The uterus or womb is the major female reproductive organ of most mammals, including humans. One end, the cervix, opens into the vagina; the other is connected on both sides to the fallopian tubes. The term uterus is commonly used within the medical and related professions, whilst womb is in more common usage. The plural of uterus is uteri.
The main function of the uterus is to accept a fertilized ovum which becomes implanted into the endometrium, and derives nourishment from blood vessels which develop exclusively for this purpose. The fertilized ovum becomes an embryo, develops into a fetus and gestates until childbirth. Due to anatomical barriers such as the pelvis, the uterus is pushed partially into the abdomen due to its expansion during pregnancy. Even in pregnancy the mass of a human uterus amounts to only about a kilogram (2.2 pounds).
Forms in mammals
In mammals, the four main forms in which it is found are:
Found in ruminants (cattle, goats, sheep, camels, llamas, giraffes, bison, buffalo, deer, etc.).
Found in pigs, cats, and dogs.
Found in humans, other primates and horses.
Found in rodents (such as mice, rats and guinea pigs), marsupials and lagomorpha (rabbits and hares).
The uterus is located inside the pelvis immediately dorsal (and usually somewhat rostral) to the urinary bladder and ventral to the rectum. Outside of pregnancy, its size in humans is several centimeters in diameter.
From outside to inside, the path to the uterus is as follows:
The lining of the uterine cavity is called the "endometrium." In most mammals, including humans, the endometrium builds a lining periodically which, if no pregnancy occurs, is shed or reabsorbed. Shedding of the endometrial lining in humans is responsible for menstrual bleeding (known colloquially as a woman's "period") throughout the fertile years of a female and for some time beyond. In other mammals there may be cycles set as widely apart as six months or as frequently as a few days.
"anteflexed": the fundus is pointing forward relative to the cervix
"retroflexed": the fundus is pointing backwards
The bilateral Müllerian ducts form during early fetal life. In males, MIF secreted from the testes leads to their regression. In females these ducts give rise to the Fallopian tubes and the uterus. In humans the lower segments of the two ducts fuse to form a single uterus, however, in cases of uterine malformations this development may be disturbed. The different uterine forms in various mammals are due to various degrees of fusion of the two Müllerian ducts.