The short answer to this question is no and surrogacy epigenetics can explain why. In gestational surrogacy, genetic material does not come from the surrogate herself. The pregnancy that a surrogate carries is the result of an in vitro fertilization (IVF) cycle. The sperm and egg cells used in IVF can come from the intended parents or sperm and egg donors. 100% of the child’s DNA comes from the contributing egg and sperm cells (intended parent/s and/or donor’s).
Understanding the IVF process can help clarify how babies get their genetic material. In IVF, embryologists inject one sperm into one egg. This process results in an embryo, which is a fertilized egg. Each sperm and egg cell provides 23 chromosomes to the embryo. Together, these 46 chromosomes make up the embryo’s entire genome, and the surrogate never contributes genetic material to the embryo. An embryo’s genome contains approximately 20,000 genes, which are responsible for the growth and development of the fetus and beyond.
After embryologists create an embryo in an IVF lab, they transfer the embryo to the surrogate’s womb. The embryo then develops and receives nutrients and oxygen through the surrogate’s placenta. Interestingly, in addition to not sharing DNA, the surrogate and the baby also never share blood. Nutrients and oxygen diffuse through the placenta from the surrogate to the developing fetus, and the surrogate’s and fetus’s blood never mix.
While the surrogate does not provide DNA directly to the embryo, her health and the uterine environment she provides to the growing fetus are critical to the baby’s healthy development. Surrogacy epigenetics refers to the effects of the surrogate’s health and uterine environment on gene expression. For example, if the surrogate has a poor diet, the fetal genes involved in metabolism may express in a way that increases the baby’s lifetime risk of obesity and diabetes. Some studies suggest that surrogate stress and mental health issues may have epigenetic impacts on the baby’s brain development.
Although most of the human data on this subject comes from observational studies, animal studies have shown a link between pregnancy and offspring’s metabolic and brain development that can last over several generations. More research on this topic is being published each year, so if you are concerned about possible epigenetic effects during your surrogacy journey, talk with your doctor to learn more.
While a gestational surrogate does not directly contribute DNA to the baby, she can still influence gene expression and normal fetal development. We encourage and expect surrogates to adhere to a healthy diet and lifestyle throughout the pregnancy, and our team provides each surrogate with support resources to ensure the surrogate and baby’s wellbeing.
Genes vs. Genetic Expression
How can a surrogate influence a baby’s genes if she does not contribute DNA to the baby?. To understand the answer to this question, it is important to understand the difference between genes and genetic expression.
Genes are the building blocks of everything that makes a person unique. Genes influence peoples’ hair color, height, chances of developing certain diseases, and more. Each of a person’s 46 chromosomes contains hundreds of thousands of genes. As a whole, the human genome contains about 3 billion genetic base pairs!
Gene expression refers to the process of the body using genes to develop a biological product, such as a protein. The body does not express all genes in a person’s genome, and differences in gene expression can result in important differences in people’s physical and mental characteristics. While a surrogate’s health does not impact the DNA that makes up a baby’s genes, it may impact the baby’s gene expression.
A Healthy Lifestyle is Key
A healthy lifestyle can help surrogates create the best possible uterine environment for fetal development and optimal gene expression. At Premium Surrogacy, we thoroughly screen all potential surrogates to make sure that they are physically and mentally healthy and that they live in a safe and nurturing environment. The surrogate then works with a doctor throughout her pregnancy to ensure that the baby develops normally. Focusing on wellness helps to protect the health of the surrogate and the baby.
Myths About Surrogacy
Epigenetics is just one of the many parts of surrogacy that people may misunderstand. While gestational surrogacy – and fertility treatments in general – are safer and more common than ever before, some myths persist. One of the most common myths is that the gestational surrogate is somehow related to the baby she carries. The fact is that a gestational surrogate does not share DNA with the baby she carries, and she is not related genetically to the baby in any way.
Knowing the facts behind gestational surrogacy can help intended parents feel confident in the surrogacy process. It also helps intended parents explain the surrogacy journey to friends and family who might misunderstand the process.
Are You Considering Surrogacy?
If you are looking to grow your family or help future parents in need, we can help you on your surrogacy journey. We work directly with exceptional surrogates and intended parents to make the process as safe, comfortable, and straightforward as possible.