Moms and moms-to-be learn a lot about labor and delivery. Every mom likes to share her experience, whether it was easy or difficult, and the stories about the pain and the grossness. But people don't talk as much about what the baby goes through.
While the mom is having contractions, things are getting tighter and tighter inside the uterus. The baby is going to go through some pretty stressful moments, and is going to twist and turn as he goes through the birth canal. At the same time, the baby will be doing all of the things that he did before labor started, like practicing his breathing and taking a nap. After nine months of learning about the baby's development, moms might want to learn a little more about those last 24 hours in the womb and what they have in store for her little one.
Of course, babies don't remember their journey through the birth canal long enough to tell us about them, so we aren't totally sure about how they feel during the labor and delivery. But there are a lot of things that have been proven through research.
Here are 20 things that happen to the baby in the 24 hours before birth.
20 The Baby Drops
This first one may happen more than 24 hours before birth; in fact it can happen a few weeks before labor begins. But it's definitely a sign that the baby is on the way. When the baby drops, it's a sign that labor is imminent. Physically, it looks like the baby is lower in the mom's abdomen, and she might feel some relief from heartburn for a bit, although she might feel a lot more pressure when walking. For the baby, it feels like he is engaged in the pelvis. Whether head down or not — and you hope he is head down at this point — the baby is getting settled above the birth canal in a way that means that he will soon be on his way out into the world. He may not notice the change in position, but he'll probably feel like he can stretch out a little more for just a brief time. Soon, his time in the womb will end.
19 Using His Head
Once the baby is in position in the pelvis, he uses his head to get the labor going. The pressure of the baby's head against the cervix is what loosens the mucus plug and begins the thinning of the cervix. The cervix thins before it starts to dilate, so that pressure is a key part of opening the birth canal. The baby may not actually know that anything is going on. He's just hanging out, doing the things that he does in the womb like playing with the umbilical cord and kicking his mom while his head does all the work. Mom might not notice either, although sometimes she might feel the beginnings of contractions pretty soon. Many times this stage happens while both mom and baby are going about their business. Pretty soon, though, both will know something is going on.
18 Twist Again
There are a couple of ways to think about how a baby can make his way out of the birth canal. Could he come through the opening like a nail or like a screw? Doctors think that it's closer to a screw, although it's not like he's going in full turns. According to a Parents article on birth, the baby twists and turns to find the best way to get out. It's not just a downward motion. The baby moves around to help as the mom goes through the labor and delivery, and we're sure that mom appreciates the assistance.
17 Heartbeat Fluctuates
In many hospital births, doctors and nurses like to monitor the baby's heartbeat during the labor and delivery. That is because sometimes the baby has trouble with the entire process, and the monitoring can help doctors know if there is a need for an emergency C-section. But the truth is that the baby's heartbeat is not going to be consistent throughout the entire thing. Just like mom's heartbeat, the baby's rate is going to go up during active periods and down during periods of rest. The range that doctors like to see is between 110 and 160 beats per minute. If the baby's heartbeat goes higher or lower, that might be a cause for concern. That can be scary, but it's the only way that the doctor is able to know if the baby is coping with the contractions.
16 Breathing Practice
The baby has a lot of downtime during the 24 hours before birth. Even if mom deals with contractions for an entire day or more, there are periods of rest in between. So the baby is going to be doing a lot of the things that the baby does throughout the third trimester. That includes practicing breathing. Since the true test is coming up soon, it's great that the baby actually practices beforehand. He takes in amniotic fluid in his nose and mouth during the process instead of oxygen, but it's good to know that the mechanics are in place before his life is dependent on it.
15 Difficult Journey
Let us start out by saying that we don't know if babies feel pain during labor and delivery. There is no research that shows that the experience is painful or painless. But there is a lot of trauma that goes on during the process. If the contractions are painful on the outside for the mom, we have to wonder if they are bothering the baby on the inside as well. The birth canal is an entirely different experience than one we can imagine, and many babies end up with bruises in the days after the birth. There is one thing that we do know though: no baby remembers their birth journey, so any pain is temporary, just as it is for the mom.
14 He Hears It All
Labor and delivery is hard on a woman, and while some moms choose to go through silent labor (Scientologists), others are known for letting go and getting loud. Some scream; some curse; some moan. And the baby hears it all.
The baby's tiny ears develop early, and he can distinguish voices from early on. In fact, right after birth, the baby will turn his head toward his mom's voice, and he will also show preference for his dad and anyone else who is around his mother a lot. Studies show that babies can also distinguish languages and will pay more attention when someone is speaking the language of his parents. So the baby is definitely listening. But that doesn't mean that a mom shouldn't make all the noise that she wants to during the labor and delivery — he won't repeat any colorful language that she says in the midst of her agony.
13 Naps Happen
Babies take naps — that's true whether they are in the womb or outside of it. And a mom can be certain that her baby is napping in the last 24 hours before birth. The baby is going through a lot, and he has to expend a lot of energy at a time. He can't get through it without some shut eye. Just like his mom, the baby will go through periods of activity and periods of rest. The way that contractions work allow for a nap in between, especially in early labor, but even in the time when mom is pushing, there is a short break between the contractions, and that might be enough for the baby to take a cat nap.
12 Losing His Cushion
At some point during the delivery the baby's environment is going to look a lot different because the mom's water will break. Occasionally babies are still born within the amniotic sac, but most are no longer in that sac that provides them cushioning for the entire pregnancy and contains the fluid that they ingest and excrete. Most of the time, though, the break is more like a slow leak, so there is still plenty of amniotic fluid to give the baby a little bit of support. Life outside the amniotic sac might be pretty interesting, but it doesn't last long.
