Moon on the fifth month casts its shadow
The secret life stirs within me
O my darling, I can hear your heartbeat.
(An Indian birth song)
You are now 21 weeks pregnant which is the beginning of week 22. Your baby is around 25 cm long from head to toe (or 10 inches) and weighs just under ½ a kilogram (or about 1pound). Most women have definitely felt their baby move inside them now, although the sensations may still be sporadic and infrequent. By 22 weeks, your baby's nervous system completely 'connects'. The vital link between their brain and spinal cord (the brain stem) now matures and many nerve cells make vigorous connections. When this happens your baby becomes capable of recognising warmth, light, sound and pain. While primitive brain waves have been detected in unborn babies as early as 7 weeks, it is not until 22 weeks that sustained patterns can definitely be recorded. Some women will now notice that their baby 'jumps' with a loud sound.
Your baby's skin is increasingly being covered by vernix. A thick, white, greasy cream that protects their skin in their watery environment. This disappears by 40 weeks (or if your baby is born more than a week early, you will notice it is still on their skin). Your baby's eyelids are still fused shut but the retinas of their eyes are fully developed and they now have distinct eyelashes and eyebrows. Your baby's hair follicles are now pigmenting to give your baby's hair colour, looking either dark, fair or red.
Babies at this stage typically like to lie in a transverse position (or crossways), with their feet and bottom on one side of your belly and their head on the other side (rather than head down). Your baby's placenta is now processing about 1 litre of blood per hour (or 50 pints every 24 hours) and by 40 weeks this will increase to about 12 litres per hour (or 600 pints in 24 hours)!
A few women experience Braxton Hicks contractions from around this time. These can feel like a 'hardness' or a tight band being pulled across your belly. Many women find them painless and may be unaware of them (unless their caregiver points one out while feeling their belly). A few women feel Braxton Hicks as mild cramping, especially if it is not their first baby. Braxton-Hicks contractions are also known as 'tightenings'. They are 'practise' contractions that tone the uterus and stimulate your baby. Every time your baby feels the uterus tightening around them it stimulates their circulation, similar to a brisk rub on their skin, or a massage!