Do Babies Breathe in the Womb?

When you are pregnant it is common to ask: does my baby breathe in the womb? While in the womb, your yet to be born baby does not use her mouth and nose to breathe. Babies breathe through mouth and nose for the first time after birth. Until your baby’s exit from your womb, she is developed in an environment surrounded by amniotic fluid. An unborn baby’s lungs are not developed, not inflated and are filled with amniotic fluid quite unlike your lungs which are contracted and expanded during normal breathing process. Instead, the mother helps the developing baby in providing all the benefits of breathing, including her oxygen supply.

Do Babies Breathe in the Womb?

The answer to the question is “no”. A baby’s needs in the womb are fulfilled by the placenta, i.e. she gets everything, including oxygen and nutrients, through the placenta. A baby doesn’t take her/his first breath until at birth while she cries. In the womb, the lungs of the baby are not completely developed and do not supply oxygen to her body. She/he gets her oxygen and nutrients from her mother, which makes it important that a pregnant female eats a healthy and well balanced diet and do not smoke.  

The “Breathing Process” in the Womb

The placenta is on one side attached to the wall of the uterus and on the other side to the umbilical cord which in turn is attached to the baby. Therefore, the mother breathes for her baby. The oxygenated air is inhaled and breathed in by the mother, which then travels through her circulatory system and is passed to the baby via the placenta and the umbilical cord. In the similar manner, the deoxygenated blood containing carbon dioxide is circulated back from the baby via the umbilical cord and the placenta, and then the mother exhales it and wastes is removed out of the body.

Are There Breathing Like Activities in the Womb?

As we have already seen that babies do not breathe in the womb. However, breathing like movements are seen in the fetus. This starts at 9 week of gestation and this is important as it allows the fetus to practice the movement of breathing, which helps her in breathing right away at birth.

Baby’s First Breath

Your baby first begins to breathe after birth while she cries. A baby may cry on her own or may do so with some help from the nurses or the doctors. After birth the baby starts using her lungs as the umbilical cord is cut. The lungs of the baby inflate from the exhalation and the inhalation of air and the amniotic fluid is drained. The blood flow to the lungs is increased as oxygen is breathed in and carbon dioxide is exhaled out of the body.

A problem may occur in prematurely born babies as the oxygen supply via placenta is stopped and the lungs are also not yet ready to supply oxygen to the baby. The lungs are not fully developed before approximately 32 weeks of pregnancy. Hence, in such cases supplemental oxygen and artificial ventilation may be required.

Other Questions You Might Ask About Baby’s Activity in the Womb

Apart from do babies breathe in the womb, you may want to know the answers to these questions:

When Does the Fetus Start Moving?

You can first feel the movement of your baby between 16-20 weeks of pregnancy. However, on ultrasound the movement can be seen at 8th week of pregnancy. From 20 weeks the fetus can be seen sucking her thumb. With the progress of pregnancy, the movements of the fetus increase and become complex. Fetal movements are important for the following reasons: it helps in the development of the brain and the nervous system and it allows a correct formation of the bones, muscles and joints.

When Does Fetus Start Making Eye Movements?

The eye movements in fetus start at the 14th week of gestation. Movements that are complex and similar to your eye movements show by the 24th week. Rapid eye movements similar to your eye movements while you are dreaming occur during the last third of pregnancy.

When Does Fetus Start Recognizing Sounds?

At about 20th week of pregnancy the fetus starts responding to sounds. Initially a fetus can hear only low noises, but gradually with development she can hear noises with high pitch too. A fetus may startle and move on hearing louder sounds. Older fetuses can differentiate between different languages, voices and even individual sounds of speech. A newborn baby can recognize music that she has heard while in the womb.

When Does the Fetus Start Drinking, Urinating and Tasting?

The fetus starts urinating at 10th week of gestation. The fetus passes her urine in the amniotic fluid. The fetus starts drinking the same amniotic fluid at about 15th week of pregnancy. Hence, while in the womb, exposure to different tastes is through the amniotic fluid. There are certain tastes that are more liked by the fetus and it will drink more amniotic fluid if it is sweet.

When Does Fetus Start Feeling Pain or Become Conscious?

At 12 weeks there is no connection between the higher levels in the brain and the nervous system of the body. Hence, the fetus is not able to feel anything at this stage. The connections required to feel or become conscious begins around 17th week of pregnancy and are normally well functional by around 26 weeks. Hence, it seems that from week 26 the fetus can feel pain.

What Is the Response of Fetus to Prenatal Stress?

A mother’s feeling can be sensed by older fetuses. If a mother feels anxious or stressed while playing a video game, the heart rate of the fetus goes up, according to scientists.

Do Babies Poop in the Womb?

Do babies breathe in the womb? No. But do they poop? A fetus’s digestive system is not developed enough to process the swallowed urine, hence, they do not poop in the womb. However, a small amount of poop is accumulated by the fetus referred to meconium. It is made up of waste, dead cells etc. and is excreted out of the baby’s body within the first few days of birth.

Do Babies Cry in the Womb?

Yes, her first cry may be in the womb long before it is out in the external world. According to new research, a baby may cry silently in the womb to show her displeasure by the 28th week of gestation.  

In a study, ultrasounds of fetuses were video recorded during the third trimester of pregnancy. The fetuses were startled by placing a low decibel noise on the abdomen of the mother. The fetuses displayed traditional behavior of crying such as they opened their mouth, depressed their tongues and gasped irregularly. Even the telltale quivering of lower lip was spotted by researchers.