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Babies 'practise grimaces' in womb

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A 32-week old fetus showing a 'pain' face. Photo: Durham University/PA Wire

A 32-week old fetus showing a 'pain' face. Photo: Durham University/PA Wire

A 32-week old fetus showing a 'pain' face. Photo: Durham University/PA Wire

Unborn babies practise facial expressions of pain while they are in the womb, scientists say.

Foetuses have been pictured using 4D scanning technology showing what seems to be pain.

The researchers, from Durham and Lancaster universities, suggest the ability to grimace is a developmental process that could help doctors assess the health of a foetus.

The study found when the mother was 24 weeks' pregnant, unborn babies were able to make simple expressions such as smiling.

By 36 weeks the children were able to create "complex multi-dimensional expressions" such as pain (inset).

Researchers said that the process helped the unborn baby prepare for life after birth.

The study expands on previous research that suggests that facial expressions of healthy foetuses become more complex during pregnancy.

Researchers hope that further investigation will examine whether the development of facial expressions in the womb is delayed if the mother smokes or drinks during pregnancy.

Dr Nadja Reissland, of Durham University, said: "It is vital for infants to be able to show pain as soon as they are born so that they can communicate any distress or pain they might feel to their carers."

hnews@herald.ie


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