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Womb with a view of babies' health; Ultrasound scans show facial expressions of fetuses.

THESE pictures show facial expressions develop while babies are in the womb.

A study by scientists from Durham University identified that fetuses' ability to show a "pain" facial expression is a developmental process which could give doctors an indication of the health of a baby. The study was done in collaboration with Lancaster University and adds weight to previous studies which have established that the facial expressions of healthy fetuses develop and become more complex during pregnancy.

Researchers looked at the fetal facial movements of 15 healthy unborn babies through 4D ultrasound scans.

The study showed that fetuses develop from making very simple one-dimensional expressions at 24 weeks, such as moving their lips to form a smile to complex multi-dimensional expressions which can be recognised as "pain" in the latter stages of pregnancy.

Lead researcher Dr Nadja Reissland, of Durham University's department of psychology, 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 and our results show that healthy fetuses 'learn' to combine the necessary facial movements. "This suggests that we can determine the normal development of facial movements and potentially identify abnormal development too. This could then provide a further medical indication of the health of the unborn baby."

Fetuses at 24 weeks gestation rarely showed a combination of facial movements which make up a 'pain face'.

But by 36 weeks, a combination of at least four movements was seen more often, giving the impression that older fetuses were capable of making a pain face.


LOOKING IN Scans of the facial expressions of unborn babies
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 6, 2013
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