What does birth feel like for your baby?

One of the most-asked questions mums-to-be have is, “What does birth feel like?” But have you ever wondered what birth feels like for your baby? 

As you go into labour, you’ll be producing lots of oxytocin, known as the “love hormone”, which will help put your baby into a calm, content mood. In early labour, when you’re experiencing contractions, your baby is moving down into your birth canal and pressing his head against your cervix as it dilates. His skull is soft and pliable, so it’s easier for him to move through the birth canal – and even if he gets a conehead from the birth, it won’t hurt him because his skull isn’t fully moulded yet. Any misshapenness should resolve within a few days. 

During active labour – when your contractions are coming every three or four minutes and lasting up to 90 seconds at a time – your baby will feel a bit squashed, as every time a contraction happens, he’s getting a bit squeezed. But it shouldn’t bother him very much, and research has shown that babies can actually have sleep patterns during contractions! 

While we’re not sure if your baby is feeling any pain during its journey through the birth canal, experts believe that the feeling for your baby is more similar to the sense of compression you might feel if you were crawling through a tight space. Researchers have found that the neural connections that would lead your baby to interpret sensations as “pain” in the same way adults do haven’t fully developed at the time of labour, so it’s unlikely your baby is in actual pain. They may be more surprised at the new sensations or being in a more confined space between the womb and the world! But he’ll twist and turn to try to find the easiest way to squeeze through. 

We’re also not sure how much babies hear or see during labour and birth, although research does show that babies can hear you in utero, so do sing and talk to your unborn child! His eyesight is blurry and unfocused at birth, so it’s likely he can’t really “see” much during labour. 

As you’re pushing, your baby will be trying to help the process along too by pushing to get out – birth is a partnership between you and your baby, and both of you want to get on with things! If you have pain relief during labour and it makes you feel a bit sleepy, your baby will feel a bit sleepy too, and this might make it harder for him to move things along from the inside. 

During delivery, you will feel a burning sensation as your baby’s head crowns. For your baby, this last big squeeze of his widest part – his head – is helpful in preparing him to live outside of your uterus, as the compression he experiences through the birth canal expels fluid and mucous from his lungs and prevents him from inhaling fluid and blood as he’s passing through. This will help him to be ready to take his first breath once he’s “on the outside”. 

It can be a bit of a shock to your baby to find himself in the bright, cold, draughty world after nine months in a dark, warm, snug environment, so he might be a bit upset. Skin-to-skin contact and keeping your baby warm will help calm him down and regulate his heart rate and breathing.

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BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.

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