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What Behaviours Do Babies Practice in the Womb?

Sophia McCarthy

As an expectant parent, you might be wondering what your baby is getting up to while it’s preparing to arrive! Aside from sleeping and getting chubby, did you know that—even while still in the womb—babies have an instinctive drive to start practising behaviours and facial expressions that will help them survive once they’re born? 

A study conducted in 2005 by researchers in New Zealand using ultrasound monitoring examined the various behavioural states of a baby in-utero. Using a quick noise outside the womb to startle the foetus, it was able to prove that from 20 weeks gestation, a foetus could perform several key facial movements required to cry, such as extending the tongue, moving their jaw and mouth, quivering their chin and swallowing. These crying episodes were thankfully short, lasting less than 15-20 seconds at a time, so the babies quickly recovered from the fright!

But it’s not all about crying: babies regularly move their facial muscles to rehearse a range of motions such as smiling, pouting and yawning—as well as sucking their thumb and even  blinking! Babies in the womb have been shown to respond to external touch and sound with increased movement, so feel free to talk, sing and play music for your baby and see how they respond!


Do Babies Practice Breathing in the Womb?

At the 10 and 11 week gestation mark, a baby will inhale little amounts of amniotic fluid, however this is more of a swallowing movement in comparison to the act of breathing as we know it. This helps the baby’s lungs as they start to develop. Later in the pregnancy, by week 32, a baby can be seen to mimic an inhalation on ultrasound by expanding and compressing their lungs, but isn’t actually inhaling amniotic fluid. Similar to crying behaviours, your baby is just rehearsing so that they’re ready for that first big breath when they arrive. 

If you’d like to see some examples of babies practising these behaviours, we regularly post amazing photos and videos on our Facebook page of adorable in-utero rehearsals!

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