The answer is probably more than you would expect.
It can be easy to forget that your baby’s awareness begins long before you give birth to him. Taking a more in-depth look at what your baby sees, hears and feels from the depths of your expanding belly may open your eyes to a whole new range of possibilities for bonding with your baby and enriching his development.
Although your baby’s eyes will remain fused shut until about 14 to 15 weeks before your due date, some light may be transmitted through baby’s thin eyelids. Around week 26, your baby will start to blink and will begin responding to light. By week 28, baby will be able to differentiate between light and dark and will be following a light source with his eyes by week 30. Your baby’s vision will develop even further by week 37, as he starts to turn towards light, but his vision will still be extremely weak.
According to Sessions Cole, Ph.D., Chief Medical Officer and Director of Newborn Medicine at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, “Significant changes in the shape of the baby’s eye and the curvature of the lens of the eye … tend to blur vision.” In fact, Dr. Cole continues, “The back of the eye (the retina) contains highly special cells (the rod and cones) that are probably not mature until 4 to 5 months after birth.” At the time of birth, your baby’s vision will be roughly 15 times weaker than a normal adult’s vision. But don’t worry—his vision will become normal before his first birthday as his eyes finish developing.
The ability to hear from within the womb is perhaps one of the most fascinating and influential of your baby’s prenatal senses. One study in Ireland has indicated that babies can begin to react to sound through movement as early as week 16 (two months prior to the complete formation of the ear).
Babies also begin to recognize voices and familiar sounds while still in the womb. A study performed in the 1980s at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro discovered that a newborn already preferred the sound of its mother’s voice to strangers, and preferred a story read to it repeatedly while inside the womb to a new story. Not only do babies prefer the sound of their mother’s voice to all others, but they also show a preference toward the sound of their mother speaking in her native tongue to that of a foreign language, indicating that babies start lingual development prior to birth. It has been found that babies prefer soft, melodious music to loud music, which may cause an aggressive reaction of kicking. Your baby may start showing a preference to different types of music and can start moving to the rhythm around week 31.
Although it is a common theory that playing classical music to your unborn baby can increase intellectual capabilities, Dr. Coles clarifies, “There is no scientific evidence that fetal auditory stimulation helps the developing baby’s intellectual outcome. However, a recent report suggested that playing Brahms’ lullaby to the fetus in the third trimester prompted an increase in heart rate.”
Believe it or not, that’s a little person you’re growing inside your belly! Just like the rest of us, your baby can experience a whole range of emotions even before entering this topsy-turvy world of ours. While you probably would not get into a screaming match with your partner in front of your baby once he is born, you may not think twice about it while pregnant. You may want to start censoring yourself now, however, because your unborn little guy or girl is capable of experiencing feelings of anger, fear, affection, depression and disappointment in response to his mother’s emotions and activities.
And although we wish we could protect them from it, your growing baby is also able to experience excruciating pain. Ultrasounds have shown that babies tend to react to needles penetrating the womb with a mix of shock, withdrawal and aggression. The most important thing to remember when caring for your baby’s emotional needs is that your emotional state will influence your baby’s. In a study in which pregnant women were forced to watch a clip of an emotionally upsetting video, their babies were found to become upset as well. In the same vein, mothers who are depressed during pregnancy are likely to be carrying a depressed little one inside of them. Some doctors even suspect that babies who are in a state of fear can trigger premature labor. These doctors also suspect that a mother can stop premature labor by speaking to her baby in a calming, reassuring tone.
Learning and development
Once you hit the two month mark in your pregnancy, the foundations for the basic parts of your baby’s brain have already formed and brain development will continue for the next several years. At this point, any food, drink, medicine, nicotine and stimulation given to your baby will affect the final size and organization of her brain. Stimulation such as exposure to music, singing, dancing, voices and exercising will all have a positive influence on your baby’s brain development. Just keep in mind that exercising during pregnancy is fine as long as you don’t let your heart rate exceed 140 beats per minute for longer than 15 minutes. And of course, you should always run your exercise routine by your doctor before hitting the gym.