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Last Updated: Saturday, 13 September, 2003, 08:20 GMT 09:20 UK
Scanner shows unborn babies smile
Unborn baby smiling in the uterus
A stress-free womb could prompt a smile from an unborn baby
Babies can smile, cry and blink before birth, a doctor says.

Advances in ultrasound scanning have allowed doctors to see that babies in the womb exhibit facial expressions as a reflex in preparation for birth, obstetrician Stuart Campbell said.

It was previously thought babies learned to smile after birth by copying their mothers.

Since 2001 Professor Campbell has captured images of babies smiling, using a revolutionary 4D scanner.

"They make breathing movements inside the uterus, but there is no air, and they blink, but there is no light, so it seems they are making preparations for birth," he said.

Babies do not normally smile after birth until they are about six weeks old.

I don't think people realise the range of facial expressions you get inside the uterus, or indeed that babies blink
Professor Stuart Campbell
Obstetrician

"This may indicate the baby's calm, trouble-free existence in the womb and the relatively traumatic first few weeks after birth, when the baby is reacting to a strange, new environment," Prof Campbell said.

"I don't think people realise the range of facial expressions you get inside the uterus, or indeed that babies blink.

"With 2D scanning you can see the eyeballs rolling, but now with 4D scanning it is quite clear that they are opening their eyelids, and that is in a very dark environment, so it must be a reflex.

Reflex

Smiling, however, cannot be interpreted as preparation for birth but may be a reflex, Prof Campbell said.

He said: "What's behind the smile, of course, I can't say, but the corners turn up and the cheeks bulge ... I think it must be some indication of contentment in a stress-free environment."

The 4D scanner, which produces detailed 3D images that move in real time, has shown that babies start making finger movements at 15 weeks, yawning at 18 weeks and smiling, blinking and crying at 26 weeks.

A one-hour consultation with 4D ultrasound scanning at the Create Health clinic where Prof Campbell pioneered its use, costs 275.

The images show the delightful reality of the humanity of the unborn baby
Julia Millington
Pro-Life Party
The Pro-Life Party reacted immediately to the images by claiming it strengthened their arguments against abortion.

Pro-Life spokeswoman Julia Millington said: "The images show the delightful reality of the humanity of the unborn baby.

"We cannot believe that anybody could continue supporting abortion when they see these extraordinary pictures."




SEE ALSO:
Scientists postpone labour
28 Jul 03 |  Health
Surgery hope for unborn babies
10 Jul 03 |  Health


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