How Does a Baby Breathe in the Womb?

How Do Babies Breathe Inside the Womb?

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sanjana Sainani (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
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If you are planning to have a baby or are already pregnant, you will have all kinds of questions going through your mind. One of them could be about the baby breathing inside the womb. We breathe by taking air into our lungs directly from the atmosphere. But the foetus in the womb floats in a pool of amniotic fluid. How do you think they get the oxygen they need? This article will help you understand how babies breathe when they’re in the uterus, their breathing patterns during delivery, as well as the important FAQs about this topic.

Does a Baby Breathe Inside the Womb?

The short answer is no; your baby cannot breathe inside the womb. However, this answer is only technically correct, as breathing by definition requires the action of pulling in gaseous oxygen into our lungs. In the foetus’ case, the lungs will only be developed in the last two weeks of pregnancy. Around this time, the foetus will begin to practice breathing, by inhaling and exhaling amniotic fluid through their noses and into their developing lungs. However, if the baby is premature, doctors may prescribe steroid treatments in order to speed up lung maturation and allow them to breathe like the rest of us.

How Do Babies Get Oxygen in the Womb?

How Do Babies Get Oxygen in the Womb?

Babies follow a different process of breathing until birth and during delivery, and this process has been explained below.

Breathing Process in the Womb

All of the foetus’ requirements are delivered by the placenta, the conduit between the mother and the baby. The placenta receives oxygen, water, nutrients, antibodies, and so on, from the mother’s bloodstream and transports it to the baby through the umbilical cord attached to the baby’s abdomen. This is why it is crucial that the mother maintains a balanced diet and avoids toxins like cigarette smoke, pollution, and alcohol. Every breath of air taken by the mother is delivered to the baby. Similarly, wastes produced by the foetus like carbon dioxide returns through the placenta into the mother’s bloodstream, from where it is exhaled through the lungs.

Foetal Breathing During Delivery

Ever wonder how do babies breathe during labour? Here’s how. When the baby is being delivered, it still has amniotic fluid in its lungs. Luckily, most of the fluid is going to be squeezed out of its lungs as it moves through the birth canal. They might even start taking their practice breaths at this point, but as long as they are attached to the umbilical cord, they are receiving enough life support. During birth, babies produce a dark-green excretory substance known as meconium. It is important that they don’t accidentally inhale meconium as it could lead to severe respiratory problems.

Baby’s First Breath After Birth

A few seconds after birth, the baby will automatically inhale sharply and begin breathing for the first time by themselves. As the lungs inflate with oxygen, the amniotic fluid drains away, and the circulatory system begins to function. Around thirty seconds after birth, the doctor will clamp the umbilical cord, physically separating the baby from the mother for the first time. The baby’s lungs are now ready to take care of all their oxygen needs, but their respiratory systems will continue to develop for another eight to ten years.


1. Does Water Birth Affect Baby’s Breathing?

Water birth is a process in which the woman gives birth in a large sterile pool or tub of water. It is not going to hamper the breathing ability of your newborn in any way. This is because the baby is still going to be receiving oxygen through the umbilical cord even after being born. In fact, water births are often recommended as newborns experience less shock than during regular childbirth. This is because they emerge from the warm pool of amniotic fluid into a warm pool of water. Furthermore, water births have been shown to be comforting and soothing for the mother, alleviating the pain and stress of pregnancy.

2. What If the Baby Does Not Get Enough Oxygen?

If ultrasound scans show that the baby is not breathing in the womb, it need not mean there is a problem. However, if the baby does not receive enough oxygen during or immediately after birth, it causes a condition known as perinatal asphyxia. This condition is extremely dangerous as it prevents the body of the newborn from functioning efficiently, leading to damaged organ systems, such as the heart, lungs, intestines, and kidneys. Perinatal asphyxia is also known to cause brain damage, resulting in intellectual and physical disabilities, cerebral palsy, or even death. The causes of this condition include:

  • Altered blood supply through the umbilical cord if the mother has hypertension or diabetes.
  • Babies born in breech or upside-down position usually suffer from lack of oxygen.
  • Shoulder dystocia, wherein the shoulders of the infant cannot pass through the birth canal, putting pressure on the cord.
  • The umbilical cord can sometimes wrap around the neck during delivery, cutting off the oxygen supply.

Babies definitely need food, water, air, and all the basic necessities required to keep a human being alive. The only difference is that they obtain these requirements in a different way than we do. Pregnancy can be difficult in many ways, but this aspect is certainly not something you should be overly concerned about. If you’re concerned about your unborn baby’s health, you should reach out to your gynaecologist and address your concerns.

Also Read: Signs of Healthy and Unhealthy Baby in Womb

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