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What's It Like in the Womb?

What's it Like in the Womb?

Get Those Brussels Sprouts Outta Here

Your baby's sense of touch begins to develop early in pregnancy as it explores the uterine wall, umbilical cord and even its own body parts, spending the most time touching its face. As early as the ninth week, your baby will respond when its lips or areas around the mouth are touched. By the eighth month, it moves towards the source with mouth open, the beginnings of the rooting reflex, which the baby needs to begin nursing and sucking on a bottle after birth.

Smell and taste are often hard to separate, so they're described as chemosensations. Just try sucking on a Jelly Belly while plugging up your nose, suggests Julie Mennella, a psychobiologist at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia. From about the fourth month of pregnancy, the fetus is gulping and inhaling a variety of foods you've eaten through the amniotic fluid, and by the third trimester, your baby can tell whether it's bitter, sweet, sour or even garlicky, and will show preferences for certain tastes.

Researchers say that learning about tastes and smells in the womb are actually preparing your baby for life after birth. Not only are newborns comforted by their mother's smell, which is likely introduced first through the amniotic fluid, but they're already familiar in the same way with the taste of mother's breast milk. Some animal studies even suggest that the more varied a pregnant mom's diet, the more open the offspring will be to different foods.

Fetuses also begin to develop a sense of balance from their movements in utero. Not only are they gently tumbling and floating in the amniotic fluid, but your own movements will cause the baby's position to change. Those movements stimulate a structure in the ear that helps the brain process information about motion and body position. By 25 weeks the fetus displays a righting reflex, which may be responsible for most babies turning head down before delivery.

This motion also stimulates emotional changes in your baby. You may notice that your baby is more still when you're very active, and then at night becomes active when you're still. Once your baby is born, you'll probably find that when he's fussy, you can quiet him by rocking him, reminiscent of the movements he experienced in the womb.

Your baby's sight is the last sense to be developed and won't be fine-tuned until after birth, but growth inside the womb begins early. The eye pockets form by about five weeks of pregnancy, and by the fourth month, the eyes are almost completely formed. Your baby's eyelids won't open until the seventh month, when the fetus will begin opening and closing them and rolling the eyes around, as if testing them out. A bright light can penetrate the uterus and may make the fetus more active.

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