The diaphragm forms from several components between the fourth and eighth weeks of embryonic life. At the beginning of this period, the heart occupies a large part of the cephalad portion of the embryo and the body cavity is continuous with the pericardial cavity. The primitive tracheobronchial tree and lung buds grow from the foregut and descend between the gut and the heart.
Beneath the heart, an infolding of the ventral body wall forms the septum transversarum. Parenchymal liver cells grow within the septum and are joined by hepatic ducts growing from the duodenal region of the gut. The septum transversarum connects to the mediastinal supporting structures surrounding the esophagus posteriorly. The continuities of the body cavity on either side are called the pleuroperitoneal canals.
An additional body-wall ingrowth posterolaterally on either side is called the pleuroperitoneal membrane. The fusion of these three elements will close the pleuroperitoneal canals forming a membranous partition. Ingrowth of muscle fibers from the rim of this membrane will complete the diaphragm.