Interacting With Your Unborn Baby
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While in utero your baby is developing and growing constantly. As well as growing in size, your baby will also be developing their senses - touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight. As these begin to develop you can use them to interact with, and simulate your unborn baby. This article covers how to interact with your baby and how far into your pregnancy you can do this.
Interacting with touch
Once your baby begins to move, around 7-8 weeks, the sense of touch starts to develop. This means he is becoming responsive to touch, which begins with the lips, then cheeks and forehead. By 10-11 weeks the palms of his hands become responsive which will allow him to explore his face. By 14 weeks your baby will respond to touch in a similar way to a newborn. As your pregnancy progresses, your baby will begin to turn towards touch, rather than turning away. There is a possibility that this is the start of the "rooting" instinct, which is important with breastfeeding.
You can interact with and stimulate your baby's touch sense by giving your tummy a gentle nudge. You can encourage him if he nudges back.
Interacting with taste and smell
When your baby is around 12 weeks he will start to swallow the amniotic fluid around him in the amniotic sac, and will continue to do so throughout your pregnancy until he is born. Experts suggest that it is through swallowing amniotic fluid that your baby learns about taste and smell. This is because the amniotic fluid surrounding your baby contains the flavour and smell of the foods you are eating.
When eating certain foods, mainly strong foods such as garlic or chilli for example, your baby may taste and smell them for a number of reasons. Whatever you eat enters your bloodstream which then enters your baby's bloodstream. It's possible that the food passing through the bloodstream could stimulate the sensory receptors within your baby's nose, enabling him to smell it. The food you eat will also disperse directly into the amniotic fluid. When your baby swallows this fluid, he may taste and smell the food you have eaten. Once the food is expelled from your baby's body when he urinates into the amniotic fluid, it is possible that your baby could swallow the same food once more, tasting it for the second time. This means that while a meal may last with you for just a few hours, your baby could taste and smell it for longer.
It is understood that unborn babies are able to tell the difference between sweet and sour tastes, which means that they swallow more amniotic fluid when they taste something sweet and less when they taste something sour. If you breastfeed your baby once he is born, it won't take long for him to recognise your diet as tasting similar to the amniotic fluid. This is because your breast milk is flavoured in much the same way.
Interacting with hearing
At around 24 weeks babies start to react to sound in the uterus. The louder the sound, the stronger the reaction. The way babies respond to sound in the uterus has been studied extensively as it is the easiest sense to stimulate.
While your baby is in your uterus there are many sounds that surround him. Your heartbeat, as well as the blood pulsing around your arteries and veins form his every day sounds. Your baby will also be able to hear your stomach and intestines gurgling from time to time. Sounds from your 'world' will travel and your baby will be able to hear muffled versions of voices, music and TV. Your baby will mostly be hearing low frequency sounds.
Your baby's favourite sound will be your voice as it will be the one sound he hears the most. Your body transmits your voice very efficiently, so whenever you speak, shout or sing, your baby will hear you.
By placing some headphones on your bump and playing music to your baby, you may be able to feel him reacting to the sounds by moving and kicking. Research widely suggests that babies react more to familiar music and can even recognise it after birth. In some cases, music may have a soothing effect on your baby by calming him down when he's crying.
Also, try to talk and sing to your baby while you are pregnant. You could read him a story or sing him a lullaby with your partner. Make time for this as your baby loves hearing your voice, especially one to one.
Interacting with sight
Your baby's sight is the last thing to develop, therefore little is known about stimulating the sight sense. Your baby's eyelids will stay closed until around 27 weeks. After this time, they will open and shut, practicing the reflex for after his birth.
It is very dark in your uterus because your skin and the clothes you wear will block out most light reaching your baby. It is possible that if you had your stomach exposed on a sunny day, he might experience some orangey glow through your skin. Research and studies have shown that your baby's pupils can constrict and dilate from week 33 onwards, suggesting that babies may be able to distinguish dim shapes at that stage.
Your unborn baby's senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight are all stimulated by the inside of your body, as well as by sensations that filter in from the world outside. By interacting with your baby through nudging your stomach, talking to him and allowing him to taste the foods you taste, you may be giving him a sense of familiarity and security for after he's born.