In 1957, the Swedish photographer Lennart Nilsson (1922 – 2017) combined his passion for science and photography and compiled a collection of photos of the stages of baby development.
He documented the journey to conception by about two million sperm as they swam six inches upstream from a woman’s cervix to the eggs traveling down her fallopian tubes.
To do so, he used high-definition, three-dimensional ultrasound; a scanning electron microscope; advanced fiber optics; color filters to tint the photographic gray scale; and wide-angle lenses.
Yet, the images he took were not enough clear for publishing since they were in black and white, so he took them again in 1965 using the same process.
Then, LIFE magazine published them due to the clarity and depth with which they show the beginning of life.
LIFE then told its readers:
“Ten years ago, a Swedish photographer named Lennart Nilsson told us that he was going to photograph in color the stages of human reproduction from fertilization to just before birth. It was impossible for us not to express a degree of skepticism about his chances of success, but this was lost on Nilsson.
He simply said, ‘When I’ve finished the story, I’ll bring it to you.’ Lennart kept his promise. He flew into New York from Stockholm and brought us the strangely beautiful and scientifically unique color essay in this issue.”
The magazine issue was so popular that it ended up selling out in just a few days!
The photo essay was titled “Drama of Life Before Birth,” and the photos capture the chaos and fragility of conception.
The collection was published in expanded book form as “A Child Is Born”.
Nilsson’s images publicly revealed for the first time what a developing fetus looks like. They also sparked a debate about the actual beginning of life and were used as a reference by many antiabortion activists.
These amazing photos show the miracle of life:
1. Sperm moving toward an egg
The sperm moves towards the egg in the fallopian tube.
2. Spermatozoon swims toward the egg
The sperm will fuse with this egg.
3. Where life begins
The sperm is about to collide with the egg.
4. The fusing continues
One sperm made it to the egg.
5. A closeup shot of a spermatozoon
The head contains all the DNA that will combine with the egg to create the baby’s genetic makeup.
6. Baby In Womb
In a week, the tiny embryo will move from the fallopian tube to the womb where the baby will remain until birth.
A week later, the embryo is attached to the wall of the womb.
8. Heart beating at day 18
On just the 18th day after conception, the little heart has started beating.
9. Day 28
28 days after conception.
10. Facial features start developing
After 5 weeks, you can start seeing crevices in the face developing.
11. The embryo develops
An eight-week-old embryo in the womb.
12. The hands start moving slowly
The fetus uses the fingers to understand its environment in the womb.
13. Seeing under the skin
The blood vessels under the baby’s skin can be seen.
14. Week 18
The fetus starts to hear sounds in the outside world.
15. 20 weeks
The baby is approximately 20cm, and it develops woolly hair, or lanugo, on the entire head.
16. 26 weeks
Only 2 more months to go!
Still, decades after they first appeared, these images endure for their unprecedentedly clear, detailed view of human life at its earliest stages.
Isn’t life amazing?