When can my unborn baby see, hear, touch, taste, smell?

Parenting expert Anne Page explains when your unborn baby develops the ability to see, hear, touch, taste and smell

From conception to birth: Your unborn baby’s development

From when they can first feel, taste and touch, our expert walks you through your unborn baby’s development

Baby development in the womb

Anne Page has been writing and broadcasting about parenthood for over 25 years. She's written articles for a supermarket baby club, parents' magazines and for newspapers. Over the years, Anne has helped parents to find information, come up with solutions or simply tell their story, and she is sharing her experience with Bounty mums. 

Sometimes it’s hard to believe you’re really pregnant – until you feel your baby move inside you for the first time, maybe as early as 15 or 16 weeks pregnant. At this stage, it feels more like gentle butterflies in the stomach.

Feeling their way

Touch is the first of the senses to develop. 

At seven weeks, your baby can feel sensation around the lips. 

By 13 weeks, their whole body can respond to touch. They can feel the umbilical cord brush over their skin as they move. 

By seven months pregnant they can feel the walls of the womb holding them tightly in a giant cuddle. 

By 15 weeks, your baby can touch its own face with a hand and likes to do so frequently. 

From around 16 weeks, your new baby can feel changes in temperature. 

Tastes and smells

Your baby can detect odours that pass through into the womb and dissolve in the amniotic fluid, but they do this using the sense of taste rather than smell.

Your little one becomes aware of taste sometime between 10 and 20 weeks. Your baby is swallowing amniotic fluid all the time – it’s rather like salt water. Most babies in the womb have a sweet tooth and prefer sugary flavours to bitter food.

If you eat garlic or strong spices regularly in pregnancy, the flavour works its way through into the amniotic fluid. Your baby gets used to the flavours of your normal diet.

If you breastfeed after the birth, your breastmilk will have a familiar taste for your baby, and will prefer your milk after you’ve been eating your favourite foods. 

Listening in

Your baby will hear sounds as early as 16 weeks, but her hearing doesn’t develop fully until around 20 weeks and knows your heartbeat and the sound of your tummy rumbling. They can also feel the vibrations of your voice when you speak. 

Your baby hears your natural voice undistorted, all the time, and can recognise it as soon as he/she is born. They can also distinguish their father’s voice from other men’s voices too. 

The louder the noises from outside the womb, the more affected your developing baby will be by them. If you go to a concert towards the end of your pregnancy you may notice your baby kicking more than usual. Your baby will prefer music they become familiar with, so your favourite song or theme tune will be recognised by your newborn and may help to calm them.

Seeing things

Your unborn baby is able to see from around 25 weeks. Your stomach wall will screen out ordinary light, but if you sunbathe while pregnant, the baby will see an orange glow. By 32 weeks, your baby can tell the difference between black and white, but there’s very little to see inside the womb.

Growing awareness

By around 17 weeks, your baby begins to have a sense of the different parts of its own body, known as muscle sense. From now until birth, you’ll even be able to notice your baby choosing a favourite position to lie in when sleeping.

Sensing your baby

• All through pregnancy, right up to the day of the birth, you’re building a relationship with your baby

• You begin to know when your unborn child’s quiet times and wakeful periods are. 

• Your baby will know your moods, your habits and your voice intimately by the time they’re born. 

This is how your baby recognises you as mum.

When can my unborn baby see, hear, touch, taste, smell?