You probably don’t give your uterus much thought, but did you know that this is one of the most remarkable organs in your body and is capable of creating and sustaining life?
Here are 10 amazing, crazy facts about your uterus.
- The Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks believed women suffered from “wandering wombs”. In fact, any ailment that afflicted women, from sore throats to shortness of breath and anxiety, was blamed on the wandering uterus. Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, believed this was key to explaining why women were so different to men, physically, mentally and emotionally, while physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia referred to the womb as being an “animal within an animal”, an organ that “moved of itself hither and thither in the flanks”.
- One in 4 500 women is born without a uterus. These women go through puberty as they generally still have ovaries and ovulate, but they do not have a period. However, scientists have found a way to transplant the uterus. The first successful transplant and subsequent pregnancy and birth, was in Sweden, under Dr Mats Brannstrom, from the University of Gothenburg. His research programme performed nine uterine transplants, and the findings were published in the British medical journal The Lancet. Emelie Eriksson, who was born without a womb, was donated the uterus by her mother Marie. Emelie gave birth to a healthy baby boy, Ablin, in 2014 – so Emelie and her son were born from the same uterus. This last month, doctors in India, at the Galaxy Care Laparoscopy Institute successfully transplanted donated uteruses into two women.
- Another rare congenital condition involves being born with a double uterus. In this case, the uterus starts out as two small tubes during development that don’t join completely to create the larger, hollow organ. Instead, each one develops into a separate structure. Only one uterus may have an opening (cervix) or each cavity may have its own cervix. As rare as the condition is, women who have a double uterus can have successful pregnancies. However, the risk of miscarriage or premature birth does increase.
- Your uterus supports your bladder, bowel, pelvic bones and other organs. It holds your bladder just above the pubic bone, and your bowel behind it, keeping the two organs separate from each other.
- It is the only organ that can create a whole other organ. The placenta is grown within the uterus when you are pregnant to nourish and feeds your baby, and connects your baby to you through the umbilical cord, which is attached to the uterine wall. The word placenta has Latin roots, meaning flat cake, due to the flat round shape of the afterbirth and is believed to be the inspiration behind the round shape of traditional birthday cakes.
- The uterus creates your baby’s first home, and is the perfect environment to grow another human being – from the release of the egg at ovulation, to the fertilization and implantation, to the growth of the placenta and the multiplying of cells until your baby is fully formed.
- Your uterus is strong and elastic. Normally, it is a pear-sized organ that rests just above your pubic bone. However, during pregnancy this organ increases to the size of a watermelon that sits just underneath your ribs. It expands to more than 500 times its original size. After birth, it takes around six weeks to contract back to the original size. Generally, you will bleed for this period of time, as when it contracts, it expels the uterine lining that has protected your baby while in-utero.
- Your body breaks down some uterine cells to get rid of the excess lining and to help contract your uterus back into shape. This happens through two mechanisms at cellular level. The first, known as autolysis, is a process similar to the one your body uses to break down meat in your digestive tract. Enzymes are released by the muscles of your uterus, which effectively means your body digests its own cells. The second process is known as phagocytosis – any waste products left behind by autolysis are then “eaten” by special white blood cells so that they don’t damage uterine tissue or cause infection. While your uterus may appear the same as before, it is now slightly roomier, and the muscles are more toned and flexible, which is why second pregnancies may show sooner than first pregnancies (and why second labour may be a bit easier for some with consecutive pregnancies).
- Your uterus holds sexual power. During sex, the organ contracts to help the sperm in their journey to reach the released egg. This happens throughout your cycle, and not only during ovulation. When a woman orgasms, the muscles contract throughout the uterus, the vagina and pelvic floor. Some women can even experience deep pleasure from their uterus during an orgasm.
- Your uterus allows a connection with your unborn baby. From around 18 to 25 weeks, your baby’s auditory system is formed, allowing external sound to arrive at the uterus. While muffled, this sound becomes the first contact with the outside world, which is why it is encouraged for fathers to talk to, or read to, their unborn baby. From 10 weeks, your baby can feel your heartbeat. This is one of the reasons why your newborn finds comfort on your chest – your heartbeat is a reminder of being in the womb. Your emotions are also passed on through your uterus and placenta. If you are stressed, the hormones of adrenaline and cortisol are passed on. However, equally, a happy, relaxed mother passes endorphins and serotonin to her child.
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday.