Pregnancy Education Companion: week 24
Your changing body
By now you will be aware of how your body is starting to change.
Part 1: Changes to the pregnant body
Contractions of labour are a sensation you feel as the uterine muscle works towards opening the cervix, helping the baby to turn and lower into the pelvis and then birth.
During labour you will experience contractions of the uterine muscle that are strong, regular and increase in frequency as your labour progresses. The contractions help open the cervix, turn your baby in utero and lower them into the pelvis and then birth.
Braxton Hicks contractions, however, are generally a normal, milder tightening of the uterus, often beginning about halfway through the pregnancy. You may not feel them in the early weeks, But they may become more intense and frequent the closer you get to the birth.
If this is your first pregnancy you may not feel them at all, but in your second or subsequent pregnancy you may feel them earlier and more frequently.
What you may feel can include:
weak, usually uncomfortable tightening around your baby bump
a tightening of your abdomen for 20-90 seconds
an ache or tightness on one side or other of your pelvis.
By now, most of you will have felt your baby’s first movements. Called “quickening”, these little flutters are your baby’s kicking and punching movements. This often happens between weeks 16 and 25 of your pregnancy. If this is your first pregnancy, you may not feel your baby move until closer to 25 weeks.
By your second and third trimesters, the movements should be more distinct, and you'll be able to feel your baby's kicks, jabs, and elbows.
Being aware of your baby’s movements during pregnancy is one of the simplest things you can do to help keep your baby safe and healthy. Regular and healthy movements are a good sign of wellbeing.
It is a myth that babies’ movements slow down or become weaker towards the end of pregnancy.
If you are concerned about your baby’s movement, it is important to attend the Women’s Emergency Care department or call (03) 8345 3635
For more information visit The Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth website - Movements matter
We’ll talk more about baby movements in Week 27.
Part 2: Getting to know your baby
You’ve met your baby at the routine 19 - 21 week ultrasound session. You’ve seen how developed they are and how much freedom they have to move around. You’ve heard their heartbeat and you have probably begun to feel them moving inside. Soon, those who are close to you will be able to see and feel those movements as well.
Your baby has already met you too. They can hear your deep breathing sounds, your heartbeat and pulse, your body’s functions, as well as your voice and the voice of your partner or family. They will recognise and want to turn to these voices and sounds when they are born. They will use these sounds to feel secure and comforted from the very beginning. They are the sounds of ‘home’ for your baby and are the seeds of your relationship with each other.
At only 24 weeks, you and your baby are already sharing a world and getting to know each other.
You may have begun to wonder about your baby as a person, what they might look like, their likes and dislikes, their experience now as they develop inside and what it will be like for them after they arrive. You will likely have dreams and wishes, as well as fears and sometimes sadness. It can be good to talk about this with people you are close to or professionals you trust.
When your baby is born, you won’t know all the answers straight away. It will take time for you and your baby to get to know each other. You will gradually learn their particular way of ‘speaking to you’ through their body language. Just being curious about your baby’s feelings and needs will help you learn how best to support them. It will also help you begin to feel confident as a parent, and your baby to feel secure in their world. Research tells us it will have a big, positive effect on their development.
Here we begin to look at how babies communicate and their brain development.
During pregnancy and after your baby is born, babies understand their world through the information they receive via their five senses. In fact, this is the most developed part of the brain at birth.
Situations that cause stress to you can also cause stress for your baby.
By understanding and watching your baby, you can learn to decode their messages and better understand their needs. Being able to understand and communicate with your baby helps their development, aids bonding, and supports further brain development.
If you have a partner or support person, get them involved in learning about baby too.
Your baby’s senses at birth and in the first weeks:
At birth babies can see within cuddle or breastfeeding range (approx. 15-25cms) and are:
- attracted to black and white. Contrasting shades and colour vision develop over the next few weeks and months
- able to gaze for periods of time immediately after birth
- drawn to human faces more than anything else and can distinguish between a happy and sad face
- more likely to engage with an animated or moving face – we call this ‘mutual gaze’. It aids with their brain development. Tracking and mutual gaze often leads to your baby responding to your actions. Your face is your baby’s best toy in the first three months.
Hearing is the most developed sense at birth and will continue to develop.
- Your voice is the most familiar. It is recommended that your partner or support person spend considerable time speaking with you before the birth so their voices will also become familiar to the baby. If they are away for long periods of time you may consider recording their voice and playing it often.
- Babies are drawn towards sounds, especially rhythmic or repetitive sounds. Lullabies, soothing voices and gentle sounds may comfort your baby.
- Sounds and situations that make you feel positive can have a similar effect on your baby. Sounds and situations that have a negative effect on you can also have a similar effect on your baby. Keeping the family safe and happy is important for baby’s growth and development.
- A hearing test will be offered for your baby whilst you are in hospital or as an outpatient.
Babies are surrounded by amniotic fluid, in a constant temperature and folded securely inside the uterus during pregnancy. Babies need this environment replicated after birth.
- After birth, gentle and loving touch assists the release of the bonding hormone oxytocin.
- Once born, babies can feel pain just like adults and children.
- The startle reflex is present up to 12 weeks after birth. Therefore, babies need to feel supported either by being held, carried, wrapped or worn in a suitable carrier or sling.
- When a baby is unwrapped for nappy changing, bathing or dressing they will often cry, therefore they may like to be loosely wrapped with their arms together.
- Baby’s mouth and hands have strong touch receptors in the first few weeks assisting their ability to breastfeed.
- Babies are used to movement and find it soothing; rhythmic patting and movement may remind them of your heartbeat.
- Babies are familiar with movement and find it soothing; rhythmic patting and movement may remind them of your heartbeat.
- Research shows that skin-to-skin contact is important. Skin-to-skin is when your baby is placed naked on your chest.
- helps your baby’s heart and breathing rates to regulate and stabilise
- allows for transfer of good bacteria from you to your baby
- eases the transition from the womb
- encourages breastfeeding instincts
- enhances parent - child communication
- produces strong bonding hormones (oxytocin) by baby and the person cuddling baby
- can reduce crying
- is important for both parents and significant family members.
A baby’s sense of taste and smell are developed in the womb.
As baby swallows amniotic fluid it becomes familiar with the birthing woman’s taste and smell.
- The amniotic fluid contains elements of the birthing woman’s diet and a naturally occurring sugar called sucrose. Consequently, babies sweet taste buds are more developed and they have a preference for sweeter flavours
- Breastmilk and body odour also contain these same substances.
- Breastmilk has a similar smell and taste to the amniotic fluid.
- After the birth, the areola (brownish area) of your breasts releases an oil, scented like the amniotic fluid. This helps baby find the breast. Babies that initiate their own way for the first feed generally feed better overall.
Being aware of what you and your partner/support person can do during pregnancy to learn more about your baby will potentially increase the bonding process after the birth.
For more information see our Reading your baby’s body language fact sheet.
We hope you have found this information helpful.
If you have any health concerns please talk to one of your health care professionals – midwife, General Practitioner (GP), hospital doctor, etc.
There will be more to read and learn next week.
Stay safe and well.
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