Babies in womb practice frowning to prepare for pain after birth

Updated: Jun 06, 2013, 11:28 AM IST

London: A new study by researchers at Durham and Lancaster University has revealed that babies practice frowning in the womb so that they can show when they are unhappy after birth.

Analysis of stark images captured using a 4D scanner suggest unborn babies grimace and pull faces to prepare for being in pain after birth, according to the researchers.

The scans of 15 healthy babies also revealed that they develop from making simple expressions such as smiling at 24 weeks to much more complex pain expressions at 36 weeks, the Mirror reported.

This expression enables the unborn baby to be able to communicate after being born if they are hungry, uncomfortable or in pain.

But it is not yet known if unborn babies can actually feel pain in the womb.

The research indicates that the expression of fetal facial movements is a developmental process which seems to be related to brain maturation rather than being linked to feelings, said lead researcher Dr Nadja Reissland, of Durham University`s Department of Psychology.

The study, published in medical journal PLOS ONE, adds to findings that facial expressions of babies can become increasingly advanced as the pregnancy develops.

The researchers came to the conclusion after they analysed video footage of the 4D scans of eight female and seven male fetuses from the second to third trimester - 24 to 36 weeks - of pregnancy.

The researchers hope that further research may be able to discover whether the development of facial expressions is delayed if unborn babies experience unhealthy conditions, such as effects of the mother smoking or drinking alcohol.