#221 | Understanding Fetal-Maternal Microchimerism with Rachel Marynowski of @Kale.Blossom

July 12, 2023

Rachel Marynowsk of @Kale.blossom is a licensed naturopathic physician focusing on preconception, fertility and postpartum. In today's episode, Rachel introduces us to the fascinating phenomenon of fetal-maternal microchimerism and how it may influence women's health, particularly postpartum. 

Fetal-maternal microchimerism refers to the presence of fetal cells in a mother's body and vice versa, exchanged during pregnancy and birth. These cells are believed to serve as a unique form of communication between the mother and the baby, both physically and emotionally, and may be key players in the development of postpartum health issues such as perinatal mood disorders and thyroid changes. Studies show that fetal cells, which also function as stem cells, are found in various organs of the mother's body, potentially offering protective and regenerative properties.  It is believed these cells play a role in the mother's intuition and protective instincts toward her child and may be associated with certain health conditions. The topic raises important questions for further research and exploration, offering a new perspective on the intricate bond between mother and baby.

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View Episode Transcript

When a woman has a baby, she will always retain cells of that baby in her body. And it's actually bi directional. So a baby will also always have cells of that mom in him or her. But in the context of an already disturbed, imbalanced system, like what comes to the surface post pregnancy, which is a big metabolic undertaking for the body. I think the immune system is already in a tailspin. So these fetal cells, even though they're not trying to tip that balance point, for sure, listen, people, people can die of a broken heart, right? That's energy around the heart space, people can destroy their thyroid because they're holding in that painful energy suppressing their voice. These are real things.

I'm Cynthia Overgard, owner of HypnoBirthing of Connecticut, childbirth advocate and postpartum support specialist. And I'm Trisha Ludwig, certified nurse midwife and international board certified lactation consultant. And this is the Down To Birth Podcast. Childbirth is something we're made to do. But how do we have our safest and most satisfying experience in today's medical culture? Let's dispel the myths and get down to birth.

I am Rachel Marynowski. I am a licensed naturopathic physician. And first of all, I just want to say thank you both for having me. I'm excited to spend time with you guys. And you know, I have four kiddos and I birthed them all naturally in the water alongside nurse midwives. So and I did HypnoBirthing. So I have a special place in my heart for you and what you both do, and just fully appreciate you being such advocates for women and moms in the world of women's health. So thank you for being she rose, love.

Thank you. Tell us why you're here today.

So I actually grew up, my mom had a beautiful herb garden, we ate very healthy, we were outside a lot. So there was always this natural medicine vibe. And I decided that I always wanted to be a doctor, I wanted to go to conventional medical school. Like many of us, I had a lot of fun and undergrad at the University of Georgia. And when I graduated with public health degree, I said, you know, I just want to go get some real world health experience and see where that leads me before I go to conventional medical school. So I went to work for a large healthcare system in Atlanta that's still around today. And I was in charge of corporate health. And we would go into these businesses with 3040 50 year old employees, and we would do lipid screenings and blood glucose screenings and blood pressure readings. And when they were abnormal, which they were so oftentimes we'd say, Okay, you have abnormal readings, get ready to go on medication. We'll see you later. And I started that was my first kind of experience with our broken health care system. We need it. I'm not saying that, but it definitely needs an overhaul. And I started asking the question, where's the proactive? Where's the preventive? What more can we do to intervene before we get to a disease process? And what are the tools in the toolbox that we can use other just other than just medication for the rest of your life. So that's where Naturopathic Medicine found me. After graduating, I actually set out to open an integrative clinic, I was lucky enough to work alongside nurse midwives kind of from the get go. And about seven years ago, nurse midwife, myself and a psychologist we said we've kind of put together an integrative clinic with a birthing center. There's nothing like it in the world. And we did do just that here in Atlanta. And I feel like I can tell the birthing center portion because it's not actually my practice. I don't do the birth work. But it's such an amazing place. It's the piece de resistance, if you will of our clinic, and the outcomes and the support, and the overall health of mothers is profoundly better. It's amazing, you know, before COVID COVID has kind of changed everything, of course, but certainly the Berlin world and the stress of moms before COVID And we are downtown Atlanta, our transport rate, which could sometimes end and C section was less than 2%. And all of the Atlanta hospitals which is pretty average for America is 30 ish percent, right? So it was less than 2%. So the C section rate was even lower than that. That's like that, that rivals Ina May Gaskin's incredible statistics.

