Skip to content

What the Unborn Sense in the Womb

Interview With Dr. Carlo Bellieni

ROME, OCT. 6, 2005 (Zenit) - During its gestation the fetus is "already a member of the family and company for the mother even before being born," says neonatologist Carlo Bellieni.

Dr. Bellieni of the Department of Neonatal Intensive Therapy of the University Polyclinic Santa Maria Le Scotte of Siena talked with us about his research on life-before-birth for his latest book "L'Alba dell'Io" (Dawn of the I), published by Societŕ Editrice Fiorentina.

Q: Until the 1980s it was thought that the maternal uterus was a sort of strongbox for the fetus. What has changed since then?

Bellieni: Very much. Today we know that the fetus is a pluri-sensorial being whose senses enter into action with a pre-ordained sequence: first, tactility is manifested; then the chemical; the sense of balance; hearing; and finally sight.

The early development of the senses in the uterus has a double function: that of forming the central nervous system, providing stimuli which interact with the growth of groups of neurons, directing it on a physiological path, and of introducing the unborn to the exterior world -- bringing about a kind of learning in the uterus.

Q: Is it true that the senses enter into action precociously before birth?

Bellieni: Already in the eighth week after conception the receivers of touch are present in the fetus in the area of the mouth, which later are extended throughout the whole surface of the body in a few months. But it is around the 22nd to 24th week when the connections will be ready with the cerebral cortex. The fetus responds to the stimuli that come through the mother's womb.

Q: Tell us about the fetus' hearing and taste.

Bellieni: Toward the 25th week of gestation, the fetus has developed hearing. Within the uterus the mother's voice comes with much greater intensity than another's voice -- or the father's! -- and the fetus gets used to this voice, so much so that several experiments have shown us that the newborn is able to distinguish the mother's voice from that of a strange voice, just as it is able to distinguish the mother's scents.

This will serve to recognize the maternal milk, which has a taste and smell similar to the amniotic fluid which for nine months has soaked its tongue and lips.

Q: Does the fetus have memory?

Bellieni: Research was published in Pediatrics in 2001 which showed that at the moment of weaning the child prefers tastes that it perceived in the uterus in a certain period, although these tastes were not given to it during lactation. Therefore the fetus has memory.

This, which seemed to be only the prerogative of psychiatrists, today is the patrimony of the pediatrician to explain several phenomena.

We recently carried out a study on what happened to the children of ballerinas who during pregnancy did not stop dancing: They needed to be rocked to sleep more energetically than the others!

Moreover, what is it to rock the newborn to sleep if not to reconstruct that serene environment he had in the uterus: rhythmic movements, the mother's perfume, an indistinct voice but present and humming, darkness -- but the presence of walls and limits that he would not find if left abruptly in a bed?

Q: Have you carried out other studies on the fetus' memory?

Bellieni: Yes, for example on short-term memory, demonstrating that the fetus gets used to external stimuli as a child that is already born.

We have used sonorous stimuli sent through the wall of the uterus and have measured echo-graphically how the fetus reacts, ill-at-ease, blinking his eyes and then how it gets used to the noise.

Q: Is it true that the fetus dreams?

Bellieni: Studies on the premature newborn give increasing data on the characteristics of sleep in the uterus.

In 2000, professor Rivkees of Yale University showed the presence of a day-night rhythm from the midpoint of gestation. Today we know that from the 28th week of gestation the phases of sleep can be differentiated. From the 30th week, active sleep is present, which is equivalent to an adult's REM sleep, when most dreams take place.

Therefore nothing prevents us from saying that in the uterus the fetus has all the "instruments" to dream: an appropriate cerebral electrical activity and the presence of stimuli that will make their contents.

Sleep is also most important in the uterus because the greatest proliferation of nervous cells occurs there, and the preferential production of certain hormones.

Q: Does the fetus feel pain?

Bellieni: It seems impossible, but the pain of the fetus and the newborn was acknowledged only at the end of the '80s.

Nevertheless, it is clear that our premature babies born at 23-24 weeks feel pain. And the hormonal changes after the painful stimulus have been demonstrated in fetuses of 20 weeks or slightly more.

On the very little ones born before their term, we have recently experimented with a system of analgesia based on non-pharmacological techniques of distraction. We were right.

The premature newborn feels pain, cries, but is also able to interact with the one near him, accepting being consoled and distracted, so much so that he/she no longer feels pain! A video of three American scholars on the fetus' crying may be downloaded online [see (].

Q: How does a child spend the day before being born?

Bellieni: The fetus has a world of sensations, but also of actions. The fetus responds in its own way to external stimuli. It is frightened if it hears noise; it responds to patting.

But it exercises itself for life in the open air: It does breathing exercises constantly, even when immersed in the amniotic fluid, and attempts have been registered to emit sounds visualizing the vocal cords.

