15 Things You Had No Idea Babies Learn In The Womb

My daughter has pressed her little nose up against my pregnant belly bump and asked her sister if she'd like to come out and play. She then tickles the bump and sings her a song or two. We've all done it. Talked to the bump in anticipation that she can hear us and will recognize our voices when she is born. I often wonder if it actually works like that, as muffled voices make their way through my body to her tiny little ears which are still developing.

In fact, it turns out that yes, it can actually work like this. Your baby is learning a great deal about life, it's family and the world it will soon meet as it grows bigger, stronger and cuter with every trimester. Do you feel extra kicks or movements when you sing gentle songs to your bump? Does your belly ripple with somersaults when Dad reads stories or when your other little kids make a ruckus? Recent research has delved into the notion that unborn babies concentrate on more than simply getting bigger and developing organs during the nine months of pregnancy.

They are doing and thinking a lot more than we realize and it's fascinating to know just what exactly is going on in there while you feel every kick, jab and hiccup. Babies begin to learn in the womb, so much more than simply understanding how to use their limbs to poke your ribs. Your baby is developing and fine tuning their senses and learning as much as they can about their world. From learning words, to recognizing voices and language, and remembering songs, their development is so much keener in utero than we first realized.

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15 Practicing Breathing

While your fetus does not actually "breathe" in the womb, her body is learning to take her first breath. During pregnancy a mother breathes for her child as oxygen the mother inhales is transferred to the baby through the umbilical cord and carbon dioxide is dispelled through the placenta. By nine weeks gestation, your baby is already practising breathing-like movements. And by the end of pregnancy, she occasionally inhales and exhales amniotic fluid, and moves the diaphragm up and down, which means she will be capable of taking that first gulp of air when she is born.

Incredibly, Mum's body plays a huge part in developing baby's lungs to prepare them for that first breath. Her body produces an increasing amount of surfactant in the amniotic fluid as the pregnancy progresses which the baby needs to coat the inside of her lungs to keep the lung’s air sacs open. By week 35 babies are considered to have enough surfactant to prevent the lungs from collapsing. When your baby is born, her first cry often indicates the start of breathing as she takes that big first gulp of air which she's been preparing for for so long.

14 What's That Noise?

The womb is not exactly the quietest of places to get a good nights rest. You baby is being inundated with a plethora of sounds from your body including your heart beat, the sound of blood whooshing around your body, your stomach gurgling, hiccups and your voice. On top of that, they are listening to the incredible amount of noise that comes from outside of you - the TV, car horns blaring, music, voices and conversations, dogs barking. Absolutely anything you can hear,can possibly make it's way to your baby.

From as early as 20 weeks gestation, babies have started to develop their keen sense of hearing and by week 27 they begin to react to the sounds and vibrations which are being filtered into the womb. It may sound like quite a noisy place in there, but for a baby these are often ambient sounds, which is why they are often soothed by white noise in their first few months of life.

What's more, babies often remember the sounds which they listened to so intently during their stay with Mum. They may remember the theme tune to your favourite soap opera or recognise the song which Dad always hums.

13 Bonding With Mom

As your baby listens to the sounds of the world it will soon meet, she is also listening intently to the sound of Mum's voice. In the very first act of bonding with your child, your baby is recognising your voice and learning to know who Mum is. By the time your baby is born, she will be able to identify your voice amongst others.

Research has proven that around the eight or ninth month of pregnancy, a baby's heart rate will slow down in utero, as she hears her mothers voice, creating a calming effect on the baby. Incredibly, in one research paper, day old babies were given pacifers which were connected to tape recorders. Depending on the babies sucking, a recording of the Mum's voice was played or that of a different woman. Amazingly, the study examined these sucking patterns and discovered that babies learned to use the pacifer in a particular rhythm to switch on their mother's voices.

William Fifer,Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, was a coauthor on the paper, and said about the amazing results, "Within 10 to 20 minutes, the babies learned to adjust their sucking rate on the pacifier to turn on their own mother's voice. This not only points out a newborn's innate love for his mother's voice but also a baby's unique ability to learn quickly."

12 An Ear For Language

Our clever little babies are not just learning to recognize their Mum's voice or discovering how to filter one noise from another. Incredibly, research suggests that our babies are learning language while in utero. Whether it's muffled or not, babies are developing a keen ear which will allow them to distinguish between languages and learn their mother tongue. In fact, researchers have suggested that bilingualism begins in the womb.

Your developing baby will learn from listening to the conversations you are having with others and be able to recognize her mother tongue when she is born. A study published by Psychology Professor, Janet Werker, University of British Columbia, found that the sounds and rhythm of a mother’s language helps prepare her baby to recognize that language and begin it's development. In another similar study to the last, newborns were given a pacifier which was connected to a computer which depending on the rhythm of the babies sucking would play a recording of the mother speaking her native tongue and another language. The babies quickly learned to turn on the recording of the language they recognized. If the mother was bilingual and spoke two languages, the newborn showed equal interest in the two languags. If the mother spoke only one, they ignored the language they were not familiar with suggesting that babies do in fact learn to differentiate between languages in utero.

