January 28, 2016

The Maternal-Fetal Bond

maternal fetal attachment

The maternal-fetal bond begins at conception with implantation of the embryo. The embryo embeds itself into the maternal endometrium and then begins the process of establishing a data network. The mode in which the fetal signals are transferred to the maternal side, and vice versa, are through newly developed blood vessels. Because the maternal and fetal blood vessels are connected with a filtering membrane in between, they can both transmit and receive signals that guide fetal growth, provide fetal nutrition and fetal protection. However, when these signals, in the forms of hormones and immunologic cells, are not optimal the crosstalk that the fetus and the mother share can become altered.

We are aware that there exists many factors that can compromise this interface and promote a kind of “fight or flight” response in the fetal placenta. The placenta and fetus as survivalists, will begin to turn on and turn-off genes to promote their current well-being (epigenetics) at the potential compromise of the fetus’ health as both a child and an adult.

Obesity matters. It is established that adipose tissue (fat cells) have a variety of effects on reproductive function from affecting ovulation and possibly compromising sperm health. This adipocity matters in the interactions at the maternal-fetal interface. Two major hormones involved in fat usage and storage (leptin and adiponectin) are involved in cell growth and differentiation. These hormones are involved in laying down the blueprints for how efficiently the placenta will act with the maternal-side. They act on many fronts, angiogenesis (creating the highways), inflammation (traffic regulators) as well as controlling immune response on both sides(law enforcement).

In obesity, for instance, the balance of these hormones is awry leading to an imbalance and not only potentially promoting fetal compromise, but establishing a pattern of inflammation and hormonal imbalance that may affect the fetus moving forward.

It is for this reason that we promote healthful diet, reasonable exercise and mindful weight regimens as one of the tenets for overcoming infertility barriers. We do these endeavors for ourselves and for our intended children. These are the acts that define us as parents. 

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Danielle Vitiello, Ph.D., M.D.

Danielle Vitiello, Ph.D., M.D. Board-Certified in Obstetrics and Gynecology, Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility