Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Megan Barling (Instagram: @nture_) for your brilliant question and for kicking off the #whatiwanttoknowseries! You asked me, do babies get dizzy in the womb? I love learning about pregnancy and child development, so I was super excited to start researching this topic. With a bit of luck (and a lot of thanks to Google), I think I may have found you an answer…
There are a whole host of different reasons why you may feel dizzy, from low or high blood sugar and bleeding, to migraines, dehydration or having the flu.
Most of these can be ruled out for babies in the womb because their internal systems are regulated by the mother. We, as adults, may become dizzy from dehydration in warm weather or after strenuous activity; our interaction with the environment and physical activities can cause symptoms of dizziness. However, in the womb, the environment does not fluctuate much as nutrient supplies, oxygen and blood flow are regulated by the placenta. As there is little room in the womb, babies are not very active so are unlikely to get dizzy from strenuous physical activity (they can’t really get up and run around!). All in all, because the womb is small and highly regulated, it is unlikely that a baby will get dizzy due to changes (like temperature) in its external environment, or from physical activity.
Dizziness and feeling light headed can also occur when our visual and special awareness get a bit confused. Our bodies maintain balance and (try to) prevent dizziness by regulating sensory information from 3 different systems: vision, touch sensors in the feet and spine, and the vestibular system.
That all sounds a little complicated but really, we can rule out a lot of those options when we think about babies.
In the womb, babies can sense light but they can’t see the outside world – we can pretty much rule out vision as a cause for dizziness then! Next up are the touch sensors in the feet and spine – it is unlikely that this would cause dizziness because babies are floating around in amniotic fluid, so they will not sense rapid changes movement like you or I. It seems that if babies do get dizzy in the womb, it’s likely to be caused by problems with their vestibular system.
The vestibular system is the apparatus in your inner ear which senses movement and head position. Sensory signals from the vestibular system are processed in the brain. The brain then sends feedback signals to the eyes to help maintain steady vision, and to the muscles to help maintain balance. All these signals help us to understand our body position in relation to other objects – that’s how we know that the leaning tower of Pisa is leaning, and not us! So our vestibular system helps maintain our balance and spatial orientation.
Dizziness caused by quick movements of our head or body (like standing up too fast!) can be due to problems with the vestibular system. There is a fluid in your inner ear canals called endolymph. When you move, the endolymph also moves and signals are sent to the brain so the movement is detected. If we spin around or stand up too fast, the endolymph keeps moving even after we have stopped. This means that signals in your inner ear keep telling your brain that you are moving, even though you’re standing still!
So based on this information, you might think that as a baby moves around in the womb and orientates upside down for birth, they could get dizzy. You or I would certainly get dizzy if we spent a few months upside down!
The reason that babies do not experience dizziness is because their sense of balance and vestibular system only comes into effect at around 24 weeks. Whilst floating around in the amniotic fluid, babies don’t really have a need for a vestibular system as their orientation is not much of a concern. It is likely that only after birth, their brain pathways become sufficient enough to interpret and respond to signals from the vestibular system. In addition, babies don’t get head rush from being upside down because they are encased in water. Gravity does not affect you the same way in water as it does in air, so the blood does not rush to their heads!
So all in all, it looks like babies do not get dizzy in the womb. We can’t ever be 100% sure though because there’s no way of asking them!
Stay tuned and please send in your questions in the comments below, via my twitter @izziek, or via Instagram using the hashtag #whatiwanttoknow. I can’t wait find the answers to those niggling questions you have to ask about the world of science. Thank you!