How Does a Baby Transition from Underwater to Breathing Air at Birth?

Discover how a baby transitions from underwater to breathing air at birth and the risks of water births.

How Does a Baby Transition from Underwater to Breathing Air at Birth?
Photo by Emily Sea / Unsplash

When a baby is in the womb, it is submerged in amniotic fluid and receives oxygen through the umbilical cord.

But how does this baby transition from being underwater to suddenly needing to breathe air upon birth?

Let's delve into this incredible transformation.

The Role of the Umbilical Cord

While in the womb, the baby receives oxygen and nutrients from the mother through the umbilical cord.

This essential lifeline serves as the baby's source of oxygen, allowing it to thrive in the aquatic environment of the womb.

The Magical Moment of Birth

When the mother goes into labor, the process of birth begins.

As the baby travels through the birth canal, the pressure and contractions stimulate a series of remarkable physiological responses within the baby's body.

These signals trigger the closure of a small flap in the baby's heart known as the foramen ovale.

The Foramen Ovale: A Critical Valve

The foramen ovale is a crucial component of the fetal circulation system.

While in the womb, this flap allows blood to bypass the baby's lungs, as the oxygen exchange occurs through the umbilical cord.

It acts as a valve that diverts the flow of blood away from the lungs, which are essentially non-functional in the amniotic environment.

The Remarkable Switch

Upon birth, the moment the baby encounters the outside world, the sudden change in environment triggers the foramen ovale to close.

Simultaneously, the baby's first inhalation of air initiates the expansion of the lungs and the circulation of oxygenated blood throughout the body.

This orchestration of events marks the monumental shift from receiving oxygen through the umbilical cord to the baby's first independent breath.

Water Births and the Intriguing Flap

Water births, characterized by the delivery of the baby in a tub or pool of warm water, have gained popularity in recent years.

However, concerns may arise regarding the timing of the foramen ovale closure during such deliveries.

The video you described brings attention to the potential risks associated with water births and the imperative need for a thorough understanding of the physiological mechanisms involved.

A Wonder of Nature

The transition from being underwater in the womb to suddenly needing to breathe air is truly a marvel of biology.

The human body's ability to adapt and seamlessly switch from one mode of oxygenation to another as the baby takes its first breath is a testament to the wondrous capabilities of nature.