16th June 02:19
Babies 'Smile in the Womb'
New scanners show babies 'smile in the womb'
Advances in ultrasound scanning have
shown that babies smile, cry and blink inside the womb.
Professor Stuart Campbell says images captured using a 4D scanner suggest
that unborn babies exhibit facial expressions as a reflex in preparation for
Prof Campbell, who has observed such expressions since he first started
using the revolutionary scanner in 2001, said it was previously thought
babies learned to smile after birth by copying their mothers.
"This may indicate the baby's calm, trouble-free existence in the womb and
the relatively traumatic first few weeks after birth, when the baby is
reacting to a strange, new environment," he added.
Babies do not normally smile after birth until they are about six weeks old.
The obstetrician pioneered the use of the scanner in the UK at the private
Create Health clinic in London.
He said: "With 2D scanning you can see the eyeballs rolling, but now with 4D
scanning it is quite clear that they are opening their eyelids, and that is
in a very dark environment, so it must be a reflex.
"They make breathing movements inside the uterus, but there is no air, and
they blink, but there is no light, so it seems they are making preparations
Smiling, however, cannot be interpreted as preparation for birth but may be
a reflex, Prof Campbell said. He added: "What's behind the smile, of course,
I can't say, but the corners turn up and the cheeks bulge. I think it must
be some indication of contentment in a stress-free environment."
The 4D scanner, which produces detailed 3D images that move in real time,
has shown that babies start making finger movements at 15 weeks, yawning at
18 weeks and smiling, blinking and crying at 26 weeks.
Prof Campbell said the machine, which is now used at a few private clinics
in the UK, has made it easier for doctors to detect abnormalities such as
cleft palate and to diagnose heart defects. It could also serve as an
important research tool in understanding more about genetic problems such as
Story filed: 19:34 Friday 12th September 2003