As the end of pregnancy approaches and birth looms, you’re probably starting to focus more on what labor will be like.
As you’re packing your bag for the hospital or birth center, you might go over your birth preferences and choices.
With so much focus on the actual labor and birth, have you ever considered what birth might be like for your baby?
What is it like for babies during the birth process? You may have asked yourself, are babies awake during labor?
Let’s find out!
Babies’ movements during pregnancy
Babies begin to form a pattern in their movements between 24 and 28 weeks, although some women feel regular movements before then.
Every baby’s pattern is unique. You might find your baby is more active first thing in the morning after you’ve eaten your lunch. Or maybe when you’re lying in bed reading.
It’s, for this reason, there’s not an agreed number of movements defined as ‘normal’ per day.
But one thing health professionals agree on is that any change to your baby’s normal pattern of movement needs investigation.
An episode of reduced fetal movements can be an early indicator of a potential problem.
Do the baby’s movements change before labor?
Your baby’s pattern of movement should continue throughout the pregnancy, even up to the start of labor.
It’s likely you can even feel your baby moving and wriggling while you’re in labor.
Very active baby before labor
Some women experience their baby moving a lot in the run-up to labor. One theory for this is the increase in Braxton Hicks contractions.
As your body prepares for labor and birth, you might start to experience a greater frequency of Braxton Hicks contractions.
Braxton Hicks are your body’s way of preparing you and your baby for the upcoming birth. It’s as though your uterus is flexing its muscles before the big day.
As the muscles of the uterus tighten and relax during Braxton Hicks, your baby is likely to respond by moving.
Check out Braxton Hicks Contractions – What Are They? for more information.
Does baby move less before labor?
Your baby should continue the usual pattern of movements up to the point you go into labor and your baby is born.
Babies shouldn’t move less before labor; if they do, seek immediate medical advice.
Read our article Do All Babies Go Quiet Before Labor? to learn more about normal fetal movements in the last few weeks of pregnancy.
Are babies active during labor?
Your baby’s movements are an insight into her overall health and well-being.
An active baby is a healthy sign, showing she’s happy with both the internal and external environments. This activity should continue throughout labor, as your baby responds to your labor contractions.
Remember, there’s no right or wrong, and each baby will react differently in labor.
Do babies kick during contractions?
As you know, feeling your baby move is a really positive and comforting sign all is well. Feeling kicks at any point in the pregnancy is a good thing, and the same applies in labor, too.
It’s a reassuring sign your baby is coping well if you can feel her moving throughout labor
Some women report feeling their babies move during contractions; others report feeling them move more after or in between tightenings. Every baby will respond differently.
You might find your baby wriggles more during the second stage (pushing phase) of labor.
During this time babies are navigating their way through the pelvis and into the birth canal. Sometimes it might be necessary for babies to adjust their position slightly in order to find the right fit through the pelvis.
You may feel your baby’s head moving, or adjusting its position as she does this. As your baby’s head is born, you might feel her kicking as she ‘pushes off’ from the top of the uterus as the body is born.
You and your baby will intuitively work together in labor, for the most optimal birth for you both.
Our babies really are amazing!
What happens to the baby during contractions?
The mother and her unborn baby work together during labor, to ensure a safe birth.
The uterus has a very important job to do, safely transporting a baby from a watery home inside, to the outside world.
Labor contractions are very different from ‘practice contractions’ or Braxton Hicks contractions you might experience towards the end of your pregnancy.
Braxton Hicks don’t act on the cervix to open it; neither do they push the baby out into the world.
The muscles of the uterus are different from any other muscles in the body.
The muscles we have voluntary control over, such as those in our arms or legs, have the ability to lengthen and shorten. For example, if we flex the biceps, the muscle fibers shorten when we flex, and lengthen when we release.
The muscle fibers of the uterus, however, get shorter with each contraction but don’t lengthen again. In other words, your baby’s environment (the uterus) gets smaller and smaller with each contraction.
This is your body’s way of moving your baby down into the birth canal ready to be born.
Your baby will feel the difference between the gentle Braxton Hicks tightenings and the powerful expulsive contractions felt in labor.
The baby will feel greater pressure, especially to the head, brought about by these powerful surges as she begins to navigate her way through the pelvis.
In some cases, your baby actively tries to assist in the process of being born, by pushing off the sides of the uterus to help get head and body aligned into the most optimal position for birth.
To learn more about this, read Birth From Your Baby’s Point Of View.
Why do babies sleep so much in the womb?
In pregnancy, it’s normal for your baby to experience multiple sleep and wake cycles over 24 hours.
You will notice your baby is more active at certain times of the day (and night). At other times, she will feel almost completely still.
This is because babies spend a great deal of time sleeping in the womb.