11 Reacting To Stress

We all know that stress is a big no no for Mums-to-be and it's often considered the Dad's job to keep Mum as stress free as possible during the nine months. The reason we need to stay stress free and tone down our hectic lifestyles, is because a growing number of research studies have discovered that stress is simply not good for a pregnant woman or for her baby who, it has been discovered, takes on Mum's stress as certain hormones and chemicals are released from the mothers body and absorbed by the baby in utero.

Research has suggested that our levels of stress can be passed on to our babies while they are in the womb which is an inherent negative stimuli for our growing babies. Researcher Dr Pathik Wadhwa says, "When the mother is stressed, several biological changes occur, including elevation of stress hormones and increased likelihood of intrauterine infection. The fetus builds itself permanently to deal with this kind of high-stress environment, and once it's born may be at greater risk for a whole bunch of stress-related pathologies."

Some studies go as far to suggest that high levels of stress in the womb can affect a baby's temperament and neurobehavioral development when they are born. It's safe to say staying as stress free as possible is good for both Mum and baby.

10 Deciphering Tastes

Incredibly, by as early as 13 weeks gestation, your baby has already developed taste buds as her brain develops and can determine between strong flavors like garlic or curry. She may even have a preference! Babies are able to distinguish between the five flavorings of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami.

Babies are predisposed to prefer anything sweet tasting as the flavors are passed on to your baby through the amniotic fluid which she is swallowing. Studies have shown that babies swallow more amniotic fluid when it is sweet tasting. During the last trimester, your baby will swallow a massive one litre of amniotic fluid a day which prepares her for breastfeeding. Remember that breastmilk absorbs flavors from the mothers diet, just as the amniotic fluid does.

Some research has suggested that the more varied the Mums diet is during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, the less likely you will have a picky eater. But don't we know that all babies and toddlers go through phases!

9 Sense Of Touch And Movement

A baby quickly develops a sense of touch and feeling in the womb. By 8 weeks gestation, your baby will respond to any touch around her mouth and face and incredibly by week 11, she will start exploring the womb by moving her hands, feet and using her mouth. All that movement you feel as your little one gets bigger, is her exploring and learning about her environment and her body. You may notice these somersaulting movements at the early stage of pregnancy on an ultrasound scan and you will most certainly feel them as your baby gets bigger and the space in the womb gets smaller.

Beautifully, you may notice that your unborn baby will react when you touch your bump or gently caress it, almost as though they are reacting to your movements. If you laugh, go for a light walk or jog, or practice pregnancy yoga or pilates, your baby will react to those movements also as they interact with the new movements they are learning.

8 Dream Big Little One

We've often wondered if babies dream while they are in the womb and we've been kept in the dark about this for a long time as babies brains are impossible to monitor while they are in utero. We know that growing babies sleep the majority of the time and that they go through moments of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and quiet resting moments of non-REM sleep.

Recent research has suggested though, that as early as 23 weeks babies can be seen to experience REM which suggests a deep level of sleep which can generate dreams. Using advanced mathematical methods, researchers have uncovered that babies experience the same rapid eye movement as adults do but as we know, we don't always dream during REM, so we can simply surmise that our babies are dreaming at some stage of experiencing REM. Because it's impossible to know what baby is dreaming about, I think it's safe to say she's dreaming about Mum.

7 Smiling

Your baby is learning and discovering so many reflexes in the womb as she learns to move her fingers, toes and limbs. She is opening and closing her eyes and she is also learning how to smile and when to smile. Ultrasound scans have become incredibly vivid with the advancement of 4D technology and we now have a visual into the womb we've never had before. Many ultrasound scans have shown babies, happily smiling in the womb as they react to stimuli. While we don't know what they are reacting to or if it is simply practicing, we hope it is Mum's voice or a song they are familiar with that upturns those lips.

Professor Stuart Campbell, Obstetrician at Create Health Clinic in London, began using the revolutionary scanner in 2001 and has seen many incredible images of babies including witnesses babies smiling. It was previously thought that babies did not learn to smile until about six weeks after birth as a result of copying their mothers. However, we are now witness to babies smiling in the womb and Professor Campbell said, "This may indicate the baby's calm, trouble-free existence in the womb and the relatively traumatic first few weeks after birth, when the baby is reacting to a strange, new environment."

He added: "What's behind the smile, of course, I can't say, but the corners turn up and the cheeks bulge ... I think it must be some indication of contentment in a stress-free environment."

