Babies learn touch in womb – study
Tuesday 8th October 2013, 12:11AM BST.
Babies learn how to anticipate touch while still in the womb, according to new research.
Psychologists from universities in Durham and Lancaster found that foetuses were able to predict, rather than simply react to, their own hand movements towards their mouths as they entered the later stages of gestation.
Researchers said the latest findings could improve understanding about babies, especially those born prematurely, their readiness to interact socially and their ability to calm themselves by sucking on their thumb or fingers.
Lead author Dr Nadja Reissland, from the department of psychology at Durham University, said: “Increased touching of the lower part of the face and mouth in foetuses could be an indicator of brain development necessary for healthy development, including preparedness for social interaction, self-soothing and feeding.
“What we have observed are sequential events, which show maturation in the development of foetuses, which is the basis for life after birth.
“The findings could provide more information about when babies are ready to engage with their environment, especially if born prematurely.”
The researchers carried out a total of 60 scans of 15 healthy foetuses at monthly intervals between 24 weeks’ and 36 weeks’ gestation. They used 4D imaging to create scans of life inside the womb.
The findings, published in the journal Developmental Psychobiology, involved eight girls and seven boys. The researchers said they noticed no difference in behaviour between boys and girls taking part in the study.
Brian Francis, professor of social statistics at Lancaster, said of the discovery: “This effect is likely to be evolutionally determined, preparing the child for life outside the womb.
“Building on these findings, future research could lead to more understanding about how the child is prepared prenatally for life, including their ability to engage with their social environment, regulate stimulation and being ready to take a breast or bottle.”