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How Does Your Baby "Breathe" Before Birth?

Life before birth is a mystery. As a mom, you use this time to take good care of your and your baby’s health so that you can hold your healthy and happy baby in your arms on the due date. But you often wonder what happens inside the womb - what kind of an experience is the womb for your baby? 

Your baby is quite aware of things on the outside from the womb, and can hear you, knows your voice and loves you already. But how does your baby breathe inside the womb?

Breathing Before Birth

The question is one that makes you curious because you know your baby needs oxygen, but can’t really “breathe” because they’re surrounded by the protective cushioning of amniotic fluid. Amniotic fluid is the fluid in the amniotic sac in your uterus, around the baby, that protects them from physical harm.

Before birth, your baby’s lungs do not function the way they do after birth. Due to the surrounding amniotic fluid, your baby’s lungs are filled with amniotic fluid when they are in the womb. As a result, they have to receive oxygen based on your breathing, through your placenta.

How Do Babies Start Breathing?

Around the 24th to 36th weeks of pregnancy, lungs develop the alveoli or air sacs that fill with oxygen when we inhale. Until these sacs are fully developed, babies cannot breathe on their own.

Around the same time, “surfactant”, also called lung detergent, begins to be produced in the amniotic fluid, which coats the inside of the lungs and keeps the alveoli or air sacs open. As the pregnancy moves ahead, more surfactant is produced, which is why babies are able to breathe outside the womb closer to term.

Practice Breathing Before Birth?

Even if your baby’s lungs develop fully in the womb, they do not take their first breath of oxygen until they are outside the womb. But around the end of the third trimester, your little one begins to take practice breaths.

But rather than air, your baby in the womb inhales and exhales amniotic fluid. But it is normal for your baby to inhale amniotic fluid in the womb as it is after all, their living atmosphere! The placenta or umbilical cord thus is the source of oxygen for your baby while they learn how to breathe.

The transition from the womb to the outside world can be rough due to change from fluid to air, and crying at birth is what helps them take that first breath!

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