So, I have been practicing since I started out more primary care seeing men, women and children. As I became a mom, I have I like I said, for kiddos and mice, on my own now, Women's Health was just calling. So our practice is largely women's health now, probably 90%. And since my practice has largely been full, I wanted to do something to help support and empower women with the tools because I know for me, too, I practice what I preach, I have to be healthy, and I can't get burnt out and I can't see every patient that wants to be seen. So we started kale blossom, my best friend and I who's a chiropractor, hell blossom. We have a website. We're also active on Instagram. And we're trying to give women from the clinical side of things, there are a lot of health and wellness influencers, and I think there's space for everyone. But we have the clinical experience to kind of present the health and wellness tools that can be so empowering for women and especially moms. In a world where we're so isolated now. I think being able to empower women with these tools is really, really great.

Prior to podcasting and kind of returning to ibclc work, although I used to do this there as well. I was in an in an integrative health practice with a naturopath and an acupuncturist and a chiropractor, and I was the Women's Health natural health practitioner there. We had a weight loss specialist and cranial sacral. And it was just like, this is the model. This is the model that works. It was such a wonderful space. And it was such a I did it for 10 years. It was fabulous. I love it. It's we need more of it. So do you start with women prenatally to try to help them with preconception and fertility? Can you talk to us about some of the things that you do to optimize pregnancy?

Yes, it depends on where they come in on their journey. I do see a number of separate tility and infertility. That's one of my favorite categories. And you know, we can really break that into thirds. 1/3 is female physiology, which we do see 1/3 is male physiology, which I don't really work a lot with, but it's worth ruling out. And then another third is immune system. And I have a number of women who when we get in and heal the gut and we take care of background stealth infections, like a big EBV picture or mold, pregnancy because the body knows it prioritizes says my immune system is in a tailspin. I I can't manage pregnancy. Well right now. That's obviously Oberst oversimplifying, sorry, did you say EBV as in Epstein, Epstein Barr Virus, correct, Mono, see a lot of women who are unable to conceive because they have a history of mono, which is extremely common.

Very, very common. And when we ask about mono, a lot of times women will say, Oh my gosh, I had it my freshman year of college and it wiped me out for three weeks. So in those cases, you know, it really depends. The beauty of integrative medicine is it's customized, right? There's no cookie cutter, like this person that comes in unable to conceive with EBV. She gets this, this and this. It's looking at diet, sleep, hydration, toxic chemicals, microbiome, stress, support, community, access to Sunshine, you know all the things that nature's medicine and nature's support for overall health. And a number of years ago, I was charged with the task of doing a women's health presentation to colleagues naturopathic physicians and integrative MDS. I said, Okay, sure. I'm going to talk about hormone health and postnatal depletion syndrome, all the things right, I said, but I gotta have a wow topic. Like what's a cool topic that not a lot of people know about? So that's when I dove down a huge bunny hole called fetal maternal microclimate ism. I'm still fascinated by this topic. I am not an expert on this topic by any means. But it's something that is worth planting a seed. I feel like all the colleagues that do hear about it are super intrigued and I think it's something that is continuing to unfold. So what is it fetal maternal microclimate ism is the phenomenon. When a woman has a baby. She will always retain cells of that baby in her body. And it's actually bi directional. So a baby will also always have cells of that mom in him or her. Fascinating. So there's two major arms of fetal maternal microclimate prism that I think are worth Talking more about and I hope that will continue to be studied. One of those is the mental emotional realm which is harder to quantify, right? It's hard to kind of measure that. And I still want to talk about it. The other arm is the physical, which is where the research is happening. So the mental emotional piece is fascinating to me, again, with my work with women's groups, and the mental emotional health piece, which you can't address the physical without addressing the mental, emotional. I think this is where women get their sixth sense. This is why when you have a baby, even if you have a dad partner, that's super involved, there's some cellular physiological connection, that helps the mom, it's a navigational beacon for her to be tuned in to that child, I think is a protective for that human being a protective mechanism.

