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Womb with a View

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Breathtaking new photos showing fetuses "walking," yawning, smiling and crying in their mother's wombs have been produced, thanks to a revolutionary ultrasound scan.

The amazing snapshots of the unborn boys and girls detail everything from their minute-by-minute changes in facial expressions to coordinated hand and leg movements and stand to dramatically overhaul some of doctors' previous assumptions of just how developed the behavior of fetuses is.

For example, in the photos, which were first released yesterday:

* An unborn baby boy, when positioned upright in his mother's womb, instinctively appears to try to "walk" forward.

"This is the first time we have ever seen this kind of movement this early," said obstetrician and scan pioneer Stuart Campbell of the Create Health Clinic in London.

"It is typical of what newborn babies do as a reflex. If you hold a newborn under the arms and put its feet to a table top, it will make stepping movements, and this is what the baby is doing in the womb."

* A 22-week-old unborn boy scratches, rubs and pats his cheek, then his nose, indicating that fetuses are capable of fine finger movements from an early age.

* Fetuses as young as 11 weeks not only sucked their thumbs, but one brought his toes to his mouth, then searched around until he found the biggest to latch onto.

* At 12 weeks, some fetuses were already yawning and rubbing their eyes.

* Fetuses as young as 18 weeks were seen opening their eyes. That's about eight weeks earlier than they were previously thought to be able to do so.

* After 26 weeks, the fetuses behaved like typical newborns to an extent, scratching, crying and smiling.

"These are essential reflexes we are seeing," Campbell said. "It is the baby learning about its body."

The doctor plans to release a book next month based on the photos and titled "Watch Me Grow."

Campbell had previously released photos of fetuses smiling, helping to disprove the notion that humans don't begin smiling until about six weeks after birth.

While more conventional ultrasound methods have helped to provide doctors with measurements to gauge the growth of a fetus, they did little to shed light on babies' behavior inside the womb.

Campbell said that in addition to helping to explain fetus behavior, the new ultrasound scanner could one day also "help us understand and diagnose genetic disease."

With Post Wire Services

Copyright 2004 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.


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