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What’s going on in there?!

What your baby’s telling you from the womb.

By S. Danyelle KnightPublished: February, 2008

Some women feel the first flutter of pregnancy as early as 13 weeks, though it’s not uncommon for new moms to start feeling movements as late as 25 weeks. No matter when they begin, those initial “butterflies” soon turn into rollicking somersaults, kicks and punches. It’s one of the most odd and amazing sensations associated with motherhood, and a daily reminder that the inconveniences and discomforts of pregnancy are insignificant in comparison to the miracle at work within our bodies. We know more than ever before about the multifarious life of a fetus before it enters our world. Could our babies be telling us something with their in-utero acrobatics?

Some doctors and researchers believe babies’ movements in the womb may be indicators of later personality and behavior. Janet DiPietro, a developmental psychologist and professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has been studying the human fetus for the past 15 years and thinks there’s something to those flits and flutters.

Months before a baby arrives kicking and screaming in the delivery room, he begins to act like a full-term baby. He’s smart enough to pick out mom’s voice from a sea of sounds. He hiccups, yawns and sucks his thumb. That little peanut is busy all day (and night) exploring the womb and learning about his tiny hands and feet; by the end of pregnancy he can even see. In essence, your baby begins to give you clues about his personality long before the trip home from the hospital.

Using high-tech imaging equipment, researchers have observed some pretty kooky baby behavior, including a fetus “literally walking around the womb by pushing off with its feet,” reports DiPietro in a Psychology Today article. That may explain those tsunami-like feelings I’ve experienced with my second pregnancy! Once baby No. 1 “breaks in” the uterus, his siblings have more room to explore and a longer umbilical cord, allowing for even more prenatal play. DiPietro thinks the additional motor stimulation available to subsequent children may mean they develop into more active babies after birth.

Another interesting finding is how fetuses bond with their mothers long before they ever meet face-to-face. Babies bounce around the womb in glee when mom laughs. They savor her meals, and learn to respond to her voice as she sings a lullaby or reads a nursery rhyme.

Fewer flutters as baby grows
Aside from cutting-edge research looking for correlations between fetal behavior and postnatal development, there’s an immediate application moms and OB/GYNs attach to baby butterflies. As pregnancy progresses, moms will feel fewer dramatic movements due to increasingly tight quarters. Still, the American Pregnancy Association suggests you contact your healthcare provider if you notice a significant change in your baby’s
activity level. Lie on your left side and keep track of how long it takes to feel 10 movements. If you don’t feel at least 10 movements in 2 hours, call your doctor.

Researchers still have a long way to go before they’re able to say what every flip and flop means, or to what degree fetal movement is a predictor of later child development. It may not be very scientific, but I had a hunch about my little Dylan’s personality months before his stubborn cries and fussy spells confirmed my suspicions. He was extremely active, even violent at times, when confined to mom’s belly. Having endured and delighted in kicks and karate chops for months, I knew that he would grow into a thriving, headstrong explorer with a zest for life – and 2 years later he’s, proving me right.


S. Danyelle Knight is a contributing writer to OC Family Magazine.

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