How your baby’s skin develops during pregnancy

When you hold your newborn baby for the very first time, a unique bond is formed between you and your child. This first moment of intimacy begins with a gentle caress. After nine months of pregnancy, you can finally hold your baby in your arms and lovingly stroke its delicate skin. The memories of this initial interaction will stay with you forever.

During pregnancy, the baby’s skin undergoes a series of fascinating and radial changes. The first skin structures begin to develop just a few days after conception. Here is a brief overview of how a baby’s skin develops during pregnancy.


First trimester: a protective shell for the embryo


Days 10 – 12

The first skin-like substance develops a few days after conception. This is the basal cell layer, which will go on to form the epidermis and skin appendages such as hair, hair follicles, glands and nails, as well as the periderm. The periderm covers the entire surface of the developing skin like a shell, to protect the baby from the amniotic cavity.


Days 18 – 19

The mesoderm, which will later become the dermis, begins to develop. Its cells have a high concentration of water, are rich in hyaluronic acids (a natural moisturising element) and only contain a few small collagen fibres. The baby already has its first tiny capillary-type arteries and nerves.


Days 43 – 60

Langerhans cells, which have been identified as skin-specific immune cells, and the pigment-generating melanocytes move towards the outer layer of skin.
At around day 60, the epidermis begins to develop its various layers. The process of skin cell differentiation from a new skin cell to a horny skin cell – which normally only takes 14 days – will take the next six months.


Days 80 – 90

The first human sense, the sense of touch, is even developed before the ability to see or hear. Tactile receptors – Merkel cells – can be found on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. The first hair follicles and oil glands develop, and incredibly delicate little toenails and fingernails become visible.


Second trimester: development of subcutaneous fatty tissue and vernix caseosa


Two more cell layers are formed in the epidermis from the fifteenth week of pregnancy onwards. The water content in the dermis decreases, while connective tissue develops; elastin and collagen fibres can be identified. It is possible to clearly discern the subcutaneous fatty tissue. From around the eighteenth week, small areas with subcutaneous fatty tissue develop where adipocytes (fat cells) have gathered.

Vernix caseosa forms on the outer surface of the skin. This substance has a high fat content and serves primarily as a lubricant during birth. It is also assumed that vernix acts as a substitute for the perinatal skin’s not yet mature protective function, particularly in the case of premature birth


Third trimester: final development of all skin structures


All the epidermal layers that are typical of mature skin are formed during the last trimester, while the cells of the basal cell layer individually move to the skin’s surface and become increasingly differentiated. However the various skin layers are still thinner than those found in adult skin. The development of nails, hair follicles, oil and sweat glands is completed during the last third of the pregnancy.


Connective tissue continues to develop within the dermis. Nevertheless, at birth the baby’s skin is still much thinner than that of an adult. Although the subcutaneous tissue will become thicker, the baby does not have a thick layer of fat when it is born. This only begins to develop after birth and is dependent on the baby’s diet.


Text from our partner NIVEA Baby