According to Medical News Today on Wednesday, new research reveals that fetuses actually open their mouths in anticipation of a good thumb suck, which may point to better ways of tracking fetal development and understanding the limitations of babies born prematurely.
Using 4-d scans psychologists found, for the first time, that fetuses were able to predict, rather than react to, their own hand movements towards their mouths as they entered the later stages of gestation compared to earlier in a pregnancy.
Fetuses in the earlier stage of gestation more frequently touched the upper part and sides of their heads.
As the fetuses matured they began to increasingly touch the lower, more sensitive, part of their faces including their mouths.
By 36 weeks a significantly higher proportion of fetuses were observed opening their mouths before touching them, suggesting that later in pregnancy they were able to anticipate that their hands were about to touch their mouths, rather than reacting to the touch of their hands, the researchers said.
Increased sensitivity around a fetus' mouth at this later stage of pregnancy could mean that they have more "awareness" of mouth movement, the researchers added.
Previous theories have suggested that movement in sequence could form the basis for the development of intention in fetuses.
The researchers said their findings could potentially be an indicator of healthy development, as arguably fetuses who are delayed in this development due to illness, such as growth restriction, might not show the same behavior observed during the study.
Emily Sutherlin is also the Pregnancy Examiner.
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