found out recently that some of the pesticides have chemicals that work like synthetic oxytocin- fill the receptor so you can’t use REAL oxytocin and can lose production. I grew up near fields in almost all the houses I lived in. And was directly poisoned a few dozen times with horrible symptoms that nobody cared about. I’m terrified of having another baby.
Took 3 months of pumping to even produce an ounce a day btw.
Wow! what an amazing post. Loved all the information. Nearly at two years of breastfeeding and nearly gave up many times earlier on but persevered. So glad I have. Thank you!
At age 84 I still feel a deep connection to each of my 5 adult children . This beautifully explains it all . Thank you for showing us the wonderful glory of motherhood. And the baby I lost at 12 weeks pregnancy is still there.
Woah! That’s such a magical piece of information. Just proves that a mom and child bond is forever. It goes beyond just emotions and sentiments. There are tangible threads that bind a mom & her child.
Beautiful!!! Thank you. Happy Mother’s Day Heather & all of you Mommys! God bless you!
If my baby’s cells live within me, that means that some of those genetic components from her father live in me too. Right?