6 Responding To Light




Naturally, the womb is a very dark place which explains one reason why your babies will firmly shut her eyes when she is born into our bright and light world. It is in month seven of pregnancy that your baby will start opening and closing her eyes. Since it's very dark where she is, there is very little for her to see around the womb, and instead uses those toes and fingers to feel her way around.

Doctors however, have suggested that your baby will flinch away from a bright light when it is shone up into the uterus or directly onto your belly bump, suggesting that your baby can, in actual fact, see the light and squirms away from the unfamiliar sensation. Doctors have also witnessed babies opening and closing their eyes during ultrasounds as they practice the movements of blinking in anticipation of what they will see outside the womb.

5 Recognise Nursery Rhymes And Songs

By the time your baby is at 34 weeks gestation, she has the ability to recognize songs and nursery rhymes. We have all sung to our bumps or had conversations with our unborn little one, in an effort to stimulate them and so they would recognize our voices. New research has proven that it is the mother's voice which has the ability to teach babies while still in the womb.

Nursing researcher, Charlene Krueger, Associate Professor in the University of Florida’s College of Nursing, completed a study which involved pregnant women reciting a rhyme to their babies three times a day for six weeks, at the start of the third trimester (28 weeks gestation). After the six weeks, it was noted that the unborn baby’s heart rate responded to the familiar rhyme recited by a stranger’s voice by 34 weeks gestation.

Krueger said, "The mother’s voice is the predominant source of sensory stimulation in the developing fetus. This research highlights just how sophisticated the third trimester fetus really is and suggests that a mother’s voice is involved in the development of early learning and memory capabilities. This could potentially affect how we approach the care and stimulation of the preterm infant."

4 Crying

Babies cry, quite a lot in fact. Believe it or not, babies in the womb, also cry. Research has suggested that babies can begin crying in the womb by week 28th of pregnancy as a reaction to stimuli or to express their displeasure. Many studies have recognised that babies react with gestures and movements which resemble crying behaviour such as opening their mouths, depressing their tongues, and taking several irregular breaths before exhaling and settling back down again.

While babies were often thought to display four patterns of behaviour while in utero including quiet sleep, active state, quiet awake, and active awake, researchers have added this fifth behaviour to a babies normal occurrences in pregnancy.

Researchers who published a study on the behaviours of babies in utero in relation to cocaine and tobacco use in pregnancy discovered this reaction in babies as a by product of the research. They said, "documenting crying behavior in third-trimester fetuses may have developmental implications because crying is a complex behavior that requires coordination of various motor systems. It also requires reception of a stimulus, recognizing it as negative, and incorporating an appropriate response."

3 Practicing Facial Expressions

As we have learnt, babies begin smiling in the womb, long before originally thought. We now also know that babies practice facial expressions while in utero. 4D imaging has given us an incredible insight into the world of babies before they are born and doctors have suggested that many babies not only practice incredible acrobatic movements while in the womb but also learn how to manipulate the structures of their face.

Professor Stuart Campbell, Obstetrician at Create Health Clinic in London, said, "I don't think people realise the range of facial expressions you get inside the uterus, or indeed that babies blink. With 2D scanning you can see the eyeballs rolling, but now with 4D scanning it is quite clear that they are opening their eyelids, and that is in a very dark environment, so it must be a reflex. They make breathing movements inside the uterus, but there is no air, and they blink, but there is no light, so it seems they are making preparations for birth."

2 Sucking Thumbs

Sucking a thumb is a natural reaction for babies and is a sign of a happy healthy baby. Babies, in fact, learn the skill of thumbsucking while still in the womb and use it as a comforting mechanism even then. They begin, at six months, by using their fingers to explore their lips and cheeks. As babies learn a great deal through the sensitive feelings in their mouths (which is why your newborn and young baby will often be seen exploring by putting things into their mouths) they gradually lead to learning how to suck their thumb.

Psychologist, Dr Nadja Reissland of Durham University, said, "Increased touching of the lower part of the face and mouth in foetuses could be an indicator of brain development necessary for healthy development, including preparedness for social interaction, self-soothing and feeding. What we have observed are sequential events, which show maturation in the development of foetuses, which is the basis for life after birth."

1 Ready For The Big World

Babies are naturally very curious, and that curiosity begins while they are growing in the womb. They explore their surroundings, check out their limbs, their toes and fingers, and have even been caught by doctors attempting to grab onto amniocentesis needle when it's inserted into the uterus! Your baby, we have noticed, will suck her thumb, play with the umbilical cord and climb around the womb. They listen to everything they can hear and learn from it.

All of this is in preparation for being born into the bright, big world which will see them learning and growing in their first few months almost as fast as they for the nine months with they shared a home with Mum. They have learnt important life skills which teach them how to breath and they have honed those primal instincts of sucking and swallowing. Those nine months and one million kicks and jabs were all there for a reason, as your baby prepared itself for life.

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