Things Babies Do in the Womb
When you’re pregnant, you’re bound to wonder at various points over nine months: What is she doing in there? Is she bored? Is she loving that pint of superfudge chunk ice cream I just engulfed? Turns out babies are busy, busy, busy in the womb!
So what, exactly, are they up to? Here’s what the scientists have to say about what your fetus is up to during your pregnancy:
- They develop tastes for certain foods. Has pregnancy given you insatiable cravings for Taco Bell? If so, expect your kid to be a chalupa connoisseur himself. That’s because the nutrients in the food you eat seep into your amniotic fluid, which the fetus gulps down and can “taste” by 20 weeks. And your tastes rub off: One study found that mothers who regularly ate carrots gave birth to little bunny-wannabe babies who love carrots more than babies whose moms didn’t eat this vegetable much.
- They react to stress. In one study at Durham and Lancaster universities in England, the more anxiety moms reported, the more often their fetuses used their left hands to touch their face. This suggests that a mom’s emotions might impact their movements in subtle and surprising ways. It also suggests that moms really should try to relax.
- They practice facial expressions. By observing 4D scans of fetuses, scientists at Durham and Lancaster Universities found that by 24 weeks, unborn babies could achieve “two dimensional” facial expressions such as curling their mouth in a smile. By 36 weeks, unborn babies could achieve more complex facial expressions including “pain” though lowered eyebrows, wrinkled nose, and stretched mouth.
- They cry. Silently. Which makes us want to cry, too. In one study that video recorded ultrasounds of fetuses during the third trimester, startling the baby with a low-decibel noise against the mother’s abdomen caused their fetuses to display traditional crying behavior, such as opening their mouths, depressing their tongues, and gasping irregularly. Researchers even spotted that telltale quivering lower lip.
- They recognize nursery rhymes. In one study conducted at the University of Florida, researchers asked pregnant women to read classic verses to their unborn babies twice a day for several weeks during their third trimester. In response, the fetal heart rate slowed when the rhymes were read by mom, or even when read by strangers a few weeks later. This suggests that the babies were thinking, “Hey, I don’t know who’s narrating, but it’s my favorite: Mother Goose!”
- They also recognize songs. In another study conducted at the University of Helsinki, researchers played “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” over and over during the mom’s third trimester. After birth, they played the song again. EEG readings via electrodes on the infants’ heads showed greater brain activity for infants who’d heard the song in utero than for those who hadn’t. This suggests that they could name that tune.
- They anticipate touch. Researchers at the University of Durham used 4D ultrasound scans to track the movements of fetuses during the third trimester and found that, by the nine-month mark, fetuses started opening their mouths in relation to directed movements. This suggests they’d finally put two and two together — i.e., “Hey, hand headed toward mouth for some quality thumb sucking! Open up!”