Despite what it might actually feel like for you, it’s believed that babies between 38 and 40 weeks spend about 90-95% of the time sleeping.
From studies of fetal sleep patterns, it’s thought the majority of sleep is spent in the REM (rapid eye movement) phase.
REM sleep is required for healthy neurological development, which is why unborn babies sleep so much in the womb. Their little brains are growing extremely rapidly every day.
During REM sleep, the brain undergoes increased levels of activity where the growth of new neural pathways and synapses occurs.
Scientific literature suggests newborn babies are born with more than 100 billion neurons. For this to happen, the brain must grow at the rate of about 250,000 nerve cells per minute throughout the entire pregnancy. Wow!
If you have ever wondered about this, read Why Are Babies More Active At Night? for more information.
Do babies sleep during labor?
During labor, just as in pregnancy, your baby still experiences periods of sleep.
A typical sleep cycle will generally last somewhere between 20 and 40 minutes, but usually no longer than 90 minutes.
These patterns will be evident during your labor. You might be aware of periods of activity, and other times when your baby is still.
How can I tell if my baby is asleep in labor?
Your doctor or midwife will monitor your baby’s heart rate at intervals during labor, to keep an eye on how she’s coping with the stress of birth.
They will be able to detect these periods of sleep and activity from your baby’s heart rate patterns.
A baby’s heart rate will generally correspond with the level of activity. For example, during periods of activity the heart rate (beats per minute or BPM) will increase. During a period of sleep, the rate will remain consistent around the baseline (resting heart rate).
During periods of fetal sleep, not only will the rate be steady, it can often be seen through the pattern of the heart rate. This becomes more evident if your baby’s heart rate is being monitored on a cardiotocograph (CTG) machine.
Your doctor or midwife can detect periods of reduced variability on the printout, suggestive of a ‘sleepy trace’. In simple terms, this means the jagged ‘up and downs’ of your baby’s heart rate on the printout will become less pronounced.
Periods of sleep trace are normal during labor and birth. However, it can be a cause for concern if these periods go on for a sustained length of time (>90 minutes). This can be an indication your baby isn’t coping well with labor.
Your care provider will lookout for this, and suggest ways to correct it, if necessary.
Do babies calm down before labor?
You might have heard people say that a baby’s movements slow down towards the end of pregnancy as they get ready to be born. They might also suggest it’s because the baby runs out of space.
These are common pregnancy myths.
Your baby’s movements will usually increase until about 32 weeks, and then remain fairly steady until birth.
The movements might feel slightly different – becoming more squirmy, stretchy, or rolling type movements. The frequency. though, should remain the same.
Fetal movements don’t decrease towards the end of pregnancy or before labor.
If you notice a change or reduction in your baby’s movements, contact your care team immediately and seek medical advice.
Do babies feel pain during labor?
For obvious reasons, it’s hard to know exactly what babies feel during labor and delivery. We know newborn babies feel pain, so it seems likely they can also feel things while still in the womb.
Parents will often report their baby responds to touch when they rub or press gently on the belly.
Read our article Can Baby Feel When I Rub My Belly? for more information.
In pregnancy, the amniotic fluid acts like a watery cushion, protecting your baby from the impact of knocks or bumps to your belly.
In labor, if the amniotic sac is intact (if your waters haven’t broken), it will cushion the infant, to some degree, from the waves of contractions you are experiencing.
As labor progresses and the contractions intensify, the walls of the uterus will tighten around your baby.
Each contraction makes the space in the womb slightly smaller and squeezes a little more, as your baby’s head descends lower into the pelvis towards the birth canal.
The closer your baby gets to being born, the more likely she’ll feel these pressure changes and sensations.
Do babies decide when to be born?
The majority of babies won’t be born on their due date. In fact, only about 5% are born on their expected date of arrival.
It’s more accurate to talk of a due month, rather than due date, as the majority of babies will be born somewhere between 37 and 42 weeks.
What actually triggers the onset of labor has always remained a mystery – that is, until recently. Experts now believe they’ve found the key to the process of spontaneous labor.
Researchers have discovered the baby actually triggers the start of labor and delivery, by releasing a protein from the lungs, once the lungs are mature enough to support life in the outside world.
While in the uterus, babies aren’t breathing air. They receive oxygen via the placenta. Even though the lungs begin to develop early in pregnancy, the process continues all the way through pregnancy gestation.
The last stage of lung development begins at around 36 weeks of pregnancy.
During this stage, there is an increase in the production of surfactant. This is an important substance that prepares the lungs for life outside the uterus.
There is an incredible internal chemical communication system happening naturally between mother and child, to ensure the optimal time for birth.
It just goes to show how much the mother and her unborn infant are in sync with one another.
It really is fascinating!