Feeling in the Womb
We feel our way in this world through two different interrelated systems. We have a somesthetic system that conveys information about touch, pressure, temperature, and pain, and we have a vestibular system that informs us how we are positioned in space. The basic anatomic architecture to perceive the world through the sense of touch is well formed by the time your unborn baby is about fifteen weeks old. A wide variety of sensory receptors develops in your baby's skin and joints, which tells his brain the texture, intensity, position, and temperature of anything he is touching or is touching him.
The vestibular or balance system helps us maintain the right position in relationship to our surroundings. Living on a planet with gravity requires us to know which way is up at all times. Although a human infant may not sit unsupported until six months of age, and it might be more than a year until he is standing and walking without help, the balance system required for these crucial functions is already developing by fourteen weeks of fetal life.
Babies in the womb respond to the sense of touch. During the fifth month a fetus can be seen touching his own face and sucking his thumb and fingers. Pressure through external massage leads to changes in fetal activity and heart rate, and by six months in the womb the unborn baby is as responsive to touch as a one-year-old baby. Unborn babies are also able to perceive changes in temperature and to feel pain. Injecting cold water into the amniotic fluid leads to withdrawal movements. If during an amniocentesis procedure the unborn baby is pricked with a needle, he reacts in ways suggesting he can perceive discomfort and does not appreciate the painful intrusion.
There is evidence that during the fifth month of fetal life your baby begins to orient himself in space. Studies have shown that unborn babies adjust themselves into more comfortable positions in the womb by kicking. The baby changes his position when the mother changes hers, and with abrupt maternal movements, sudden fetal motor responses and alterations in heart rate can be detected. These postural adjustments to normal maternal activity help the fetal navigation system develop in preparation for life outside the womb. Your own conscious movement through dance or yoga encourages healthy neuronal connections between the limbs, trunk, and brain of your growing baby.
Although we cannot say for certain that your unborn baby derives pleasure from your belly being massaged or stretching your back during yoga poses, we do know that when you are feeling comfortable, your fetus is bathed in the comforting chemicals that your body produces. Moving with awareness benefits both you and your unborn baby.
Seeing In the Womb
The womb is a pretty dark place, yet some light does filter through. The earliest evidence of a visual system appears by one month of gestation, and by the end of the first trimester, your unborn baby's eyes have all their essential components. The visual system continues to develop in complexity throughout pregnancy and beyond, since an infant's ability to process visual information is not complete until several months after birth.
The eyelids of a fetus begin to open at about twenty weeks of gestation, and there is pretty good evidence that between 2 percent and 10 percent of visual outside light is able to reach the rudimentary eyes of a fetus. When bright lights are shined onto a pregnant woman's belly, the unborn baby will show an increase in motor activity and acceleration in heart rate. An indirect but more important role of visual stimulation on your unborn child is played by what you are looking at. Violent images served up by the media stimulate your body's stress response, which is communicated to your baby. Beautiful, pleasing images create physiological changes that are rejuvenating and balancing. Again, we are not suggesting that you walk around with blinders on but do encourage you to get a dose of nourishing images on a regular basis.
Tasting In the Womb
Your baby's taste buds are present as early as twelve weeks of fetal life and are well developed by early in the second trimester. They are initially found throughout his mouth, but eventually become concentrated on his tongue and palate. Taste buds are connected to nerve fibers by the twelfth week and are functioning by the fifteenth week.
Studies have suggested that an unborn baby will increase or decrease his swallowing based upon the flavors present in the amniotic fluid, and it looks as though even unborn babies like sweets. Intrauterine studies have shown that if sweetened solutions are introduced into the amniotic fluid, babies swallow more, whereas when bitter substances are injected, babies swallow less. Your unborn child also has the ability to distinguish sour and salty flavors. From very early on we have the ability to distinguish good-tasting substances from bad ones.
As we'll explore later in this book, the best way to ensure that you are receiving optimal nourishment is to be certain that your diet includes the six primary tastes on a daily basis. Your unborn child is not only nourished by what you eat, but may actually be capable of tasting what you taste.
Smelling In the Womb
As adults, we perceive the fragrance of the world through tiny specialized receptors in our nasal passages that sample the air for odor-rich molecules. The cellular apparatus for perceiving aromas appears as early as the fourth week of fetal life and is well developed by halfway through pregnancy. The obvious question is, "Is there anything for your baby to smell?" and the answer is yes. Amniotic fluid naturally contains a large assortment of fragrant substances, which vary from day to day depending upon what you ingest. Premature babies react to a variety of scents, and fetal mammals of many species respond to aromatic chemicals infused into amniotic fluid. Certain spices such as curry and garlic seep into the amniotic fluid, and at birth some babies will smell like a spice from food the mother has eaten the night before.
Babies remember smells and tastes they are exposed to in the womb. Studies have shown that newborn mammals, from rodents to humans, show preferences for substances with fragrances they experienced before birth. Baby rats prefer beverages containing apple juice if they were exposed to the flavor of apples while in the womb. Newborn human infants favor the smell of their own amniotic fluid for several days after birth. After birth, if a newborn baby is given the choice of suckling on her mother's unwashed breast, which secretes a smell similar to the smell of amniotic fluid, or on a breast that has been washed, more than 75 percent of the time the newborn will choose the breast with the familiar amniotic smell. As is true for all the other senses, your olfactory experiences during pregnancy become your baby's experiences. As we'll explore in detail in Chapter 2, you can use this understanding to enhance both your baby's and your own well-being.
Tags: Pregnancy & Childbirth
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