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Fascinating Facts About Fetal Behavior

From hiccups, to digestion, to breathing, your little one will try out a variety of behaviors while she’s still in the womb.
  • Published on: 19 Feb 2021
  • 5 min read
Fascinating Facts About Fetal Behavior

Pregnancy is such an amazing time, filled with both wonder and worry as new life grows inside your body. And although it might not look like it from the outside, your growing baby is doing a whole lot in there - practicing many of the skills she’ll use after she’s born! From hiccups, to digestion, to breathing, your little one will try out a variety of behaviors while she’s still in the womb. Read on for some fun facts about your growing fetus.

fetal behavior

1. A fetus practices seeing in the womb.

Although vision isn’t “normal” until weeks after a baby is born, he or she can still practice seeing while in the womb. Fetuses are especially sensitive to light sources and can track different light patterns. Babies first open their eyes around weeks 26-28 of pregnancy and they’ll practice looking around for the remaining weeks, although their vision will be very blurry. One amazing study in 2017 even showed that growing fetuses tended to prefer light in the shape of faces, which might further point to why newborn babies are hard-wired to stare at people’s faces! 

What you can do: Since fetuses respond to light sources, you can try shining a flashlight at your belly and waiting to see if your baby responds with a sudden flurry of movement! 

2. A fetus can get hiccups in the womb. 

Sometimes when a fetus breathes and swallows amniotic fluid, he’ll get hiccups. These hiccups can be heard on fetal dopplers, seen on ultrasounds, and even felt by pregnant mothers (it will probably feel like a very rhythmic bouncing or jerking sensation in your belly). Don’t fret - hiccups are completely normal for developing fetuses, and sometimes your baby will get them multiple times a day!

3. A fetus can try to suck its thumb in the womb. 

Ultrasound images show that fetuses like to explore their hands and feet in the womb, and one easily recognizable motion is thumb sucking! Although it’s adorable to see, it doesn’t seem to be a conscious or soothing behavior while in the womb - it’s more of an exploratory reflex. With your growing baby’s cramped space, it’s only natural that at some point, your baby will find his thumb with his mouth and try to suck on it!

4. A fetus practices breathing in the womb. 

Babies practice breathing in the womb, but because they’re surrounded by fluid, it’s not the same breathing that you and I do. Your growing fetus doesn’t need to breathe like we do, but they will practice the physical aspect of breathing while in the womb. Babies pull amniotic fluid into their lungs where it helps strengthen the mechanisms they’ll use for breathing on their own after they’re born. 

5. A fetus digests things in the womb. 

It sounds odd - and gross - but fetuses do poop and pee in the womb. A fetus practices swallowing amniotic fluid, which is then processed in the kidneys and bladder, and is eventually excreted as urine. Fetuses also excrete a waste called meconium, which is black, thick, and sticky. Don’t worry - neither of these waste products poses any threat to your baby (except in rare cases when a baby aspirates meconium during birth).

6. A fetus can hear in the womb. 

There are many studies that show that fetuses can hear (and remember what they hear) in the womb. Between 18 and 24 weeks of pregnancy, your baby begins to develop his sense of hearing. Around week 25-26, your baby can differentiate voices - although they’ll be muffled since your baby is surrounded by fluid. And try not to stress about loud noises. Your baby is well protected in your uterus. 

What you can do: Pick a children’s book, a special song, or a lullaby, and recite it often during your pregnancy. You can have a partner or spouse do the same as well. Chances are, your baby might be able to recognize these familiar sounds after they’re born!

7. A fetus can roll and kick in the womb.

Your growing baby will soon learn to explore her developing limbs with plenty of rolls, kicks, and punches in the womb! All of these movements are helping develop your baby’s sense of coordination and are a way of mapping her body and surroundings. From about 20 weeks and on, fetal movement is felt frequently - and most frustrating for mothers, it often occurs all throughout the night! Fetal movement allows a baby’s joints and muscles to develop properly, so don’t worry if it seems that your baby is constantly doing a gymnastics routine in there! 

What you can do: Once you begin to feel consistent movement, you can “play” with your baby by gently massaging your belly on one side, or pressing slightly in an area, or playing a song close to your belly, and see if your baby reacts! You can also have fun balancing an object on your belly and watching to see if the baby tries to kick it off!

8. A fetus can practice crying in the womb. 

Okay, it’s not exactly crying in the sense that your baby is sad about something, but a fetus can practice all the motions necessary for real crying in the outside world: mouth movement, the chin quiver, swallowing, extending the tongue, and opening the jaw. These are all movements needed for actual crying. Ultrasound images also show facial expressions similar to crying. “Crying” episodes observed in the womb were found to be very brief - so don’t worry about your baby’s ever-changing moods just yet. 
What you can do: Fetuses have been known to respond to a caregiver’s (especially the mother’s) voice - so talk, read, and sing to your baby while she’s growing in the womb. This can be comforting to your developing baby!

The bottom line is: your unborn baby, even though she’s quietly tucked away as she develops inside your body, is doing a whole lot of things in there!

Do remember to follow us on Instagram @keababies and join our loving and supportive KeaCommunity Facebook Group!

Parenting is awesome. Sleep is overrated. Every day is an adventure. 


Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Kaitlyn Torrez

I’m Kaitlyn Torrez, from the San Francisco Bay Area. I live with my husband and two children, Roman and Logan. I’m a former preschool teacher, currently enjoying being a stay at home mom. I love all things writing, coffee, and chocolate. In my free time, I enjoy reading, blogging, and working out.

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