Fetal Recall?–Memory in Utero

On May 21, 2013, in Blog, Research, by Bellybuds

Fetuses demonstrate a primitive form of memory

By Karen Springen

Original article here

photo of baby in utero at seven weeks swimming pictures womb photos

When does memory begin? We can’t consciously call up images from our infancy, but we surely learn important, lasting associations at very early ages. New work suggests this type of memory begins even in the womb.

In a study published in July in Child Development, researchers from the Netherlands reported short-term memory in 30- to 38-week-old fetuses. First they put a vibrating, honking device on the abdomens of 93 preg­nant women. The fetuses quickly “habituated”—that is, they figured out that the noise was not dangerous. When they heard it again 10 minutes later, they did not squirm and their heart rates did not escalate. “It’s like getting used to a New York train sta­tion,” says lead author J. G. Nijhuis, a professor of obstetrics at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. “It is a learning capability to distinguish safe from unsafe stimuli. It is a primitive form of memory.”

The 34-week-old fetuses even recalled the sound four weeks later. “What this study clearly says is at least beginning at 30 weeks and pos­sibly before that, the fetal brain is starting to lay down short-term memo­ries and might even be laying down some long-term memories,” says Rahil Briggs, director of Healthy Steps at Montefiore Medical Center and assis­tant professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “This is a sensitive period of development.”

Fetuses habituate in other ways, too. Substance-abusing moms give birth to drug-addicted babies. A study found that the babies of mothers who watch a popular Spanish-language soap opera while pregnant calm down when they hear the show’s theme music. And anecdotally, some dads who read to fetuses in the womb think their babies are born recognizing their voices, says pediatrician Tanya Remer Altmann, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The bottom line: be conscientious around the baby-to-be. “The environ­ment in utero, and extra utero, is very important,” says pediatrician Dimitri Christakis, director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Develop­ment at Seattle Children’s Hospital. After all, the brain triples in size in the first two years of life. And perhaps even younger fetuses develop memories—researchers will investigate that pos­sibility next.

 

The Youngest and the Restless?

On May 13, 2013, in Blog, Research, by Bellybuds

Unstoppable Learning – TED Radio Hour

Learning is an integral part of human nature. But why do we — as adults — assume learning must be taught, tested and reinforced? Why do we put so much effort into making kids think and act like us? In this hour, TED speakers explore the ways babies and children learn, from the womb to the playground to the Web.

Start at the 15:00 mark and listen until they talk about how newborn babies were able to recognize the theme song to the soap opera that the moms watched while pregnant:)

 

How Singing to Babies Makes Them Healthier

On April 30, 2013, in Blog, Research, by Bellybuds
singingBy Ross McGuinness
Original Post here 

Of course, generations of parents have known the soothing effect of song on their infants, but now there is some solid evidence to back it up.

Researchers at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York have found that premature babies react positively to music made to replicate the sounds they heard when they were in the womb. In addition, their health also improved when parents engaged in the simple act of singing to them.

The study examined the effects of music over a two-year period on 272 premature babies aged 32 weeks or older across 11 neonatal intensive care units in US hospitals.

It found that music helped the babies sleep, breathe and feed better and also lowered their heart rates and made them more alert.

Three different musical methods were used in the study. Firstly, parents were asked to sing a lullaby, such as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, or a ‘song of kin’ – a tune that means something specific to them – to their baby. On several occasions, this involved taking a well-known pop song and modifying it to make it sound more like a lullaby.

Among the songs chosen by parents in the study were Eight Days A Week by The Beatles, I Heard It Through The Grapevine by Marvin Gaye and Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone by The Temptations.

The second intervention involved an ‘ocean disc’ instrument, containing metal beads, which is designed to imitate the sounds the baby would have heard in the womb.

Thirdly, a device called a ‘gato box’ was played to create a rhythm that would replicate a mother’s heartbeat – a sound the baby would have also heard before it was born.

After using all three methods, researchers looked at babies vital signs and found marked improvement.

Dr Joanne Loewy, director of Beth Israel’s Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine and the leader of the study, told Metro that the ocean disc helped babies sleep for longer and the gato box enhanced sucking behaviour.

‘We found the lullaby to be very helpful, particularly in relaxing the heartbeat,’ she added.

‘The qualities of music in a lullaby are important for a baby. They’re slow, they’re lilting, they’re repetitive.’

