Babies in the Womb Anticipate Touch: Cognitive Leap Around 36 Weeks

A 4D ultrasound of a fetus provides doctors a look at the development and health of the unborn baby. Image by  Madcapslaugh

A 4D ultrasound of a fetus provides doctors a look at the development and health of the unborn baby. Image by Madcapslaugh

Ever wonder what your baby might be learning inside the womb? New research from the Durham and Lancaster Universities have found that by using 4D ultrasound, for the first, babies can predict, rather than react, to their own hand movements towards their mouths during the later stages of gestation.

This new research could improve understanding about babies, especially those born prematurely – how are these babies able to interact socially – how do Infants calm themselves by sucking on their thumb, fingers, or pacifiers?

Babies in the Womb: The Research

Lead author Dr. Nadja Reissland, in the Department of Psychology at Durham University, and her team of researchers completed 60 4D ultrasounds on 15 fetuses every month starting at 24 weeks and ending at 36 weeks gestation. The researchers found that fetuses at the earlier stages of gestation frequently touched the upper part and sides of their heads. As the fetuses matured, they began touching the lower parts of their face and their mouths.

The interesting part is that by 36 weeks gestation, babies would begin opening their mouths before their hands touched their mouths. The babies learned to anticipate the touch of their hand before the actual act of touching. This means that they became more aware of their movements of the mouth, and the touch of their hand. The researchers tested both boys and girls and did not find any differences between the genders.

The researchers concluded that these findings could potentially be an indication of health development, as well as showing whether a fetus is having health issues like growth restriction, as they might not show these developmental signs.


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Interview with Dr. Ressland

Decoded Science had the opportunity to interview Dr. Ressland about this new research.

We asked what she considered the most surprising part of the research, and she responded:

“I am always amazed by how these foetuses behave. I could watch them all day. My research tries to establish the beginning stages of behaviour and it is surprising how much development occurs already pre-birth. Especially if you take into account that not that many years ago people argued that babies are immature and incompetent members of the society. Nowadays we find out so many more things babies can do and my interest lies in if the baby is so competent at birth where does it all come from?”

Click to Read Page Two: Premature Babies and Development

© Copyright 2013 Janelle Vaesa, MPH: Health, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Pregnancy

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