It has hiccups and makes faces as though smiling or crying. Its movements respond to phases of calm or movement of the mother, and also of the amount of sugar the mother eats.

Q: What would you say in conclusion?

Bellieni: That the fetus is already a new member of the family and company for the mother even before being born.


Catholic Online CA, US
Catholic Online - Publisher, 661 869-1000



Fetus, Womb, Mother, Child, Bellieni

More Catholic PRWire

Showing 1 - 50 of 4,718

A Recession Antidote
Randy Hain

Monaco & The Vatican: Monaco's Grace Kelly Exhibit to Rome--A Review of Monegasque-Holy See Diplomatic History
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

The Why of Jesus' Death: A Pauline Perspective
Jerom Paul

A Royal Betrayal: Catholic Monaco Liberalizes Abortion
Dna. Maria St.Catherine De Grace Sharpe, t.o.s.m., T.O.SS.T.

Embrace every moment as sacred time
Mary Regina Morrell

My Dad
JoMarie Grinkiewicz

Letting go is simple wisdom with divine potential
Mary Regina Morrell

Father Lombardi's Address on Catholic Media
Catholic Online

Pope's Words to Pontifical Latin American College
Catholic Online

Prelate: Genetics Needs a Conscience
Catholic Online

State Aid for Catholic Schools: Help or Hindrance?
Catholic Online

Scorsese Planning Movie on Japanese Martyrs
Catholic Online

2 Nuns Kidnapped in Kenya Set Free
Catholic Online

Holy See-Israel Negotiation Moves Forward
Catholic Online

Franchising to Evangelize
Catholic Online

Catholics Decry Anti-Christianity in Israel
Catholic Online

Pope and Gordon Brown Meet About Development Aid
Catholic Online

Pontiff Backs Latin America's Continental Mission
Catholic Online

Cardinal Warns Against Anti-Catholic Education
Catholic Online

Full Circle
Robert Gieb

Three words to a deeper faith
Paul Sposite

Relections for Lent 2009
chris anthony

Wisdom lies beyond the surface of life
Mary Regina Morrell

World Food Program Director on Lent
Catholic Online

Moral Clarity

Pope's Lenten Message for 2009
Catholic Online

A Prayer for Monaco: Remembering the Faith Legacy of Prince Rainier III & Princess Grace and Contemplating the Moral Challenges of Prince Albert II
Dna. Maria St. Catherine Sharpe

Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness
Sally Connolly

Glimpse of Me
Sarah Reinhard

The 3 stages of life
Michele Szekely

Sex and the Married Woman
Cheryl Dickow

A Catholic Woman Returns to the Church
Cheryl Dickow

Modernity & Morality
Dan Shea

Just a Minute
Sarah Reinhard

Catholic identity ... triumphant reemergence!
Hugh McNichol

Edging God Out
Paul Sposite

Burying a St. Joseph Statue
Cheryl Dickow

George Bush Speaks on Papal Visit
Catholic Online

Sometimes moving forward means moving the canoe
Mary Regina Morrell

Action Changes Things: Teaching our Kids about Community Service
Lisa Hendey

Easter... A Way of Life
Paul Spoisite

Papal initiative...peace and harmony!
Hugh McNichol

Proclaim the mysteries of the Resurrection!
Hugh McNichol

Jerusalem Patriarch's Easter Message
Catholic Online

Good Friday Sermon of Father Cantalamessa
Catholic Online

Papal Address at the End of the Way of the Cross
Catholic Online

Cardinal Zen's Meditations for Via Crucis
Catholic Online

Interview With Vatican Aide on Jewish-Catholic Relations
Catholic Online

Pope Benedict XVI On the Easter Triduum
Catholic Online

Holy Saturday...anticipation!
Hugh McNichol

Never Miss any Updates!

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers.

Learn about Catholic world

Catholic Online
Inform - Inspire - Ignite

Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained

Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need

Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online

Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye

Daily Reading
Today's bible reading

Lent / Easter
Death & resurrection of Jesus

Advent / Christmas
Birth of Jesus

Rest of Catholic Online
All Catholic world we offer

Products and services we offer

Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books

The California Network
Inspiring streaming service

Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on

Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel

Catholic Online Singles
Safe, secure Catholic dating

The California Studios
World-class post production service

Learn the Catholic way

Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all

Student Classes
K-12 & Adult Education Classes

School Teachers
Teacher lesson plans & resources

Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education

Connect with us online

Catholic Online on Facebook
Catholic social network

Catholic Online on Twitter
Catholic Tweets

Catholic Online on YouTube
Enjoy our videos

Catholic Online on Instagram
Shared Catholic moments

Catholic Online on Pinterest
Catholic ideas style inspiration

Catholic Online Logo

Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2018 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.