In 2004, a team of researchers at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts, investigated the fetal cells that remained in the maternal blood stream after pregnancy. The results were published in Transfer of Fetal Cells with Multilineage Potential to Maternal Tissue. The team working on that research included Kiarash Khosrotehrani, Kirby L. Johnson, Dong Hyun Cha, Robert N. Salomon, and Diana W. Bianchi. The researchers reported that the fetal cells passed to a pregnant woman during pregnancy could develop into multiple cell types in her organs. They studied these differentiated fetal cells in a cohort of women fighting different diseases. The researchers found that the fetal cells in the women differentiated into different cell types under the influence of maternal tissues, and that those differentiated cells concentrated in the tissue surrounding diseased tissues. According to the team, this response could be a therapeutic response to the disease in the once pregnant woman. The research indicated the long lasting effects of pregnancy in a woman's body.
In 2001, Kevin M. Godfrey and David J.P. Barker published the article “Fetal Programming and Adult Health” in Public Health Nutrition, where they identified the significance of maternal nutrition during pregnancy to healthy offspring development. The authors describe the effects of maternal nutrition on fetal programming of cardiovascular disease. Fetal programming is when a specific event during pregnancy has effects on the fetus long after birth. The authors argue that fetuses may adapt to varying shifts in their environment in utero, such as slowed fetal growth in response to malnutrition. While those adaptations can be helpful in utero, the authors assert they may persist into adolescence and adulthood, causing conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Godfrey and Barker assert that fetal adaptations to maternal malnutrition may be implicated in the development of cardiovascular disease in adulthood, and called for future research investigating additional fetal programming variables.
Published in 1971, Adenocarcinoma of the Vagina: Association of Maternal Stilbestrol Therapy with Tumor Appearance in Young Women, by Arthurs L. Herbst and colleagues, was the first piece of literature connecting maternal use of the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES), also called stilbestrol, with the development of a rare and severe form of vaginal cancer in young women. Diethylstilbestrol was later classified as an endocrine disruptor, a substance that disrupts the hormonal function of the body in those exposed to it during development or later in life. After Herbst and his team established the connection between DES and the occurrence of breast cancer, cervical cancer, infertility, and reproductive abnormalities, the US federal government banned use the drug for pregnant women. The article was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In 2014, Big Belli, a media and social networking brand, released a documentary called 40 Weeks online. The documentary, directed by Christopher Henze, followed multiple women during their pregnancies. The film predominantly features three women, though it includes the stories of many. Throughout the film, women detail their accounts of the physical and emotional changes that occur during pregnancy. 40 Weeks provides viewers with information about different aspects of pregnancy including the importance of nutrition and hydration, knowledge about safe medications, and the possible complications that can affect a pregnant woman and her fetus.
Fetal programming, or prenatal programming, is a concept that suggests certain events occurring during critical points of pregnancy may cause permanent effects on the fetus and the infant long after birth. The concept of fetal programming stemmed from the fetal origins hypothesis, also known as Barker’s hypothesis, that David Barker proposed in 1995 at the University of Southampton in Southampton, England. The fetal origins hypothesis states that undernutrition in the womb during middle to late pregnancy causes improper fetal growth, which in turn, causes a predisposition to certain diseases in adulthood. In addition to nutritional impacts, researchers have studied the fetal programming effects of many factors, such as maternal anxiety or violence during pregnancy. Researchers proposing the concept of fetal programming established a new area of research into the developmental causes of disease, pointing towards the in utero environment and its critical role in healthy human development.