University of Cambridge > > Centre for Family Research Seminar Series 2023/24 > Foetal Behaviour and Development

Foetal Behaviour and Development

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Talk 1: “The Effects of Prenatal Exposure to Flavour Stimuli on Postnatal Reactions”

Speaker: Professor Nadja Reissland, Durham University

Abstract: Professor Nadja Reissland is a Developmental Psychologist currently based at Durham University. Her work is at the forefront of the growing field of fetal psychology. She and her team have examined the effects of maternal mental health including stress, depression, anxiety, and attachment on fetal and neonatal development. Specifically, we have tested fetal stimulation through sound, light, taste, and touch. The latter study used twin fetuses to analyse touch behaviours in relation to maternal stress, depression, and anxiety. We also examined the effects of nicotine in prenatal and neonatal development and our latest study looked at the effects of the COVID lockdown on fetal movement profiles which are indicative of brain function. All our work is based on 4-D ultrasound using a dedicated fine grained coding system (FOMS based on FACS ) and postnatal fine grained video analysis using FACS /BabyFACS.


Talk 2: “From Womb to World: Tracking Action in the Fetus and Newborn”

Speaker: Dr Staci Weiss, University of Cambridge

Abstract: Babies interact with their surroundings and explore their own bodies with the womb, with thumb-sucking observed even in the first trimester. Using ultrasound, we examine the continuity of hand-to-mouth movements from the third trimester through the first days of life. The Perinatal Imaging Partnership with Families (PIPKIN) study investigates the emergence of intra- and inter-individual differences in infant behavioural and brain development longitudinally, beginning in third trimester.

Using 4D US, we first characterized the duration of hand-to-mouth contact, then identify how the speed and smoothness of hand-to-mouth movements change from 28-38 weeks. Finally, we relate the movement characteristics of each fetus to hand-to-mouth behaviour observed by the PIPKIN team, measured using the Neonatal Behaviour Assessment Scale (NBAS) up to 3 times during their first month of life. The speed of fetal movements was a better predicted of early hand-to-mouth behaviour in neonates younger than 10 days old; however, the duration and smoothness of fetal movements remained a stronger longitudinal predictor of newborn hand-to-movement behaviour in infants older than 30 days of age. Babies movements in the womb might be a provide a glimpse into longer-term development and risk for developmental disorder.

This talk is part of the Centre for Family Research Seminar Series 2023/24 series.

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