Pregnant women feel their babies hiccough, wiggle, stretch, and turn, and viscerally experience every errant kick to the cervix. But does sensation go both ways? What exactly does your baby feel as you go about your day? The question on everyone's mind is, of course, what happens to your baby in the womb when you sneeze? It's a common enough query on forums like BabyCenter, and I for one would love to know.
OK, so first off, even the most earth-shaking achoo won't actually hurt your baby, according to science, common sense (how would the species have made it this far?), and Dr. Kameelah Phillips, MD, of OBaby Maternity. "There should be no worry when you sneeze while pregnant," she writes in an email interview with Romper. "Sneezing produces a quick but temporary increase in abdominal pressure." However, that momentary squeeze is no match for your fortress-of-a-uterus. "The thick uterine muscle and surrounding amniotic fluid provide the baby with excellent cushion against this change in pressure," explains Phillips.
While a sneeze won't hurt your baby in any way, it might make you pee. (When you're pregnant, what doesn't?) "Even if sneezing causes you to lose urine, it is still not powerful enough to impact or hurt your baby," writes Phillips. According to Parents magazine, leaking when you sneeze or cough is known as stress incontinence, and it's very common among pregnant women.
If you're worried because your sneezes are painful, know that your baby won't be hurt by those buggers, either. Trimester Talk reported that painful sneezes in pregnancy are most likely the result of round ligament pain, an external sensation that has more to do with the tissue, muscle, and ligament structures supporting your growing belly, and nothing at all to do with what's going on inside the womb. Even a sharp pain is nothing to be alarmed about, Trimester Talk assured readers.
Now that the medical experts have cleared up any lingering fears, it's time to talk about the fun part. What, exactly, does your baby see, hear, and feel inside her watery, uterine cocoon? And will she be offended if you sneeze really, really loud?
Around 20 weeks, a baby's sense of hearing comes online. Inside the womb, babies are treated to a 24-hour internal symphony of circulating blood, your beating heart, and even the sounds of your hardworking digestive system, reported Made For Mums. Besides the visceral stuff, babies also hear external sources of sound — the music you play in your car or the chatter on the television, for instance.
In fact, as Made For Mums reported, one study that showed that babies exposed to a particular soap opera theme song reacted to the sound of that same theme song within just a few days of birth. Who knew your newborn would share your love of General Hospital so soon?
From mid-pregnancy on, babies respond to light and pressure — and even to your laughter. When you laugh, your baby physically rocks up and down, bouncing inside the uterus like she's on a trampoline, as Janet Pietro, Vice Dean for Research at Johns Hopkins told Family Share. (I prefer to picture the uterus as a bouncy castle, myself.) "When mothers watch this on the screen, they laugh harder, and the fetus goes up and down even faster. We've wondered whether this is why people grow up liking roller coasters," mused Pietro.
To me, the difference between a laugh and a sneeze, physiologically speaking, is paper thin (especially when you're pregnant, and you might pee during both). Why not imagine your little one enjoying a mini amusement park ride every time you reach for that box of Kleenex? Of course, if you really want to know what happens to your baby when you sneeze, ask your doctor if you can blow a big old fake achoo during your next ultrasound. You know, for science.