Here's What Your Baby Actually Feels In The Womb When You Sneeze
What’s it really like in there?
Pregnant people feel their babies hiccup, wiggle, stretch, and turn — so much so that they often viscerally experience every errant kick to the cervix or bladder. And while pregnant people are obviously the ones showing that sensation for the whole world to see, it’s interesting to wonder if the sensation goes both ways. What exactly does your baby feel as you go about your day? Even something as simple as sneezing while pregnant can make you wonder: What happens to your baby in the womb when this happens? And what if you feel pain while sneezing?
Can sneezing affect a fetus?
OK, so first off, even the most earth-shaking achoo won't actually hurt your baby (although did you know that sneezing can actually be a sign of pregnancy in some cases?). "There should be no worry when you sneeze while pregnant," Dr. Kameelah Phillips, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN, tells Romper. "Sneezing produces a quick but temporary increase in abdominal pressure." However, that momentary squeeze is no match for your fortress of a uterus. "The thick uterine muscle and surrounding amniotic fluid provide the baby with excellent cushion against this change in pressure," explains Phillips.
Overall, not much happens to the baby in the uterus when parent sneezes. That being said, they definitely might be able to feel it. “They may perceive mom’s movement — and the baby may move in response,” Dr. Alice Sutton, M.D., FACOG, an assistant clinical professor at UC San Diego, tells Romper.
What happens when you sneeze while pregnant?
While a sneeze won't hurt your baby in any way, it might make you pee (when you're pregnant, what doesn't?). “Some women will experience stress urinary incontinence, aka leaking urine, when they sneeze or cough because of increased pressure on the bladder,” Sutton says. “There are treatments for urine leakage, including physical therapy, so let your OB know if it happens.”
Just know that leakage — even from rogue sneezes — are nothing to be concerned about when it comes to your baby. "Even if sneezing causes you to lose urine, it is still not powerful enough to impact or hurt your baby," says Phillips.
If you're worried because your sneezes are painful, know that your baby won't be hurt by those buggers. “If a pregnant person feels tightening or a sharp pain in the abdomen when they sneeze, that is likely what we call ‘round ligament pain,’” Sutton says. “The round ligaments support the uterus, and as the baby grows larger and heavier, many patients experience soreness that runs from the hips towards the groin and sometimes a sore sensation deep in the vagina.”
Even a sharp pain when sneezing is nothing to be alarmed about. “Some people also get sharp ‘lightning’ sensations from the baby pressing on nerves in the pelvis,” Sutton adds. “None of this is dangerous, but it can be very annoying!” Well, annoying things during pregnancy are nothing new to those expecting.
Can a fetus feel or hear a sneeze?
Now that the medical experts have cleared up any lingering fears, it's time to talk about the fun part. What, exactly, does your baby see, hear, and feel inside their watery, uterine cocoon? And will they be offended if you sneeze really, really loud?
“The part of the fetal nervous system that will become the brain is just developing at the end of the first trimester, and the sensory nervous system also starts developing toward the end of the first trimester,” Sutton says. “Sensory stimuli can reach the fetal brain around 24 to 25 weeks.” Inside the womb, fetuses are treated to a 24-hour internal symphony of circulating blood, your beating heart, and even the sounds of your hardworking digestive system. Besides the visceral stuff, fetuses can also potentially hear external sources of sound — the music you play in your car or the chatter on the television, for instance.
That being said, Sutton explains that it’s not fully clear what a developing baby inside the womb does and doesn’t hear, even with the knowledge that their brain might technically be able to sense it (we can’t just ask them). “The fetal nervous system keeps developing into the third trimester,” Sutton explains. “And just because the nerve connections are in place doesn’t mean we know how the fetus is experiencing those sensations. So its hard to say exactly when the baby can perceive internal and external sounds and movement, but it may be during the second trimester.”
As with any concerns related to pregnancy and fetal health, if you do have questions, definitely ask your health care provider — no questions are stupid questions. And if you really want to know what happens to your baby when you sneeze, maybe ask your doctor if you can blow a big old fake achoo during your next ultrasound. You know, for science.
Dr. Kameelah Phillips, M.D., board-certified OB-GYN
Dr. Alice Sutton, M.D., FACOG, assistant clinical professor at UC San Diego
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