So sorry to interrupt, but we're not talking about like, genetics here. Like, you know, your baby has your genetic material you're talking about like fetal Central, literal communication, like my, my body and my baby, we were exchanging cells and communication between those cells.

Exactly. And that's we don't know a lot about the communication. That's what scientists are trying to flush or kind of filter out. In 1996, a geneticist at Tufts Medical, her name is Diana B. onkey. She went down the road of trying to look for more non invasive genetic prenatal screenings. And she kind of on happenstance came across this phenomenon, because she found in one particular woman, she had male cells in her body, and her son was 27 years old.

When we were talking X Y chromosomes in exactly cells in her body. How many? Are we talking about? One to 1000? So it's not rampant?

How would a woman have a man's use cells and her body was that from giving birth to her own boy? Yes. And if this is giving birth to a girl, or any man or woman getting the cells, when they were inside their mother's wombs, they have her X X chromosomes in them, is it it? Can it be differentiated between a woman and another woman?

So the way that they first pinpointed it was because of the Y chromosome, right, because there shouldn't be the Y chromosome in a woman's body. And the number was about 6% of cells of the fetal cells, which are also like stem cells. And scientists think that that can decrease over time, they have been able to pinpoint I think that some of those fetal cells, obviously, especially if she has a daughter, or not going to be they've been able to pinpoint those. But the Y chromosome was what really gave it away, there was a Netherland study, this is kind of a sad study, but they took 27 women that had either died during pregnancy, or shortly after they were pregnant with sons. This is where they were able to measure the one to 1000 Cellular ratio. They took tissue samples from all the organs, expecting to maybe find groupings and various places, they found Y chromosome cells in every single organ tissue, heart, brain, lungs, kidneys. It's amazing. It's fascinating. And so there's just so curious about this, because like, are these cells working, functioning differently in our bodies, then? Because those those messenger those messengers, and each of the cells with like a Y chromosome, and a woman's body would be influencing things differently? Are these just like, present in the body in some sort of other form of communication? Or do they function the same as your own innate cells.

So that's where scientists are split, but I think they're leaning towards them actually being helpful and protective. Scientists aren't ready to accuse or excuse these fetal cells, but because they're largely stem cells, when they go to an organ, they can help protect, somehow they can even protect the tissue, cardio tissue, kidney tissue, etc. Just like stem cells are starting to be used because they can morph. It's very fascinating. And other studies show that women with cancer had less fetal cells than women without Now there were some urien my studies that showed in highly aggressive tumors, they had more fetal cells. I don't think it's because those fetal cells are acting awry. I think they're trying to help. But you know, cells, stem cells can continue creating and recreating, just like tumor cells.

Okay, so now I have to know how is it so seems like this is protective and healthy and good. And this is what we want. And somehow this is actually, you know, helping us as mothers to have more of those intuitive hits about our children, that protective instinct, you know, just knowing what's going on with them. So how do we, how does this happen? And like? Are there things about pregnancy or or birth that helped influence? How much of these cells are transferred back and forth? Because it seems like that's what we we want to do. Are there things that we do in pregnancy and birth that may hinder that may hinder this process?

Those are all great questions, million dollar questions. And I don't think that we know yet. But when, you know, one of the dots that I would connect is that 80% of autoimmune cases are in women, postpartum women that have had children, and scientists are starting to bridge the gap. There's a group that says this is why, but I don't think it's the fetal cells to blame. I think it's more so our modern kind of, and when I say modern, it could be the last, you know, 50 100 years and the the kind of newer generation, but I think it's the body burden bucket theory we're in, we're exposed to so many more toxins, our microbiomes are demolished after frequent antibiotics all the time. We have stress, we go, go, go go, we're exposed to EMFs and radiations. And those studies were 25 years old. So I think the body burden the bucket gets full. And these fetal cells, the immune system is already in a tailspin, maybe stealth infections like EBV. I think the immune system doesn't know what these fetal cells it's like, what do we do with these, it's one more burden, one more managerial task, like I mentioned, with the EBV. So I think that can raise the risk of autoimmunity, just in the grouping, because we know in treating and seeing so many autoimmune cases, 85% of the immune system lives in the gut, autoimmune conditions in the conventional medical world, they kind of say, You got to live with it. You can do steroids, you can do immune suppressants, but that's really it. We know in the integrative medical world, you start emptying out that bucket, you get things back in place, you lower the inflammatory upregulation, you can actually really well manage an autoimmune case. So I don't think it's the fetal cells. I think they're trying to help but the immune system is such in such a tailspin. It's like, I don't know if these guys are good or not, because they're foreign cells inside the body that haven't been there forever, versus children who are born with those cells of their mom, but it's their lay of the land baseline. They've been there since the get go, right? Versus a new introduction, decades, potentially, a woman has a baby in her 20s or 30s. Or whenever it's a new introduction of a foreign cell that again, adds to that immune system gone. Okay? I've gotta be, I gotta figure out what this is. I gotta tag it. I gotta kind of make a memory of it. But it's confusing. I don't I don't have all the answers either, y'all. I just think it's fascinating.

