How do babies and young children know to breathe?



Is it something inherent to human biology, or is it learned while in the womb? Thanks.

In: Biology

How would they learn? Like so many other things this depends on reflexes, built from nervous pathways that are part of how humans and all other mammals are built through evolution.

It’s instinct. Just like how you “know” how to breathe. You don’t. I bet you’re doing it right now without even trying or thinking about it. Oh crap, now you’re thinking about it.

It’s like your heart beat, it just happens, it’s an automatic thing. Like holding your breath under water

When babies are born the temperature change from the womb to the air initiates (in most cases, some babies need a little assistance here too) a reflex which causes them to gasp their first breath, after which maintenance of life kicks in and it’s a natural part of their existence hence forth

Breathing is an inherent, built-in automatic reflex, like blinking and swallowing. You can consciously take control, but eventually it’ll go back into automatic mode controlled by the brain stem rather than the “actively thinking” cortex.

Plus, babies breathe in the womb. It’s super important that they do, in fact. They breathe the amniotic fluid to expand and develop their lungs and breathing muscles, all of it under the control of the brain stem.

It’s like a logic gate. Sensors measure CO2 in the blood and send “breathe now” signals to the breathing muscles when those start to get high. Also when O2 is low, but to a very much lesser degree. That’s why you automatically breathe faster when there’s more CO2 being made, like exercise.