She said Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’s universal melody meant lullabies like the alphabet song (‘Now I know my ABCs’) and Baa, Baa, Black Sheep – all three are variations of the old French folk song, ‘Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman’ – also worked well when sung to infants.

With more contemporary songs, music therapists helped the parents change the meter to make it more lilting, while also removing some words from the original and putting the baby’s name in there instead.

‘We wanted to break down the components of music to see which elements of music could help a baby physiologically,’ explained Dr Loewy.

‘We wanted to know what genre of music is most therapeutic for the parents and the baby because we know that the continuity of care for an infant is long beyond the hospital bed.’

As well as benefitting the babies, music also helped the parents to relieve stress, the study found.

‘If you calm the parents, the baby feels the effects,’ said Dr Loewy.

She compared the baby following its mother’s heartbeat to a classical musician tracking the conductor’s baton in an orchestra.

‘The heartbeat is the first sound the baby hears,’ she said. ‘It’s the first sound humans hear in the womb and it’s not just any old heartbeat – they hear someone else’s heartbeat. The first step of regulation for a human being is that rhythm.’

The results of the study show that music has an important role to play in a baby’s development both before and after it has left the womb.

‘What it means, at the very least, is that doctors and nurses in hospitals will see music and music therapy as a non-invasive healthy intervention,’ said Dr Loewy.

‘These musical interventions are cost-effective, they’re safe and they can have physiological effects which influence babies’ development. That means shorter hospital days and that means safer, more attuned care that includes the parents – not just putting the baby in an incubator.’

Tina Warnock is a trustee at the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT). There are about 700 music therapists in Britain helping children, old people, young people with autism and people with learning disabilities.

She said: ‘I think it’s great that there’s a piece of research that supports the work which has been going on for quite some time. There are whole books on the subject, it’s just that actual large-scale research like that is difficult to achieve. We hope it will support development of music therapy in this country.’

She added: ‘Music connects with instinctive aspects of all of us. Babies have hearing in place much earlier than birth, so with premature babies that’s one of the few things that they can connect with right back to the mother’s heartbeat.

‘There is research that shows babies are naturally attracted to voices, particularly their mothers’ voices. In the womb, they hear their mothers’ voices from inside so they are able to recognise that voice when they come out.’

A study at the beginning of this year by Pacific Lutheran University in Washington state found that newborn babies can tell the difference between the language their mother speaks and a foreign tongue, illustrating that they listen closely while in the womb.

Singing is said to be a vital way in which parents can help their children avoid language problems later in life.

Professor Graham Welch, chairman of music education at the Institute of Education, University of London, said singing keeps us fit as it is a form of exercise. Singing also helps brain function and co-ordination, he said, as well as being a cathartic activity that builds self-confidence.

The BAMT is organising Music Therapy Week between June 8 and 15 – the campaign will let people know how music can change lives.

National music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins delivers more than 50,000 sessions a year in care homes, day centres, hospitals, schools and its own centres, usually helping people with autism, dementia and learning difficulties.

Its annual fundraising event, the Nordoff Robbins O2 Silver Clef Awards, takes place this year on June 28 at the London Hilton hotel. Singer-songwriter and producer Labrinth will be given the American Express Innovation Award at the ceremony.

The awards have been supported in the past by artists such as Sir Paul McCartney, David Bowie and Annie Lennox.

 

Babies Sense Their Parents’ Conflict Even When Sleeping

On March 28, 2013, in Blog, Research, by Bellybuds
By Nancy Josephson Liff
Original post here
 

babies-sense-parents-conflict-315x315Babies sense a lot of things, including the sights and smells of the world around them.

Now, scientists say, infants can also sense the angry tones of parental conflict — even if they’re napping.

In a new study from researchers at University of Oregon, investigators exposed sleeping infants, ranging in age from six months to one year, to the sound of a male voice speaking nonsense words in tones investigators described as “very angry,” “mildly angry,” “neutral,” and “happy.”

Parents in the experiment were asked to complete a questionnaire about conflict levels in their home environment.

While babies in the experiment caught some shut-eye in the university laboratory, researchers used a high-tech neuroimaging device to evaluate their tiny subjects’ responses to hearing angry voices.

Scientists have known for years that severe stressors, such as maltreatment and institutionalization, can have a “significant, negative impact on child development.”