So a woman like you, you have cells from your own mother You were born with, and you have cells of each of the four of the children that you've birthed. Okay, so you said they initially identified this from the XY chromosomes and a woman which must have been mind blowing to whatever is discovered.

Oh, Diana was like, what? Look at this, I cannot even imagine her reaction, you know, 1996 when Diana was looking and found this, that wasn't that long ago. I know my kids think it's like the ancient times in the 90s. But it wasn't. And interestingly enough, Kaymer ism comes from the Greek word chimera, which is like a fire breathing. She goat, which I don't know how I feel about that as a descriptor going on at the moment. I know that like you guys, probably sometimes I do feel like breathing fire at my children. But I think it just like Greek mythology, this is kind of a very mysterious. Yes, it's a couple of decades old and being established. But the one thing I do feel confident about, this is a reason we do need to pay more attention to women after they have babies. This is why postpartum health should be on the top of our priority list. And women should have lab work done within three months. I don't know how many women that come in and say, my provider said I shouldn't do lab work, because I'm still breastfeeding. Well, yeah, you're not back to your pre pregnancy state. But what if you breastfeed for three months, and you've got an inflammatory autoimmune process, because one thing that we see so often in women, is pregnancy brings out those autoimmune, those other diseases like Hashimotos that come to the surface because she says, I've been fine. I've never had thyroid globulin antibodies in my life, and now they're, you know, 234 100. So if nothing else, it's a call to action for us to take more tender loving care towards women, especially after they had babies.

Let's talk let's talk more about the specific things that you see postpartum because pregnancy really seems to cure some conditions that mothers you know, had prior to pregnancy. And then they're like after I had my babies, it just disappeared. And then it seems to exacerbate other things, particularly related to the thyroid. So can you talk to us about some of the key things that you identify in postpartum moms? That may be a result of pregnancy in this whole The process.

Yeah, and I think that's something that is very hard to quantify in terms of like why a woman may be cured with pregnancy versus why a woman you know, it opens her health Pandora's Box. Because every person's one genetics, which is a vulgar statement, but genetics load the gun, the environment pulls the trigger, right? So it's what is her life journey? What are her experiences? What are her stressors? What are her was she a sickly kid, a healthy kid, you know, sometimes it can absolutely be a good reset. But we oftentimes and probably because they're coming in for help, we see the reverse, I don't see a lot of women that actually feel better after pregnancy. I see significant postnatal depletion syndrome, I see significant Hashimotos I see significant inflammatory upregulation. And the mental emotional and there is a psychologist at Arizona State, who's actually researching fetal maternal microclimate ism, and trying to see if maybe those fetal cells has something to do with those significant postpartum depression cases. We know what's going on there with kind of that gut and brain axis and how could the fetal cells be triggering that the inflammatory process?

So then, are they a hostile cell in the body? Or are they beneficial? I would assume they're beneficial if nature designed us this way this like beautiful interexchange of ourselves. But is that what the theory would have to test?

Yeah, and that's what we kind of mentioned is the scientists aren't ready to accuse or excuse the cells, but like what you said, nature is more brilliant than any physician scientist, you know, like, the body is so innately wise and beautiful. I would take my money to Las Vegas and say that these are protective, I think, protective, but in the context of an already disturbed imbalance system, like what comes to the surface post pregnancy, which is a big metabolic undertaking for the body. I think the immune system is already in a tailspin. So these fetal cells, even though they're not trying to tip that balance point, we know that there are conditions in the body under the right circumstances will probably when there is some underlying pathology or there's an excessive exposure to something environmental or, or the way that the genes are influenced over time where the body sometimes has the opposite effect, like the cytokine storm, that doesn't happen in most people. But in some cases, and maybe these are the cases where we see the extreme postpartum, extreme postpartum depression or psychosis, that these, there's some connection there with things going the opposite way of what it's supposed to do.

