baby development photos
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
December 1, 2020 ·  4 min read

These Photos Perfectly Capture The Stages of Baby Development Before Birth

In 1965, Life Magazine published a photo essay called the “Drama of Life Before Birth”. The composition depicted the unseen-before flow of baby development in utero by the late photographer Lennart Nilsson. The issue sold out within several days. Before then, the creation of a child in the womb remained a phenomenon hidden from the public. The series sparked a new interest and curiosity about the origins of life. 

Behind-the-scenes explanations accompanied the pictures

Doctor hands shows the embryo of a child on a blue background.
Credit: Shutterstock

The sad new is that all except one of the fetuses featured were photographed outside of the womb. They had been aborted “for a variety of medical reasons”. Nilsson had arranged with five Stockholm hospitals that he’d be notified whenever there was a fetus he could document. A dedicated room for this project with special lenses and lights was where Nilsson arranged the fetuses to appear like they were in the womb. It’s a painful irony that the miracle of life was shown so vividly by those who never had the chance to be born.  Despite pro-life activists using his photos to promote their cause in the 60s and 70s, Nilsson hasn’t made a public statement about abortion. His photos stand on their own as they dictate the process of baby development in fantastic detail, but they spark the debate of when life truly begins. [1] 

Read More: Things to Know If You’re Pregnant After 40

The Photographer That Documented the Story Before Birth 

Abortion concept. Baby doll in the red blood looks like abortation.
Credit: Shutterstock

This isn’t the first time Lennar Nilsson attempted to document baby development in the uterus. His first set of pictures from 1957 weren’t clear because of the limited black-and-white technology. He tried again in 1965 and finally produced this stunning collection. [2]  After the published article in Life, Nilsson produced A Child is Born, one of the most successful books of photography in the world. It documents fetal development from the initial ovary fecundation. Millions of copies of this book were sold all over the world and even taken to space. The NASA probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 kept a copy onboard. The book is now in its sixth edition. 

The book is split into two sections

Prenatal ultrasound screening. Cropped close up shot of young pregnant female holding sonogram picture of unborn baby inside her big belly. Happy expectant mom showing fetus usi scan image to camera
Credit: Shutterstock

One is a series of pictures with text explaining the growth of the baby from conception to birth. The second follows a woman and her partner during her pregnancy, playing out the story from outside of the womb.   There’s something deeply emotional about witnessing baby development through these portraits. It is like watching a person take shape, literally. Childbirth is one of the most intriguing aspects of medicine, and there’s no wonder why. Here is a sample of the collection of photos that have been leaving people in awe since 1965. 

The sperm moves toward an egg 

Credit: Lennart Nilsson

Here the sperm is in the fallopian tube, inching toward an egg. 

Read More: If You Get Your Tubes Tied You Can Still Get Pregnant

The sperm gets closer to the egg 

Credit: Lennart Nilsson

This is the chosen egg the sperm will fuse to. 

The moment before conception 

sperm and egg
Credit: Lennart Nilsson

The sperm is just about to fuse with the egg. 

The moment of fusing 

sperm enters egg
Credit: Lennart Nilsson

The sperm collides with the selected eggs. 

A close-up shot of the sperm 

sperm close up
Credit: Lennart Nilsson

The top of the sperm holds all of the DNA that will combine with the egg’s DNA to produce the genetic makeup of the future child. 

The embryo implants 

Credit: Lennart Nilsson

A week after the sperm fuses with the egg, the embryo will attach to the wall of the uterus 

Read More: The Dangerous Pregnancy Condition More Women Should Know About

The heart begins to beat 

Credit: Lennart Nilsson

Eighteen days after conception, the tiny heart starts beating. 

The embryo at day 28 

embryo day 8
Credit: Lennart Nilsson

The baby development continues, finally becoming a shape reminiscent of a human body. 

The face begins forming 

Credit: Lennart Nilsson

After five weeks in the womb, the facial cavities continue to form. 

The embryo takes shape 

embryo development
Credit: Lennart Nilsson

Here is an eight-week-old embryo in the uterus. The eyes are visible and the limbs are distinct. 


Credit: Lennart Nilsson

The fetus is starting to explore its environment. Its divided fingers are clear in this portrait. 

Translucent skin 

Credit: Lennart Nilsson

This photo is just mesmerizing. A viewer could see the webbing of veins and the shadow of a bone in the legs. 

Read More: Man Says He Refuses To Give Up His Seat For Pregnant Women Because Of Long Working Hours

Development in week 18 

18 weeks
Credit: Lennart Nilsson

After 18 weeks, the baby’s facial features have become more distinct, as well as other details, like fingernails on its hands. 

20 weeks of the baby’s development 

Credit: Lennart Nilsson

A woolly hair called lanugo grows over the fetus’s head. 

At about 6 and a half months

6 and a half months
Credit: Lennart Nilsson

Here the baby curls into the fetal position with shaped ears, limbs, and digits. There are only about 2 and a half months left of baby development before it is born into the world. 

Read More: Mother Didn’t Realize She Was Pregnant Until The Moment She Gave birth

  1. Lennart Nilsson. 100 Photos. 1965 
  1. Tibi Puiu. “A Child is Born: Lennart Nilsson’s iconic photo book [PHOTO GALLERY].” ZME Science. July 15, 2014 
  1. “A Child is Born.” Lennart Nilsson