when does a fetus have a heartbeat and brain activity

when does a fetus have a heartbeat and brain activity

when does a fetus have a heartbeat and brain activity

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When does a fetus develop a brain?

Fetal brain development starts probably before you even realize you’ve conceived. When you’re just 5 weeks pregnant, the first neural cells begin to

divide and differentiate into neurons and glia (the two types of cells that form the nervous system).

Also at about week 5 of pregnancy, the neural plate folds onto itself to form the neural tube, which closes by about week 6 of pregnancy to eventually

become the brain and spinal cord.

By about week 10, the brain is a small, smooth structure that looks a whole lot more like the brain you’re used to (minus the folds that make up the

various brain regions, which develop later in pregnancy).


When does a fetus have brain activity?

The first synapses in baby’s spinal cord form during week 7 of pregnancy. By week 8, electrical activity begins in the brain — allowing your baby

to coordinate his first (spontaneous) movements that doctors can even see on an ultrasound!

Your baby’s brain continues to develop in the coming weeks, endowing him with a remarkable range of involuntary movements like stretching,

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yawning and sucking by the end of the first trimester and more coordinated movements in the second trimester.

That said, the brainstem, which controls vital functions like heart rate and breathing, isn’t mostly complete until the end of the second trimester,

and the cerebral cortex doesn’t take up its duties until the third trimester.

In fact, the cerebral cortex — which is responsible for voluntary actions, thinking and feeling — only starts to work around the end of pregnancy,

with simple electrical activity detectable in regions associated with senses (like touch) and motor skills in premature babies.

when does a fetus have a heartbeat and brain activity
when does a fetus have a heartbeat and brain activity

Brain development timeline

There are five different regions of the brain that develop, each responsible for different functions:

  • Cerebrum: The biggest part of the brain, and it’s responsible for thinking, remembering and feeling. This is where the cerebral cortex and its various lobes (including the frontal and temporal lobes) reside.
  • Cerebellum: The area in charge of motor control.
  • Brain stem: The engine driving many of your baby’s most vital functions, including heart rate, breathing and blood pressure.
  • Pituitary gland: This pea-sized gland releases hormones into the body that are responsible for growth, metabolism and more.
  • Hypothalamus: This area deals with body temperature, hunger, thirst, sleep and emotions.

With the biology lesson out of the way, read on to find out how and when these various parts start developing.

When Does the Fetus’s Brain Begin to Work?

In just the fifth week after conception, the first synapses begin forming in a fetus’s spinal cord. By the sixth week, these early neural connections

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permit the first fetal movements–spontaneous arches and curls of the whole body–that researchers can detect through ultrasound imaging.

Many other movements soon follow–of the limbs (around eight weeks) and fingers (ten weeks), as well as some surprisingly coordinated actions

(hiccuping, stretching, yawning, sucking, swallowing, grasping, and thumb-sucking). By the end of the first trimester, a fetus’s movement repertoire

is remarkably rich, even though most pregnant women can feel none of it. (Most women sense the first fetal movements around eighteen weeks of pregnancy.)

The second trimester marks the onset of other critical reflexes: continuous breathing movements (that is, rhythmic contractions of the diaphragm and

chest muscles) and coordinated sucking and swallowing reflexes. These abilities are controlled by the brainstem, which sits above the spinal cord but

below the higher, more recently-evolved cerebral cortex. The brainstem is responsible for many of our body’s most vital functions–heart rate, breathing,

and blood pressure. It is largely mature by the end of the second trimester, which is when babies first become able to survive outside the womb.

when does a fetus have a heartbeat and brain activity
Evil Pixels Photography/Stocksy United

Last of all to mature is the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for most of what we think of as mental life–conscious experience, voluntary actions,

thinking, remembering, and feeling. It has only begun to function around the time gestation comes to an end. Premature babies show very basic

electrical activity in the primary sensory regions of the cerebral cortex–those areas that perceive touch, vision, and hearing–as well as in primary motor regions of the cerebral cortex.

In the last trimester, fetuses are capable of simple forms of learning, like habituating (decreasing their startle response) to a repeated auditory stimulus,

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such as a loud clap just outside the mother’s abdomen. Late-term fetuses also seem to learn about the sensory qualities of the womb, since several

studies have shown that newborn babies respond to familiar odors (such as their own amniotic fluid) and sounds (such as a maternal heartbeat or

their own mother’s voice). In spite of these rather sophisticated abilities, babies enter the world with a still-primitive cerebral cortex, and it is the

gradual maturation of this complex part of the brain that explains much of their emotional and cognitive maturation in the first few years of life.

Parts of your baby’s brain

Around week 5, your baby’s brain, spinal cord, and heart begin to develop. Your baby’s brain is part of the central nervous system, which also houses

the spinal cord. There are three key components of a baby’s brain to consider. These include:

  • Cerebrum: Thinking, remembering, and feeling occurs in this part of the brain.
  • Cerebellum: This part of the brain is responsible for motor control, which allows the baby to move their arms and legs, among other things.
  • Brain stem: Keeping the body alive is the primary role of the brain stem. This includes breathing, heartbeat, and blood pressure.

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