And the body you know, it wants to be in a state of homeostasis always. That's it setpoint. But it's the factors that come in and create obstacles and the body's working upstream. So if we can get in, which again, is the beauty of integrative medicine, I'm biased, but we take out those obstacles, you know, yes, we can't live in a 100% toxin free world, we can't erase all stress, especially as a mom, it's not going anywhere. We can't have a perfect clean slate. But even if you remove some of those factors, the body's like, Oh, they're Yes, thank you for that help. I can work and rebalance. And and reset, I think it's just health is complex. It's a work in progress. It's a worthy investment. And it's something that especially in the state of our world, we do have to work at it if we want to optimize and live to 100, like I do, and you'll probably do too.

So I have to ask the question, again, it's kind of kind of the same question, but I'm just so curious if you have any theories, or have heard any theories about anything that goes on in birth, that may contribute to this, like the use of Pitocin or C section, or IV antibiotics, I mean, anything that you theorize may, in your experience, you see a higher rates of this inflammatory process and women postpartum and more of this reactive state, that that you can link back to anything in their pregnancy or birth?

I think, absolutely. But I'm not able to pinpoint of course, I see women with with more significant health issues, detrimental health stuff, when they've had interventions when they've had a traumatic birth when they've had they've been exposed to the over medicalization of birth in our country. Now, absolutely.

Once you diagnose women, because we've met a few who've had Hashimotos after giving birth, and I never knew that that made all of those autoimmune diseases more likely. But now I do know that what are some of the quick fixes that sometimes move the mountain the most easily that you have your patients do? What supplements or what lifestyle things tend to make the biggest difference in the beginning when they're healing one of the biggest quickest ways to drop thyroid antibodies, which again conventional medicine is says is not possible, which is totally not true going on a gluten free diet, and people will say gluten free is just trendy, you know, more and more people, especially the aging population are coming back celiac. And it's not because we're eating the ancient wheat that was from biblical times, from ancient times, it's a totally different wheat, which is why you can also go to other countries and likely be okay with their good quality. We, we we bathed in glyphosate, we process it, we take out the good stuff. And something about those you guys probably know this, the gluten molecules just sit perfectly in that thyroid receptor and really cause problems. So a gluten free diet 30 to 60 days 100% Gluten Free gluten, we all have the potential wheat protein particles, it's a great way to decrease that inflammatory fire and we always see antibodies drop. The other thing, which is something that we've seen in our group, the power of a woman having her voice, which again, this is something my psychologist friend I we want to do a study on. But how do we measure it? We have seen time and time again, if a woman grows up in a family unit where she doesn't have a voice because the girl doesn't matter what have you, and or she's in a relationship fast forward to adulthood where she doesn't have a voice that interferes with thyroid function. And if you think about it, this year, proximity thyroid gland and the voicebox are right next to each other. And so those neurotransmitters, those chemical messengers, it's all in interplay. Not to mention, you know, we talked about cortisol still and taking away from progesterone and estrogen, but also thyroid hormones. So giving a woman that mental emotional support to get her voice back, we literally seen women's thyroid improve without them doing anything else, which is amazing. The third factor I would say is women, you know, with the beauty standards in our world now, with potions and toxins and fillers and Botox. We lather ourselves with a chemical cocktail, especially right here, the thyroid gland is one of the closest if not the closest Oregon to the skin surface. There's not a lot of room or buffer here. And so what do we do perfumes, lotions, makeup, valet parabens, you know, all of this stuff. And the thyroid just is like a sponge, and it's soaking it all up. So going low tox with your body care products is huge. And it's easy to do.

That interesting second point you made about women who don't find their voices. That's a fascinating topic. So I guess you have to get to know women a little bit personally to ask them about that. If they do concede that they have had some trouble in their childhood or even in their relationships with finding their voices. What advice do you give them? Where do you go from there?

