Babies in the womb begin developing parts of their somatosensory system from a few weeks old and can noticeably respond to outside temperature changes later in the pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a beautiful and unique journey for every mom, but it is also a time of great concern over the ongoing development of their baby in the womb.
The fact that the development timeline is not identical for every baby leaves much open for interpretation.
Because most moms-to-be feel hotter during pregnancy, they question how this affects their unborn baby in the womb. This is a common concern among pregnant moms, and it is a legitimate concern.
Babies can be affected by extreme outside temperatures, which will also affect the mother.
Dehydration and loss of core body heat over a period will trickle down to your baby in your womb, so keeping cool during high temperatures and warm during freezing temperatures is always the preferred solution.
Babies follow a basic blueprint of development in the womb, but the timing may differ between babies for various reasons. First, let’s look at how babies develop their senses in the womb with specific attention to touch and temperature.
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The first sign of your unborn baby reacting to temperature
We know that a baby’s somatosensory system begins developing at a few weeks old, and the sense of touch is the first sense to develop, which is essential to survival.
The sense of smell, taste, sight, and hearing develop a bit later in the pregnancy.
Outside the womb, both people and animals will instinctively pull away from things that feel uncomfortable or cold while they will huddle closer to objects that are warm and soft.
A trick that sonographers use to get your baby to move in the womb is to have you drink a glass of cold water.
The cold sensation from the water triggers a response from your baby, and this should be evidence enough to prove that babies respond to sudden differences in temperature in their womb environment.
This will be one of the first noticeable signs of your baby reacting to temperature changes that we can actually see and feel.
The sense of touch
The sense of touch is the first sense to begin developing, and your baby uses this sense to explore the world around them.
A network of touch receptors develops all over your baby’s body are connected to nerve cells that transfer information to your baby’s developing brain.
Each receptor is uniquely set to sense one of the components of touch, including temperature, pressure, or pain.
A fair comparison would be with adults. We have receptors in every area of our body and can feel things both externally and internally.
We can sense a stomach ache or sense the taste of something on our lips and tongue.
By week 8 of pregnancy, your baby has developed touch receptors on their face, mostly around the lip and nose area.
By week 12, your baby will have developed touch receptors over most of their body, including the soles of their feet and genital area.
By 17 weeks, touch receptors will have developed in the abdomen area.
At 32 weeks, every part of your baby’s body will have developed touch receptors capable of feeling the slightest difference in the womb.
The somatosensory receptors help to develop the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and even the digestive system.
Pain sensors only develop from about 24 weeks, but until this point, your baby will have a sense of touch but will not feel pain in the same way we do.
Your baby will only be able to distinguish painful touch from normal touch toward the end of the third trimester, as this is when the internal circuitry is fully developed.
Some researchers who have conducted brain scanning methods on unborn babies believe that babies can start feeling pain when the somatosensory system is fully developed at about 29 or 30 weeks.
Before this time, your baby will react to touch by a change in heart rate or a change in hormone levels as the brain isn’t yet able to receive and process the information.
Interestingly, twins or multiple babies in the womb can sense each other and actually use their sense of touch to explore each other.
The interaction usually begins in the second trimester at about week 14 of the pregnancy. This brings to the fore that babies are social by nature.
These researchers discovered that the social element seems deliberate and lasts longer than when these babies touch their own faces or bodies.
While still in your womb, your baby cannot relate to the outside world through touch, but this sense helps your little one develops the necessary reflects to cope with the outside world.
Your baby learns how to swallow and cough while in your womb, so at birth, your baby can clear the fluid from their airway and can immediately begin breastfeeding.
The temperature outside the womb
Your baby will respond to extreme changes in outside temperature if they persist for longer than 10 minutes.
Prolonged exposure to very temperatures places stress on your baby, and research on pregnant women who were exposed to either hot or cold temperatures for prolonged periods delivered underweight babies.
The research found that pregnant women exposed to extremely hot or cold weather in their second and third trimester, or extremely hot weather in their third trimester, had an 18% to 31% higher chance of delivering a low-weight baby compared to women who went through their pregnancy in mild weather.
Sometimes being exposed to extreme temperatures is beyond your control. Yet the decision to take long hot baths or showers or enjoy the hot tub with friends is toying with danger as this is risky as it puts your baby in distress.
Pregnant women should do all they can to avoid very hot temperatures. Wearing loose and light clothing and staying hydrated are very important.
You can carry a water spray bottle with you to keep cool when outdoors in the heat. Running cold water over the inside of your writs also helps to cool you down a little.
Wear wide-brim hats or use an umbrella to shield from the sun. This will also reduce your chances of getting Melasma, a skin condition where patches of brown or grey skin develop from direct sun exposure.
The increase in core body temperature of pregnant women is said to increase at conception.
The recorded increase is minimal, and many medical professionals disagree that it is pregnancy-related. Many other elements cause core body temperature to fluctuate, including the time of day your temperature is taken.
Warmer weather does have a more significant effect on pregnant women, and the tendency to overheat is common.
To prevent this from happening, it is best to stay cool as dehydration, fatigue, heat exhaustion, fainting, or heatstroke can adversely affect the well-being of both you and your baby.
Is drinking cold beverages safe during pregnancy?
Yes, it definitely safe. Pregnancy is not an illness, so all that your body was used to before pregnancy will be fine during your pregnancy.
Having said this, aerated drinks with high sugar content should be avoided during, before, and after pregnancy.
If you stick to cold water or juice, you are fine.
Can babies in the womb sense their mother’s touch?
Research indicates that babies between 21 and 33 weeks respond to moms rubbing their bellies by moving about.
So, yes, babies can sense their mother stroking her belly. The further along the pregnancy, the more your baby will react to you rubbing your belly.
Does speaking to my baby help with bonding after birth?
Yes, babies can hear from about 18 weeks and will become familiar with the voices and sounds they hear while in the womb.
What your baby hears in the womb will reflect in their behavior after birth.
For example, you could play a specific song to relax while pregnant, and the same song might help soothe your little one in the early months.
Is my baby at risk if I develop a fever?
If you get early treatment and eliminate the cause of the fever, your baby should be fine.
An untreated fever can cause pregnancy complications if left for too long. It’s best to monitor your core body temperature regularly so you are aware of any changes.
Contact your doctor for advice if you develop a fever and follow up with your doctor on your recovery.
Pregnant mothers-to-be need to be aware of their core body temperature and must avoid extreme weather conditions when possible.
Staying cool during your pregnancy does not mean you cannot be active, but you may want to indulge in less strenuous activities that will raise your body temperature too much. Again, the golden rule is moderation and foresight.
Babies can feel changes in temperature through their sense of touch but only really respond if the change is sudden and extreme, like when you drink cold water.
The closer to full-term you are, the more your baby can feel and respond to temperature changes. Keep your little one in the goldilocks temperature zone, and you’ll have a happy pregnancy.