Fetal Development – Know Everything About Your Baby’s Brain and Nervous System

7 min read

Written by Tarasha Chandra

Tarasha Chandra

fetal development baby's brain

Some things are fascinating and miraculous by nature, just like the sucking reflex that the baby develops when born, which nobody teaches them. Likewise, proper brain development is significant for the creation of a brain that functions well. Not many parents are aware of the exact month when the brain development of the fetus starts and what changes takes place. It has surprisingly impressive answer, yet many factors help in developing a proper and healthy brain which are important to know. This article explains the various facts about fetal development baby’s brain during pregnancy.

A better understanding of the pre-natal or foetal development of the brain from conception till birth leaves one speechless. The beautiful process that results in a fully formed baby is a miracle in its own. It is strange to know that the foetal nervous system comprising of the nerves, spinal cord and the brain is one of the first few things to develop. Going forward we will be studying some pointers attached to the development and the key points to keep under consideration.

In This Article

Early Fetal Development of Baby’s Brain

It is surprising to know that the brain is the foremost body organ to get developed. Foetal brain development influences the child’s ability to learn and be successful in the future. Let us study the early foetal brain development under the pointers for an easy understanding of the same.

  • The first part of the brain and the spinal cord as well, which is also the foundation for the central nervous system appears a few weeks after conception. It is almost three weeks after this part is formed.
  • With the growth of the baby, the skull develops, offering protection to the brain. The flexible spinal column, which is made up of thirty bones, even referred to as vertebrae, offers protection to the spinal cord. A set of nerves branches from the spinal cord transmitting messages from the brain to the muscles as well as organs and vice versa.
  • At the beginning of the fourth week of pregnancy, the baby becomes an embryo and an oval-shaped disk of tissues also known as the neural plate starts forming. While during the fourth week the edges of this plate start to rise and fold towards each other, resulting in a neural tube that eventually becomes the baby’s brain and the spinal column.
  • The ends of the neural tube are open while the brain starts to take the shape at the top of the tube. Towards the bottom of the tube is the baby’s tailbone, also known as the coccyx.
  • By almost six weeks, the neural tube gets closed at both ends. This is also the stage where the baby resembles a tadpole as the neural tube runs down the developing spine from the head to the tail.


The closure of the neural tube is followed by the division of the brain into three parts.

The Forebrain

This area develops into the cerebrum, regulates the muscle movements and the baby’s hormone. It even directs higher functions like problem-solving and thinking.

The Midbrain

It has structures that help the baby to see and hear.

The Hindbrain

This portion develops into the cerebellum that helps in coordination, balance and the medulla which controls automatic processes like blood pressure, heart rate and breathing.

At this point, ventricles which are a network of cavities form in the baby’s brain. They then produce a liquid called cerebrospinal fluid that helps the brain to float in the skull. These ventricles help in balancing the fluid levels to maintain a healthy balance with the growth of the baby.

How is the Fetal Development of Baby’s Nervous System Developed?

Just like the brain the nervous system of the baby also develops during pregnancy. The nervous system development goes through the following stages.

  • Neural crest is located on the edges of the developing neural tube. The crest goes to the back of the tiny body .
  • The nerves help in sending the information to the spinal cord and the brain for processing. It also relays messages to the organs and the muscles.
  • By eight weeks, the brain nerves make connection with the ears and the eyes as well.
  • By 12 weeks, the baby’s reflexes start stimulating and it can open and close its fingers and curl its toes.
  • It can make sucking movements with the mouth.
  • By 20 weeks, the complex messaging system starts developing.
  • By 28 weeks, the senses start to work so the baby can recognise the sound of breathing, gurgles, rumbling in digestion and heartbeat.
  • Baby starts to blink in pregnancy.
  • Baby blinks in response to bright light and can even make out colours.

Your Baby’s Brain at Birth

A tabular representation of the various development stages of the baby’s brain from initial phrase still at birth is given.

Weeks Pregnant Key Milestones
4 Weeks The neural plate starts forming and then curl into a neural tube.
6 Weeks Your baby’s brain  comprises of forebrain, midbrain, and hindbrain with the ventricles formation.
8 Weeks A network of nerves extends throughout the baby’s body.
12 Weeks The key reflexes of the baby are in place.
20 Weeks Myelin starts developing with the baby’s network of nerves.
28 Weeks The senses related to smell, hearing, sight and touch start working.
28 to 39 Weeks The weight of the baby’s brain increases, and it is triple in weight. There are grooves in the cerebrum that offer more area for the brain cells to communicate with neurons.