11 Meconium Warning
We have one warning about the amniotic fluid that could provide some insight into how well the baby is doing in the womb. If a mom's water breaks spontaneously, she should let her doctor know if it smells or is discolored. If it is, that might mean that the baby has already had her first bowel movement. The tarry black first waste is called meconium, and while it poses a challenge to parents who change the diaper with it in it, it's even worse if it happens in the womb. There is a possibility that the baby could ingest it or aspirate it, and if so, the baby could get really sick. The presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid means that doctors are going to watch the baby very carefully, and it might mean that an emergency C-section could be in the cards.
10 Getting Squished
Contractions are known to squeeze the uterus. By the end the uterus is nowhere near back to the size that it was before the baby was born, but it has begun to shrink with each contraction. Of course, that means that the baby is getting squished in the meantime. The contractions start from the top and make their way down a little bit at the time. That means that the baby is pushed farther down and out, but in the meantime, he has less and less room to move around. The positive of that is that the baby is less likely to flip to the breech position. He's too squished to do anything but head out.
9 Oxygen Highs and Lows
While the baby is in the womb, he can't exactly breathe the air. So he gets his oxygen from his mother's blood, which travels from the placenta through the umbilical cord. That means that the baby's oxygen levels are dependent on the mom. When he is squeezed during a contraction, his oxygen levels might go down a bit. It's usually not much of a big deal, as just about everybody has their oxygen level dip a tad throughout the day. But moms should think about the baby when they are going through labor. That's why it's important to keep breathing and another positive benefit of rhythmic breathing techniques.
8 Medication Truth
Labor and delivery is painful for mom, but thanks to scientific breakthroughs she has lots of options in terms of medication to take the edge off. Lots of moms, though, worry that any medication that they take could impact the baby. The truth is that if mom takes an opoiod for temporary relief, it is going to travel through the placenta to the baby. That means that the baby might be born drowsy, which could make it hard for the baby to do well in the first few moments after birth and delay breastfeeding. With an epidural, there can also be issues with the baby's heart rate and respiration during labor, which could lead to a C-section. There are some reports of difficulty breastfeeding with epidurals as well. For the most part, though, babies are just as healthy whether the mom has medication during labor or not.
7 Reshaping The Head
Babies' heads are ginormous compared to the rest of the body. That's because the brain grows rapidly, and is already half of the size of an adult brain by nine months old, according to Livestrong. That fact would make childbirth even more terrible, but luckily the baby's head gets a bit reshaped during the labor and delivery. At that point in the baby's development, the skull is actually made of five different bones. with space between that can allow the bones to shift and change their shape. The baby could end up looking like a conehead at birth, which makes it easier to pass through the birth canal. The baby's head will reshape in the days after the birth, but in those 24 hours before the birth, it's going to move around a lot.
6 Hormonal Reaction
During labor and delivery, a woman's body releases a lot of different hormones at different stages. Those hormones help the body react in certain ways, and since the baby is sharing the same body, he can feel it as well. For example, during early labor, the mom releases oxytocin, and that hormone can help the baby feel relaxed and happy. But the stress of labor can cause the release of cortisol and adrenalin, which can get the baby excited as well. The baby can get stressed if the mom becomes too stressed, all thanks to the hormones that course through both of them during labor and delivery.
5 Priming The Lungs
The big squeeze that the baby goes through has a big benefit for the baby. It can prime the baby for his big debut, when he's expected to let his presence known with a loud, lusty cry. The tight squeeze allows the baby to clear a little bit of the amniotic fluid from his lungs. The rest can come out during that big cry, which helps to kickstart the lungs for their job drawing in air. Some people believe that the process of going through the birth canal benefits the baby's breathing greatly, although babies who are born via C-section can usually get their breathing started just as well.
4 Getting Seeded
When the baby goes through the birth canal, he's going to encounter a lot of the microbes that are in the mother's birth canal. That's bad if she has a transmitted infection, but otherwise, some believe that it's really good for the baby go through the fluid. That's because the baby could receive the good bacteria in the mother's birth canal and might have a stronger immune system and better digestion. Some moms who have C-sections see such great potential that they "seed" their baby by swabbing them with mom's fluids after the birth, although doctors are still unsure if the practice is a good idea.
3 Crowning Glory
While the mom is pushing, the baby may not know much of what is going on other than that he's inching his way out of a very tight tunnel. Then the baby crowns, and the doctor (and whoever else wants to take a look) can see the top of the head. We're not sure if the baby really notices his little tiny hairs hitting the light of day, but we wanted to mention something that happens when the head is all the way out. At that point, the doctor or midwife might be able to swab some fluid out of the baby's mouth, and if the cord is wrapped around the neck, it can be untangled. This only takes a brief break while mom is pushing before the next moment occurs.
2 Shoulder Situation
Once the head it out, many moms think that the journey into motherhood is complete, but the baby's shoulders still have to be delivered and that is no small task. Once the baby's head comes out, the entire body rotates so that the shoulders line up perpendicular to the mom. That way they can slip out with the next strong push. If the baby is extra large, which happens more and more with the most recent generation of babies, there is a possibility that the shoulders could get stuck and the doctor might have be more forceful. Because of that, a small portion of babies are born with a fractured collar bone or shoulder dystocia, which could impact the baby's use of his arms longterm. The shoulders are definitely a milestone for the baby because right after that the baby can just slip right on out.
1 Meeting Mom
Finally, after the baby goes through so much and gives her first cry, it's time to meet mom. The amazing thing for the baby is that she already knows her mother — she will turn toward that voice that she learned in the womb, and she immediately knows her mother's scent. At birth, baby's eyesight isn't fully developed, but she can see perfectly the distance from her mother's breast to her face, so she gets to know her mother at sight very quickly. The baby has gone through a lot, and the world looks a lot different. Now it's time for a little nap and then some lunch.