Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Fetal to Infant Transition: A Masterpiece

There is a perfect orchestration of events that unfold to help your baby make the fetal to infant transition. During the last 6-8 weeks of pregnancy, your baby begins to store large amounts of iron and fat. The membrane between your baby’s bloodstream and yours becomes more permeable, permitting large molecules such as antibodies to reach your baby. These protect her against diseases to which you’re resistant or immune. These antibodies also surround her in your amniotic fluid, and help form the Vernix Caseosa (a white substance which protects your baby’s skin). Surfactant- a substance that allows your baby’s lungs to expand during inhalation, and remain partially expanded during exhalation- mixes in with the amniotic fluid. Baby’s lungs practice “breathing” in-utero- she swallows, and breathes antibody and surfactant rich amniotic fluid in and out of her lungs.  This helps her lungs mature and prepare for breathing air. She still receives all of her oxygen and nutrients directly from the placenta and umbilical cord, and there is no blood yet circulating in the pulmonary system.

Then labor begins. The squeezing and contracting of normal labor and delivery help babies expel the amniotic fluid in their lungs and air passages. When your baby is born, she may look blue or purple and her skin will be covered with the white vernix. Remember, this vernix is rich with antibodies and helps protect your baby from common perinatal pathogens- such as E. Coli and Strep B. Vernix is also a natural moisturizer and protective layer. 

As your baby experiences oxygen for the first time, she begins the transition from fetal circulation to newborn circulation. She inhales -and as her body fills with carbon dioxide- blood travels to the lungs looking for oxygen; simultaneously, the shunts in her heart that enabled fetal/maternal blood circulation close, sending blood flowing into her pulmonary system for the first time. You will notice the umbilical cord still pulsing as she lies skin to skin on your chest. Blood is still circulating back and forth between the placenta and infant.  Her own blood volume increases with each pulse and each breath of air, and she relies less and less on the exchange between herself and your placenta. The cord begins to harden, and eventually stops pulsing and she is able to rely on her own respiratory and cardiovascular systems. 

She still has an undeveloped thermo-regulation system, so your care providers will dry her off, and cover her with a blanket while maintaining mother-baby skin-to-skin contact: you will keep her warm with your own body heat. In addition, she may already be licking her lips and nuzzling into your chest while she searches for your breast. The yellowish-clear colostrum that your body produces at this time is the PERFECT nourishment for your baby. For an infant, whose digestive system is still very small and undeveloped, colostrum provides nourishment that is rich with the exact needed proteins and antibodies in a concentrated low-volume form. It also has a laxative effect, helping to clear the meconium from the digestive system. Your close contact with your baby also encourages the production of hormones that contract your uterus to stop blood flow and begin the production of breast milk. The whole process, left undisturbed, is perfectly designed and orchestrated for optimal mother and baby health.


  1. What a lovely description. Thank you so much Sarah. I was happy to find your blog via facebook. It has been a long time since I've seen you and your family. Your children are beautiful.

    I am 30 weeks pregnant with my third baby, who will be born in New Zealand with a good friend as my midwife. Our plan is to have an in hospital water birth which are quite common here. Our first two, twins, were born in Texas via c-section at 35 due to transverse and breach presentation. I am very much looking forward to having a much different experience with this birth.

    -Alisa Allred Mercer

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  2. Good luck Alisa- sounds like you have a great plan! I hope all goes well and that we'll be able to reconnect in the future :)

  3. I think colostrum is really not given full credit, I have had many women tell me how they worried when the milk did not come in right away and were concerned the baby was not getting enough to eat and doctors would tell them to suplement with formula. How can they be so uneducated!?

  4. Our sweet baby is now 8 months old. I was able to have the mid-wife assisted VBAC. Trent was born at 9lbs 6 oz. I pound more than the combined weight of the twins. He was put directly onto my breast and has been an amazing breastfeeder. I had none of the breastfeeding difficulties that I had with the twins, having a vaginal birth made all the difference.

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