What does your baby do inside the womb?

It’s natural for parents to talk to the growing baby inside the womb. Whether it’s a song, a story, or simply a series of curious questions, parents hope that this interaction with the soon-to-be-born child will aid in their development. Since babies never remember their time in the womb, parents often wonder, what exactly happens during those nine months?

As researchers continue to study what goes on with your baby inside the womb, they’ve found out that the child’s sense of hearing, taste, sight, and touch are all developing at various paces. This research is important for parents as they try to keep their children healthy, whether they’re in the womb or out of it.

The Baby Begins to Touch

Your baby’s senses are just starting to develop during the first eight weeks inside the womb. At this time, the fetus will respond to touch around the cheeks and lips. At 11 weeks, they will be able to explore their own body, as well as the uterus using their feet, hands, and mouth.

During this time, ultrasound scans often show babies feeling their bottom, the umbilical cord, and even walking around the amniotic sac. This exploration is the reason that mothers often feel the baby “kicking” and moving around. While many parents imagine the baby to be dormant growing inside the mother’s uterus, this is prime time for the fetus to start exploring.

Though the fluid-filed, weightless environment that is the amniotic sac is small, it is roomy enough for the fetus to develop their sense of touch. It is through this process that the growing fetus begins to develop their brain’s cortical networks.

In addition to exploring the confines of the amniotic sac, the unborn baby is able to feel the mother’s movements while in the womb. Researchers believe that the kicks and movement are often in response to the mother’s own movement. For example, if the mother (or someone else) touches the stomach, the baby often responds by moving their arms or extending their feet.

Feeling the Mother’s Emotions

In addition to responding to physical touch, the baby inside your womb is also responsive to changes in the mother’s emotional state. If the mom is experiencing various emotions, the baby will respond accordingly. A mother may be watching a sad movie and her baby might remain still during this time.

Similarly, if the mother starts to laugh, ultrasound images have shown that the baby responds to this exuberant mood with joyous bouncing behavior of its own. This link between mother and child shows just how strong these emotional and physical connections are.

Message for Mom:
Your womb is the perfect environment for the baby to learn and explore. Since the connection between mothers and their babies is so strong, moms need to keep their stress levels low. Try to minimize the amount of stress in your professional or personal life by taking up a relaxing activity like yoga or any similar practice of mindfulness.

The Baby Starts to Taste

While you may joke about eating certain foods so that your baby will love them, there is some truth to this idea. The food that you eat when you’re pregnant can affect what the baby develops a taste for.

Around the second trimester, the baby’s taste buds will look similar to an adult’s. The amniotic fluid around the fetus will also carry the odor of your more pungent meals. The likes of anise, vanilla, curry, or garlic will likely make their way down to the baby.

According to research, babies can develop a taste for certain foods that they’ve experienced in both amniotic fluid and during lactation. These researchers theorize that the fetuses create memories of these flavors after they have been exposed to them inside the womb.

In the last trimester, the fetus will swallow about a liter of the amniotic fluid each day. This fluid will also reach the olfactory receptors inside the nose, as well as their taste buds. While this isn’t a sign that your baby’s sense of taste will be fully developed before birth, babies are affected by certain taste and smells. However, their sense of taste doesn’t become fully developed until four months after birth.

Message for Mom:
Don’t forget you’re eating for two! Your baby is just starting to learn about what food you like to eat, so try to stick to a healthy diet. While you may not be able to stifle some of those pregnancy cravings, keep in mind that whatever you eat will eventually make its way to your child.

The Baby Learns to Listen

The fetus’ ears start to function even with the baby inside your womb. At 20 weeks, your child’s ears are already well developed. Once you get 26 – 27 weeks into your pregnancy, you’ll see that your baby will respond to vibration and sound that is applied to the mom’s belly as the baby’s heart rate starts to change.

At 30 – 32 weeks, the baby will hear “airborne” noises like music, voices, or sound. The mother will likely notice that the baby kicks or moves around if there is a startling noise like a car backfiring or a door slamming.

At this point in the pregnancy, your baby will have grown accustomed to your womb’s soundscape. The baby is used to hearing the mother’s heartbeat, the whoosh of her blood, the sounds of the stomach, and the melody of her voice. Research shoes that newborn babies often turn their head whenever they hear the voice of their mother. This is due to the fact that the baby grew to recognize its mother’s voice while it was still inside the womb.

In addition to remembering their mother’s voice, newborn babies tend to recognize any books or music that they listened to while in the womb. Though they aren’t able to discern the meaning of the songs or stories, they do find the rhythms and tones to be familiar.

Message for Mom: When trying to develop your babies auditory senses, continue to play whatever types of music you like. There isn’t enough research to determine if any particular genre will make a difference.

The Baby Begins to See

Of course, it’s quite dark in the womb. Unborn infants are really just looking out to a foggy nothingness. While a bright light has the capability of filtering through, the infant may not be able to recognize the difference. While the baby won’t have much to look at while in the womb, its sense of sight is being honed between weeks 23 and 25.

At this time, the baby’s eyeballs are already formed and it is possible for them to even blink. About five weeks later, the pupils are likely able to respond to bright lights by contracting. As the baby strengthens its eye muscles, they will move their eyes, which is important to their visual brain development.

Message for Mom: Once your baby is born, their sense of sight will be well developed. Babies that are born prematurely, need the extra time in incubators inside dimly lit rooms to ensure that their eyes develop properly.

The World for Preemies

After seeing how much of an impact life inside the womb has for babies, NICU doctors are tasked with replicating this environment for babies that are born prematurely. Babies that are born early are rushed out of the dark, warm, and nurturing environment of the womb into the bright, hard, and loud reality of the real world. For the health of these babies, it is important for parents and doctors to recreate the environment of the womb as much as possible.

For this reason, an ideal room in the NICU would have lower lights, covered incubators, and certain task lighting during medical procedures. Moreover, these premature babies should be surrounded with soft and warm blankets, in a room with very little noise.

Message for Mom: Though babies that are born prematurely need to be incubated to allow for healthy development, they still benefit from skin to skin contact. While it’s impossible to replicate the conditions of the womb exactly, the closer parents and medical staff can get to creating a similar environment, the better.

While ultrasound images give us a clue as to what’s going on inside the womb, we must rely on research and studies to gain a deeper understanding of what really goes on throughout pregnancy. As you prepare to bring a healthy baby into the world, be sure to keep this guide in mind.