Mother’s touch can be recognised by unborn child

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PhD lead author Viola Marx.

Babies might be able to recognise their mother’s touch while still in the womb, according to research carried out at Dundee University.

Psychology researchers were able to record the reaction of unborn children still in utero using a special 4D ultrasound video.

They discovered babies were more likely to “reach-out” and touch their mother’s uterus wall when the mother caressed her bump, more so than when others did.

Researchers believe it could explain why a mother feels her child moving in the womb when she touches her bump, only for the movement to stop when the father or friend reaches out.

Lead author of the report, Viola Marx, said: “Mothers spontaneously and also intentionally touch their abdomen during pregnancy, often with the intention to communicate with the foetus.”

“We showed that the foetuses responded to the mother’s touching of her abdomen. Any stimulation can be beneficial to the development of the foetus and the bonding of the mother, father and the foetus.

“Previous research has shown unborn babies also respond when their mother talks to them, helping them learn to recognise her voice after birth. Touch during pregnancy may also play a similar role.

“This familiarity between baby and mother is most likely due to the engagement of the mother with the developing foetus during pregnancy.

“The mother’s touch is accompanied by the movement of her whole body. It could also be the style of touch and the familiarity of the touch.”

Study co-author Dr Emese Nagy said more research should be carried out in order to understand this phenomenon better.

She said: “It is possible that fathers worry about hurting the mother and child and touch too gently as a result, while the stranger tends to copy what the mother did herself.

“It may be that babies are able to recognise their own mother’s touch in a number of ways but we need to carry out more research to understand this better.

“Further work is also needed to understand the ‘meaning’ of the behaviour of the foetus in response to touch and its relationship to the bonding of the mother and her unborn child.”