What is Really Going On in There?

Dear Mr. Dad: Please settle an argument. My wife—who’s five months pregnant—says that our baby’s senses are developing throughout the pregnancy. I think she’s crazy. How can an unborn baby develop a sense of touch or taste or anything else?

A: This round goes to your wife. Your baby will be born with a full set of senses: touch, hearing, sight, smell, and taste. But they don’t just show up at birth, completely out of the blue. They begin forming very early on in the pregnancy and the fetus starts trying to use them immediately. The more practice she gets, the more developed the sense will be at birth. (Senses that aren’t used tend to atrophy. In animal experiments, for example, when fetal chicks are prevented from moving inside their egg, cartilage turns to bone). In previous columns, we’ve talked about what babies hear before they’re born. Here’s an introduction to the rest of the senses.

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