Have you ever wondered why babies kick? It turns out it isn’t just for the excitement of the mother feeling their child for the first time. In fact, a new study has revealed that a baby’s fetal movements are performed in order to map their environment and their own bodies.
This is the first way that babies begin to construct a brain network, making connections and building a sense of spatial awareness. It reportedly determines what part of their little bodies are moving and being touched, in turn.
The study analyzed the brain activity of 19 newborns in the UK via noninvasive electroencephalography (EEG). The researchers realized that the brainwaves of these two-day-old newborns corresponded to their limb movements as they slept.
Neuroscientist, Lorenzo Fabrizi of the University College London, attempts to shed some light on the findings.
“Spontaneous movement and consequent feedback from the environment during the early developmental period are known to be necessary for proper brain mapping in animals such as rats,” he explains. “Here we showed that this may be true in humans too.”
In these animal studies, previous research had shown that the development and processing of sensory stimuli in newborn mammals was a direct result of isolated limb movements. The resulting neuro patterns, known as alpha-beta oscillations, work in the somatic nervous system to form a map of their body.
Researchers discovered this brainwave process was also prevalent in newborns. This is supported by the lack of these patterns as the newborn acclimates to the new world around them outside of the womb.
The study found that these spatial mappings as a result of fetal movement stop quickly after birth. After a few days outside the womb, these knee-jerk movements do not show the same correspondence to these initial brain waves. Scientists have thusly inferred that these fetal movements are beneficial inside the womb and seek to prepare the baby for the outside world upon birth.
Pretty amazing for a human who can’t even cry liquid tears until they reach the end of their first month outside of the womb.
These fundamental aspects of touch are useful immediately from birth for skills like breastfeeding,” claims doctoral student, Kimberley Whitehead, of the University College London.
With over 2.4 million weddings occurring each year in the United States, countless babies will be born as a result. Now that we know more about how babies grow and develop both in and outside of the womb, we’re able to better care for these little bundles of joy.