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Fetal Life
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At fertilization, the egg is programed to be either male or female.This is not apparent in the first embryonic weeks. The tiny buds of the genitals have the basic structure to become either female or male. There is a genital ridge which can become the clitoris or penis. There are raised folds which can develop into labia or scrotum. By nine weeks, the beginnings of a primitive vagina appear, (the penile tube grows longer). At eleven weeks, the external female genitals take shape (the edges of the penile tube fuse).

Both genders develop internal duct systems. Special tissues on the ducts are pre-gonads. They can become the female ovaries or the male testicles. During weeks 5 to 11, the ovaries develop and the ducts fuse to form into the oviducts, uterus and vagina. Once the ovaries and testicles produce their female or male hormones, further development for the female reproductive organs progresses smoothly. In males, however, by about week 15, male hormones must suppress the female-making tissue because all embryos are originally programed female. If something goes amiss, if the testicles are malformed or produce insufficient hormones, the fetus will develop into a female. As far as nature is concerned, Eve came first.

By the fifth month, there are about 10 million primitive egg cells (follicle tissue) developing in the tiny nubs of ovaries. From the seventh month, hundreds and thousands of these would-be eggs do not mature; they regress. By birth, the total number of eggs is reduced to about 1 million. Nor does this regression stop at birth. By puberty, there are a quarter of a million eggs left in both ovaries. This phenomenon of regression of cells destined to become eggs is not understood. However, a quarter of a million eggs at birth is more than enough.

The sexual systems of a man and woman are very different. Yet it is thought the budding tissue in early embryo life show some parallels in structure. These are perceived as:

Female Male
Outer lips Scrotum
Inner lips Underside of penis
Glans of clitoris Glans of penis
Shaft of clitoris Shaft of penis
Foreskin (hood) Foreskin
Ovaries Testicles
Uterus Epididymes
Oviducts Vas deferens
Bartholin's glands Cowper's Glands
Skene's glands Prostate glands
Breast Tissue

Breast tissue starts developing in early fetal life. It grows in two lines from the level of the underarm down to the groin. These lines are called "milk ridges"; they can be seen down the abdomen of a female family pet. In humans, the milk ridges stop development before 12 weeks. There is the same kind of regression which occurs in primitive eggs. Breast tissue usually remains only in the chest area.

Seven percent of baby girls are born with polymastia, "many breasts having one or more extra nipples." Polymastia occurs in baby boys, though the condition is less common. The most usual site for an extra nipple is on the milk ridge line directly under one breast. However, they can be anywhere on the trunk, appearing on the line of the milk ridge. Between one and five percent of daughters born to mothers with the condition will also have polymastia. Nobody knows what causes this condition. In adult men with hairy chests, it is often mistaken for a freckle or mole.

A rare defect is breast tissue somewhere along the milk ridge, but no nipple. Breasts do not begin to develop until puberty, so the condition may not be noticed until then. At puberty, the tissue begins to grow like a breast in the normal position. Visit the physician to check that all is well.

A very rare defect is breast tissue in the usual place, and no nipple. It is often linked to other problems of chest development which can include sternum and rib deformities, curvature of the spine (scoliosis), or sparse muscle development.

Baby Secretions

At birth, the genitals of a baby girl are swollen and puffy. It is fairly common for white discharge to exude from the vagina. In some cases, the discharge is thick and creamy; it can be flecked with blood. There is no cause for concern. This is the result of the mother's hormones still circulating in the baby's blood, and stimulating this female response. Within a week or so, the maternal hormones are flushed out as the baby's system no longer receives them.

A baby girl's genitals appear loose and saggy. The labia seem far more noticeable than on a toddler; in some cases, they protrude. The openings of the vagina, anus and urethra are wider than parents expect. Again, this is perfectly normal, it is due to the later development of the pelvic supports. Once the baby stands up, the internal mesh of muscles and ligaments which make up the pelvic support system start to strengthen and tighten. The internal and external organs are drawn up into place, and the lips meet to close over the vulva. Soon after this, the little girl can control her bladder and, somewhat later, the muscles of the rectum.

The majority of babies are born with tiny swollen breasts. A whitish fluid can ooze from them. This used to be called "witch's milk," and was thought to have magical properties. Avoid any squeezing of the breasts to remove the fluid. It has the opposite effect; it stimulates the milk flow. Both milk and breasts will disappear within the first few weeks.

Foreskin Facts

A baby girl is born with her clitoris and foreskin (hood) as one single structure. During fetal life, they develop from a single bud. At birth, neither is fully formed. They are still developing and continue to do so until they are ready to separate of their own accord. In boys, this happens naturally at some time before puberty, usually by the child's second to fifth birthday. The time for girls is not noted; it is likely to be the satne.

During the first years, a child cannot control her excretory functions. The genitals are frequently swamped with urine or faeces. Diaper rash is common, and the skin of the entire area can become sore and raw. It would seem a clever design of Nature to keep the protective foreskin firmly attached to the glans while there is a high risk of infection. Later, when the child has learned full control of her excretory functions, the foreskin and glans are sufficiently developed to separate.

There is no need for extra cleansing of the genitals. The daily bath and wipes in between are usually enough. If diaper rash develops, protect the area with baby cream. Try to leave off diapers whenever appropriate. The urinary tract can become infected; check that the vulva area does not look sore. If a baby girl screams when urinating, the hot liquid could be stinging a sore place. Take her to the physician to check all is well.

In very rare cases, the foreskin and glans do not separate. The condition is called clitoral adhesions, and is not usually detected in childhood. It is thought to be one reason for lack of orgasm. The sensitive glans is not exposed at the first stage of arousal, and there is no sensation of mounting sexual tension. The adhesions can be removed, and the foreskin freed to retract or cover the glans as appropriate.

In an adult, the hood maintains its protective function. At the early stage of sexual arousal, it rolls back to allow greater stimulus of the clitoris. When this is sufficient, it rolls forward again to prevent further stimulus. Otherwise, it remains as a cover for the delicate and highly sensitive tissues, keeping them safe from harm within its protective sheath.

Circumcision is the surgical removal of the foreskin. It is pulled forward and away from the glans, or clamped in a ring, and then cut off. The process is an issue of culture rather than health. Male circumcision is a religious rite in Jewish and Muslim families. It is a popular custom in America and Britain among the more affluent social groups; other Europeans do not approve. Female circumcision, which can include removal of the entire clitoris, is generally considered barbaric today. Perhaps male circumcision will soon be perceived in the same light.

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