Until now, however, researchers have had little information on the impact of moderate stressors.

As UO doctoral student Alice Graham put it, “We were interested in whether a common source of early stress in children’s lives — conflict between parents — is associated with how infants’ brains function.”

While more research is needed, it appears that moderate stressors, such as family conflict, may influence how babies process stress and emotion.

In the UO experiment, babies from homes where parents reported significant conflict showed greater “reactivity” to the “very angry” tone of voice in the experiment — in areas of the brain associated with stress and emotional regulation, said the online news source Science Daily.

Sleeping babies knew an angry voice when they heard one.

In a university release, Graham noted, “Even during sleep infants showed distinct patterns of brain activity depending on the emotional tone of the voice we presented.” The study appears in the journal Psychological Science.

Scientists don’t yet know the long-term impact of parental skirmishes. But in the meantime, if babies sense their parent’s struggles, the warring factions should lower the volume when the little ones are sleeping.

Better yet, call a truce or revisit the dispute later. But don’t make adult issues the baby’s problem.

 

Babies Can Hear Syllables in the Womb– Says Research

On February 26, 2013, in Blog, Research, by Bellybuds
By Michelle Roberts
Health editor, BBC News online
Original post here
 

_66060264_baby_s_ear-spl-2Scientists say babies decipher speech as early as three months before birth.

The evidence comes from detailed brain scans of 12 infants born prematurely. At just 28 weeks’ gestation, the babies appeared to discriminate between different syllables like “ga” and “ba” as well as male and female voices.Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the French team said it was unlikely the babies’ experience outside the womb would have affected their findings.

The research lends support to the idea that babies develop language skills while still in the womb in response to their parents’ voices. Experts already know that babies are able to hear noises in the womb – the ear and the auditory part of the brain that allow this are formed by around 23 weeks’ gestation. But it is still debated whether humans are born with an innate ability to process speech or whether this is something acquired through learning after birth.

The authors of the study in PNAS say environmental factors are undoubtedly important, but based on their findings they believe linguistic processes are innate. Dr Fabrice Wallois and colleagues say: “Our results demonstrate that the human brain, at the very onset of the establishment of a cortical circuit for auditory perception, already discriminates subtle differences in speech syllables.”But they add that this “does not challenge the fact that experience is also crucial for their fine tuning and for learning the specific properties of the native language”. Their brain scan study was carried out in the first few days following birth, so it is possible that the noises and sounds the newborns encountered in their new environment outside of the womb may have triggered rapid development.

However, the researchers doubt this.Prof Sophie Scott, an expert in speech perception at University College London, said the findings supported and added to current knowledge.”We know that babies hear can hear their mother’s voice in the womb and pick up on the pitch and rhythm.”And they use this information – newborn babies are soothed by their mother’s voice from the minute they are born.”

 

Shaping Up Baby

On November 20, 2012, in Blog, Research, by Bellybuds

By Dr. Upali Marasinghe
Original article here

A holistic approach to motherhood – the need for love and care in communicating with your unborn baby.

THE conception and birth of a baby is one of the glorious miracles of nature. The events related to it can be looked at in different ways in the context of maternal perception.

Many may take this opportunity for personal growth, or consider it as something to be endured. There will be a small percentage of prospective mothers who look at pregnancy as a dire crisis.

Whatever the mindset may be, the pregnant mother is dealing with a foetus that has incredible inner capabilities. We have the opportunity to explore and elicit these fetal capabilities to the maximum.

 
A mother’s unconditional love and affection can be communicated to the tiny being within the womb.

Foetus – a witless tadpole

About 200 years ago, a foetus in the womb was regarded as a deaf and dumb, insensitive piece of life. Some perceived it as a witless tadpole.

Today, we know that an unborn child is a sensory-responsive and communicative human being. He can see, hear, feel, and perhaps even form rudimentary levels of awareness in the womb. Therefore, lifelong education starting from the prenatal stage will no doubt produce a physically, mentally, and emotionally blessed, socially responsible child. Isn’t it wonderful?

The idea that the unborn child is a sensory-responsive and communicative human being who can perceive changes in his extra-uterine environment existed even in ancient times, and it was Confucius who believed in the influence of environmental factors (such as the climate) that can form the character of the immature human being.

