To celebrate Mother’s Day, here are my top five scientific facts about motherhood:
1. Babies on the Brain
Expectant mothers could literally have “babies on the brain”, as found in this 2012 study. A type of microchimerism – when cells from one organism are found inside a genetically different individual – can occur during pregnancy. Cells are transferred from fetus to mother via the placenta and circulate through the body, eventually coming to rest in the mother’s brain. The study examined the brains of deceased women and found cells containing male Y chromosomes inside more than 60% of the female brains. These cells could not have come from the women and likely originated from their babies during gestation. So any mothers out there feeling broody for more babies, here’s your excuse: just blame the cells in your brain!
2. A Year Long Pregnancy
The longest pregnancy ever recorded lasted 375 days – over a year in length!
After a grueling 12.5 months, the unfortunate Mrs Hunter gave birth to a baby girl in Los Angeles in 1945. Doctors believe the lengthy pregnancy was due to the slow development of the fetus in the womb. Thankfully, the child was born alive and healthy after its extended gestation.
3. Disease-Fighting Milk
New research suggests the benefits of breast milk go beyond feeding. A class of sugar molecules called Human Milk Oligosaccharides are thought to promote a healthy gut in infants. The sugars feed bacteria essential for a healthy digestive system, but cannot be digested by less desirable bacteria. They also appear to lower the risk of infections.
4. Brain Changers
Research suggests that motherhood changes a woman’s brain. In a 2010 study, brain scans taken at two time points postpartum (2-4 weeks and 3-4 months) showed an increase in grey matter between the two time periods. The areas of the brain which showed growth included the amygdala, hypothalamus, parietal lobe and prefrontal cortex. These parts of the brain are associated with emotions and parenting behaviour. Results from this study and similar ones show that motherhood really does change how you think.
5. The Old and the Young
- The youngest ever mother, Lina Medina, was just 5 1/2 years old when she gave birth to her son in Peru in 1939. The biological father of the baby was never identified.
- The oldest woman in recorded history to give birth, Rajo Devi Lohan, had her daughter in 2008 following IVF treatment at the age of 69. The pair currently live in a remote village in India with Rajo’s husband and his second wife, her sister.
Old or young, Mother’s Day is a time to celebrate the wonderful women who brought us into the world.
So here’s to all the mummy’s out there – take a break and have a day off: Happy Mother’s Day!