When you are expecting, it seems that everyone around you has “valuable pregnancy and parenting advice” that you simply must have. You hear everything from “sit with your feet up at all times” to “eat nothing but ghee and gaze at beautiful things for nine months.”
Mothers everywhere wish to give their child a head start in life, but many fail to realize that significant development does not start on delivery day. Your child is hard at work developing thoughts, ideas, feelings, emotions and personality traits long before he or she meets you on the outside. This article will take a look at the various and wonderful ways that your baby is developing in utero, and how your thoughts, actions, stimuli and behaviors are significantly affecting him or her even now.
Fetal Psychology 101: What Is Your Baby Doing in There?
Human behavioral experts that study fetal development have noted some fascinating changes just weeks after conception. Long before mom even realizes that she is pregnant, her sweet little embryo’s brain is beginning to bulge and develop, all neurons firing away. By just five weeks, this lumpy little inchworm has developed most of the folds of the cerebral cortex, the part of the brain that distinguishes us from our animal friends.
By nine weeks, fetal psychology experts tell us that your baby is very busy with activity; it can move, stretch, hiccup and react to loud sounds. A short time later, it mimics breathing movements by ingesting amniotic fluid in and out of its developing lungs. By week twelve, it is a veritable treasure of development feats: it can hear, feel, smell, yawn and make sucking motions that will be so important outside the womb.
Researchers of fetal psychology note that most of a child’s development time is spent sleeping. In between these long, luxurious naps, your baby is engaged in reacting to stimuli, responding to your thoughts, feelings and emotions and blossoming as its bones, organs and tissues continue to develop. Even with all of this sleep, your baby can move fifty times or more per hour; a baby in utero gives itself an astonishing amount of tactile stimulation. It uses little hands to touch, grab, cuddle and stroke all of its own limbs in addition to experiencing external stimuli.
Development of the Senses
As soon as fifteen weeks, a developing fetus’s taste buds mimic that of a mature adult, and you have a remarkable ability to influence what your baby craves after he or she is born. Your amniotic fluid acts as a flavor bridge to your breast milk; as this fluid surrounding the baby can contain many of the tastes and flavors that you ingest, it is a logical assumption that your baby will gravitate to those foods and drinks that you consume while you are pregnant. Choose carefully!
Your baby can respond to aural stimuli by 24 weeks, perhaps much earlier if you include the natural startle response to loud sounds that we all have. Even without loud and jarring sounds, the womb is far from silent. Your baby can hear the whooshing sound of blood moving through your body, your heart beat and even sounds that are coming outside the womb. While we don’t yet know the exact developmental milestone that allows your baby to recognize your voice, ultrasound technicians and delighted mothers all over the world observe the familiar turn of a fetus’s head as its mother speaks calm and soothing words of love.
Your child’s vision is the last of the senses to develop; the womb is a relatively dark place, and it allows extra time for those delicate rods and cones to take shape and for the optic nerve to fully develop as it prepares for stimulation in the delivery room and beyond. Your child’s vision will not be fully developed until about two months after delivery, as the muscles in the eye have to train themselves to focus on both near and far images.
What Is the Baby Learning?
Once your baby is able to react to external stimuli, it learns through a process of repetition and habituation, much like we do as we learn. If a fetus is exposed to loud noises repeatedly, that startle response may become less and less prevalent, as it comes to expect this as part of the growth experience. Similarly, a fetus that is developing in a mother who experiences continual emotional trauma and sadness has exposure to certain biochemical processes that may make it predisposed to developing certain emotional conditions. It is important to realize that what you experience while pregnant will have a significant effect on how your baby learns and the associations the baby makes about life.
Fetal psychology is a fascinating field of study, and the discoveries that we are making about babies’ development continue to surprise and delight us as we marvel at the wonder of life. Best of luck to you mom, as you travel the exciting road of pregnancy and motherhood!