He proclaimed the necessity of lifelong education, which should actually begin at the early prenatal stage, and which could contribute to the formation of a good and socially responsible person.

These prenatal sensory stimulations can strengthen and enrich prenatal behavioural elements to such a degree that they later need not result in regressive behaviour, but can be transformed into creative behaviour.

Our ancestors were well aware that the mother’s experiences impressed themselves on her unborn child.

That’s why the Chinese established the first prenatal clinics thousands of years ago. It is also why even the most primitive cultures had strictures warning pregnant women away from “fighting” events.

References to these prenatal influences can be found in many ancient texts.

The first man to grasp the idea in all its dimensions, however, was neither a saint or a physician, but the great Italian artist and genius Leonardo da Vinci. His book Quaderni has more to say about prenatal influences than many modern medical texts. The rest of us needed four centuries to catch up with him.

The need for a new paradigm

With such sources of information, we are in a position to appreciate human growth in a holistic perspective, and view the immense intelligence of mind-body interactions from the earliest weeks of pregnancy.

Given the emerging paradigm that babies are aware of, communicative, and affected by their various interactions with us, there is new ground for hope. Parents and professionals interested in prenatal bonding and learning are in a strong position, not only to prevent needless suffering and handicap, but by sensitive behaviour and respectful acknowledgement of intelligence before birth, to build the best possible foundation through loving kindness and thoughtful dialogue with babies before birth.

In the 18th century, doctors looked at the human body as an erector set. What mattered was what could be immediately seen, touched and verified.

This was laudable, up to a point. Feelings and emotions were deemed too shadowy.

In the early part of this century, however, many of these “imprecise” elements were reintroduced into medicine via the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud. Freud’s work touched only briefly on the unborn child.

But he established beyond all doubt that negative emotions and feelings adversely affected physical health. He called this notion psychosomatic disease.

If that was true, some researchers hypothesised, couldn’t an emotion also shape an unborn baby’s personality?

By the 1940s and 50s, investigators from different countries were certain that maternal emotions did affect the foetus. But they could not prove it in a laboratory.

By the mid-1960s, however, medical technology finally caught up with them. The work of such neurologists as Prof Dr Dominick Purpura of Albert Einstein Medical College in New York City, and others from Harvard and Karolinska Research Institute, Sweden, at last provided what had been so sorely lacking – hard incontestable physiological evidence that the foetus is a hearing, sensing, feeling being.

Dr Thomas Verny, in his marvellous book The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, described the evolution of foetal activity in the womb. By the fifth week, for example, studies reveal that the foetus is already developing an amazingly complex repertoire of reflex actions. By the eighth week, he is not only moving his head, arms and trunk easily, he has already fashioned these movements into a primitive body language – expressing his likes and dislikes with well-placed jerks and kicks.

What he especially does not like is being poked at. If this happens, the two-and-a-half-month-old foetus will quickly squirm away, Dr Verny nicely explains.

Developing babies

In the womb, night is the busiest time of day for the baby. Lying in bed, his mother may be changing her resting posture due to heartburn, abdominal discomfort and leg cramps, and invariably there are at least three trips to the washroom. That is why infants have an inverted sleep rhythm.

Facial expressions take a little longer than general body movements to master. By the fourth month, the unborn child can frown, squint and grimace.

Four to eight weeks later, he is as sensitive to touch as any one-year-old. If his scalp is accidently tickled during medical examination, he quickly moves his head. He also vehemently dislikes cold water – if it is sprayed onto the mother’s stomach, he kicks violently.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this amazing creature is his discriminating tastes.

Add saccharin to his normally bland diet of amniotic fluid, and his swallowing rate doubles.

Add foul-tasting, iodine-like oil, and swallowing rate not only drops sharply, but he also grimaces.

Recent studies also show that from the 24th week, the unborn child listens all the time. And he has a lot to listen to.

The pregnant abdomen and the uterus are very noisy places. His mother’s stomach rumblings are the loudest sounds he hears. Her voice, his father’s voice and other occasional noises are quieter, but still audible to him.

The sound that dominates his world, though, is the rhythmic thump of the maternal heartbeat. As long as it has a regular rhythm, the unborn knows all is well.

The unconscious memory of the maternal heartbeat in utero appears to be why a baby is comforted by being held to someone’s chest, or lulled to sleep by the steady ticking of a clock.

