Updated: Apr 27, 2022
The process of connection begins in the womb
The womb is a safe, secure, nurturing environment. Connecting and bonding with our baby begins from conception and continues to develop in the womb and beyond. Babies begin to form a sense of their mother and the outside world while developing in the womb. They do this through their developing senses (touch, taste, hearing, vision, smell, movement/vestibular sense, proprioception and interoception)
“The uterus is undisputedly the ultimate environment for the development and nurturing of a fetus. The sensory systems develop throughout pregnancy and affect the brain’s development.” ~Meg Faure, Baby Sense
From the moment of conception, a baby begins to develop on a sensory level.
The sense of touch, which emerges at just 3 weeks gestation, is the first sense to develop. At 12 weeks gestation, a baby can feel and respond to touch on his entire body. The auditory system is developed at 20 weeks and a few weeks after this the baby can respond to loud noises and
may jerk or hiccup after hearing a loud sound. The amniotic fluid is flavored by the things the pregnant mother eats therefore at just 8 weeks, when baby’s taste buds emerge, he will begin to be exposed to his sense of taste. Smell develops together with baby’s sense of taste. Smells are found as chemicals in the amniotic fluid which pass through to the nasal receptors. At 28 weeks, a baby will smell and respond to scents in the womb.
Baby’s eyelids open at 26 weeks and at 6 mont
hs a baby can see light in utero. This is why at 32 weeks gestation, a baby can track a bright torchlight shone and moved across the pregnant belly.
The sense of movement and gravity from the balance (vestibular) system in the ears develops very early and begins to function at five months gestation. Like the sense of hearing and touch, the sense of movement is relatively advanced at birth. *Information taken from Baby Sense; from an article by Meg Faure
Let’s take a peek into the environment of the Womb, which is said to be “a sensory playground for the developing baby”
“By understanding the world of the womb, you can make your little one’s transition to the real world smoother” ~ BabySense
The womb itself provides baby with an overall sense of constant deep pressure and a warmth-like “all-day hug or massage” Baby feels contained, secure and completely held in its environment. Temperature in the womb is known as neutral warmth which is maintained at all times. Baby is surrounded too by the sounds of the background noise of the mother’s body. The gushing of the amniotic fluid, blood flow, digestion and her heartbeat are the sounds that create the constant soothing white noise for baby; particularly the sound of the heartbeat. Research proves that babies that are played a beat at the pace of an average heart beat fall asleep easier and cry less after birth. Sounds from the outside world are subdued but the clearest sound is the mother’s voice which is heard not only from the outside but also through the vibrations that travel through the bones of the mother’s body.
In utero baby is surrounded by the amniotic fluid which creates a sense of buoyancy where baby can move around freely. Baby is also exposed to the movements of being rocked and swayed in the womb as the mother goes about her day. This outside movement from the mother becomes familiar and there is a sense of expectation that develops related to the patterns of movements from her. Baby’s vestibular sense continues to develop until it matures enough to sense gravity and prepares head down in preparation for birth.
Baby is born and has very real needs and expectations in order to transition and thrive in the outside world.
There is research to prove that babies identify and respond to experiences outside the womb because they were exposed to these things inside the womb. Babies recognize mother’s voice, sounds and smells. There is a knowingness, contentedness between baby and mother.
It is important to note that not every mother has a healthy and emotionally stable pregnancy and not all babies have a healthy womb experience. Similarly once born, some babies are malnourished or do not get their emotional needs met. This however is where nurturing is so important. Neural pathways can be reconnected; sensory processing as well as emotional regulation can be strengthened. The support a baby needs can be achieved through connection with a primary caregiver; through nurturing touch, eye contact, being present.
We have now understood that the baby makes sense of its environment through its developing senses and this will continue when baby is born. It is important to be aware that baby’s physical, emotional & neurological systems are not yet fully developed at birth and therefore baby will need a continued nurturing environment to support development, learning and growth as well as navigate and make sense of the outside world.
It is the role of the primary caregiver to provide this nurturing environment and mimic where possible the sensory experience that baby received in the womb.
Annie Murphy Paul (author of "Origins: How the Nine Months Before Birth Shape the Rest of Our Lives") shares about the new research around a scientific field called Fetal Origins and how learning first occurs in the womb. It is a theory suggesting that our health and well-being throu
ghout our lives is crucially affected by the nine months we spend in the womb
You can listen here to Murphy’s Ted Talk
Dancing alongside you in Motherhood