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How babies develop in the womb – new discoveries

New research shows when babies first feel pain and when they learn to smile

Posted: 9 September 2011
by Kimberley Smith
Baby in the womb
Babies start learning to express themselves before they're born

Babies begin to feel pain between 35 and 37 weeks of pregnancy, a new study has discovered. At this time babies start to be able to tell the difference between the sensation of touch and pain.

By measuring brain activity for babies between 28 and 35 weeks, researchers were able to tell how babies responded to a normal touch, and a prick on the heels. The results showed that babies do not become sensitive to pain until later than previously thought.

“Babies can distinguish painful stimuli as different from general touch from around 35 to 37 weeks gestation,” explained Lorenzo Fabrizi, the study’s leader. “Just before an infant would normally be born.”

Meanwhile, at the University of Durham, researchers have been investigating how babies learn to make facial expressions such as smiling, parting lips, wrinkling a nose or moving their brows.

By capturing images of two unborn babies between 24 and 35 weeks of their mums’ pregnancies, researchers were able to show the progress the babies made in movements, revealing that expressions begin developing weeks before babies are born and begin to copy their parents.

The team focused on facial movements associated with crying and laughing expressions, noticing how the developed over the last trimester of pregnancy.

“What we have found for the first time is you can look at the progression of the complexity of the movements,” explained lead author Nadja Reissland.

So telling your bump some a funny jokes could help develop her smile…

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