For years, doctors thought babies were born without any familiarity with the outside world. But recent research is changing this, offering insights into what babies comprehend and remember after they’re born, and how that information prepares them for the outside world. Doctors are starting to realize that babies begin to engage their senses and learn about the world around them during the last trimester of pregnancy, maybe even earlier.
What do Babies Really Learn In The Womb?
Baby isn’t just hanging out waiting to be born while in the womb. He’s already building his senses and developing a strong bond with mom!
What’s That Noise?
The uterus isn’t exactly the quietest place for baby. Not only can baby hear the sounds of his mom’s body—stomach growling, heart beating—but he can also hear noises from outside. If mom goes to a movie theater or walks by a noisy restaurant, odds are that baby will react to all the noise by kicking or moving around.
Not all sounds are the same though.
Probably the most important sound a baby hears in utero is his mother’s voice. Around the seventh and eighth month, studies show that a fetus’s heart rate slows down a little whenever his mother is speaking, indicating that mom’s voice has a calming effect. By the time they’re born, babies are able to recognize their mother’s voice.
Interestingly though, there is no evidence to show that newborns recognize their father’s or siblings’ voices, or any other voices they may have heard while in the uterus. The difference is attributed to the fact that the maternal voice is communicated as both ambient sounds through the abdomen and internally through the vibration of vocal chords. External voices and noises are only heard as ambient sounds.
When pregnant, you’re eating for two. And the quality of what mom eats matters just as much as the quantity. Taste buds start to develop in a fetus around the seventh or eighth week and evidence suggests that baby can taste bitter, sweet, or sour flavors in the amniotic fluid. Ultrasounds have even shown that fetuses lick the placenta and uterine wall.
A Nose for Mom
An unborn baby not only tastes foods, but can smell them too. Doctors have noted that amniotic fluid sometimes has the scent of cumin, garlic, fennel, and other spices a mother has eaten while she was pregnant. Amniotic fluid, which babies swallow and breathe when in the womb, not only has the smells of the foods mom eats, but of mom herself.
Newborns often recognize their mom from smell long before they see or hear her. This is why some doctors advise new mothers not to shower until after the first feeding—to allow their natural aroma to help establish breastfeeding.
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Kara is an author, wife, and mother of 3 children living in Boston, MA. She has her degree in Secondary Education & Adolescent Childhood Development and is passionate about connecting with and even helping other parents on their journey to raise awesome kids!