When I first read your e-mail, I thought the
statement in the video had to be a mistake as
well. Human bodies are infected with probably
hundreds (if not thousands) of different species
of bacteria, and I assumed that it would be pretty
hard for a mother to prevent passing some of these
bacteria on to the developing fetus within her
body. After doing some reading on the internet and
thinking about it a bit more, however, I think the
statement you heard could be correct.
The fetus spends most of the 9 months of its
development in a placenta, bathed in amniotic
fluid. This is all produced by the mother, and it
would make sense if safeguards were taken by the
mother's immune system to keep bacteria out.
Mother's milk is sterile, so why can't amniotic
fluid within the placenta also be sterile?
Scientists will probably never know for sure if
the inside of the placenta and its amniotic fluid
are truly bacteria free, since our ability to
detect bacteria is often limited by the crude
methods we have to use, which include checking for
bacteria growth in the fluid after sampling and
incubating it, looking for bacteria under a
microscope with special fluorescent DNA stains or
looking for bacterial DNA in the fluid. Most
microbiologists would probably agree that we are
missing (can't see) some fraction of bacteria
using these methods. That said, tests of amniotic
fluid and placental membranes show that they are
"bacteria-free", or sterile, in healthy mothers.
Infections in the amniotic fluid CAN occur if
bacteria are present in the uterus when the
placental membranes seal. Some of the strains of
bacteria that can infect a mother's uterus during
pregnancy include Ureaplasma urealyticum,
Mycoplasma hominus, Bacteroides, and Gardnerella
vaginalis. In fact, a recent study suggests that
pregnancies that end in very premature labor
(before 20-30 weeks) may be because the amniotic
fluid has become infected. Early delivery, in this
case, could stem from the body's reaction to the
infection. Most babies are born free of infection
by HARMFUL bacteria, in any case.
Occasionally babies ARE born with harmful
infections. Infections may develop if bacteria
enter the amniotic fluid, if the mother herself
has a blood-born infection which is then passed on
to the developing baby through her bloodstream, or
if the baby is exposed to bacteria in the mother's
birth canal after the amniotic sac ruptures (i.e.
the mother's water has broken).
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