What’s Going in on My Baby’s Brain at Birth?

new born gasping a finger

An important role is played by the parents, near and dear ones, caregivers for the ongoing development of the child. There are many things and factors that help in understanding what is going on in the baby’s brain at birth. Few of them are

  • It is integral to give them a caring and safe environment and keep them busy by reading, talking etc that can influence the early development of the baby.
  • The learning environment and community also has an important role in offering optimal development for the baby.
  • The new-born baby has many reflexes that can be tested.
  • When stroking the cheek, the baby turns towards the mother which is called the rooting reflex. In this, the baby is looking for the nipple.
  • When the mother strokes the upper lip, the baby opens the mouth. This indicates the need for a feed.
  • Sucking reflex that makes the child suck a clean finger.
  • If placing the finger in the hands of the baby, they try and grasp it.
  • Stepping reflex when the baby takes small movements if her feet touch the ground.
  • The baby gets used to the mother’s voice in the womb itself, which is why the baby turns their head when they hear the mother.
  • The baby recognizes human faces and looks everywhere for the mother among those faces. It is  trying to match other faces, to the voice and smell of the mother.
  • Holding the baby close, locking the eyes to the baby, and talking softly helps to boost the bond that exists between the mother and the baby.

What You Can Do to Help Your Fetus Brain Development?

folic acid for brain development

Since the brain of the baby develops in the womb during pregnancy, there are many pointers that should be taken care of. It could be related to being relaxed, stress free, keeping fit but primarily the nutrition. Some postulates regarding nutrition in the early years for proper brain development are:

  • It is advisable to take a folic acid supplement before and after pregnancy.
  • Folic acid has Vitamin B which is important for the development of the spinal cord and the brain of the baby.
  • Having adequate folic acid helps to minimise neural tube defects in the baby.
  • Since the development of the neural tube starts early, it is best to take 400 micrograms of folate one month prior to trying for a baby.
  • Folate can also be obtained from antenatal vitamins or a separate supplement.
  • It is good to have cooked fish twice daily as it has Omega 3 fatty acids that promote the brain development of the baby.
  • Protein rich foods like eggs, fish and legumes have amino acids that boost a healthy brain.
  • Iodine rich like yoghurt, strawberries and salt also helps in brain development.
  • Choline rich like chicken, potato is important for the healthy development of the brain.

[Read : How To Get Proteins In Pregnancy In A Vegetarian Diet?]

Key Stages in Fetal Development of Baby’s Brain During Pregnancy

Fetal Development of Babys Brain

Like other organs, even the fetal brain develops during pregnancy. There are different stages, and every leg of pregnancy experiences a set of progress. The key stages of development in fetal brain development during pregnancy are:

1. First Trimester of Pregnancy

A few weeks after conception, the neural plate of a foetus starts to form which eventually becomes the neural tube. Tiny and minute neural cells travel through the embryo and form a path for the nerves. This is how the initial movement of the baby in the womb begins.

2. Second Trimester of Pregnancy

The next three months focus on the breathing patterns and sucking impulses. Gradually the foetus starts kicking as motor controls begin. The nerves have a protection with a cover called myelin, that causes rapid communication. This even results in blinking eyes and a rapid heart rate. Slowly the sensory perception starts evolving and the baby even starts sleeping as well as dreaming.

[Read : Fetal Development – Your Baby’s Eyes and Sight]

3. Third Trimester of Pregnancy

The last three months or the final phase leads to the completion of networking of nerves with the brain weight increasing rapidly. Motor enhancement increases and the cerebrum becomes big though functions only when the baby is out.

Thus, it is very important that good care is taken during  pregnancy. Eating nourished food helps the baby in shaping and developing the brain and the nervous system as well. Every stage of pregnancy has something to offer to brain and the nervous system. It is best to take care of the pointers mentioned that helps in proper  development but with vigilance and support for making this journey a memorable one.


1. What is the Most Important Week of Fetal Development?

The first 12 weeks are the most vulnerable for the foetus. This is the time when most of the organs and other body systems are developing. Utmost care and having a proper nourished diet with supplements are integral at this stage.

2. Which Organ Develops the First in Embryo?

The heart is the primary organ to get formed during the development of the body.

3. How Can Increase My Foetus Growth?

A better intake of fruits and vegetables or having adequate Vitamin C at the mid of pregnancy helps. This time is related to the infant growth, increased fetal growth etc.

Read Also: Fetal Development – Know Everything About Your Baby’s Digestive System

Tarasha Chandra,PGDPM

She loves to dance, listen to music, cook, and read in her free time. She is transparent, intuitive, quick-witted, and loves to spend time with her near and dear ones. She believes in taking each day as it comes.Read more.

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