It depends on the woman that you're right. The first thing is the bravery and the courage and the comfort level for her to be able to share that. So many of us are walking around with a mother wound, which is a whole nother topic that that it's, you know, one that's near and dear to my heart. But it depends on her. I think everybody needs a therapist at some point in their lives. I think women's groups are great. I think doing whatever kind of works for you in terms of prayer, meditation journaling, to be able to start getting your voice out, even if it's not for anyone else to hear just so you can move it from here, out, right, move that energy through. So those are some big factors, homeopathy can be great, we don't really have anything like it in the conventional medical toolbox. It just kind of peels back some of those emotional layers. Because sometimes it's a wound, again, from childhood to adulthood, not getting what you needed from your mom. And so it takes some deep digging to actually go back there because it was so painful, we kind of wall off, and we just move forward and we get the job done. Right. So it really depends on the woman. There's no one size fits all, but the mental emotional piece and women's health. I mean, it is just as important as your hormone balancing as auto immunity as your gut health as everything in your wildest imagination. Because I know the studies haven't been done on this, but what could possibly be that link between not finding one's voice and her thyroid? How do you imagine that could play out inside the body? I think it's just the connection between the the mental and the physical. You know, if someone jumps out from behind the bushes and scares you, that's something you perceive in your mind first, but your pupils dilate, you start sweating, that mental emotional is experienced in your physical cells. So there's, you know, again, maybe just sheer proximity because the voicebox is right there by the thyroid gland.

I mean, not to mention, it's so interesting to me and I don't know if there's research to support it, but we know for a fact the extent to which a woman has tension or relaxation in her throat exactly correlates to the extent to which she has tension or relaxation in her vagina when she's giving birth. So it's critically important to keep the throat relaxed, low tones in her throat And that opens all the vaginal muscles. And we also know that the same thing is true with the joint in the face, the jaw, and the tension or relaxation in the pelvis. So there's definitely this direct correlation between the Jama throat. It's just it's a mystery to us because there's no research on it, but we know it to be true.

Listen, people, people can die of a broken heart, right? That's energy around the heart space, people can destroy their thyroid, because they're holding in that painful energy suppressing their voice. These are real things, it literally happens. So it makes it makes sense. And I would imagine that energy work, doing some chakra work, or some sort of Reiki energy work would probably be really helpful to maybe acupuncture.

Yeah, I didn't mention that. But I certainly value all of those that mine abdominal therapy, acupuncture, Reiki, any of the body work that actually moves the emotion because you're right, that correlation. And I think there are more connections like that in the body that maybe we haven't flushed out yet. But how could it How could it not be the case? For sure.

So Rachel, this, this has been a fascinating conversation. It sounds like there's so much more that we all need to learn about this theory of

what is it? You don't turn all the time? RISM Okay, I got it.

So, in conclusion, is there just like one piece of take home advice that you could offer to our community of listeners about their postpartum health or preconception health? Well, if there's just one thing that you would want all women hearing this episode to know what would that be?

It would probably be two parts. The first would be never stop being curious and investigating and investing in your health because it is your greatest asset. And the second is be strong have a voice and if you feel like you have a provider that is dismissing you or not listening to you or telling you it's all in your head, keep looking because there are providers out there that will partner with you not preside over you. They will listen to you they will build a relationship with you and they will be in your corner of the ring to protect again this greatest asset which is your health.

Thank you for joining us at the Down To Birth Show. You can reach us @downtobirthshow on Instagram or email us at Contact@DownToBirthShow.com. All of Cynthia’s classes and Trisha’s breastfeeding services are offered live online, serving women and couples everywhere. Please remember this information is made available to you for educational and informational purposes only. It is in no way a substitute for medical advice. For our full disclaimer visit downtobirthshow.com/disclaimer. Thanks for tuning in, and as always, hear everyone and listen to yourself.

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About Cynthia Overgard

Cynthia is a published writer, advocate, childbirth educator and postpartum support specialist in prenatal/postpartum healthcare and has served thousands of clients since 2007. 

About Trisha Ludwig

Trisha is a Yale-educated Certified Nurse Midwife and International Board Certified Lactation Counselor. She has worked in women's health for more than 15 years.

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