Another expert, Elias Carnetti, thinks that the primal memory of a mother’s heartbeat also explains a lot about our musical tastes.

All known drum rhythms conform to one of two basic patterns – either the rapid tattoo of animal hooves or the measured beat of the human heart.

Boris Brott, one of the leading musicians in Europe, was convinced his musical interests were awakened in the womb.

Audiologist Michele Clements has shown that the unborn child has distinct musical likes and dislikes.

Vivaldi is one of the unborn child’s favourite composers. Mozart is another.

The music of Brahms and Beethoven, and all forms of rock music on the other hand, drive most fetuses to distraction.

In the 1920s, a German investigator reported an even sharper reaction. Several of his pregnant patients told him they had given up concerts because their unborn children reacted so stormily to music.

Later, they found out why.

From the 25th week, a foetus will literally jump in rhythm to the beat of an orchestral drum. This was too painful for moms.

An unborn child’s vision develops more slowly.

A womb, although not totally dark, is not exactly the ideal place to practise seeing. But from the 16th week in utero, he is very sensitive to light. If a torch is flashed directly to the maternal abdomen, the foetus turns away.

They feel, think and remember

The fact that the unborn child has proven abilities to react to his surroundings through his senses shows that he has the basic prerequisites for learning.

Personality formation requires something more, namely awareness.

Recent neurological studies prove that consciousness exits in utero.

Prof Purpura believes that awareness begins between the 28th and 32nd week.

By this time, the brain’s neural circuits are just as advanced as a newborn’s.

At the same time, the cerebral cortex matures enough to support consciousness. It is what we use for thinking, feeling and remembering.

A few weeks later, brainwaves become distinct, making it easy to distinguish between the child’s sleeping and waking patterns.

Even asleep, he is mentally active now. From the 32nd week, brainwave tests begin picking up periods of REM sleep, which in adults signify the presence of dream states.

The first memory tracts begin across the brain around the third trimester – from 28 weeks onwards.

Some investigators claim a child can remember from the sixth months onwards.

Anyway, there is no question that the unborn child remembers, or that he registers his memories.

Impact of mother’s stress

Stress experienced by a woman during pregnancy may affect the unborn as early as 17 weeks after conception, with potentially harmful effects on brain development, according to new research.

The study is the first to show that unborn babies are exposed to their mother’s stress hormones at such an early stage in pregnancy.

The findings, published in the Journal of Endocrinology, came after separate research on animals showed that high levels of stress in mothers during pregnancy could affect the brain function and behaviour in her offspring, and other evidence suggests that maternal stress in humans can affect the developing child, including lowering IQ.

It is scientifically accepted that the mind influences the body, and both combined together makes an individual healthy or sick.

The behavioural patterns of human beings are based on this principle of mind-body interaction.

The mother has sublime potentiality, and this fact is widely accepted by almost all faiths.

From a scientific perspective, motherhood has a hormonal base, which changes anatomical and physiological processes, giving pregnant women a different psychological harmony and understanding, so that mother and baby are kept protected without being exposed to dangers of unwholesome thoughts, feelings, emotions and actions, as they are nurtured in a peaceful environment.

When the expectant mother/father sends messages to the baby inside through soft music, words of loving kindness, respect and acceptance, these wholesome thoughts, feelings, and emotions get lodged in the infant within, and he/she will see the light of the world as a wholesome being.

The vital fact is how to communicate wholesomely with the unborn so that maternal and paternal wisdom can be translated into chemical changes in such a way that the umbilical cord can transmit these chemical messages to the unborn, who could end up as a versatile human being.

At the same time, unwholesome effects are also observed. From the medical standpoint, the womb could become a cradle of violence.

How can this happen?

Recent medical literature provides sufficient knowledge about these areas.

Again, “loving kindness” becomes key to the understanding of these horrendous effects of criminality.

The conditioning of the unborn to “repeated stresses” with unwanted effects is carefully dealt with.

The value of paternal participation in changing and forming the character of the foetus is also taken into account. Their feelings and habits influence the unborn positively or negatively.

It is proved beyond reasonable doubt that the unborn child can be nurtured to become a vital and valuable human being in later life.

The onus of this amazing transformation lies entirely with the parents.

Their unconditional love and affection can be communicated to the tiny being within the womb. Let us make use of this great opportunity provided by nature to create a peaceful world for a better future.

 
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