Epigenetics & Donors Eggs

The deep connection between a mother and a child goes beyond mere genetics

Going through infertility is hard, so very hard.  There are so many points along this journey that are filled with pain and loss.  For those who arrive at the place in their journey where they need donor eggs in order to conceive, that pain and loss is exacerbated by the loss they feel about losing their genetic link to their unborn baby.

People ask themselves questions like “Will I feel connected to this baby?”, “Will the baby look like me?”, “Will the baby be like me?”… Ultimately they wonder how much of who this baby will become will be due to nature (the donor’s genes) or nurture (the environment during pregnancy and beyond).

Which brings us to the question: 

Do birth mothers using donor eggs have a significant impact on the development and future health of their babies?

The answer to that question is a resounding yes. Abundant research into epigenetics has shown us that the prenatal uterine environment plays a crucial role in foetal brain development, childhood metabolism, immune health, and numerous other factors.

We know that genes ultimately control all human processes; and if you are using donor eggs, these will be the genes of your egg donor. However, the switches that turn our genes on and off may play an even greater role in health and development. These switches are known as epigenetic controls.

Essentially, scientific studies of epigenetics are revealing that the activity levels of some genes may be “dimmed” or turned up in response to other external cues from the environment – even in the womb! This means that as a donor egg or donor embryo recipient, your body still influences the gene development of your baby.

Studies have shown that birth mothers, including women carrying a donor egg baby, can influence such important factors as metabolism and brain development through epigenetic modulation while their baby is developing in the uterus.

After the implantation of the embryo and throughout the entire pregnancy, every cell in the baby’s body is influenced by the birth mother’s body. All the nutrients that the mother is intaking (protein, vitamins, minerals, calcium, sugars) are being used to build the little human inside of them. The baby lives in the birth mother’s embryonic fluid for nine months, shares their blood flow, their rhythm, and the baby’s gene expression is influenced by the prenatal environment of the mother’s womb.

And that’s not all!  Not only does the mother’s body influence the baby’s cells, the opposite is also true. That bond you have with your baby goes further than just love.

“When pregnant, the cells of the baby migrate into the mothers bloodstream and then circle back into the baby, it’s called “fetal-maternal microchimerism”.⁠

For 41 weeks, the cells circulate and merge backwards and forwards, and after the baby is born, many of these cells stay in the mother’s body, leaving a permanent imprint in the mothers tissues, bones, brain, and skin, and often stay there for decades. Every single child a mother has afterwards will leave a similar imprint on her body, too.

Research has shown that if a mother’s heart is injured, fetal cells will rush to the site of the injury and change into different types of cells that specialize in mending the heart.

The baby helps repair the mother, while the mother builds the baby. How amazing is that?

It’s incredible how mothers bodies protect the baby at all costs, and the baby protects & rebuilds the mother back – so that the baby can develop safely and survive.

Studies have also shown cells from a fetus in a mothers brain 18 years after she gave birth. Which is amazing, and explains why as a mother you can intuitively feel things about your child even after they are born and for many years to come.

So if as a future mother to a baby conceived through a donor egg, you are wondering whether you will feel connected to your baby, whether you will bond with your baby, the answer is a most definite yes!  You and your baby will be connected on a cellular level that will last forever.   How beautiful this is!


Tertia Albertyn is the founder of Nurture - South Africa’s longest-running and most successful Egg Donation Program. An accomplished speaker and an award-winning published author, as well as an ex-infertility patient herself, she is highly regarded in South Africa and internationally for the work she does in infertility. Tertia was instrumental in establishing the first FDA-approved frozen donor egg bank in Africa. Tertia has an MBA from the University of Cape Town and lives in Cape Town, South Africa with her husband and three children.