In a fascinating study out of England, researchers found that women give their unborn babies valuable nourishment through “womb milk.” This milk is known as histiotrophe and provides embryos the energy and biochemical building blocks it needs during the first eleven weeks of pregnancy. At this time, the embryo is too small for the umbilical cord to be attached and supply nutrients from the mother’s blood supply so the uterine secretions act as a substitute.
A research fellow at the University of Manchester, Dr. Carolyn Jones, explained it like this: “The blood supply from the mother does not reach the embryo until 11 weeks of gestation, so up to this time the tiny embryo is nurtured by these secretions. My other research has shown that there is a ‘code’ which influences attachment of the embryo to the mother’s womb. This code is built up of sugars on the surface of cells of the embryo and the uterus; each species has its own code and this has to match perfectly for successful implantation. Possibly, miscarriage may be due to an inappropriate match.”
Another professor who participated in the study, John Aplin, said that a mother’s diet could affect the build-up of glycogen in the womb lining. He said, “It could be that these trigger settings in the embryo that affect the risk of obesity or diabetes in life.”
Unfortunately, Professor Aplin used womb, placenta and embryonic tissue donated by women who had undergone abortions to develop his research.
According to the Daily Mail, the samples were stained using a dye to see where glycogen was present in the tissues from different stages of pregnancy, and researchers found that the molecule was present in high levels in the womb lining. Professor Aplin added, “Once the sugar is there, some is used straight away as energy to help the embryo grow, and the rest is reconverted to the storage molecule, glycogen.”
Here it is broken down into smaller molecules, like glucose, and is secreted out into a cavity between the lining of the uterus and the placenta – known as the intervillous space. These cells also produce abundant levels of sugary protein fragments known as glycoproteins – some of which are known to play a role in protecting cells against infections.
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The placenta absorbs these molecules and they are then used by the embryo to help it grow. After about 11 weeks the levels of these secretions start to fade away – around the time that the embryo is big enough to accept nutrients via the umbilical cord.
Professor Alpin and his colleagues said: ‘Our data are consistent with a model in which internalization of glycoprotein is a major nutritional pathway in first trimester, continuing at a reduced rate into the second trimester as blood solute trafficking increases.”
Professor Graham Burton, a reproductive physiologist at the University of Cambridge whose team first discovered that the uterus lining produced nourishment for the embryo in 2002, said: “The first few weeks of pregnancy is a critical phase for embryonic development. Our understanding has been revolutionized over the past decade by the discovery that nutrients are supplied by these glands in the uterus lining during the first trimester – the so-called “uterine milk.”